Failure To Rejection To Success: The Story of J.K Rowling

Atanu Sarkar
“By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

You will surely not believe that these are the words spoken by none other than a woman who was living off welfare but then became one of the wealthiest women on the earth. She is none other than J. K Rowling. She is the woman who book series has been translated into 73 languages with millions of copies sold acquiring more than $20 billion through movie adaptations and sponsorships. Now the big question is why she admits to be a failure. Let us learn the exclusive story of this writer who changed the dimension of children’s novel single-handedly.

J.K. Rowling, The Successful Writer

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J.K. Rowling is a British novelist and also the author of the Harry Potter book series. The books in these series were translated into 73 different languages selling more than 450 million copies. As per records, they have become known as the best-selling book series in the history. If that is not enough, the series of films have ranked as the second highest-grossing film series in the history of film. Rowling is known for her perseverance, effective communication and leadership.

Rowling As A Child

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Joanne “Jo” Rowling better known as J.K. Rowling was said to have born on June 31, 1965 in a small town of Yate in Gloucestershire, England. In her pen name, she incorporated her grandmother’s name, Kathleen. Rowling does not have a middle name. Her father, Peter James Rowling was engineer at the British company Rolls-Royce while her mother Anne Rowling as a science technician. Very like Harry, Ron and Hermione, they met each other on a train while they were traveling from King’s Cross station to Arbroath in Scotland. Right after a year, they got married and then left for the Navy service relocating to the suburb of Bristol which is in the West of England.

In the year 1969, four years after the birth of Joanne, the family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne. Joanne was a small, rotund girl who used to wear glasses. Right from her childhood, she was a dreamer and loved to narrate her fairytale stories. Just when she was six years old, she wrote her first story. It was a fairy tale about a rabbit that was called Rabbit who is said to have measles. His friends came to visit him with a giant bee called Miss Bee. Joanne’s younger sister Dee was the first listener to her stories.

The childhood of the novelist was not difficult. She had a quiet childhood which she spent with caring parents, favorite sister and also grandmother. She studied St Michael’s Primary School with a special interest in the history of literature. Her parents wanted to buy a house in UK and when Joanne was nine years old, they moved to the village Tutshill. She had a liking for literature for which the credit goes to her mother who used to read to her daughters interesting stories.

Joanne while in school developed some problems with her math teacher Mrs. Morgan who let intelligent kids sit on the right side of the class. Joanne was made to sit on the right side which really annoyed her. This was really frustrating for intelligent Joanne. In fact she modeled the character of Severus Snape after Mrs. Morgan.

At the age of 15, the family shifted again. Rowling missed her friends but there were more misfortunes waiting to come. At that time, her grandmother died with the relationship with her father soured and moreover her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Now tragedy was Rowling’s condition was getting worse each and every day. Now for the little girl, her mother’s illness was all that affected her.

In the year 1983, she graduated from Wyedean School and decided to join the Oxford University. Though she passed entrance exams, she was not accepted to one of the prestigious British universities. She got enrolled in the University of Exeter located in South West England studying French. She graduated in the year 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts in French and Classics. She joined Amnesty International as a bilingual secretary and researcher but she was not happy with the job.

The Back History Of Harry Potter

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In the summer of 1990, Rowling’s boyfriend shifted to Manchester and she went to spend the weekend flat-hunting with him. When she was returning to London by train, the idea of Harry Potter came to her mind in the trip. She actually saw the whole story of book as well as the wizard school apparently.  The initial thought was about a boy who never knew he was a wizard until he got invited to the wizard school. As soon as she returned home, she sat down at her desk and started to write. In fact once, her apartment was robbed but the thieves took everything away only leaving the shoe box full of the outline of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter actually saw the world six months after the death of Joanne’s mother. Her mother died in 1990 at the age of 45. Joanne had visited her mother six days after she had passed away but she could not realize the seriousness of her mother’s disease. The death of her mother sent Joanne to depression.

