JK Rowling shares rejection letters – and important lessons on failure

JK Rowling shares rejection letters – and important lessons on failure


'I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try.' JK Rowling shares some of her experiences with rejection – through letters sent to her by publishers – and failure

MANILA, Philippines – JK Rowling has made an indelible mark on the literary landscape by creating the wondrous world of Harry Potter and some of the modern era’s most beloved characters.

You might think that such a successful novelist never had to worry about getting turned down by publishers and putting galleons in Gringotts – to put it in terms of the wizarding community. But that wasn’t always the case. 

Born Joanne Rowling, she has accumulated a number of glowing accolades. Time magazine’s runner-up for 2007 Person of the Year? Check. Getting ranked as 48th in Forbes‘ list of powerful celebrities? Check. Being inducted into the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Prince Charles? Check.

The Harry Potter series alone has expanded into a multi-billion empire, and continues to do so, with an upcoming spin-off film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – with a screenplay written by Rowling herself.

When Bloomsbury took a chance on the story of an orphaned wizard, that had undoubtedly helped change Rowling’s life.

However, the bestselling author probably doesn’t like to believe that she’s a mythical, living success story who has experienced “what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution,” in her own words.

Recounting the pre-Harry Potter days when she was “jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless,” she once told Harvard University‘s graduating class of 2008, “By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

She took to Twitter to share that like any other creative in the world, her pitches can get thumbed down, too.

Under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, Rowling once penned crime novels, the Cormoran Strike series, and shared some of her rejection letters for everyone to see.


One of the letters from publishing house Constable & Robinson dismissed one of the Galbraith novels, saying that “we could not publish it with commercial success,” and went on to politely list down suggestions on how to proceed.

Another, from Creme de la Creme, had a succinct message: they had gone through management change and simply could not “accept new submissions at the moment.”

From one writer to others who experienced rejection, Rowling shared, “I pinned my 1st rejection letter to my kitchen wall because it gave me something in common with all my fave writers!”


The first book of the Coromoran Strike series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, went on to be distributed by Sphere, an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group.

Rowling chose to wrote under a pseudonym, telling NPR: “There was a phenomenal amount of pressure that went with being the writer of Harry Potter, and that aspect of publishing those books I do not particularly miss. So you can probably understand the appeal of going away and creating something very different, and just letting it stand or fall on its own merits.”

She said that while the Harry Potter letters were kept away, she could share the ones she wrote under her nom de plume.


When asked by a fan what kept her motivated, she tweeted in reply, “I wasn’t going to give up until every single publisher turned me down, but I often feared that would happen.”


She also shared that one of the publishers she sent a Galbraith novel to also turned down Harry Potter. “The publisher who first turned down Harry also sent [Galbraith] his rudest rejection (by email)!” she wrote.



A fan asked for her advice: “How do I get the courage to risk it all for the things that I love when I don’t have enough of a support system if all fails?”

“I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try,” Rowling replied.


Somehow, this echoes her Harvard 2008 commencement speech entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.”


She knew she had to soldier on – continue writing – and not get bogged down by failure. For her, it had benefits: “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,” she said. “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

“I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

In the speech, she later spoke of the rewards of perseverance in spite of failure: “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.” – Rappler.com



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