More so than a collection of stories, the “Harry Potter” series can be characterized by its most devoted fans as a hobby, or a lifestyle. The increasingly voluminous installments were hefty enough to get lost in, and they managed to create not only a convincing world, but lovable characters, too.
It’s hard to imagine a world in which the books (and films, and video games, and personality quizzes) might not have been published. But, according to J.K. Rowling’s first agent Christopher Little, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was not an easy sell.
Little told HuffPost over email that Rowling selected him as her agent in part due to his name, which she liked. He was, in turn, enamored of her story, believing after reading it that it was ready to be sent out to publishers, requiring few big changes. (The rules of Quidditch, however, were altered.)
Below, Little describes the experience of trying to sell a book he believed in ― in spite of publishers’ protestations that it was too long or too “exclusive.”
When Rowling first found an agent, he compared her world-building talent to Tolkien’s.
“When I received the submission from Joanne (as she was known at the time) Rowling, it just came in as an unsolicited submission (of the first three chapters) and was picked up by our then office manager who was looking through the slush pile,” he said. “She liked it and bought it to my attention. Once I read it, I had no reservations whatsoever and in fact felt very excited about it.
“It was clearly presented as a fully realized world […] I don’t think I recall reading anything so immersive since The Lord of the Rings many years earlier. We quickly wrote back to Jo asking to see the rest of the manuscript as soon as I had finished those initial chapters.”
Rowling chose to write under the name “J.K.” in order to appeal to young boy readers.
“The suggestion to use initials instead of J.K. Rowling’s given name, Joanne, came from discussion with Bloomsbury. It’s notoriously harder to get boys to read in comparison with girls, as many parents will know, and an author being obviously female was more likely to be off-putting to boys. Joanne selected the ‘K’ after her paternal grandmother.”
Rowling only made a few changes before sending it out to publishers.
“There were very minor differences in the full manuscript that was received and that which was sent to the publishers — I do recall that the Quidditch rules were tweaked a bit!”
The book was rejected over and over again before it found a home.
“Over a period of nigh on a year, the book was turned down by more or less every major publishing house in the U.K. Various reasons were given including the story being too long, the fact that a story set in a children’s boarding school might feel too ‘exclusive’ to many readers, etc.
“When I first spoke to Barry Cunningham, who had at that time recently been hired to run the new children’s department at Bloomsbury Publishing, the book was accepted and an offer was made. He saw the same potential as I did ― perhaps as we both came from a background other than publishing originally, so arguably thought slightly less conventionally and considered this well-characterized, unique story as one that clearly should be published despite such considerations.”
From June 1 to 30, HuffPost is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the very first “Harry Potter” book by reminiscing about all things Hogwarts. Accio childhood memories.