FROM YOUR EDITORS How Harry Potter changed publishing

Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone was published an amazing 20 years ago. Words & Pictures Co-editor Ellie Brough explores how Harry Potter changed the dynamics of children's publishing. 

I was a lucky child I got to grow up with Harry Potter. I got to live alongside him through his adolescent years, mirroring his experiences – struggling with exams, falling out with friends, having first crushes, battling evil wizards… okay maybe not that last one, but Harry Potter was a large part of my childhood, as he was for many others. He made me the book-obsessed nerd I am today. I am yet to find anything that quite compares to the excitement of going to a bookshop at midnight to buy the new book: the joy of seeing all of those hardback copies piled on top of one another, untouched until the clock struck 12 and chaos ensued; the wonder of seeing the cover illustrations for the first time and what they might be hinting at inside; the desperate urge to reach the last page as fast as possible to avoid the Slytherins of the world from spoiling the story. There is only one person I hate with a passion and it’s the boy who told me the ending to the sixth book. Never forget, never forgive. It was these experiences which made me want to write and made me want to work in publishing.

An example of a typical Harry Potter fan (in this case, it's me). 

For while Harry’s story is over, what he did, or more accurately, what J K Rowling did, was show the world that children’s publishing was a force to be reckoned with. The effect of Harry Potter changed the face of publishing and as a children’s editor, a children’s writer and an adult who loves reading children’s books, I owe her a massive thank you.

Children’s publishing has undergone a massive evolution since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. Here are some of the ways in which the dynamics have changed:

The average children’s book for children aged 8-12 is twice as long as it was in 1996.

Children are hungry for longer stories and publishers are recognising this. The middle grade market is growing quickly, packing shelves full of exciting and challenging reads for younger readers. Children are given a lot more credit for what they’re capable of and they’re being rewarded with books worthy of their intelligence.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as it was published in 1997. 

It’s okay for adults to read children’s books

Before you yell at me, it’s ALWAYS been okay for adults to read children’s books, but it has become more mainstream. The children who grew up with Harry Potter finished the series as teenagers or young adults so there was no cut off point for reading children’s books for them. As such, Harry Potter moved to the adult shelves with a ‘mature’ cover and more children’s books are read by adults now, with 80% of YA being bought by adults for themselves.

The adult version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Children’s authors are being taken more seriously

While it’s still highly unlikely any author will make the big money J K Rowling makes, more children’s authors are getting better deals and advances from publishers. Children’s publishing is on the rise and is seeing increases in profits year by year. Harry Potter played a huge role in kick starting this and, since then, publishers are investing more time in children's books, looking for the 'next J K Rowling', and bookshops are adapting to increase their children's departments to meet the growing demand for children's books.

Harry Potter continues to delight fans with a new illustrated series 

A new generation of writers was born

I became a writer because I want to write ‘the next Harry Potter’. How many of us dream about that? Countless. Harry Potter became the ultimate goal for writers - it was proof that one person could come up with a story that could resonate across the whole globe. Proof that a good story doesn't die after you read 'the end' and that the same excitement exists for it ten years later, sending readers back to bookshops and cinemas at midnight to recapture that magic they once felt, in a new story and a new format. Harry Potter changed the business of publishing but it also changed the spirit of writers. We aim higher, dream bigger and know that anything is possible. That’s how Harry Potter's legacy will live on, in the stories we write because we all love the boy who lived under the stairs.

*Feature image: Hogwarts Express at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour, Ellie Brough

Ellie Brough is a co-editor of Words & Pictures.
Twitter: @elliebrough

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