From rags to riches: how a single mom became richer than the Queen

On June 26, 1997 a new phenomenon was born when J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in London. The children’s book was instantly praised, and in 1998 it was published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. As we now know, the Harry Potter series became one of the most successful children’s book series in history – producing seven books and millions of young readers – and the top grossing film series of all time. 

The poster for the 2001 film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

The poster for the 2001 film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

In 1993, Joanne “Jo” Rowling was a newly single mom who was unemployed and living on welfare in Scotland. Her daughter was just an infant, and while she was napping Rowling would take her to cafes to write on scraps of paper and napkins. In these two hour writing sessions Rowling developed the character Harry Potter and the magical world that he lives in. She first thought of the character in 1990 when she worked as a teacher and was stuck on a train between Manchester and London.

Considering the overwhelming success of the series, it seems that Rowling would have had no trouble getting her book published. However, finding a publisher for her work was not an easy feat. She approached 12 publishers before lucky number 13, Bloomsbury Publishing in London, accepted her novel.

Like a number of well-known and respected female writers, Rowling used a male-sounding pen name to publish her books under. Bloomsbury Publishing famously encouraged her to use initials rather than her full name in order to appeal to a broader audience and be taken more seriously as a writer, since she was a woman writing about a male character. Rowling used her first initial and, though she has no middle name, chose the letter “K” for Kathleen – becoming J.K. Rowling.

Jo Rowling holding the seventh and final installment of her Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Jo Rowling holding the seventh and final installment of her Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Implications of gender inequality aside, Rowling became widely recognized as an excellent children’s writer. Less than seven years later, her net worth was estimated at £280 million. In 2003, she was the 122nd richest person in the United Kingdom – 11 places higher than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and her wealth has only grown in the last decade. In April of this year, Rowling was estimated to be worth $1 billion (J.K. Rowling is also a quite charitable woman, believing “you have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently.”)

The size of the Harry Potter empire Rowling created has impacted not only her own life, but created a large ripple effect in the entertainment industry. Bloomsbury Publishing’s revenue grew seven fold in the 8 years following the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Scholastic, which publishes the series in the United States, sold more than 400 million copies of the books worldwide.

Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint, who played Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, and Ron Weasley in the 8 part film saga.

Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint, who played Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, and Ron Weasley in the 8 part film saga.

The Harry Potter films are a whole different ball game. The films created thousands of jobs over the years, and the increased presence of the series generated Harry Potter merchandise sales in the hundreds of millions, and in 2012 it was estimated that the Harry Potter brand was worth $15 billion. All told, the Harry Potter series was a magical phenomenon that began when a brilliant woman was stuck on a train.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “From rags to riches: how a single mom became richer than the Queen

  1. I think this article really gets at one of the most important characteristics a human being needs to possess in order to be influential in the world of economics, and that is creativity. Most every person that has gone from rags to riches exhibits a unique form of creativity that internally drives them to pursue their dreams just like JK Rowling. Also it surprises me that it took 12 publishing companies before the novel was actually published. I think it is important to understand that going from ‘rags to riches’ without facing adversity along the way is impossible. I would say the books and movies have definitely influenced the childhood development for a lot of the people in our class.

    Like

  2. As a Harry Potter lover and as a book lover in general, I still find it very interesting how mixed the characteristics of “writers who make it big” are. From Christopher Paolini, who just graduated from high school when he wrote Eragon, to a single mother on welfare, the idea that there is a generic stereotype for famous authors is completely overturned.

    Like

  3. I also find it interesting how certain writers make it big. I think that being a successful writer is just like being an actor. Many people may try to do it and might be good at it, but only few will actually make it big. I also believe these writers who make it big possess similar characteristics. J.K.Rowling must’ve hit the market and readers at the right time. She didn’t write the story wanting to make money, she just decided to write one day and came up with a hit. Often times, those are the best stories because they are not forced. Lastly, I also find it interesting that she had to change her name. What would’ve happened if she didn’t change her name? Would she have sold less because she had a females name?

    Like

  4. I wonder if J.K. Rowling had any idea that her books would be so famous and important to people. I figure that she probably didn’t. When people go from rags to riches based on talent or something that generally turns one into a type of celebrity, it’s a major gamble. The book could have been enjoyed by many, but mainly brushed under the rug after some time, but instead it exploded. While I am sure J.K. Rowling is very talented, as many other authors surely are, chance certainly played into it. I also agree that she had to have hit the market at the right time with the right idea. The qualities that consumers desire in entertainment or enjoyable activities in general are not necessarily a sure thing.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s