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J.K. Rowling went from being on Government Assistance to Extreme Wealth Writing the Harry Potter Book Series

Updated on January 19, 2018
Readmikenow profile image

Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

J. K. Rowling at book signing
J. K. Rowling at book signing

J.K. Rowling is known for writing the “Harry Potter” book series. The books and films made from them have obtained a level of success almost never seen before in the entertainment industry. During the 1990s, Rowling was a single mother receiving financial assistance from the government. She wrote her first book about Harry Potter's adventures in longhand on a paper tablet. Rowling would write in coffee shops. Her daughter would be sleeping in a baby carriage next to her. The first book became a huge success and an international bestseller. According to Forbes magazine, Rowling's wealth is currently estimated to be over $640 million.

J.K. Rowling as child
J.K. Rowling as child

Early Life

On July 31, 1965, Joanne Rowling was born in Yate, England. Her father's name was Peter, and he worked at the local Rolls Royce factory as an engineer. Rowling's mother's name was Anne. She worked at Wyedean Comprehensive school where Rowling was a student. Her mother was a science technician in the school's Chemistry department. Rowling says her character Hermione Granger is based on herself and how she behaved at the age of eleven. Rowling has one sister named Dianne. Rowling was then became a student at St. Michael's Primary School. The headmaster at this school was a man named Alfred Dunn. Many people believe Dunn inspired the headmaster character Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter book series. When she was growing up, Rowling was a dedicated reader. She tells people when she was young she lived for books. At the ages of six, Rowling wrote her first book. When she was eleven, Rowling wrote her first novel. It was a story about cursed diamonds and what they did to the people who owned them.

Marriage, Divorce, and Motherhood

Rowling left home to attend Exeter University at the age of eighteen. When she graduated in 1990, she relocated to Portugal. There she taught English and met Jorge Arantes. He was a Portuguese journalist. Arantes and Rowling got married on October 16, 1992. The couple had a daughter in 1993 and named her Jessica. Unfortunately, the marriage ended in divorce. Rowling then took her daughter and went to Edinburgh. She wanted to live closer to her younger sister Dianne.


During this time, Rowling struggled and saw her life as a failure. She was divorced, had no job and a daughter to support. She signed up for welfare benefits. It was during this time in her life when Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression. She was also suicidal. From this experience, Rowling created the Dementor characters for her book. They are creatures that can suck the soul out of a person. When she talks about this time in her life, Rowling describes herself as being as poor as it is possible to be and not be homeless. She still believes this period of her life was special as it provided her with the time necessary to focus on writing.

J.K. Rowling at coffee shop
J.K. Rowling at coffee shop

Story Idea

According to Rowling, the idea for Harry Potter came into her mind in 1990. She was on a train trip from Manchester to London. There was a four-hour-delay, and it was during this time the idea for a boy attending a school for wizards came into her mind. Upon arriving at her destination, Rowling started immediately writing the story. During this time, her mother died from complications associated with multiple sclerosis. Rowling was able to see her own feelings as she wrote about the Harry Potter losing parents in the first book. She spent time in many coffee shops writing the first novel. Rowling preferred spending time in coffee shops and going for a walk. This was the best way to get her daughter to sleep.

Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone Book
Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone Book


Rowling completed the first Harry Potter book in 1995. She typed the manuscript on a manual typewriter. Bryony Evens reviewed the book for Christopher Little Literary Agents. He was very excited about the first three chapters. The manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was submitted to twelve different publishing houses. All of them rejected it. The chairman of a publishing house considering Rowling's book and had his daughter read the first chapter. When she was done, his daughter was enthusiastic about reading additional chapters. The following year, a publishing house in London gave Rowling's manuscript a green light for publication. She was also given a small advance. The publishers requested her name be listed on the book as J.K. Rowling. They felt the book may not appeal to young boys if they knew it had been written by a female. Rowling has no middle name. She adopted the “K” from her paternal grandmother's name Kathleen.

Initial Print Run and Awards

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was published in June of 1997. The initial print run was 1,000 copies. Five months after its initial publication, the book won the first of its several awards and eventually sold over 100 million copies. The book was given the British Book Award for Children's Books, Nestle Smarties book prize and others. In 1998, Scholastic, Inc. won the rights to publish the Harry Potter novels in the United States. The title of the first book was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's stone when it was published in the United States.

Subsequent Titles

In 1998, the second book in the series was published. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets sold over 60 million copies. This third novel was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which was published in December of 1999. It also sold over 60 million copies. On July 2000, the fourth book was published. Its title was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was released in Britain and the United States on the same day. It achieved record book sales in each country. Within the first 48 hours of being available for sale, millions of copies were sold in the United States and over 370,000 in Britain. The fifth book was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It was published on June 21, 2003, and once again, a book in the Harry Potter series broke sales records. The sixth book was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was released on July 16, 2005, and sold over nine million copies the first day of being available for sale. The last book in the series was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was released on July 21, 2007. It broke the sales records of all the previous books in the series. Over ten million copies were sold within the first 24 hours of it being available for purchase.

 Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter is on the far left.  Next to him is Rupert Grint who played Ron Weasley.  Emma Watson who played Hermione Granger is on the far right.
Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter is on the far left. Next to him is Rupert Grint who played Ron Weasley. Emma Watson who played Hermione Granger is on the far right.


