Thursday 15 October 2015

J.K. Rowling: "Never Happier Than When She was Reading"

"I was never happier than when reading or writing." (J. K. Rowling)

In 1993, J. K. Rowling was a divorced mother of a little girl and living on welfare with the dream of publishing a book about a wizard.  Today, she is married with three children, and thanks to her Harry Potter franchise, the first billionaire writer.  What was her secret to success?  Reading.

J. K. Rowling claimed that "I was never happier than when reading or writing."  Growing up in
Scotland, she read Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse, Paul Gallico's Manxmouse and C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, to name a few.  The voracious reader based her Harry Potter character Hermione Granger on 11 year old self.  Her personality lent itself to retreating into a fictional world.

While Rowling loved to read, she was never the ideal student.  While she wrote the entrance exam for Oxford, she was turned down and settled for Exeter University instead where she studied French and the Classics.  

On a train ride from Manchester to London, Rowling wrote the first draft for Harry Potter.  It would be the start of a five year plot outline which would be sidetracked by the death of a her mother.  Looking for a change, Rowling moved to Portugal to teach English for a year.  There she met, married and gave birth to a little girl.  

The marriage turned sour, however, and Rowling returned to Scotland divorced and unemployed.  She continued work on her manuscript, however, on an old manual typewriter.  She would write in cafes while her little girl slept.  Rowling presented Harry Potter to twelve publishers, all of whom turned it down.  When she sent it to Bloomsbury Press, however, the publisher gave it to his 8 year old daughter to read.  She was left wanting more.  Bloomsbury offered her a contract, recommending that she change her name from Joanne to J. K. (K. for her grandmother Kathleen) so as not to scare off her young male audience.  

Rowling's book contract for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was a big first step.  However, her publisher warned her not to quit her day job.  Yet, it led to a successful series which generated $20 billion in revenue and sold almost 500 million copies in 73 languages.  Rowling's inspiration, The Chronicles of Narnia, has sold 65 million copies.


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