Over the last few weeks, J.K. Rowling has delivered a masterclass in how to ruin your reputation. Despite a couple of wobbles along the way, she was generally highly regarded up until a month ago. Then came several controversial tweets and a lengthy and bizarre article on her website that confirmed her transphobia. Reactions were swift, too. The Harry Potter fan community reacted with dismay, the cast of the movies united to condemn her comments and LGBTQ organizations have begun campaigning against her.
A twist in the story came when employees of Hachette, the publisher handling her latest story The Ickabog, publicly stated that they were unhappy promoting an author with transphobic views. Now, Hachette has pushed back, claiming that they’d support employees who would refuse to work on a book that contained ideas they don’t agree with, but that The Ickabog has nothing transphobic in it.
“We are proud to publish J K Rowling’s children’s fairytale The Ickabog. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of publishing. We fundamentally believe that everyone has the right to express their own thoughts and beliefs. That’s why we never comment on our authors’ personal views and we respect our employees’ right to hold a different view. We will never make our employees work on a book whose content they find upsetting for personal reasons, but we draw a distinction between that and refusing to work on a book because they disagree with an author’s views outside their writing, which runs contrary to our belief in free speech.
Hachette went on to say that they’re going to talk privately with each of their employees about the situation, which they will deal with on a case-by-case basis.
Naturally, there’s another motive aside from concern over freedom of speech at play here: profit. J.K. Rowling is one of the most famous authors in the world and publishing any new material by her – especially a fantasy story – is essentially a license to print money. I’d imagine that Hachette will have already paid her a handsome advance to complete work on The Ickabog and they’re not about to let that investment slip away just because Rowling appears intent on trashing her name online.
The question still remains of whether her comments will affect the commercial prospects of upcoming projects associated with her. After Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald flopped, the franchise is certainly looking a bit shaky, so legions of Harry Potter fans abandoning the Wizarding World may well have a major impact on Warner Bros.’ plans for the future. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see how this shakes out.