A movie based on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released in November 2001. The three main characters were played by Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger and Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley. It was directed by Chris Columbus. It was the top-grossing movie of 2001. Movies based on the second and third books were also directed by Chris Columbus and also had record-breaking ticket sales. A movie based on the fifth book was directed by Mike Newell. Movies based on the fifth, sixth and seventh books were directed by David Yates.

Book Writing Since Harry Potter Series

Rowling has told everyone who asks that she does not intend to write any more books for the Harry Potter series. She also has not given up on the possibility of this happening. Rowling did write a collection of five fables mentioned in the Harry Potter book series called The Tales of Beedle and Bard. They were released in 2008. Rowling published her first book targeting adults in 2012 called The Casual Vacancy. Starting in 2013 Rowling began publishing novels under the pen name Robert Galbraith. The three books done with this pen name were Career of Evil, Cuckoo Calling, and The Silkworm. In 2015, Rowling published the commencement speech she gave at Harvard University in 2008. It was in book form and called Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.

Movie poster for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them
Movie poster for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them

Warner Brothers Partnership

The movie studio announced it had increased its creative partnership with Rowling. This partnership involved planned series of movies. Rowling wrote the first film that was released in November 2016 called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The film series will consist of five movies.


Rowling got married Neil Murray on December 26, 2001. The couple had a son on March 24, 2003, and named him David Gordon Rowling Murray. Rowling and her family live in a home built in the seventeenth-century located in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is hidden by many tall conifer hedges.


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    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      10 months ago

      Paula, thanks. I agree. Her story is one that should be a lesson for all aspiring writers.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      10 months ago from Carson City

      What spectacular things will happen when an enormously creative mind, superb writing skills, dedication & belief in one's self, all meet in one person, during a temporary slump in their life that inspires them to "perform magic!"

      This is interesting & very informative, Mike. Thank you. Paula

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      10 months ago

      Ken, thanks. I think her story is an inspiring one for all writers.

    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 

      10 months ago from Florida

      Great article Mike, worth the read.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      10 months ago

      Thanks for your comment official night king zim. I agree with you. She was determined and would not quit. Very inspiring.

    • official night king zim profile image

      official night king zim 

      10 months ago from Harare Zimbabwe

      thanks for sharing this wonderful info. i personally think that she made it through hardwork and all tha.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Nina, thanks for sharing your experience. I also really enjoyed those books and movies. I liked the books much more than the movies. I can only imagine the struggle it must have been for a Harry Potter fan..

    • fairychamber profile image

      Niina Niskanen 

      2 years ago from Wrexham

      Story of JK Rowling is really from rags-to-riches story. I love all Harry Potter books. I read the first one when I was 11 and really grew up with Harry since each year a new book was published. Year when the seventh book was published was pure torment for me (I think I was 18 or 19) I wanted to wait for the Finnish translation and it appeared year after the English one. Finnish versions are even bigger than the English ones because Finnish language has way longer words. (translator Jaana Kapari is fabulous. She made up Finnish translations for all the imaginary words JK created). Anyway I had to avoid social media and all my friends who had read the English version so I would n´t get any spoilers. It was all worth it!

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Peggy, thanks. She has had an amazing life story.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hers is an amazing story indeed! Thanks for filling me in on some of her background.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Thanks. I agree, her story is very impressive. Why certain things happen to some people and not others makes you realize there is a force driving our lives.

    • manatita44 profile image


      2 years ago from london

      An interesting life story. Perhaps God had marked her out to be rich. I haven't read her books in full or even looked at the movies in full, but they seem interesting. I have heard that she was a better story-teller than a writer, but I won't argue with 7-800.000 figures. You have covered it pretty well.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Kenna, what a great story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 

      2 years ago from Northern California

      Yes. My husband read the beginning of the first Harry Potter book to my daughter. But, I took over because what an adventure. He was an early riser so it worked out for everyone. My daughter was two or three and she had seen the VHS of the first movie, then the second movie in the movie theater. When my husband (her dad) started reading to her, she said with wonder, "There is so much more in the books."

      To this day, she is an avid reader. Always has a book with her.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Kenna, thanks! I have read all of the Harry Potter Books and even have seen all of the movies. One of my favorite experiences was a Christmas where we had so much snow we couldn't get around. My family spent the time eating and reading chapters of the Harry Potter books out loud to one another. We would then discuss what we had read.

      It was like we were all taking the Harry Potter journey together. They were the books my daughter had gotten for Christmas. I agree, great stories. the books are better than the movies, but that is usually the case.

    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 

      2 years ago from Northern California

      Nice outline of her life. I enjoyed it. I read all the Potter books to my daughter. Each night, I'd read to her. Very special moments we share and reminisce. Besides being great stories with a wonderful message, I witnessed a writer becoming a phenomenal writer. My daughter says I should read her adult mysteries. Have you read them?

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Alan, thanks. I read many sources of J.K. Rowling's life and watched an interview of her on Youtube and never heard that story. Thanks for sharing.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      A version I read has it that she'd sent her MS to a publisher, who had it stored in their basement (normal practice is to contact agents, not to send MSS to publishers). An agent who visited the publisher to talk to the boss arrived early and went on a 'recce' in the basement. Out of idle curiosity he picked up Joanne's MS and leafed through. He was enthused to take up representing her... Now she's richer than the Queen.


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