J.K. Rowling: why failure is essential to success

'You will fail,' says 'Harry Potter' author J.K. Rowling, talking about her new book 'Very Good Lives.' 'That's inevitable. It's what you do with it.'

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
J.K. Rowling appeared at New York's Empire State Building during a lighting ceremony to mark the launch of her non-profit children's organization Lumos.

JK Rowling is known worldwide for her literary success.

But the "Harry Potter" author wants fans to understand the importance of failure.

That's the basis of a new book by Rowling that hits shelves April 14, "Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination," in which she describes her failures and why they were important to her ultimate success.

Called the "closest thing to a self-help manual" she has written, "Very Good Lives" is based on the famous commencement speech Rowling delivered at Harvard University in 2008, which went on to earn more than 1 million views on YouTube. In the 70-page book, Rowling describes her rise from being a single mother on welfare to a multi-millionaire author whose books have sold 450 million worldwide and launched the most-successful film franchise in history.

Before she hit success with "Harry Potter," Rowling endured a dark period: an “exceptionally short-lived marriage,” unemployment, single motherhood, and poverty. I was “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless," Rowling writes.

“That period of my life is a dark one and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy-tale resolution,” she writes.

That dark period, however, helped her realize an important truth in life: that failure is essential to success. It is a concept she's promoted before.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default," she once said.

Speaking about the book on NBC's Today Show, Rowling said she wished people talked more about her failures – and those of other famous people.

"I don't think we talk about failure enough," she said. "It would've really helped to have someone who had had a measure of success come say to me, 'You will fail. That's inevitable. It's what you do with it.'"

Enduring failure, she said, is a mark of one of the traits she values above others: courage. "I'm normally proudest of myself after I've done something that frightens me because I, you know, believe in courage, and I think that it's the virtue that ensures all the others, as Winston Churchill said."

Proceeds from the sale of "Very Good Lives" will benefit Lumos, an international children’s non-profit Rowling founded to end institutionalization of children around the world.

“Lumos is a spell I created in Harry Potter that brings light into a desperately dark and frightening place,” Rowling said. “At Lumos this is just what we do: we reveal the hidden children locked away behind closed doors in institutions and forgotten by the world.”

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