What We Learned from Harry Potter

In “Twenty years of Harry Potter – the 20 things we have learned” in The Guardian, Sam Leith listed factoids that tell a fascinating story of one of the most successful book stories in history.

Harry Potter - Hogwarts at Florida Disney World - Wikipedia

These are also great lessons for authors. A few highlights included:

  • Only 500 hardback copies were originally published in 1997. Three hundred went to libraries. Today, these may be worth tens of thousands of dollars and expected to increase in value.
  • Writer and editing errors made in the original published book were changed in later editions. So there is hope for fixing our published errors.
  • Rowling aged her characters in each book, growing more and more adult right along with the aging process of her readers, something rarely done in children and young adult series that keep the age of the character the same through multiple books.
  • Rowling wrote not just for children and young adults, but for parents and adults. To accommodate the every-growing adult customer, the covers were redesigned to look more “adult” with somber designed covers.
  • There are now degree programs and classes using Harry Potter for academic studies.
  • Harry Potter books were burned in the southern United States as witchcraft and satanic, thus a threat to children. Really? Still, any publicity is good publicity.
  • A reviewer in the New York Times dissed the first book, earning angry responses from fans. Sometimes even critics can get trashed by fans.
  • Rowling and her publishers set up an environment for fan fiction to allow it to thrive while retaining control and rights by not allowing settings inside Hogwarts (outside is fine), and no smut nor commercial publishing. The fan fiction community for Harry Potter represents hundreds of thousands of amateur writers today.
  • If you play the game right, book merchandise licensing can generate great income for the publishers and author, as well as attorneys protecting those rights.

We live in an era where books can grow into television shows and movies, and become entire industries if the game is played right and the fans stay loyal. Luckily, we have a few great authors who’ve paved the path well for us to follow.

Want to learn more about publishing? We have the Writers in the Grove 2018 Authors Conference coming up in January. Register now to ensure a place as seating is limited.

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