Storytelling at Work
May 03, 2018
The Origins of Harry Potter


I have a question for you: Do you know who once said the following statement? "By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew." Any guesses?

Those were the words of J.K. Rowling -- the woman who authored the Harry Potter series of books which have now been translated into 73 languages and have earned more than $20 billion dollars in book sales, movies rights, and sponsorships.

She's rich and famous now, but success did not come easy. It took her her many years to become successful.

Soon after she conceived the idea for Harry Potter, she began writing, but was immediately pulled away from her work by the death of her mother -- an event that triggered a deep depression in her -- a phenomenon which made it impossible for her to write. Hoping to dig herself out of her depression, she took a job teaching English in Portugal for a year -- where she hoped to finish her book.

Good idea. But the outcomes weren't exactly like she planned. Not only did she fail making any progress on her book, she ended up in a failed marriage and now had to raise her baby daughter by herself. When she returned to England a year later, she had nothing. No job. No place to live. No book. All she had, beside her young daughter, was two things: some meager unemployment benefits and a huge desire to write. Which is exactly what she did whenever her daughter was asleep. In her kitchen. In cafes. Anyplace where she could sit down and put pen to paper.

When Rowling finished the first three chapters of her book, she sent them off to a publisher. They rejected it. Then she sent her manuscript to another publisher. They also rejected it.

After sending her manuscript to 12 different publishers and getting rejected every time, Rowling began losing confidence. Finally, the editor at Bloomsbury Publishing sat down to read what she'd sent, along with his 8 year-old daughter. The little girl loved the opening chapters so much she begged her father to read the whole thing. Indeed, it was the child's enthusiasm that convinced the editor to publish Harry Potter. But even though he did, he was not exactly encouraging: "Get a day job," he told Rowling, "because you will never make any money writing children's books."

Interesting advice, given the fact that J.K. Rowling is now the first female to become a billionaire author.

Here's the bottom line: J.K. Rowling went from being a jobless single mother living off unemployment benefits to one of the best selling authors of all time. But her success did not happen overnight. She worked hard at her craft, over a long period of time, and was rejected again and again before anyone noticed her.

You may not be trying to become a billionaire, but on some level, you are trying to succeed. Just like J.K Rowling, life isn't always easy for you. Making a living isn't always easy. Finding your way in the world isn't easy. Nor is it easy raising a family or moving or starting a business or writing your book.

Each one of us face challenges. Sometimes, it feels like no matter how much effort we make it will never come out the way we want it to. But it can. And, if we stay with it, it will.

Whatever hopes or dreams you have, I invite you to keep them alive. Whatever effort is needed, I invite you to make it. Whatever rejections come your way, I invite you to keep pressing on.

Other famous book rejections
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Storytelling at Work

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 3, 2018 02:58 PM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

Order the book:

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
Do you want to know more about the book before buying it? Click here for Mitch's response to frequently asked questions about Storytelling at Work – the perfect book for people who think they have no time to read.
The Workshop
Storytelling is an "unconscious competency" – an ability we all have that all too often remains inaccessible to us. Enter the Storytelling at Work workshop – a simple way to activate this powerful, innate skill.
Wisdom Circles
Want to establish a culture of storytelling in your organization or community? Looking for a simple way to help people to share their meaningful, memorable stories with each other? Here's how.
Podcasts & Videos
Click here to view and listen to a series of interviews with the author of this blog. Go beyond the written word. Listen. Feel. Elevate the conversation. Understand what the big deal is about personal storytelling.
Blogs 'R Us
If you like this blog, you might also like Mitch's other two blogs: The Heart of Innovation and The Heart of the Matter. Mitch is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
Idea Champions
When Mitch isn't writing, he's captaining the good ship Idea Champions, a leading edge innovation consulting and training company based in Woodstock, NY. What their clients say.