THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD TO WEALTH
THE MARKETING OF HARRY POTTER
Indeed it is the road to wealth which is why Potters 8,9,10 and 11 are very likely being brewed up as we speak, in dark places, by dark minds that never see the light of day. Under the streets of London, far, far away. What a prolific writer that Rowling is! Just doesn’t want to do anything but write, write, write… eh? Ask your mum and dad if you don’t believe us. My, you could swear there are at least a half-dozen hacks working on the stuff couldn’t you?: all trying to outsmart each other with their profundities, all lamenting the fact that they can never come out and say things like; “Snape? My idea, old bean. Leafing through a Dahl book one day and he just popped into my head, fully formed. Dementors? Popped into my head fully formed too. Bad night on the tiles… you don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been through it. Am gonna pack in the booze one of these days! ” There are none so loyal as those whose loyalties have been bought.
Without boring you to death and going into immense detail about the marketing of Harry Potter let us begin with a few simple observations, for your benefit not ours, as we all know the whole score. You will too if you read on. Firstly, the genres and conventions that make up Potter are commonplace as world famous children’s fiction expert Prof. Jack Zipes has pointed out. Jack, like us of course, is probably wasting his time but he does try. On a single shelf in any kids’ library you will find them all, one form or another: witches, gremlins, goblins, warlocks, demons, vampires’ et al. Barry Cunningham who used to be marketing manager for Penguin’s fiction – the children’s Puffin wing, knows them all inside and out. Indeed Barry, if left to himself long enough could come up with an idea like the “Dementors”, for instance, between drinks. He was Rowling’s editor on her first book and we suspect her first three books at least. You have to admit, they do appear rather quickly. Boom, boom, boom. Have to establish the market you see, as quickly as possible, then they could time over the rest. Make them nice and fat too, so folks don’t get to thinking they are not the real deal.
Even he, Bloomsbury’s man, freely admits, that once you have kids hooked into a story it is game, set and Quidditch. You can tell them then whatever you want and like parrots they will mimic it and make it their own. The writing is, according to Stipes, if we may pass gently to somebody with some moral sense, “formulaic”, the characters two-dimensional. Too true. How does it all work then? Wherein lies the alluring, magical reading experience? Primarily in the style of writing and if you wish to know more about that let us refer you to Travels with Li Po. The author of that work knew his book had global significance and developed the style so that it could be translated into many languages, easily. It was a style moreover that reflected accurately how a child and many adults actually think and dream. The author also hoped that Amnesty would market the series and use the profits for needy children world wide. A noble pursuit that came to nothing. Rowling made off with the lot. Little held the bag.
What drives the story is the engine – the character of the hero and his mission. Yes, it is all about Potter. How could you have missed it? That’s why Rowling harps on about Hermione, Hagrid, the obligatory bad guy Voldemort and any other of the sorry derivations, because they need to throw you off the scent. And Rowling does what she is told, even when she is told not to do what she is told. She never created Harry you see. She nicked him from elsewhere. A lot of people know this using their common sense; but, we KNOW it. That’s the difference.
So do the Adrian Jacob’s team fighting the Willy the Wizard case incidentally who have to find £2,000,000 to have the extraordinary privilege if being allowed to present their evidence in court. We have presented them with enough evidence to have the Rowling gang filleted and stuffed, a fate they truly deserve; a fate indeed they inflicted on many others ruthlessly, in the company of her now partner, The Smirk Blair. They will be supping in Downing Street soon to try and stop the Jacob’s people for good using their wealth, political “for-the-common-goodspeak”, and judiciary supporters, while democracy, principles, morals, rights, honour, honesty and self-respect can all crawl off to Iraq and find a hole there to bury themselves. You lift the bonnet on a ‘moral epic’ and what do you find? The demons of greed and self interest. Nothing new there for any of us. Plus ça change… as they say. But history records all.
