When will J.K. Rowling’s publishers let her go?
From Amnesty International researcher, to struggling writer, to multi-millionaire best-seller, to anti-trans activist, J.K. Rowling has written some pretty influential pieces in her time. After The Philosopher’s Stone was originally rejected by a number of publishers, the large independent indie press Bloomsbury took a chance on Rowling and Harry Potter, and it has since brought the publisher and Rowling millions in profit. In fact, the success of the Harry Potter series meant that in 2008, Forbes named Rowling the world’s highest-paid author.
More recently, Rowling has published adult crime fiction under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith – which is the same name as a 20th Century American gay conversion therapist. Whilst Rowling has denied any connection between the pen name and the historical Galbraith, it nonetheless pertains to her recent anti-trans activism that has caused much controversy.
On 6 June 2020, Rowling retweeted and criticised a tweet that used the term “people who menstruate”. She replied: “‘People who menstruate’. I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’”. Four days after this, she attempted to defend her views in an essay posted on her website entitled “TERF Wars” (an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist).
Rowling has since continued to engage with anti-trans activism online, and has recently attacked Nicola Sturgeon’s proposed reform to transgender rights. The Scottish government was pushing legislation through Holyrood that would enable Scots to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) at the age of 16 rather than 18. Again, Rowling took to Twitter on 6 October 2022, posting a picture of her wearing a t-shirt that branded the First Minister as a “destroyer of women’s rights”. Sturgeon has said that the author is allowed to defend her views, but continued to justify the proposed legislation.
Rowling’s Twitter comments have been incredibly harmful to the trans community, but it has not resulted in her being fired from the publishers that represent her, despite their in-house mission statement,which states that “Bloomsbury is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion and is opposed to discrimination, bullying and harassment.”
Galbraith’s latest novel, The Ink Black Heart, published by Sphere, an imprint of Little Brown Book Group, is about a character who is accused of transphobia. Sound familiar? Rowling is now explicitly profiting from her anti-trans legacy. Like Bloomsbury, Sphere emphasises how they are a diverse employer for its authors, but diversity should be about the positive representation of marginalised people and communities, not furthering ideas that contribute to their prejudice and discrimination.
Bloomsbury have released new print editions of Harry Potter since its original publication, including illustrated editions and hardback editions (a copy of The Chamber of Secrets is currently priced at an extortionate £150 online at Waterstones). Rowling’s profitability, despite her controversial legacy, will likely mean that she won’t ever be dropped by her publishers. If there’s still a large readership that are willingly consuming her books, their revised editions, and anything related to her as an author, this will only continue to be the case.