Wednesday, July 11, 11 a.m. ET

Bringing Harry Potter to America

Arthur A. Levine
American editor of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books; publisher, Arthur A. Levine Books
Wednesday, July 11, 2007; 11:00 AM

Editor Arthur Levine will be online Wednesday, June 13 at 11 a.m. to talk about his work in bringing the "Harry Potter" books to an American audience, and the tremendous success of the series.

A transcript follows.

Levine is the publisher of his own imprint, Arthur A. Levine Books, a division of Scholastic. In addition to editing the U.S. edition of the "Harry Potter" books, other books he has edited include Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass," Rafe Martin and David Shannon's "The Rough-Face Girl," Jerry Spinelli's "Crash" and two Caldecott winners, Peggy Rathmann's "Officer Buckle and Gloria," and Emily McCully's "Mirette on the High Wire."

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Sarasota, Fla.: When did you, Jo and Christopher first realize the magnitude of the success of the series? What triggered the realization? What did you say to each other? What were your reactions?

Arthur Levine: I think the idea that something unusual was happening started with the auction for U.S. rights; I wound up paying a lot of money for what was then an unknown author's novel. And after the auction I called Jo and said, "Hey, I know there's a lot of excitement about this, but don't let it scare you." :)

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Arlington, Va.: Why the decision to end the series? This franchise is a cash cow. Why not extend it indefinitely, even if J.K. Rowling isn't interesting in writing additional books. It worked for "007" and others.

Arthur Levine: Jo always thought of the story as having seven parts; so it isn't that anyone made a decision to END it per se. She just finished the story.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Levine, thank you again for joining us with this discussion. Do you think in the future J.K. Rowling will continue the story, or even start a series using other associated characters? Is this the end of her work, or will there be more?

Arthur Levine: My pleasure! I really don't know whether or not Jo will revisit the world of Harry Potter. But I do know that she'll continue writing. She takes great joy in writing and I know she has lots of ideas. ...

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Arlington, Va.: From the moment you get the manuscript, until the moment is published and you can talk about it, how you do keep silent? I understand it is your job, but are there times where you just want to scream, "Harry ___" or "Snape is ____"

(Fill in the blanks if you would like.)

Arthur Levine: LOL. It can be hard to bite my lip. But I have convenient amnesia. ... I just tell myself not to think about it. :) But it is hard not to go on and on about a book I love. ...

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Houston: What a sad article in the NY Times today, discussing the fact that many children who were led to books by Harry Potter will abandon reading after H.P. ends. These kids need adults in their lives saying, "Hey, try this," with a Tolkien or a Pullman or just ANYTHING.

Arthur Levine: I agree with you. I think it would be great too, if we could see more books get the kind of media attention that breaks through the famous "distractions" that teenagers have.

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Arlington, Va.: Why is the U.S. book 784 pages and the British book only 608 pages?

Arthur Levine: They are different trim sizes (how large the book is), they are typeset differently, and our edition has chapter-opening illustrations.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you feel about the book's main character appearing naked on stage?

Arthur Levine: It's not the book's main character. It's the actor who plays that character in a movie. :)

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Wheaton, Md.: As a huge fan of Harry Potter but not that fast a reader, I am concerned that the final denouement will be widely publicized before I get to that part of the book. Do you anticipate that the final resolution will be widely reported?

Arthur Levine: I really hope not. I, too, am a slow reader, so I completely empathize with you. I'd really have hated to have the ending spoiled for me.

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North Carolina: Why do people feel the need to change the text of a U.K. book to suit a U.S. audience? Are Americans truly not capable enough to read something with Brit-isms? I don't mind if Harry wears trainers and a jumper while carrying a torch, instead of sneakers, a sweater and flashlight. Lorries, loos, and hosepipes aren't going to impact the charm of these books, so why "Americanize" the text?

Arthur Levine: There are virtually no differences in the texts of the last few books.

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Washington, D.C.: I was so interested to read your profile today, your job sounds amazing! But one of the things I was most curious about did not get answered. J.K. Rowling made so much money from her books, and that fact is often discussed; she's richer than the Queen of England! But do editors like you also get such big monetary benefits from buying the U.S. rights to such a successful book? Could you never work again if you wanted to since you worked on such a hit book? I'm so curious!

