I said No To J.K.

The McDade Literary Agency Ltd

January 1995

Dear Joanne Rowling

Thank you for your recent submission entitled 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'. I'm sorry to say that after careful consideration of your manuscript I do not feel that I am the right person for this book. I admire your storyline and characters, but I'm afraid it does not grab me in the way it should.

I am sorry to disappoint and I hope that other agents and publishers feel differently. I wish you well in your future endeavours.

Gillian McDade

The lesson is that even though I (assuming the role of a literary agent) did not find the first few pages of the now legendary J.K Rowling's manuscript engaging enough (*ducks for cover from Harry Potter fans*), there are others who will. And aren't we glad Christoper Little did? Otherwise we would never have known the phenomenon that is Harry Potter.

We'll go back a few years...Joanne walks into the library in Edinburgh in 1995 and looks up a list of agents. She finds me. Fast forward a few days and the brown envelope goes into the postbox. That's after Joanne has opened the envelope again to make sure she has included the stamped addressed envelope and that she has spelt her own name right.

Picture this: I open Joanne's manuscript, I read the first page, my attention wanes, I sip at a can of Coke, nibble a few crisps, I look out the window and glimpse a man taking his dog for a walk, I glance at Joanne's synopsis. I wonder what the weather will be like. I go with my gut instinct – that she hasn't a hope in hell of this getting published. I don't even stop to consider this. Harry Potter really isn't my thing. Sorry, Jo.

So after Joanne receives her carefully worded rejection letter from me which I've forgotten to sign, she goes back to the library. She leafs through all the agents in the UK and Ireland and she likes the name 'Little.' Sounds like a character that would feature in a children's book. She sends it off to Mr Little and he loves it.

As her literary agent, Christopher Little receives between 10 and 15 per cent of J.K's earnings and a similar percentage of overseas earnings and film rights. J.K is believed to have earned a minimum of £150 million from Harry Potter – so my message is – don't give up, even when you get a pile of ten rejections in one day.

Have no fear. Believe in your work and your ability because that shows through when you submit it. It's also compulsory to enter The World Of Rejection Letters. Any respectable author has holidayed there for a period of time. They're part and parcel of the process and nothing to be ashamed of. You can file those letters away, frame them and make paper aeroplanes out of them, or do as I do and use them as bookmarks for your Writers' And Artists' Yearbook. If you hit the wall, walk around it. Please remember that someone out there will always say no. I said no to J.K.


Fionnuala said...

A timley piece pour moi... It IS all so subjective isn't it? x

Julie P said...

You have to go with what you feel at the time don't you. I think it shows how strong her determination and resolve was because she kept going even though Harry P was rejected several times over - so it wasn't just you. So, so subjective - but that's the way it is.

I agree with you that you need to keep trying and that if some say yees there may be that one agent/publisher who says yes. If you don't believe in your own work then who else will?

Julie xx

Karen said...

It's always hard to picture popular, best-selling authors being rejected but of course nearly all have at some point.

Trouble is even having an agent is no guarantee you'll be published these days, as I'm slowly finding out (sob!)

Kat said...

But, how many times to do you try - how many rejections do you allow before you finally admit defeat - 20, 50, 100?

Surely there comes a time when - even if you really believe your book is worthy of publication - you have to give up?

Anonymous said...

Ha! Just the other day I was wondering what literary agent out there denied Rowling, way back when. Bet you're kicking yourself now!

Roderic Vincent said...

I suppose I should dust off the three chapters and send them out again. Thanks, Gillian.

Debs Riccio said...

Gillian, I am not one who usually punches the air in a moment of camaraderie, but believe me, if I was, I'd have KO'd a fair amount of air-space right now. I needed this. And I thank you x

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Your post is really making me think, Gillian. So many agents reject, saying 'I just didn't love it enough', as if this is a very personal thing for them. And I do understand that they need to really believe in a book in order to sell it to a publisher. But ultimately, they have to have their business head on and imagine it as a product: will this sell well or not? So the subjective/objective dichotomy is interesting...

Keith Havers said...

Thanks for the insight.
I was wondering what to do with my rejections. The pile will soon be high enough to sit on.

Caroline Green said...

Ah, a great post, thanks Gillian.

On as slightly different note, it used to drive me mad when people said, 'Ah, but JKR couldn't get an agent either...' and I wanted to scream 'BUT SHE DID HAVE A BLOODY AGENT! IT WAS PUBLISHERS MAINLY WHO REJECTED THGE BOOK!'

Sorry, as you were :)

Caroline Green said...

Meant to add...who is that gorgeous child?!

Kay Richardson said...

I've had so many rejection letters, I've been able to fashion a decent summer wardrobe with the paper. The trousers fall apart, but the hats are adequate.

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for the comments. The child is a random stock pic. Very Harry!

Get those WIPs in the post people.

Anonymous said...

This was a very interesting to read. Thanks Gillian