Once she had the character and knew, thanks to the conscienceless sleuthing of Cunningham’s pal, Malcolm Robertson, what exactly made him tick, she dyed his hair, put specs on him, signed his forehead etc; the kind of things you might do yourself, if you stole somebody’s bike, or schoolbag or motor car, or life and could imagine nothing beyond what you had found in the comics of Neil Gaiman. What really makes a car unique? The engine. Right? The rest you can tart up and disguise until you are happy all traces of your cowardly theft have been camouflaged. Will the neighbours be impressed or what! And all your enemies green with envy. That’s the big payoff for losers, making their neighbours regret all the bad things they ever said about you. The ugly duckling did win the prince’s hand after all. Bitch! Without the engine of course ‘your’ car is just a heap of junk however much paint you have lavished on it or elbow grease on polishing its fenders. In literature this is called plagiarism. The person who does it is known as a thief. Bet you didn’t know you could be a billionaire and a loser. Americans may have a problem with that, but it is a fact for all that. Money doesn’t make you smarter than you are or help you sing like Pavarotti or to play the piano to concert level when you don’t have a musical note in your head or give you legs to run the Marathon, or indeed change your soul from something driven to something free. Rupert Murdoch will always be who he is and no amount of money will ever manage to change his Rameses mask to Justin Bieber’s soap-ad good looks. When you get used to the dough it leaves you where it found you, the game-playing loser you always were, who must steal the work of others in order to pass yourself off as anything. Getting published on your own merits, even if she had ever tried, was simply beyond Rowling’s reach. Desperate measures were called for. Try taking ‘Potter’ out of “Potter” and see what you are left with.
What makes Potter unique is the head-on addressing of real tasks and real problems that confront every kid in school and out of it, except it is all staged in the thrilling setting of ‘another world’ where special powers can be had for dealing with them. The power of adults, who, to any child, seemingly rule the world, provides one of the most universal of all the conflicts they must face. Thus, we have a real hero facing the problems of the actual world in a fantasy ‘other’ dimension; a real world that is falling to bits and needs old fashioned values reinvented, rekindled, rescued. A place like Northern Ireland caught up in a civil war, perhaps? A hero you can follow in real time too because in higher education in Northern Ireland your term of school imprisonment will last seven years as a rule and so seven books are needed, one for every year. Innovative or what? Rowling… well…. you know. Some things you just can’t resist. She has friends in high places. Driven to stay the course too: based on what exactly….? Try greed.
What Rowling and Cunningham try to do is invest as much fantasy and complexity on top of this engine to disguise the simple fact that Rowling never invented it. She never thought it up at all. Never could have; as life and death and matters of ultimate concern were far away from peaceful Surrey and further yet from Clapham in swinging old London. She stole it. She stole the characters, the vision, the understanding, the style of writing and very significantly, the philosophy that underpins the story. It is essentially a Catholic story born out of the misery of Northern Ireland. Rowling is a middle-class gal from a household where “religion was never discussed.” Perfect grounding for an aspiring writer of a moral epic that connected directly with the poor in spirit that most children are and have to live with. In Northern Ireland, religion could get you shot. Three thousand six hundred people got killed because of it.
Marketing the book became an elaborate one-act play to throw people off the scent, ‘authenticate’ Rowling as the original creator, and pretend to the gullible world that for all their vast experience in the book trade they hadn’t a clue what they had. Why would they go to all that bother if they didn’t know what they had? Gee, so many people involved too, right from the start. Bloomsbury’s offices all abuzz with anticipation according to their marketing manager.
In the back room ruthless lawyers Schillings and Blair would stop any and all inquiry into Rowling and how she came upon the story etc, etc. All the biographies of Rowling are authorized bar one. Lies in other words. Lies piled upon lies accumulating over the years in a gigantic metastasis of calcified deception. Feminists feeling vindicated in their war against macho brutality are no more capable of entertaining the notion that their leader may be a plagiarist than an Irish mum could face the thought that her daughter, the nun, is really a lesbian. The lies and self-delusions grow on regardless, like stalactites in people’s brains, unshiftable, unchangeable. No amount of light you can shine on them will make them melt or lose their will to growth. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?
