Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rowling has rewritten the rules that governed publishing

Queen of the press

Rowling has rewritten the rules that governed publishing

By Jon Stock / London

There aren’t many literary agents in the world who would happily agree to a cut in their fees from 10 per cent to a reported 4 per cent. But the highly regarded Christopher Little was more than happy to oblige. His client, after all, was no struggling writer but J.K. Rowling, 39.

To date [July 10, 2005], 270 million copies of her books have sold in 62 languages, and that’s not including number six (6th book – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), which is already destined to be no.1 around the world. (Scholastic, her US publisher, has printed 8.5 million copies.)

No wonder Little, a Dumbledore like figure who discovered and nurtured Rowling, was happy to take a cut. The book has already made him wealthier than most literary agents can ever dream of. (His earnings could be as much as £30 million. He has declined to comment on his fortune or confirm the fee he charges Rowling.) But then, everything about Rowling is different. She hasn’t just penned six best-sellers; she has rewritten the rules which used to govern publishing.

How many other books require 24 hour guards to surround the presses where they are being printed, in case any one tries to steal a copy and sell it on the black market? Attempts to keep the manuscript a secret, however, have not been entirely successful. Rumours of a breach in security first began to circulate last month after a number of bets were placed with bookmakers on which character will die in the sixthbook. When heavy bets started to be placed on Dumbledore, bookmakers became suspicious and suspended betting. The flurry of bets had come from the town of Bungay in Suffolk, where it is thought the book is being printed.

And then there was the case of the armed – yes, armed – police raid on two men who were suspected of stealing a manuscript. Shots were fired as the manuscript was recovered and two men arrested in a classic sting operation set up by the tabloid Sun. Rowling and her publishers, Bloomsbury, must have been delighted with all the publicity. Although she does not want children’s enjoyment of the book to be spoiled by an advance leak, she knows only too well that such incidents stoke the fires of publicity far more than any advert can.

She also seems to be more excited by this book than she was by number five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which was widely agreed to be patchy, a bit long and in need of some better editing. “I like Half-Blood Prince better than the former three,” she said recently on her Website. “Book six does what I wanted it to do and even if nobody else likes it, I know it will remain one of my favourites in the series. Ultimately, you have to please yourself before you please anyone else.”

But will readers like it? From what little she has revealed, it’s hard to see how it can fail. The death of character will be painful (bookmakers were backing Hagrid, before the Bungay flutter on Dumbledore), but readers will be assuaged by the promise of more romance for Harry.

Let’s face it; he could do with some after the debacle of his kiss with Cho Chang in book five. “He’ll be busy, but what is life without a little romance,” Rowling has said. Ron and Hermione are expected to continue to hold hands rather than commit to anything more serious, although things might change in book seven (7th book – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

The beginning of the Half-Blood Prince, however, sounds like an absolute corker. By all accounts it was written 13 years ago, and was originally meant to open book one, three or five.

As for the future, Rowling, who completed the sixth book ahead of schedule (it was not expected until Christmas), is taking a well earned rest. “I have just completed the very last tiny edits on Half-Blood so I’m now taking a few months off to concentrate on my new daughter, not to mention the old daughter and the not-so-old son. I dare say my fingers will itch for a pen before long, but I doubt I will be doing any sustained writing on HP7 for many months yet.”


Did you know the Hogwarts motto is Drago Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus – ‘Don’t tickle a sleeping dragon’ – and Rowling named non-magical people Muggles after the slang ‘mug’, which means ‘fool’.

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