Lessons Learned from Release of JK Rowling’s First Adult Novel

J.K. Rowling, best-loved modern children’s author, has stumbled with the release of her first adult novel. The novel has received some early mixed reviews – not unexpected when an author is changing her style, her subject matter, her audience and almost everything else about one of the best-known worldwide brands in publishing. Of course the book has mixed reviews. It will be judged much more harshly and receive much more scrutiny than most novels because of Rowling’s fame and previous success. And despite the early leaks and many less-than-kind reviews, Casual Vacancy shot instantly to the top of the bestseller list. Millions of people will buy the book, if for no other reason than curiosity.

But after the carefully scripted releases of the seven Harry Potter books, Rowling’s hesitation to enter them into the e-book market and her control of the e-books to the point where they are only available for sale on her own “Pottermore” site, the problems that arose with the new novel’s e-book edition on its first day of sale are surprising, to say the least.

The e-book had problems with “the adjustability of font color and size and adjustability of margins” in all e-book formats, according to the publisher, Hachette Book Group’s Little, Brown. Apparently the book would not format to a legible size in the e-ink version of the Kindle or on the Barnes and Noble Nook. It would, however, format correctly on the tablet or phone app versions of the book.

It is startling that in an age where literally thousands of authors are bypassing even the assistance of an IT formatting service and formatting their e-books themselves, a glitch like this would occur on an e-book produced by a major publishing house for an internationally-known author. It leaves a particularly bad taste in the mouth when the price for the e-book was set not only substantially higher ($17.99) than average prices for e-book fiction, but higher than the average price for other new releases by well-known authors.

What should authors learn from the problems with the release of Rowling’s Casual Vacancy?

1.        Quality Counts. Whether you are publishing an e-book, a paper book, or both, make sure that your product is as professional as possible. Pay attention to the details.

2.        Don’t Try to Do It All Yourself. No, I’m not suggesting the Rowling sat down and attempted to format Casual Vacancy herself. I am suggesting that many authors today attempt to save money by bypassing important steps such as editing, proofreading, cover design, and e-book formatting. No one can be an expert on everything. Make an honest assessment of your skills and get the assistance that you need.

3.        You are Your Brand. A reader’s first impression of an author can rarely be changed. If your work is not well-written with an excellent plot, good grammar and a professional, polished look your readers will remember. They will not recommend your book – or worse yet, they will give it a bad review – and they certainly won’t purchase your second book.

4.        If You Make a Mistake, Fix It. Within hours of the release, Rowling’s publisher acknowledged the problem, released a new “glitch-free” copy for download and assured readers that they would not have to pay more money to receive a  new copy of the book.

5.        Check Your Work. Then recheck it. A little quality control would have gone a long way to insuring that the problem with Casual Vacancy did not occur in the first place. Yes, excellent crisis PR is all well and good, but it is better not to have a crisis at all.

Will Rowling’s reputation survive this small crisis? Of course. She is magical, after all, and her readers will forgive this one small mistake. The question for the rest of us Muggles is, could our own reputations as authors withstand a similar problem? Try not to find out.

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