Bryony Evens talks pushing for “Philosopher’s Stone” to get published!
Our friends over at Always J.K. Rowling recently spoke with Bryony Evens, one of the first people to read the beginning chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone before it had been published. They’ve shared their interview with Bryony so that the fans of Harry, Jo, and the Potter series can understand what it was like picking up that book, not knowing how much her life was about to change!
According to Bryony, her job at Christopher Little Literary Agency was to sort through submitted and unsolicited manuscripts. In a folder with a clipped binding, Bryony held in her hands an unsolicited three chapters that began the now familiar and beloved tale of the Boy Who Lived. The first three chapters made the author giggle, so rather than rejecting it out of hand, as they didn’t represent children’s literature, Bryony decided to go a different route.
Having read and loved those first three chapters, I asked if Christopher would be happy if I sent off for the rest of the manuscript, and he didn’t mind at all. At the time I requested the rest of the book, I didn’t know if I’d be allowed to send it out, but I just wanted to know what happened in the rest of the book for myself! I wrote to Joanne to request the remainder of the manuscript. Once it arrived, I simply couldn’t put it down – it was very similar to the book you’ve all now read, so you will have an idea from your own first reading of it how I felt about it. I asked Christopher to look at it as I thought we were onto something special, and he read it overnight, and we chatted about our feedback to Jo.
She further describes the process of getting the book published, including working with an incredibly small budget – so small in fact, that she had to chase down slower agents in order to get the minimal three copies of the printed book back so that they could send it to other agencies!
Because the book wasn’t a priority for the agency, I was only allowed to have enough budget to make three copies of the manuscript, which was about 1.5 cms thick. To put this into context, I often made 11-12 photocopies of 4 cm-thick literary novel manuscripts to send out on submission to lots of publishers at once. I sent it out to three children’s book publishers whose lists I thought the book would suit and then waited. Over the next many months, I had to wait a lot – I couldn’t try another publisher until a manuscript came back, and so [I] had to chase [down] readers and editors several times, which was quite frustrating [since] I knew what a great book they were sitting on!
Bryony then describes how the book took off from there and how she felt when it began to gain momentum:
I did my best to promote the book, making sure it was visible on shelves in children’s bookshops and so on, for the first year or so. I can’t remember how I first heard the wider buzz about it, but around the time book 2 came out, I saw a story in the London Evening Standard about a lawyer who’d attended a court in Dudley for a case, when she should have been in Dursley, 40 miles away (or possibly the other way round!). I wrote to the paper suggesting that perhaps she had been reading the fantastic book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to her children, [and] she may have had the character Dudley Dursley in mind to cause the confusion. They published the letter, which was ace! There was reporting on the huge deal with the US publishers too, which I think brought the books, and the buzz amongst children who’d been reading the books and spreading the word, to more of the general public, and the film deal really made a splash, so a lot more people knew about the books after that. I knew it was really big when Azkaban was only allowed to be sold from 5pm on publication date so that kids wouldn’t skip school to buy it!
I’m immensely proud of my small part in the story of J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter [since] it proves I know a good thing when I see it! Over the years since then, I’ve met Jo 4 times, and have had lots of lovely opportunities to do exciting things, which would never have happened without me playing my part in the story. I also love it when I meet people who’ve grown up with the books, and I can see how much they have been affected by them. I’m really glad I helped to bring the story and fandom to them. I’m also flabbergasted how often people reference the books in popular culture worldwide and feel humbled about my role in that!
Take a look at the video of Bryony talk about her Harry Potter experience below, and you can read the full interview here:
Many thanks to Michaella for sending us this interview!