A Turbulent Personal Life

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Nine months after the death of her mother, she attempted to escape from despair by starting a new life in Portugal.  Here she taught English as foreign language. On October 16, 1992, she got married to Jorge Arantes. While Jorge was at home, she wrote the first three chapters of Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone. Now Arantes could not find work. Joanne had to work till the birth of their daughter Jessica, who was born on July 27, 1993. Her ordeal has just begun when just after the birth of a daughter; her husband beat her and drove her out of the house. In the year 1993, Rowling with her daughter moved to Joanne’s sister in Edinburgh. Rowling could only confide her problems in her.

The end of 1993 made Rowling think that she is a failure with her short-lived abusive marriage and also the fact she was unemployed. She was a single parent living in Britain alone being as poor as she can be. In fact during that period, Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression and even tried suicide. This made her invent about dark characters like Dementors who feed upon human happiness which were introduced in the third novel Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

After few months, Joanne rented out a small apartment in Edinburgh and she was living on state benefits. She just received 70 pounds every week which she spent on cheap food and buying clothes for Jessica. Joanne went out to walk every single day and stayed wandered the streets till her daughter feel asleep.  Then with a cup of coffee at Nicolson’s Café or at the Elephant House, Joanne wrote about her book Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone. There were rumors that Rowling was writing her books in local cafes to escape her unheated flat but she dismissed those gossips. Well at that time, everything was very difficult for Rowling and she could forget everything when she was sitting at her writing desk making her story about Harry Potter.

Attempts To Bring Harry Potter And Philosopher’s Stone Into The World

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In the year 1995, nearly after five years of writing, Joanne Rowling finished the book Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone. Right from writing her first book, Joanne was knew how the story would end. But the first chapter was remade nearly fifteen times.

Every details of the magical world along with the different information of students, their skills and experiments were noted down. The writer also portrayed the main characters along with their magical transformations.  After finishing the last chapter of the book, Joanne started searching for publishers.  Rowling wrote down several chapters on the typewriter and then went in search of literary agents. Well she got negative replies as it is difficult for children or children will not be interested. This disappointed Joanne as she started thinking life was meaningless. But with the motivation of her sister, Rowlings never gave up. They started sending chapters to Christopher little who is the famous literary agent.

But he was not interested in the literature of the children so the texts were sent to archive. But an interested young employee put the chapters on Chief’s who liked it and decided to promote it. Christopher Little Literary Agents liked it and decided to represent Rowling while searching for publisher. Nearly twelve publishing houses rejected the manuscript.

In the year of August 1996, Joanne book got a green light by an editor from Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London. Well Joanne could not believe her ears.  She was so happy that she screamed and jumped around the place. The choice was made by the chairman of Bloomsbury’s daughter who loved the book. She received and a £1,500 ($2,300) of advance. As Rowling was told that her future was not secure, so Rowling started working as a teacher of French. In the year 1997, Rowling received a £8,000 ($12,500) grant from Scottish Arts Council which helped her to continue her writing.

The First Publication Of The First Book

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Bloomsbury first published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with just 1000 copies sold among which just 500 copies of the book were distributed to libraries. Today these copies are estimated between £16,000 ($25,000) and £25,000 ($39,000). The boom began. Nearly five months later, the book won the first award, a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. There was no stopping after that. The novel won British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year along with British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year.

In the early 1998, Scholastic Inc. won the rights to publish the books during the auction to publish the novel for $105,000. In October 1998, Scholastic distributed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as the new title of the book. Well this change was certainly not preferred by Rowling but she was in no position to fight for it.

After receiving money from Scholastic sale, Rowling shifted to a new flat on 19 Hazelbank Terrace in the area of Edinburgh with her daughter. There she brought a rabbit, cat and guinea pig as Jessica wanted pets for long time.

First Book, First Film

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All the magic was waiting to come to big screen. Soon Warner Bros brought the right to the book for an amount of $ 1.5 million. But deductions from sales and close cooperation of Rowling were there in the project.

In the initial period, Steven Spielberg was considered for the role of film director. But he refused as Spielberg wanted to do a cartoon version for which both Rowling and Warner Bros. were not comfortable. Next Terry Gilliam was chosen as the film director but he was also dropped for certain purpose.

