The Casual Vacancy’s” quiet success
J.K. Rowling’s newest book flies under Muggle radar
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 18:09
Considering pre-orders alone, “The Casual Vacancy” is already a bestseller, but unless you’re one of the people who went looking for it, chances are this is the first you have heard of J.K. Rowling’s new novel. Set to release this Thursday, Sept. 27, the “Harry Potter” author’s latest foray into fiction forgoes magic and broomsticks for far more traditional fare. This time, to facilitate her transition into the adult world, those in charge of Rowling’s publicity have taken a very different approach for hyping up her latest novel: they’re not.
When authors are successful, they are expected to continue within their genre for as long as that success continues—Danielle Steele keeps creating romance novels, Ellen Hilderbrand continues pumping out novels with beaches on their covers, and Stephen King keeps writing about creepy towns in Maine. This practice allows them to generate a readership, people who know they enjoy what an author writes will consistently buy each book. That is difficult to feed when someone consistently genre jumps.
Rowling’s newest stand-alone book is described by the publisher as “blackly comic,” a story about class warfare in the little town of Pagford, England—certainly a far cry from the whimsy of Hogwarts. Similar to the later “Potter” novels, “The Casual Vacancy” has not been released early to reviewers, and the books are under strict order to not be opened until 8 a.m. on Thursday. However, unlike the Harry Potter novels, there is little fanfare heralding its publication. Though there are ads on Internet giants like Google and Facebook, in-store advertising is little to non-existent, and it’s more than likely that upon walking into Barnes & Noble on Thursday morning, you will see more advertising for the “Potter” novels than “The Casual Vacancy.”
Instead, Little, Brown & Co., the publishing company in charge of “The Casual Vacancy’s” release, is taking an extremely low-key approach when it comes to marketing their latest product. Though “Potter” sold over 44 million copies, the audience “The Casual Vacancy” is marketed to is probably not the same one that was wearing Gryffindor scarves while waiting in line for the midnight release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” The fame Rowling garnered from the “Potter” books may actually hurt her when trying to appeal to older readers. In the world of adult fiction, Rowling is a complete unknown, and Little, Brown & Co. hopes to keep it that way for now.
Little, Brown & Co.’s Marketing Director Heather Frain says she knows that the book’s initial release will be driven by those who know and love Rowling’s previous works. “But we also want people who just love great literary fiction to read the book, too,” she said. Keeping the book’s release understated prevents scaring away readers who may have not enjoyed Potter. The hope is that by not specifically aiming the book toward the now-grown readers of Potter, or even using the series name in their marketing campaign, Little, Brown & Co. will be able to usher in new readers without discouraging the old.
Although it’s uncommon for authors to venture out of their genres once they’ve found a place in them, it is not unheard of. Rowling admits that her financial independence has allowed her more freedom when it comes to writing about what she wants as opposed to what will sell, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling nervous about her experiment with the adult genre. She even considered publishing under a pseudonym. “The worst that can happen is that everyone says, ‘Well, that was dreadful, she should have stuck to writing for kids’ and I can take that,” she tells The Guardian, “So, yeah, I’ll put it out there, and if everyone says, ‘Well, that’s shockingly bad—back to wizards with you,’ then obviously I won’t be throwing a party. But I will live. I will live.”
Rowling’s humility aside, the rest of the world will have to wait to see whether “The Casual Vacancy” lacks the sparks of its author’s predecessors, or if it will proudly take its place as the first of a new and long legacy of literature from the already extremely popular creator.