J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter creator, used to live on welfare, now she earns billions (and other amazing facts about J.K.)

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

Those are the words of J.K. Rowling – the author whose book series has been translated into 73 languages, sold millions of copies and accrued over $20 billion through movie adaptations and sponsorships.

Indeed, J.K. Rowling’s life isn’t all wonder and magic; it is a riveting mix of failures, struggles, pains, sorrow, and, of course, success.

J.K. Rowling was born as Joanne Rowling in Yate, England, on July 31, 1965, J.K. Rowling came from humble economic means before writing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a children’s fantasy novel.

She adopted her pen name, J.K., incorporating her grandmother’s name, Kathleen, for the latter initial (Rowling does not have a middle name).

Creating the world-renowned Harry Potter series was not easy as scribbling down notes. It took Jo years to lay out every corner of plot and character of the popular fantasy series, Harry Potter. It would take years of perseverance to become the success she is today.

Soon after conceiving the idea for Harry Potter, Rowling began writing, but was immediately pulled away from her work by the devastating death of her mother.

This prompted Jo to let Harry Potter suffer the death of his parents, as well. Jo admitted that her experience losing someone made her even sympathize with Voldemort’s obsession with immortality.

Rowling ceased working on the book and sank into a deep, grieving depression, getting little to nothing accomplished in that time.

Jo recalls that her experience with depression is reflected in one of the characters in the Harry Potter series — the dementors who suck soul out of the living, much like how depression depleted the color in Jo’s life.

In the hopes of digging herself out of grievance, she took a job teaching English in Portugal for a year. She went to Portugal to get away from her troubles and more importantly, use her time off to continue working on her book. She set the goal of having the first Harry Potter book done by the time she returned from Portugal.

But things did not go as planned.

One, she failed to make any progress on her first book.

Second, she fell in love, then out of love, and ended up with a failed marriage and a baby daughter she now had to raise alone. She came back to nothing and had no job, no finished product and two mouths to feed.

She had hit rock bottom.

As she struggled with depression, raising a child on her own and living off meager unemployment benefits, she resumed work on her book in cafes while her daughter was asleep.

Despite numerous setbacks, she found solace in doing what she loved – writing. In fact, she found that the little she had was enough to be moderately happy. She had ended up in exactly the position she had feared most and found that it wasn’t that bad. There wasn’t anything left to be afraid of and her worked showcased that mindset.

When Rowling finally finished the first three chapters, she sent the manuscript off to a publisher – They quickly passed on the project. She got rejected, not once; not twice – many times.

Her mailbox got filled with rejection letters.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” — J.K. Rowling

Jo sent the manuscript to 12 different publishers. And she got rejected by every single one of them. She lost her confidence in her own work.

Finally, the editor at Bloomsbury Publishing company sat down to read the manuscript. And so did the editor’s 8 year-old daughter. The little girl loved the opening chapters, and begged to read the whole thing.

This made the publisher agree to publish Rowling’s novel. But Rowling was left with a warning: that she should get a day job, because she wouldn’t make any money writing children’s books.

Once Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published, though, she proved everyone wrong. Harry Potter sold millions of copies and J.K. Rowling earned billions!

Not an easy road to success

J.K Rowling’s journey from being a jobless single mother living off welfare benefits from the government to becoming one of the best-selling authors of all time did not happen overnight; and it sure wasn’t easy.

She faced rejection, doubted herself, but she constantly strived for success. She worked hard until her craft got noticed.

Looking back, the Harry Potter series has earned over $400 million in book sales, and the last movie alone earned $476 million dollars in ticket sales… on opening weekend.

She was the first female to become a billionaire author, not that many authors make it that far in the first place.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” — J.K. Rowling

Some Amazing Facts About J.K Rowling:

1) The boy wizard Harry Potter and author JK Rowling share the same birthday: 31st July.

2) Rowling went from being unemployed and living on state benefits to becoming a multi-millionaire in five years. However, as a teenager she lived in a Grade II listed cottage in Gloucestershire, which she states was “not a particularly happy time in my life”, due to her mother being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and a strained relationship with her father.

3) After the position of Head Girl at Wyedean School and College, she graduated from the University of Exeter with a BA in French and Classics, and then worked as a researcher for Amnesty International.

4) Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression which she claims gave her inspiration to create the Dementors in the Potter series. She also suffers from insomnia which she puts down to working too late and reading things on which she has a strong opinion.

5) On a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990, Rowling wrote her initial Potter ideas on a napkin. She typed her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on a typewriter, often choosing to write in Edinburgh cafés, accompanied by baby daughter Jessica, now 19, named after Jessica Mitford, a heroine of Rowling’s youth.

6) Rowling worked as an English teacher in Portugal during her brief marriage to television journalist Jorge Arantes, with whom she had Jessica. Despite her current fortune, she has no desire to stop working as she believes it sets a good example to her children – she now has another son and daughter with second husband, anaesthetist Neil Murray.

7) According to a recent interview, JK Rowling admits to buying her wedding dress for her second marriage to Neil Murray in disguise, to avoid being recognised – such was the price of fame.

8) Rowling’s ambiguous pen name using the initials ‘JK’ was a publishing suggestion to make her identity anonymous, for fear that a wizarding story penned by a woman might be unpopular. ‘K’ is the initial of her grandmother’s name ‘Kathleen’, since Rowling had no middle names of her own. As a result, a girl called Francesca Gray wrote Rowling her first fan letter addressing her as: ‘Dear Sir…’

9) Twelve publishing houses rejected her original Harry Potter manuscripts, but eventually small publisher Bloomsbury gave her a chance with a small advance. Little did anyone know it would become the bestselling book series in history. Her seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows broke sales records as the fastest-selling book ever.

10) Rowling was awarded the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2000 and as an eminent philanthropist has contributed money and support to notable charities such as Comic Relief, One Parent Families, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain and Lumos, amongst others.


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Gillett, R. (2017). From welfare to one of the world’s wealthiest women — the incredible rags-to-riches story of J.K. Rowling. [online] Business Insider. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-rags-to-riches-story-of-jk-rowling-2015-5 [Accessed 21 May 2017].

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