Next Terry Gilliam was chosen as film director but he was also dropped out as his ideas do not coincide with the vision of greater audience. Lastly Warner Bros. was chosen as the director by the name Chris Columbus as he loved to work with children and family movies since he brought the world of Home Alone into the world. Rowling wanted British actors in the film and out of thousands of applicants Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were selected. The film was premiered on November 16, 2001.

The ‘Harry Potter’ Book Series

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In July 1998, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published and it won Smarties Book Prize. Then again in December 1999, the third book won the Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban won the Smarties Book Prize again making Rowling the first person to win the award three times.  But when it was the turn of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she let the award for other contenders to win and did not give her name in the list. Right during the second tour across USA, she was impressed by the crowd who saw her as her idol. Soon, Rowling joined the club of millionaire which provoked journalist’ interest in her personal life.

“I Really Do Not Believe In Magic”

The fourth book Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire was simultaneously released in the United Kingdom as well as United States on July 8 in the year 2000 breaking the sales records in both countries. Right on the first day, 372,775 copies of the book were sold right on the first day in UK which is very close to the number of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sold right during the first year. In US, there were nearly three million copies sold in the first 48 hours breaking all records. As per Rowling’s memories, there had been crises while writing the fourth novel rewriting one chapter nearly thirteen times for fixing a problem right with the plot. Later in 2000 British Book Awards named Rowling as the Author of the Year.

There was a wait of three years right between the release of Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire and the fifth novel Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. There were spectacles that Rowling was having writer’s block but Joanne denied the rumors.  When she wrote the sixth book, Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince on July 16, 2005, it broke all sales records selling nearly nine million copies of the sixth book. Rowling later noted that the first chapter of sixth book described a conversation between the British Prime minister and Minister of Magic which was supposed to be the first chapter of “Philosopher’s Stone” then the Chamber of Secrets and certainly the “Prisoner of Azkaban”. In the year 2006, Harry Potter and the Half- Blood Prince receiving the Book of the Year prize at British Book Awards.

Rowling After The Success Of Harry Potter

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The seventh book of Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows was announced right at the end of December 2006. Right on January 11 2007, J.K. Rowling finished the seventh book in her hotel room at The Balmoral in Edinburgh. On the July 21, 2007, Rowling released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The novel surely broke all record being the fastest-selling book of all-time. As per records, right on the first day, this book sold 11 million copies in UK and US. In fact the last chapter of the book was written by Rowling in the 1990s. Harry Potter is now a global brand which is estimated to be worth $15 billion. Well the last four books of Harry Potter set records as the best-selling books in the history. The series which is of 4.195 pages have been translated in 73 languages. Right in October 2015, J.K. Rowling brought eighth book by the name Harry Potter and the Cursed Child co-authored by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. This book is about the story of Albus Severus Potter.

The Key Takeaway Here

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J.K. Rowling right from being an unemployed single mother who was living on welfare became one of the best-selling authors of all time. She was affected by self-doubt and were rejected numerous times but kept pushing herself to believe in herself. It is very important to have a vision of one-self accepting setbacks making magic all the way.

She had faced failures in her personal life also suffering a failed marriage. Right on December 26, 2001, Rowling married anesthetist Dr. Neil Murray and is happy in her marriage. She had been blessed by two children David and Mackenzie. Rowling has one child, Jessica from her previous marriage.

It is very important to have a proper vision. Rowling had envisioned all the characters right at the start of the story. She was persistence with her story and spent the next five years outlining the plots for each books and writing down the magical powers of each characters making her life story so inspirational and her Harry Potter stories so deeply engrossing. And the famous writer once said,

“I think you’re working and learning until you die.”


Atanu Sarkar is the Chief Executive Office and Founder of the award-winning software development company, Webskitters. Possessing immense interest and great skills in the IT industry, he takes out time from his strictly-maintained schedule, to manage his blogs and to update it on a regular basis. It is through his blogs that he shares his views and insights about the industry with others.


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