Arthur Levine: LOL! I get asked that a lot actually. The fact is that I'm an employee of a big company and I don't get paid based on how the books I publish do. That works out well if I'm publishing a beautiful book of poetry that only a few people buy (they don't dock my pay) so I guess it's fair that I don't make a bazillion dollars if one of my books does well. :)

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Alexandria, Va.: What can you tell us about the very beginning of the series' run in the U.S. -- is it true that Scholastic bought the rights for only $105,000, plus small author residuals?

Arthur Levine: That's true. But to be clear: that figure is what's called an "advance against royalties." In typical author agreements, this means that when an author "earns back" that advance, they start earning additional royalties.

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Washington, D.C.: How would you advise someone who is interested in publishing (or embarking on a career much like yours) to get started?

Arthur Levine: I took a publishing course that was very helpful in getting me started; it's now called the Columbia Publishing Course and it's run by a very smart woman named Lindy Hess.

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Washington, D.C.: After my eight-year-old daughter finishes Deathly Hallows, what do you recommend? She likes Edward Eager ("Half Magic," etc.), E. Nesbit (we read aloud) and C.S. Lewis. Any other fantasy authors you recommend? Strong girl characters tend to help.

Arthur Levine: Well, if she's read and appreciated the later HP books then she's a pretty sophisticated reader. She might like to try Kevin Crossley-Holland's "Arthur" trilogy, Robin McKinley's "The Hero and the Crown" and the "Earthsea" tetrology by Ursula Leguin. And, of course, Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. And when she's a little older, Kate Constable's "The Singer of all Songs."

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McLean, Va.: I really just wanted to thank you -- I might never have read Harry Potter or the "Dark Materials" Trilogy (among my favorite books!) if you hadn't discovered them. They've really inspired me.

Arthur Levine: Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: One of the reasons I love the Harry Potter books so much is that Harry is such a great character, and easy to relate to in different ways. As a gay man, I always felt his "coming out" of the broom closet and into the wonderful wizarding world had great parallels to my personal "coming out." Certainly that would seem applicable to anyone who has either hidden, or not yet discovered, something about themselves that forever changes their life.

Arthur Levine: Absolutely. I think Rowling does a great job of talking about many kinds of prejudices in her book, and championing those who have been neglected or oppressed.

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Washington, D.C.: How much did you "Americanize" the text (i.e. change spellings, idioms, and British speech patterns)?

Arthur Levine: Very little. Our rule of thumb is that we almost never change anything in a character's direct speech (characters talk the way they talk.) And we only query the author in instances where we think there will be a misunderstanding; this comes up more often when a word seems to be left out to American readers. It's very rarely the simplistic substitution of a bit of British slang for an "American" variant.

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Lake Ridge, Va.: I read that Scholastic is working with Author Meg Cabot to create a series of books that will have the same kind of interest in young minds as Harry. Would you know what the series would be about, and when would we be able to see the first release?

Arthur Levine: I'm not the editor of that series, but I believe it's coming out next Spring. She's a terrific writer though -- should be good!

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Alexandria, Va.: How satisfied were you once you finished the final page of Book 7? Were all your questions answered?

Arthur Levine: I found it very satisfying. :)

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South Riding, Va.: It is clear that the Harry Potter series has been a huge success. What did you see in the first book when you first reviewed it, and did you ever think it could become this popular?

Arthur Levine: I saw an enormously talented writer, who had written a hugely enjoyable book, with more to come. I was confident that these books would be loved by readers. ... More than that, I felt they'd be the kind of books kids would remember later as their favorites from childhood.

I couldn't have forseen the level of sales, but I'm not surprised by how readers embraced the books.

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Sarasota, Fla.: Do you ever try and influence your authors' plots?

Or do you only concentrate on style?

Arthur Levine: I think of my job as to give the author (any author) a chance to have someone read her book BEFORE it's finished. I then give her a detailed response -- what I liked, what moved me, what made me laugh, where (if any place) I was confused, or uncertain, etc. Then it's up to the author to decide what to do about that.

It's a different from the task of a teacher, who "corrects" a student's paper ... or a newspaper editor who has to fit a report into a specific space.

Hope that helps!

