Books

Life after Harry Potter?

Chauncey Mabe

Fans, publishers wondering what to do next...

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Nearly a decade ago, Eileen McNally caught an NPR interview with an obscure writer named J.K. Rowling. The book being discussed, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, sounded like fun, so McNally picked it up for her 9-year-old niece.

"I bought it for her to read on the plane home to Buffalo," said McNally, now director of the Florida Center for the Book at the Broward County Library. "But Shannon read the entire thing standing in line at Disney World. I was flabbergasted. That's when I knew this was something special."

Special, indeed. The six Harry Potter books published since 1997 have so far sold more than 325 million copies in 65 languages. They've spawned a blockbuster movie franchise and a merchandising empire, and made Rowling, by some reports, richer than the Queen of England.

Scholastic, Rowling's American publisher, reports the most recent volume, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sold a stratospheric 6.9 million copies in its first 24 hours, making it the fastest-selling book in history.

The seventh and final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, hits shelves July 21. Advance orders on Amazon.com have topped 1.6 million, another record. Bloomsbury, the series' British publisher, reports similar numbers.

Those kind of figures have made publishers and booksellers increasingly dependent on Rowling to bump up summer traffic, and boost year-end profits.

Last year, according to the trade association Publishers Study Group, total U.S. book sales were flat in the absence of a new Potter book, rising only .05 percent over 2005.

This year the study group projects growth of 6.5 percent, almost entirely the result of Deathly Hallows.

"This is a big financial event for any store," said Susan Boyd, community relations director for Barnes & Noble in Plantation, Fla. "And since this will be the last Harry Potter book, we're expecting this to be the biggest of all."

For Sarah Silberman, a self-described "obsessive" Harry Potter fan, the last book brings mixed feelings. "I'm really excited, but I'm also all sad and depressed," said Silberman,13. "This is the last one. This thing you've been waiting for through all these books will be over. The reality of that hasn't sunk in for me."

Publishers and booksellers likewise mourning the end of Harry Potter are anxious to find something to take his place. Their hopes lie with such other young adult fantasists as Cornelia Funke (The Thief Lord), Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl), Michael Scott (The Alchemyst), or possibly nonfantasy novelists like Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) or Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), whose new series, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, debuts in February.

The problem: No one can explain what exactly made Harry so phenomenal.

"There's no science to this," said Mitchell Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair. "I'm sure writers are hard at work right now trying to figure out how J.K. Rowling came up with one of the most successful creations in literary history. They'll fail."

The next big thing, Kaplan added, will be "someone just writing a great story. It's always about the story."

Lisa Holton, president of trade publishing for Scholastic, noted that while the Potter books were relatively popular from the start, the juggernaut built gradually, book to book. The now ubiquitous all-night bookstore parties began only with the publication of the fourth volume, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000).

Largely because of Harry Potter's sales dominance, The New York Times created a children's best-sellers list, which, Holton said, is "a great marketing vehicle" for all genres of juvenile books.

"What's interesting about Harry is the effect we see not only on Scholastic but on everyone," she said. "It's gotten more kids reading, it's invigorated fantasy as a category, and it's benefited other categories as well."

Beverly Horowitz, publisher at rival Delacorte Press, readily agreed.

"The difference is that a children's book this successful is bigger than its category," Horowitz said. "Kids are going into the store, but so are parents and grandparents. It's a big event, and we use that time to push other books."

McNally recently saw something like a mini-Harry Potter scene at Plantation Middle School, where kids became so excited by "Leapholes," the first children's fantasy by thriller writer James Grippando, they deluged bookstores with calls seeking more copies.

Since Harry Potter, said Holton, publishers have been "surprised at the depth of interest in fantasy books, both ours and others'. It's been incredible how deep the interest in fantasy goes."

That doesn't mean the next big publishing phenomenon will automatically be a fantasy title, Holton added.

"Kids are fickle and a little edgy," Horowitz said. ""I'm bored, what's next.' We're not trying to be Harry Potter, but we are trying to capture that kind of energy, the energy of a kid being interested. You can't replicate the experience of Harry Potter. You have to offer them something new."

Perhaps the experts should quiz Silberman, an avid reader even before her mother gave her the first Harry Potter book, which she read in a single day.

"People can relate to Harry because he's a normal kid but he has special powers," she said. "Everyone wants powers. Also, it's because it's a series. When you love a book you never want it to end, and a series gives you a next book to look forward to. Plus, the huge fan base gives you a lot of people to talk to and play games with about the stories."

And J.K. Rowling is only Silberman's second favorite writer. The first?

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, also published by Scholastic. "I adore his writing style," she said.

Chauncey Mabe

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (MCT)

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.