Now a then a lone journo gets on the scent and is swiftly cuffed for his indiscretion or thrown into the black pit called Schillings like a hare to greyhounds. He soon falls into line with the rest. Rowling is British ye gads! No criticism of her is allowed. If the various doe-eyed accounts of the Rowling myth the Brit press dish out like frogspawn are found to be false as, for instance, Rowling’s woefully exaggerated yarn about her six months unemployment and her alleged ‘poverty’ her PR boys simply change the script. And everybody believes the new version just as they did the old. Pied Piper Potter goes dancing on, making up the tune as he goes, aware that nobody is really listening or cares to listen so long as they can mimic the leader. They believe what is doled out to them because, not to, would be tantamount to a betrayal of the mother surrogate they find in Rowling. She was put there for just that reason. God help us all.
In the marketing of Potter Book One the lies are as follows.
(1) Rowling originated and wrote the whole thing alone, over seven years.
(2) She went through hell and fire in the talons of poverty in Edinburgh for the sake of ‘her’ book.
(3) She had been writing furiously day and night since June 1990.
(4) She forgot to mention to her “bibliophile” mother who was dying that she was writing a book with single-minded dedication and had “the greatest idea ever” going for her. Mind you, it is hard to lie to one’s mother.
(5) She forgot to mention it to her sister too, until it was finished. They are very close she tells us. Di was at her wedding in Portugal when her sister was writing Potter.
(6) She was ‘discovered’ by Little at an unspecified time in 1995.
(7) Little’s office manager Bryony Evens finds the book by accident in the slush pile not knowing a thing about it.
(8) Twelve publishers were contacted from this unspecified time in 1995 to June 1996, one at time to save postage. Three only mentioned… by Cunningham who worked for all of them in one way or or another.
(9) Little’s office manager Bryony who presumably works for nothing has to skimp on postage because her boss Christopher Little, representing Alistair Maclean’s estate etc, etc and having furnished Bloomsbury with Hewitt’s blockbuster book on the princess for which they paid him $4.5 million is absolutely skint. Like Bryony Evens, Chritopher too works for nothing and it is inconceivable that, as Hewitt’s agent, he would have seen a penny of that $4.5 million.
(10) Bloomsbury who published 150 odd books in 1994 are also skint.
(11) Bloomsbury’s children’s fiction editor Barry Cunningham is introduced to Christopher Little at the Frankfurt Book Fair of 1995 for the very first time, by Nigel Newton of Bloomsbury. Little as literary agent who set up shop in 1986 and Cunningham ten years deputy chief editor at Penguin ( Puffin) and thence Random House never once had occasion to meet.
(12) There Cunningham tells Little he is looking for “something special” in children’s writing for his new list.
(13) Little forgets to mention Harry Potter that “made my toes curl”. And waits until June the following year to send him the book. A last ditch attempt.
(14) Bloomsbury of London is the 13th publisher to get the manuscript in June 1996.
(15) Cunningham has no strong links with Edinburgh except via his first cousin Malcolm Robertson and his wife Vanessa who run a publishing outfit there.
(16) Rowling just happens to be living in Leith since 1993 where Cunningham’s dad was born and where he has “hundreds of relatives”. He never heard of Rowling before 1995. But again, he has no strong links with any of them, and wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near Edinburgh, even when he is wearing his tartan.
(17) Neither Cunningham, Newton or Little knew about the existence of the book until the mid-nineties. God sent them Potter. A “blessing” as Calder put it.
(18) The book is sent out by Rowling because her sister Di read a bit and laughed. If she hadn’t laughed Rowling would have packed it all in right there, even though it was keeping her sane. Without Harry she “would have gone stark, raving mad”. You have to sympathize. How she must have longed for the serene sanity of her days with Jorge.
(19) Neither Cunningham, Newton nor Little knew of the existence of Rowling until they come across her in 1995.
