J.K. Rowling Talks About the Fringe Benefits of Failure

J.K. Rowling Talks About the Fringe Benefits of Failure

A few decades ago, a writer friend attended an Edinburgh book fair. He noticed a woman sitting awkwardly beside a pile of her books, no one taking any interest. He felt sorry for her (okay, maybe he just wanted to chat her up!), so he went over.

They discussed her story and the vagaries of writing life, such as the fact that, after twelve rejections, she was happy to have found a publisher and didn’t expect to make much money.

Since it was a children’s book and my friend didn’t have one, he didn’t buy it. He could kick himself now, since that book is worth about $25,000.

The woman, of course, was J.K. Rowling, self-promoting Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, published by an unknown press for a $1500 advance and an initial run of 1000 copies. Rowling spent the first year hawking it herself while getting a post-graduate certificate that would allow her to teach in Scotland (she had been teaching abroad, where it was unnecessary).

Can you believe it’s been twenty years since Harry Potter soared out of her imagination onto the printed page?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a post on “Harry Potter and the Art of Transmedia Storytelling.”

In it, Nick Clayton quotes Starlight CEO Jeff Gomez on how Pottermore will usher in a new wave of “transmedia storytelling” (Starlight created movie tie-ins for Avatar and Pirates of the Caribbean):

In today’s interconnected world, our attention flows from our computer screens to our mobile screens to our TV screens without our giving such activity a second thought. The problem has been that the stories we enjoy don’t do that; they don’t behave the way we’ve come to need them to behave. . . . Transmedia storytelling is a technique rising into prominence in Hollywood and on Madison Avenue that allows for the development of robust “story worlds” that play out across multiple media platforms.

After reading the post, I see little difference between “transmedia story telling” and ever-expanding movie merchandise tie-ins. So will Pottermore represent the next wave of storytelling or the next wave of marketing?

We’ll know by Monday, but in the meantime, here’s Ms. Rowling’s famous Harvard address on “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” You’ve come a long way, J.K.!

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

3 Responses

  1. Yolanda

    I recently saw an interview of J.K. done by Oprah Winfrey and I was blown away by her down to earth attitude. I’ve never read the books and had seen the movies but always envisioned a rather up-tight person. Wow was she far from that. She appeared to me to be a warm person with a lot of curiosity. It’s hard to explain but I was fascinated. Yes, a late bloomer for sure and an amazing one!

    • Debra Eve

      I think I know the interview — where she talks about her battle with depression and how it spawned some of Harry’s antagonists called “dementors.” I always admire her for speaking her truth. Thanks for stopping by, Yolanda!