We’ve all heard of the Harry Potter franchise, a series of books about a young wizard that goes to wizarding school that captured the imaginations of some 400 million children worldwide. The series were a huge hit and were created into films, games and merchandise that still sell in large numbers today. However, did you know that the brain behind the books, J.K Rowling, was actually rejected by numerous publishers before Potter finally hit the shelves in the early 90’s?
In March, after receiving a request from a fan, Rowling decided to tweet some snaps of rejection letters she had received from publishers Constable & Robinson and Crème De La Crime, encouraging budding authors to keep going in the face of rejection. Rowling began her career writing in a flat in Clapham Junction. She was inspired to write the famous Harry Potter series on a four hour delayed train journey to London and began writing as soon as she got home the same day.
At the time of her rejection, Rowling wrote under the pen name ‘Robert Galbraith’. Writing under a pseudonym is a popular method used by authors to remain anonymous when submitting to publishers or attempting to submit different styles of work to the public. Galbraith was rejected several times by publishers and Rowling was even at one point advised to take a writing course.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) March 25, 2016
The letters above are rejection letters for one of Rowling’s other early works The Cuckoo’s Calling. While Rowling states Harry Potter received several rejection letters, she said she could not publish those letters because they were “in a box in [her] attic”. She also said that publishing the letters was for “inspiration not revenge” and so hasn’t included signatures to protect those involved in the rejection.
Despite being rejected, Rowling carried on and kept writing and submitting her works to publishers. Of course, we now know her today as the author of the Harry Potter franchise and one of the richest women in Britain, so that determination paid off. It is Rowling’s hope that, by sharing the images of these rejection letters, she can inspire those who are struggling to keep going.
So why does this mean you shouldn’t give up? Well, it’s simple. There wouldn’t be Harry Potter books, films, games or merchandise if J.K Rowling had given up on her work as an author. There’s a laundry list of people who were rejected in the early stages of their careers who are now cultural icons, for example The Beatles, who were initially rejected by Decca Records. In short, you never know where the next big hit might come from; it could even come from you.
So, next time you are feeling rejected or like your work might not be up to scratch, remember the famous success stories that inspire you the most. Below are a list of some of the most famous people who have received rejection before they found fame.
- Walt Disney – Disney was told that he was not imaginative and ‘lacked ideas’ and was fired from his role at the Kansas City Star in 1919.
- Madonna – Madonna dropped out of college and moved to New York. She got a job at a Dunkin’ Donuts but was fired the same day after squirting jam all over a customer.
- Oprah Winfrey – Oprah was fired for being ‘unable to separate her emotions from her stories’ when working as a newscaster.
- Jerry Seinfeld – The actor, now a household name, was fired from a small part he had in a television show called Seinfeld wasn’t even told he’d been fired but discovered it once he noticed that his lines had been cut from the script.
- Elvis Presley – Elvis was once told by a concert hall manager after a show that he should go back to Memphis and drive trucks for a living, which he had done before he became a singer.
- Albert Einstein – Einstein didn’t learn to speak until he was four and couldn’t read until he was seven. He was expelled from school and rejected from Zurich Polytechnic.
- Charles Darwin – Darwin once wrote that he was ‘considered by [his] masters and [his] father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect’.