J.K. Rowling expects critics to pan her new novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, which will be available to the public on Thursday. Even if Rowling is a lousy augur and her book receives universal acclaim, it would do little to change my decision to hold off on purchasing it.
When deciding whether to purchase a book, I weigh many pieces of information, including the reviews, the blurb (or better yet, a sample chapter), the cover art, the price, and my opinion of the author. I have touched on this subject before in previous posts, Negative Book Reviews: Is There Such a Thing as Bad Publicity? and Cover Art: What Does it Say About the Book?
The Casual Vacancy’s dull cover design is underwhelming, but the blurb sounds interesting enough:
When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
I like idyllic English towns, which was one of the reasons behind my positive reaction to Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
What I do not like about Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy is the price, which is $17.99 for the ebook and $20.90 (marked down from the list price of $35) for the hardcover on Amazon. This price supposedly reflects the author’s time and artistry, the efforts of publishing house in preparing the manuscript for the marketplace, the marketing campaign to promote it, and a cut to the vendors for making it accessible to the public. In my opinion, though, it’s hard to justify such a price in tough economic times, when a reader can find numerous entertaining options — many of which may be far more enjoyable — under $10 and often under $5.
One way of maximizing profit is to increase demand by having a lower, more affordable price. Clearly, that’s not the strategy here. Here, the assumption is that the author’s celebrity and prowess will convince people to put their money down on this novel instead of their grocery tab or a toy for their kids. If any author can get away with charging an arm and a leg for an ebook — which requires readers to spend eighteen dollars without even receiving a physical copy of the book — it’s J.K. Rowling. No author is better known than she is. No one has written a book as widely appealing as she has, with her Harry Potter series charming readers of all ages around the globe.
But The Casual Vacancy is not the next Harry Potter book. It is a completely different genre, one that is likely to appeal only to a fraction of the legions of Harry Potter fans. Recently, bestselling author Jodi Picoult made a deviation from her typical macabre take on women’s fiction to publish a “tween” fairy tale-based novel, Between the Lines, with her seventeen-year-old daughter, Samantha Van Leer. While the book has received some positive reviews (my review was mixed), the numerous one-star Amazon reviews from Picoult fans show that many are annoyed that the novel is so different from the tales of death and disease that made Picoult famous.
Managing her own and the public’s expectations, Rowling predicts that readers may have a similar negative reaction to her newest work, saying in an interview with The Guardian:
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. 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.
Yes, she will live. She will continue to live quite well, actually, as creator of one of the most beloved series in literature and as one of the richest people in the world. I imagine The Casual Vacancy will be a bestseller, too, simply because people will buy it out of curiosity, but I will not be one of those people. I will wait for the library copy or a major discount on this one.
What about you? Have you pre-ordered the novel? Do you think $17.99 for the ebook is justified?