(20) Cunningham, Newton and Little are all iffy about the book. Neither she nor they will make any money out of it. They break it to her gently. After decades in publishing they haven’t a clue about books and this one just came out of the blue.
(21) They buy the book because they feel sorry for Rowling and her deprived child.
(22) Neither Newton, Cunningham, Little, co-founder Calder nor marketing manager de la Hey have ever come across anything like Potter.
(23) Cunningham finds out just prior to handing over the paltry advance to Rowling that she is writing a series. He is numplussed. Nobody mentioned it to him.
(24) She has this entire series all planned out. In fact in 1990 she “had already written the last chapter of Book Seven”.
(25) They take a shot in the dark and publish 500 copies. There is no hope it will be a success. They want children to discover the no-hoper by themselves.
(26) They make little mention of the other six impending books in the series as it is of no importance.
(27) They cannot afford to market the book anyway which is why they don’t.
(28) They give Rowling £1,500.
(29) Cunninhgam meets Rowling for the very first time in late 1996. They have a four course meal at a bistro in Soho.
(30) They hope against hope that it will make its way by word of mouth.
(31) Had it not been for Newton’s eight year old daughter Alice who read a little Potter before bedtime and wanted more Rowling and Harry would never have been ‘discovered”. Her dad hadn’t read it at all despite all the excitement in his offices. And might not have, had it not been for little Alice.
(32) Arthur Levine of Scholastic ‘discovers’ the book at the Bologna Book Fair in 1996.
(33) Arthur knows not of Newton or Bloomsbury and has no dealings whatever with them prior to 1996. Neither Bloomsbury nor its American founder Nigel Newton know a thing about Scholastic, the biggest publishing house in America. Never in a million years would they ever dream of phoning them up. No reason to.
(34) Janet Hogarth who, quite by chance, moved from Bloomsbury to Scholastic Inc. doesn’t mention the Harry Potter book to Levine. She doesn’t know amnesia is rife at Bloomsbury and could well have been brought there by Little or Blair. Cunningham is a man of few words. Calder has a very bad dose that was to get worse as the days went by. By the time Rowling has made her a millionaire several times over she scarcely remembers what she looks like. In 2008 she confesses that she had “only met her a few times”. Hogarth now working for Scholastic never met their man in New York, Arthur Levine. She wonders what she is doing there.
(35) It is by pure chance Arthur came across the book at Bloomsbury’s stall at the Bologna Book Fair. A shy girl hands him the book from under the counter. They took it there because it “hadn’t a hope of being sold”. Nobody goes to a book fair unless it be to buy or sell foreign rights to their books but the girl from Bloomsbury doesn’t know that.
(36) Levine buys the book after a bidding frenzy in New York in late 1997. He pays Rowling $105,000 for it as he is eager to take a chance on an unknown author, who, despite the mountains of written material she has stashed in her wee flat, and for all her industry, is an unpublished writer who doesn’t expect to be published and never once even tried to get published either.
(37) Rowling, via a phone-call from her agent Little, gets to listen in on the bidding between ten other publishers going on in faraway New York. They all want the book Bloomsbury were so iffy about and could not afford to market. And are prepared to pay a fortune for it, all eleven of them.
(38) All at Bloomsbury are shocked pink when the book sells 150,000 copies in a matter of months.
(39) Little “never expected”…..dedum deda.
(40) Rowling “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(41) Cunningham “never expected”… dedum deda.
(42) Newton “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(43) De la Hey “never expected” …. dedum deda.
(44) Liz Calder “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(45) Malcolm Robertson “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(46) Neil Blair “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(47) Patrick Walsh “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(48) Janet Hogarth “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(49) Bryony Evens “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(50) Arthur Levine “never expected”…. dedum deda.
(51) “No one would ever have expected”…. dedum deda. ( British Press una voce).
(52) None of the bit actors know Rowling very well. Calder met her “ a few times”. Probably too busy counting her loot to notice her chattering to Cunningham in the corner. Above all, they hate having their photos taken with her even more than they hate speaking about her in public, the one who made them all rich.