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East Lansing, Mich.: Thanks for your time; I have really enjoyed the conversation thus far. My question pertains to becoming "the next J.K.R." I have been writing for a while but have not submitted anything to anyone, but it's mostly because I don't know how. Much like Ms. Rowling was when she began sending Harry Potter around, I believe I have a great story but do not know how to get it out there. Obviously, I would love to create a character with half the power and weight of Harry Potter, but my top priority is getting published. How do I do it? Can I send you a manuscript? Any tips for fresh, young authors?

Arthur Levine: There's a wonderful organization out there that can really help you get information, support, advice, etc. as you start and develop your career. It's called the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. www.scbwi.org

Check 'em out!

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Washington, D.C.: Are you ever in touch with editors/translators of other foreign editions of the Harry Potter series? I read one book in Portuguese as language practice and was fascinated by which names were changed and how. For example, the addition of Brazilian wizards at the Quidditch World Cup, who were not present in the English-language version surprised me. Do you have any insight into how such decisions are made?

Arthur Levine: Yes, that's very interesting isn't it! I have met some of these publishers and translators at book fairs, but only in passing.

It did surprise me that in other languages the titles, character names, etc. were changed. (I wonder if anyone wrote to the Portuguese publisher and asked why they translated the book into Portuguese rather than letting their kids simply learn English ... LOL!)

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Lake Ridge, Va.: Is Jo working on an 8th book? According to the media rumor mill she has plans to go beyond the 7th? What are your thoughts?

Arthur Levine: She's definitely not working on an 8th book right now.

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Alexandria, Va.: When I was working as an elementary school consultant in reading and language arts in the late '60s and the '70s, there was much emphasis being given to materials for so-called "poor" readers. The term "high interest, low vocabulary" was used to describe materials designed for these readers. The one thing about the Harry Potter books that stands out in my mind is the sheer numbers of young readers who have read all of the books cover to cover. Was attention paid to the so-called "vocabulary level" of Rowling's books?

Arthur Levine: I've heard the same thing and it makes me very happy. We didn't pay any attention at all to the "vocabulary level," and I'm so glad it wasn't an obstacle to reluctant readers.

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Washington, D.C.:"There are virtually no differences in the texts of the last few books."

So does this mean you used to edit out the British-isms and no longer do? I thought I noticed more of them as the series progressed.

Arthur Levine: I always raised questions to the author when I was concerned about misinterpretation. As readers have become more familiar with the world of Harry Potter through the books and movies there are fewer times when this concern comes up.

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Rockville, Md.: Do you have a favorite character or scene from the Harry Potter series?

Arthur Levine: I have a great fondness for these characters so it's really hard to chose one above all. Of the teachers, I wish I could have McGonagall ... if I'd gone to Hogwarts I probably would have been great friends with Hermione, and Luna ... but there are warm things I could say about lots of others. ...

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Cry?: It has been reported that Rowling "howled" as she wrote this book -- did you cry?

Arthur Levine: I certainly did.

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Silver Spring, Md.: After working in video for about 10 years, I'm thinking of changing careers and going into publishing. Is it a difficult field to break into?

Thanks!

Arthur Levine: I think that it's a field you can break into, if you really want to.

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Lake Ridge, Va.: I have noticed that "The Golden Compass" is hitting the silver screen, and even being added to the line ups on most video game systems; are you hoping this story line picks up some of Harry's fall-out? Could you create a bridge to other authors after J.K.'s current run?

Arthur Levine: I definitely hope readers will take their enthusiasm for the experience of reading a great series like Harry Potter and try out other authors.

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Arlington, Va.: Is continuity sometimes difficult in series, especially ones this complicated? There has long been in a rumor that J.K. Rowling has been known to check some fact on HP Lexicon just to make sure things are right.

Arthur Levine: There is a TREMENDOUS amount of detail in these books! It's quite amazing that she can keep it all straight. We help as much as we can.

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Arlington, Va.: Are there any plans to offer a boxed set of deluxe editions of all seven books?

Personally, I pay more attention to the contents than to the covers, but GrandPre's deluxe illustrations for books six and seven look marvelous.

Arthur Levine: Thank you. Mary's art IS gorgeous. I don't know if we'll do a boxed set of all the deluxe editions, but they are beautiful.

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Arthur Levine: Thanks for visiting with me everyone. Please feel free to visit my Web site www.arthuralevinebooks.com and have fun July 21st!

All the best,

Arthur A. Levine

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