Publisher guided ‘Potter’ author to U.S. successWritten by Kristen Criswell | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Arthur Levine started his own imprint at Scholastic Inc., his goal was to find and publish a timeless book that individuals would remember fondly for the rest of their lives. With J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” book series, the U.S. publisher did just that.
In 1997, Levine was at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy when editors from the small U.K. publisher Bloomsbury told him about a book they had coming out that he might be interested in — “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” Levine was given a set of “Potter” galleys and read the book on his plane ride home.
Levine was hooked on the story from the first chapter, he told Toledo Free Press in a phone interview.
“I was completely confident this was going to be one of those books kids are going to read and love — bring it to colleges with them and on freshmen floors, say ‘Do you remember when you read ‘Harry Potter’?’ And I think I was right,” he said.
When the U.S. rights for the book went on sale, Levine outbid other American publishing imprints and purchased the book for $105,000. Levine, who still heads Arthur Levine Books and is vice president of Scholastic, said he would have paid even more for the rights.
After publishing “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in 1998, Levine worked with Rowling on subsequent U.S. releases.
Levine would spend several days with Rowling, going through confusing words or phrases that didn’t translate and Rowling would come up with some acceptable English word or phrase to replace it with, he said. It was Rowling who came up with the alternate U.S. title for the first book, Levine said.
As the books grew in popularity, Levine felt a lot of pressure, but never while working on a manuscript with Rowling, he said.
“There was a bubble around that. I would think about treating her the same way I would treat any other author with care,” Levine said. “I didn’t want her to be slighted because there was time pressure or because she was famous.”
Since the first book was published in the U.K. in 1997 by Bloomsbury and in the U.S. in 1998 by Scholastic, the “Harry Potter” series has sold more than 400 million copies and spurred the creation of eight Warner Brothers’ films and a Universal Studios theme park.
While for Levine, “Harry Potter” will always be about the books, he is still able to enjoy the theme park and movies as a fan.
“I was there for the opening [of the park]. It was tremendous fun,” he said.“I come from a very specific perspective, which is about the books, a lover of the books themselves. Everything else can be fun but is kind of secondary to me.”
Levine doesn’t believe the release of the “Harry Potter” films, the newest of which, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1,” opens Nov. 19, prevents individuals from picking up the books. The movies are “historical archives themselves at this point” and have a different audience than the books, he said.
“I think as time goes on and those movies are no longer box office, kids will be on equal ground between the books and films,” he said.
Three years have passed since the release of the last “Harry Potter” book, and Levine said it’s still too soon to measure the full extent of the series’ impact of the popularity of “Harry Potter.” Rowling still receives bags of fan mail each month, he said.
“I would say ‘Harry Potter’ opened the phenomenon for large copies of hard covers for young people. It proved young readers will love a story as long as it’s fast-paced and well-written,” he said.
“It helped turn a generation of kids into readers. It encouraged those who were already good readers and gave kids who didn’t know what to read, something to read.”
Levine believes “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” won’t be the last thing Rowling writes.
“Jo has such a passion to write. She’s a writer and that hasn’t changed. I’m sure she’ll write more and I cross my fingers that I will be the one working with her,” he said.