Man who signed JK Rowling had 'cunning' idea

  August 29, 2003 at 4:17 PM ET
  Cheeser     Wizard News (via Financial Times)

Barry Cunningham, the man who signed JK Rowling to Bloomsburyopens in new window in 1997 and left shortly thereafter, made Harry Potter history. He couldn't have knownopens in new window that the single mother he told to "get a day job" - because children's books didn't pay - would be richer than the Queen of England in six years.

He formed his own publishing company, The Chicken Houseopens in new window, in search of the next Rowling, even before he knew what the first was capable of:

"Everyone says it must have been like leaving The Beatles," Mr. Cunningham says, referring to his move from Bloomsbury.

His career began in the late 1970s at Penguin Books, where he worked side by side with Roald Dahl (who, he notes, "didn't particularly like children"), and Spike Milligan. There, Mr. Cunningham says, he learnt the importance of promoting authors directly to children.

"Children's authors have enormous respect for their market - and I understood that they were thinking about children, whereas adult writers are not thinking about the outside world [when they write]; their process is internal," he says.

"I did not see any direct financial benefits [from signing J.K. Rowling] but it has given me a huge reputation - and the intangible thing is the confidence it gave me in my own judgment."

Maybe no financial gain, but a straight shot to the top of the publishing world ladder. Scholasticopens in new window read that the man who discovered Harry Potter was looking for a distributor for his new company, and approached him in 2000opens in new window. The rest is history... A new history for Barry Cunningham.


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