If not for an 8-year-old child the world might never have heard of Harry Potter and the world of magic and mystery that is Hogwarts.
After five years of writing Harry Potter and the Philsopher’s stone, J.K. Rowling submitted the book to every publishing house in England that would look at children’s literature—only to be turned down seven or eight times.
When she finally submitted to Bloomsbury, what saved her was 8-year-old Alice Newton, the daughter of Bloomsbury Chairman Nigel Newton. Newton gave his daughter a chapter to read.
“She came down from her room an hour later glowing. Dad, this is so much better than anything else,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “She nagged and nagged me in the following months, wanting to see what came next.”
The nagging eventually lead to a book deal, and Rowling was given a £2,500 advance. Her books, movies and merchandising have gone on to earn her £562 million and change, made £19 million for her agent, and turned Daniel Radcliff, the kid who plays Harry Potter, into the world’s youngest millionaire at age 14.
As an aspiring fantasy author, I look to Rowling’s story a fair amount for inspiration and to gauge my own progress.
After starting Harry Potter while sitting on a delayed train between Manchester and London in 1990, Rowling finally started looking for an agent in 1995. A year later that agent had contacted almost every publishing house, and finally got her a book deal in 1996.
When she finally did get a deal it resulted in an average advance, typically less $10,000, and little marketing support from the publishing house. Thousands of novels are bought the same way every year and most of them fail.
People are reading less every year, but Harry Potter has made people read. It originally succeeded on word of mouth alone, and is now a world-wide cultural reference.
All because a 8-year-old girl liked the writing of an out-of-work school teacher.