Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Harry Potter Comparison

I have one more rule on the "If ever I am a romance heroine" list that came out of a discussion in comments:
8) Before I have sex with or even make out with a man, I will learn his name and pertinent details, like what his profession is and where he works. Oh, and marital status.
Aside from the fact that emotional intimacy should precede physical intimacy, knowing something about a man before I get up close and personal with him will prevent such embarrassing situations as getting to work the next day and finding out that my one-night stand is my new boss, employee or co-worker. Before sleeping with a man, I should also know enough about him to catch the red flags that indicate he's married -- like do I have a way to contact him other than his cell phone number, have I ever been to his place, have I met his friends, have I met his co-workers, etc.

Now back to my biweekly addressing of questions related to my Enchanted, Inc. series. One question I was asked was whether or not I like any comparisons between my series and the Harry Potter books.

Actually, my series was somewhat inspired by the Harry Potter books. When I first came up with the initial idea, I'd just gotten into the Harry Potter series. I was late to the game, as I hadn't even heard of those books until the summer of 2000, when the fourth book came out. I was on a business trip in Boston, and there was an article about the series in the USA Today left in front of my hotel room door. I realized how big it was when I passed the Borders between the office and my hotel after work on release day, and there was already a long line of people in front of the store, many of them wearing costumes. I bought the first book that fall when I was in England, but I didn't read it until early the next year. I bought the next two books the next fall (2001) on another trip to England, and then I finally read them around Christmas after the first movie came out. I really liked the whimsy of those books and the collision between the fantasy world and the magical world, with both sides being a little clueless about each other. I also liked how relatable that world was. Even with all the fantasy elements, the characters were people I recognized. I've had teachers like many of the ones in the books. I've had classmates very much like the kids in the books, I've had relationships like the ones in the books, and I essentially was Hermione.

I wanted more books like that, only I also wanted them to be more adult. If there could be fantasy books with people and situations I related to about kids, why not for adults? The very first thought that sparked my series was the phrase "Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter" that popped into my head one morning. That summed it all up. This was also the heyday of the chick lit trend, and I thought it would be really fun to have that relatable world with a touch of magic, dealing with careers, dating and family. If a magical school was so much fun, what could you do with a magical workplace?

As popular as the Harry Potter series was, and as many articles I read about how many adults were reading those books, I was surprised to find that there really weren't any books like that for adults. The urban fantasy I found (though there wasn't much then) was all dark, without the fun and whimsy, and the characters were so deep into that dark world that I didn't really relate to them because they were never in situations that I recognized. Eventually, I realized that if I wanted to read books like that, I'd have to write them, but even then, I was worried that the fact that there weren't any books like that meant there was no market for them. I was questioning how good the idea was. If I was the only person going there, then maybe that meant it wasn't such a great idea, because surely an idea that great would have been snapped up by everyone else.

When I did sell the series, I was all for promoting with the Harry Potter angle, since there are quite a few readers there, and I was pretty sure that people who liked those books would like my books, but the US publisher was adamantly opposed to that link. The first book in my series even came out within a month of a Harry Potter release, so it seemed like there would be a lot of publicity opportunities. I remembered from previous releases that they always did some kind of round-up of other books fans might enjoy, either while waiting for the new one or after reading the new one and waiting for the next one. The publicists were very opposed to that. They kept saying that they wanted any articles about my books to be about me and my books, not just a mention in an article about Harry Potter. I kept saying that no one would write an article about me, and if they did, people wouldn't be inclined to read it, but they were definitely going to be covering Harry Potter, and people would be reading those articles. I did some of my own publicity along those lines, and those were my most successful publicity hits. I also found that creative repositioning of my books during the Harry Potter release party was very successful. I kept casually leaving copies of Enchanted, Inc. on the front tables at the Barnes & Noble during the release party, and then noticed that people milling around during the event would pick up the book, look at it, then take it immediately to the checkout stand, so I'd then move another book. If I had that kind of success making that connection, I can only imagine what might have happened if the publisher had done that kind of publicity on a national level.

I'm still really surprised that there haven't been more Harry Potter-like books for adults. There were a lot of adult readers, and a lot of the teen readers of the series are adults now. And yet, there's nothing that really captures that feel, and they don't seem to be looking for that. I suspect it's because publishing is so compartmentalized. The Harry Potter books were classified as children's books, so they were only compared to other children's books. They didn't look into who was buying and reading those books. That's one of the reasons they didn't want to compare my books to that series and why they didn't consider that comparison even when making the decision to publish my books in the first place. They looked at the numbers for the Harry Potter series and wanted to find another children's series. They didn't seem to consider how that might spill over into adult books. Urban fantasy doesn't fill that niche for me, mostly because it usually doesn't strike me as fantasy. It's more of a horror/paranormal romance/hardboiled mystery mix. The Dresden Files series comes closest, and as Jim Butcher says, it's kind of "Dirty Harry" Potter. But there doesn't seem to have been the magical workplace kind of book like I wrote.

So, I guess that's a long way of saying that I welcome the comparison, and I think my books can hold up to the comparison. I don't think I'm going quite as deep as the Potter books ended up going (but they weren't really there by book 4, either), and I'm certainly not going for the religious allegory that they ended up being. But as an exploration of a magical society used to satirize real-world situations, I think my books hold up pretty well in comparison.

I still have a few questions in queue, but please do feel free to ask more. I'll keep doing this as long as there are questions to answer.

1 comment:

Knitwit said...

I think it's funny that you left copies of your books where they could be found at the bookstores during Harry Potter promotions. I did the same thing, both in bookstores and at the library where I work. I really enjoy your books and think they didn't get the publicity they deserved.