JK Rowling's 'little story about wizards' distorts truth about authors' pay, says Joanne Harris

The Chocolat writer was speaking at a Parliament event about authors' pay

Best-selling novelist Joanne Harris has argued that JK Rowling's success distorts the truth about author’s earnings.

The Chocolat author, 50, said that Rowling’s “little story about wizards” has given aspiring writers unrealistic expectations of being “showered with money”.

Harris, whose own popular book was made into a hit movie starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, was speaking at a Parliament event about how authors could be paid enough to keep British literature alive.

But she insisted that the Harry Potter author is an anomaly, with most novelists forced to cope with the same financial challenges as those in any job. 

“It’s not winning the lottery, it’s a real job, which real people do, and they have the same real problems as other real people,” Harris said.

Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp in the 2000 film adaptation of Harris's 'Chocolat' Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp in the 2000's Chocolat

The average author earns just £11,000 per year, down from £15,000 in 2005 and less than the minimum wage, according to a recent Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society report.

Harris added that many readers see downloading literature for free as “sticking it to the man”, believing that novelists do not need the money.

“This tremendous mystique about being a writer and the mysteries of what people think we earn as writers, we need to puncture all those little balloons and just make people understand we are not ‘the man’,” she said.

Poet Wendy Cope chimed in with Harris, arguing that children should be taught that downloading intellectual property without paying is akin to “stealing sweets”.

Rowling, who published a new Potter story on her fan website earlier this week, is worth an estimated £570 million according to the Sunday Times Rich List. She wrote the first Potter novel as a single mother on benefits.

 

Research suggests that just one in ten writers earn enough to make a living from their books. Plenty of novelists write part-time, but Harris’ message was clear: don’t give up the day job.

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