Harry Potter – History of the Books

Series Overview

Collectively, the seven Harry Potter books have sold nearly 500 million copies since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, making Harry Potter the bestselling book series of all time. Some estimates suggest that only The Bible and The Red Book have sold more copies than the series. The books have been translated into more than 70 languages, making them some of the most translated works of literature in history.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone

J.K. Rowling finished the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1995. Represented by Christopher Little, the manuscript was rejected by dozens of publishers. Editors cited the story’s length and politically incorrect focus on boarding school as reasons for rejection. Bloomsbury eventually acquired the manuscript and ordered an initial print run of 500 hardback copies. Two hundred copies hit store shelves in June of 1997 with the remaining 300 sent to libraries. Later that year, the book earned the UK’s National Book Award and a gold medal in the Nestle Smarties Book Prize. These awards, along with positive reviews and word of mouth, made the book well-known in a matter of months – ensuring it would receive larger additional printings. Within two years of its publication, Philosopher’s Stone had sold more than 300,000 copies in the UK alone.

Before Philosopher’s Stone even began to appear in bookshops, several U.S. publishers engaged in a bidding war for its American publishing rights. In April of 1997, Arthur A. Levine from the Scholastic Corporation won the rights for $105,000 – more than Levine had ever paid any author, let alone a first-time novelist. Scholastic replaced the word “philosopher” to “sorcerer” in the title, fearing that American children might be put off by the former. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone debuted in the United States in October of 1998. In December, the book appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for the first time. It remained there, generally in one of the top three slots for 79 consecutive weeks, until the Times created a separate list for children’s book list in 2000. The novel garnered numerous honors in the U.S. including Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Book of 1998 award.

As of 2012, Philosopher’s Stone has been translated into 74 languages, including Latin and Ancient Greek. More than 107 million copies of the novel have been sold worldwide.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The second installment in the Harry Potter series was published on July 2, 1998 in the United Kingdom and June 2, 1999 in the United States. It quickly rose to the top of bestseller lists in both countries and has since been translated into 65 languages. Like its predecessor, Chamber of Secrets won the Nestle Smarties book prize as well as several other honors including the American Library Association’s Best Book for Young Adults, and the first-ever children’s book award from the Scottish Arts Council. As of 2012, the book has sold 77 million copies worldwide and been translated into 72 languages.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Prisoner of Azkaban was published in July of 1999 in the United Kingdom, and three months later in the United States. After the book sold more than 68,000 copies on the first day of its release in the U.K., American publisher Scholastic ordered an initial print run of half a million copies. The novel quickly took the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list. This accomplishment meant that, for the first time, a third of the prestigious list consisted of children’s books, with Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets finishing out the top three slots. Along with other honors, Prisoner of Azkaban was named the Whitbread Book of the Year for 1999.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Goblet of Fire was released in the United States and the United Kingdom on July 8, 2000. J.K. Rowling originally intended to call the book “Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament” but changed the title some months before publication. Hundreds of bookstores in both countries stayed open until midnight to distribute the book to eager crowds, setting a precedent that would continue with all subsequent Harry Potter novels. With a combined first print of almost five million copies, Goblet of Fire smashed sales records by selling over three million copies in the first two days of its release. In 2001, the novel won the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The fifth book in the Harry Potter series, Order of the Phoenix, debuted in the United State, United Kingdom and Canada at midnight on June 21, 2003. The three year gap between the fourth Harry Potter novel and Order of the Phoenix was the longest space between any two books in the series. The book broke the previous record for fastest selling novel of all time, held by Goblet of Fire, when it sold five million copies in the first 24 hours alone. Order of the Phoenix was named the American Library Association’s Best Book for Young Adults in 2003.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released at midnight on July 16, 2005 in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. J.K. Rowling revealed the title to fans via her new website on June 24, 2004 and later used the site to unleash several more clues about the content of the novel. Half-Blood Prince sold a record-breaking 11 million copies on the first day of its release, beating the previous record held by Order of the Phoenix. It won the British Book of the Year award for 2005, along with several other prizes and honors.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The long-awaited final installment in the Harry Potter series was released on July 21, 2007. Prior to its public release, copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were kept well guarded, with publishers spending millions of dollars on security to protect details about the plot from leaking. Bookstores were legally forbidden to open boxes containing the books until midnight. Despite the high security, there were several leaks of the books content – including photos of every single page appearing on illegal file sharing sites. However, the leaks did nothing to dent the books popularity, as over 15 million copies were sold worldwide. Once again, the series had absolutely smashed its own record for a final time.