Rejections in a Writer's Life

Once upon a time (the early 1970s), there was a girl named Jo. She lived in England and loved to write fantasy stories and read them to her little sister. But she was an unhappy teenager because her mother became very sick and her father had little interest in being a good father.

Failure 1: When she was 17 she applied to Oxford but was rejected. Instead, she attended Exeter where she studied French. She did not worry much about grades at university, preferring to spend her time reading stories by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and many others.

After graduating, she held office jobs in London and Manchester. But everything changed for Jo when she was 25 and her mother died after many years of suffering from multiple sclerosis. Jo needed a change and moved to Portugal to teach English.

Failure 2: When she was 27 she met a journalist, married him, and had a baby girl, Jessica. But the marriage was not a good one and they got divorced.

As a poor single mother, she moved to Scotland. She applied for welfare benefits, which barely paid for an apartment and food. She was often angry because she felt that she was a failure and that she was letting Jessica down. She became deeply depressed but found a way through her dark thoughts for the sake of her little girl.

She had started writing a story and wanted to complete it, hoping she could make a living as a writer. She often put Jessica in a stroller and wheeled her about town to help her sleep, stopping in cafes to do a little writing.

Failures 3 to 14: At the age of 30 she finished her story, found an agent, and was turned down at 12 publishing houses. During this time she obtained a teaching certificate in case her plans to be a writer failed.

Success 1: At one publishing company, an executive's daughter loved reading the first chapter and demanded the next one. The company agreed to publish the book, but advised Jo to get a day job because she was unlikely to have much success as an author.

The publishing company was wrong. The book was titled Philosopher's Stone, and it sold rather well. A year later it was re-titled for the US market as Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, by Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

Successes 2 to 7: Well, you know.


J. K. Rowling