Imagine this scenario: You have wanted to be a writer since you were a child. You wrote your first book when you were six—a story about a rabbit—and at eleven, your first novel about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. You left home at eighteen to attend Exeter University, spent a year in Paris, and then returned to London where you worked for Amnesty International. One day, while sitting on a train, you had an idea for a book. You scribbled notes on odd scraps of paper until you had the makings of the first three chapters. After twelve rejections from publishers, the book finally sold and was followed by six more books, which became the best-selling series of all time. The books were made into movies, and you became a billionaire.
Can’t imagine that such a thing could really happen? Neither could JK Rowling as she was mapping out the Harry Potter series in 1998. If authors have a Cinderella story, this is surely it. Rowling is one of the most widely read female authors in history. Harry Potter has gotten a generation of children excited about reading, while their parents were eating up these books at the same time. Her rags-to-riches story has taught writers around the world to believe in their dreams because sometimes they actually come true.
Collectively, the Harry Potter books have sold more than 500 million copies, been translated into seventy-three languages, adapted into eight hugely popular films, and led to spin-off books, films, and a lucrative body of merchandise. In the twenty years since the first novel was published, the world of Harry Potter has grown to be worth more than $25 billion.
When she finished her last Harry Potter book, JK Rowling could have retired to a life of luxury and basked in the records she had set in her writing career. She did neither of those things. Just six months after the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Rowling published The Tales of Beedle The Bard, a short selection of nursery stories for young witches and wizards featured in the final Harry Potter installment. The same year that the final Harry Potter film came out, Rowling launched the interactive website, Pottermore. The site offers Potter fans the opportunity to “explore more of the magical world of Harry Potter than ever before” with the chance to pick up a wand, cast spells, brew potions, and duel with other site members. And, it’s all free. In 2014, Rowling released new writing on Pottermore at 1pm every day from December 12 to the 23rd.
In 2012, Forbes dropped Rowling from its annual list of billionaires because she had given so much of her fortune to charity. The magazine claimed, “Rowling’s estimated $160 million (£101 million) in charitable giving combined with Britain’s high tax rates bumped the Harry Potter scribe from our list.”
That same year, she published her first book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, which told the story of what happens when an unexpected death opens up a “casual vacancy” in a village parish council. Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter novel received mixed reviews from literary critics, although it still rocketed to the top of the UK’s bestseller lists, selling 2.6m copies on pre-orders alone.
Rowling’s first crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was quietly published in April 2013 under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. The book was well received by critics and sold a respectable 1,500 copies in its first three months—until Rowling was identified as the author. The book went from 5,076th place to number one on Amazon, forcing the publisher to order an extra 300,000 copies to keep up with the demand.
In September 2013, Rowling made her screenwriting debut in a Harry Potter spin-off film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Inspired by a textbook that was featured in the Harry Potter books and movies, the film tells the story of the textbook’s fictional author, Newt Scamander, as he travels America in the 1920s and makes magizoological discoveries.
JK Rowling is a prolific writer with an inexhaustible imagination who does not appear to be slowing down or resting on her laurels. At fifty, she continues to experiment with new genres and create a body of work that could keep us reading for years.
Books by JK Rowling:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The Tales of Beedle the Bard
The Casual Vacancy
The Cuckoo’s Calling
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Quidditch Through the Ages