How J.K.Rowling won

Disclaimer: all of the following text is an opinion. A theory I formed by watching things unfold. And my this theory, J.K.Rowling has already won and all her detractors have played into her victory.

I find her views on trans issues quite deplorable. I find her actions spreading false information and never retracting it quite unethical. (Notably, the claim that 60% to 90% of trans teens desist is baseless, the studies with these numbers all applied to prepubescent children). And I also suspect this was always a means to an end.

JK never was a social activist. Nor was she a great writer – this is not J.R.R.Tolkien we’re talking about. She was, however, a great marketer. She wrote a series that filled the right niche and pressed the right buttons at the time. And she sold it the right way. This talent is perhaps more rare than that of a writer.

The successful sales catapulted her to fame and riches. She made sure not to project too much of the negative billionaire image, and pressed hard on charity – while still living, you know, in a castle.

By the way, perhaps the most well-known charity of hers is Lumos, a charity working to place children with families and not institutions, which she founded with the Conservative stalwart Baroness Nicholson. Valuing family is the well-advertised bright side of conservatism. (The charity works in Eastern Europe).

But the Harry Potter franchise has mostly run its course. The Fantastic Beasts series is apparently not doing great, which is natural, there’s only so much you can milk from one story.

Besides, maybe JK was not happy to be just “the Potter writer”. At the very least she did release, as “Robert Galbraith”, a few detective books. But the detective genre is very competitive. And she (“he”, as Robert?) was not a bright star in it; the Potter fandom did not directly translate into detective fandom. She needed something to change.

This does resemble a certain situation all of 120 years ago… but we’ll come back to that story later. The current story, I think, started in 2019, with the wave of “cancellations” in Young Adult literature.

Young Adult writing/critiquing Twitter exploded with allegations that certain authors offended marginalized communities, whether intentionally or not. Amélie Wen Zhao was accused of being insensitive to African American experience because she wrote about slavery – even though it was fairly different slavery in a different setting, based on historical reality from a different part of the world (and was, of course, not “glorified” anyway). Then Kosoko Jackson fell foul of the complicated debate around the former Yugoslavia by writing about the events on Kosovo.

Both authors responded in the same way. They publicly cancelled their own books. Some time later Amelie reinstated the book with some corrections. And both authors’ profiles were raised by the cancellations. One could assume their eventual sales went better, because the controversies attracted attention.

It became fairly clear that getting cancelled was a potential road to fame. If played right. And, my theory goes, J.K.Rowling decided to play it right.

She was a moderate conservative to start with. Never known for much feminism or LGBT activism or anything like that. Writing about a posh British school, too. Moderate conservatives tend to be disgusted by “cancel culture”, so she might have no problems hurting feelings of the “snowflakes” participating in it. The fact that many of these “snowflakes” were her fans was irrelevant, as she – in my theory – intended to leave the franchise behind anyway.

The rest, as they say, “is history”. There is no need to recount JKR’s statements, probably backed by research in conservative sources. (The particular misinformation about teenagers desisting seems to originate with the Wall Street Journal, a Murdoch paper, which used the word “youth”).

While the anti-trans cause is primarily driven by conservative press backing and conservative money, the frontline is often presented by alleged feminists, and Twitter trans activists tend to call all anti-trans activists “terfs”. This happened to JKR too, despite her never exhibiting a whiff of radical feminism. This helped present the trans activist side as irrational, but it was just the start.

People who were fans of her work could not believe she would deny the very identities that her work helped them to accept in themselves. The wise words of Arthur Conan Doyle, that “the doll and its maker are never identical”, are not popular these days (and weren’t when penned).

Feeling betrayed, people erupted in cries of anguish, which, of course, were (and are) represented by conservative and alleged feminist commentators as “abuse”. The latest wave is the #RIPJKRowling hashtag, which seems to signify acceptance (long overdue!) that the author they loved is no more – and that is ridiculously portrayed as “death threats”. (By the way, “death of the author”, a distinct but related concept, is known for decades now).

In my theory, this was all planned. And all the shouting, all the anguish served as a tool to raise her profile. It worked wonders. The magic in Harry Potter is fiction; the magic of marketing is reality.

Her new book is doing really great in sales.

She won.

JKR was always great at crafting for an audience. and her new audience is the moderate conservative. I expect the book to hit all the buttons with the new audience. Any transphobia is no more than incidental to that aim.

And thanks to her halo of “victim of cancellation”, she no longer has to worry about competing with all the other detective authors – some of them probably better. She has a devoted audience that posts her marketing billboards at no costs to her.

She also has a devoted hatedom, born of the former Potter fandom. Some in the hatedom propose physical destruction of such billboards – which, of course, would dramatically raise their marketing value. People don’t pay too much attention to billboards. But conservatives (her audience) do pay a lot of attention to “rioting” and “looting” right now – and if this stuff is committed against her, it drives her sales.

So yeah. I think she used us all. To make money. Capitalism! And, to make this even clearer: her opinions and (mis)information about trans people did not do the heavy work in the marketing. The “cancellation”, in my opinion, did that work. Cancelled = interesting! (for the target audience, that is)

There is one part, however, I need to add. One part that does not fit into this picture of a cold-blooded shrewd marketer.

No, not the promotion of a transphobic store – it fits perfectly. They promoted her, she reciprocated by promoting them, this is normal in marketing. “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” is no less widespread than “dog eat dog”.

Rather I mean that one time she silenced a small website called The Day with legal threats for a strongly-worded opinion piece about her. For reference you can read the article here. I don’t see anything there that is not an opinion, though I would compare her to Lovecraft and not Dickens.

But then, maybe corporates have sued for less. Still, it puts the claim that she is being “silenced” into context. She was not silenced and she did some silencing all right.

Apart from that episode, however: I think we all have lessons to learn here. There is no such thing as bad publicity in marketing. And before expressing sincere dismay we might consider whether the villain of the piece just might find this expression very useful for their new plans.

…oh, and here is what happened 120 years ago.

Arthur Conan Doyle, whom I already mentioned, was the famous author of stories about Sherlock Holmes.

He wanted to be more. He wanted to sell books that he considered better. He apparently hated the guts of the deerstalker-capped pipe-smoking prodigy. He literally sent poor Sherlock down the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland – but to no avail! A concerted public campaign. allegedly involving both his mother and the British Queen, forced him to bring Holmes back.

Rowling succeeded where Conan Doyle failed. She broke out of the one-franchise-author mold. And in my opinion the rest was just collateral.

Could someone perhaps draw Harry Potter falling down Reichenbach Falls into oblivion, as Sherlock Holmes holds on to a rock?

P.S. An excellent thread of quoted from the recent Cormoran Strike book. None have to go with trans people and all are various levels of cringe. To my eye, they seem to be geared towards an middle-age-or-older “reasonable” conservative audience who are “just so tired you can’t say a thing anymore” or something.

2 thoughts on “How J.K.Rowling won

  1. “Notably, the claim that 60% to 90% of trans teens desist is baseless, the studies with these numbers all applied to prepubescent children”

    Since you have not disagreed with the claim that most prepubescent children desist, do you agree that they should not be given puberty blockers?

    • I support the Dutch protocol, which does not envision any puberty blockers before Tanner Stage 2. In any event blockers are VERY VERY rarely given before age 12, and typically at 14-16

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