In 1990, J. K. Rowling was on a crowded train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry suddenly “fell into her head”. Rowling gives an account of the experience on her website saying:
“I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.”
Rowling completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1995 and the manuscript was sent off to several prospective agents. The second agent she tried, Christopher Little, offered to represent her and sent the manuscript to Bloomsbury. After eight other publishers had rejected Philosopher’s Stone, Bloomsbury offered Rowling a £2,500 advance for its publication. Despite Rowling’s statement that she did not have any particular age group in mind when beginning to write the Harry Potter books, the publishers initially targeted children aged nine to eleven. On the eve of publishing, Rowling was asked by her publishers to adopt a more gender-neutral pen name in order to appeal to the male members of this age group, fearing that they would not be interested in reading a novel they knew to be written by a woman. She elected to use J. K. Rowling (Joanne Kathleen Rowling), using her grandmother’s name as her second name because she has no middle name.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published by Bloomsbury, the publisher of all Harry Potter books in the United Kingdom, on 30 June 1997. It was released in the United States on 1 September 1998 by Scholastic—the American publisher of the books—as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, after Rowling had received US$105,000 for the American rights—an unprecedented amount for a children’s book by a then-unknown author. Fearing that American readers would not associate the word “philosopher” with a magical theme (although the Philosopher’s Stone is alchemy-related), Scholastic insisted that the book be given the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the American market.
The second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was originally published in the UK on 2 July 1998 and in the US on 2 June 1999. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was then published a year later in the UK on 8 July 1999 and in the US on 8 September 1999. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published on 8 July 2000 at the same time by Bloomsbury and Scholastic. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the longest book in the series at 766 pages in the UK version and 870 pages in the US version. It was published worldwide in English on 21 June 2003. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published on 16 July 2005, and it sold 9 million copies in the first 24 hours of its worldwide release. The seventh and final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published 21 July 2007. The book sold 11 million copies in the first 24 hours of release, breaking down to 2.7 million copies in the UK and 8.3 million in the US.
The series has been translated into 67 languages, placing Rowling among the most translated authors in history.The books have seen translations to diverse languages such as Azerbaijani, Ukrainian, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Welsh, Afrikaans, Albanian, Latvian and Vietnamese. The first volume has been translated into Latin and even Ancient Greek, making it the longest published work in Ancient Greek since the novels of Heliodorus of Emesa in the 3rd century AD.
Some of the translators hired to work on the books were well-known authors before their work on Harry Potter, such as Viktor Golyshev, who oversaw the Russian translation of the series’ fifth book. The Turkish translation of books two to seven was undertaken by Sevin Okyay, a popular literary critic and cultural commentator. For reasons of secrecy, translation can only start when the books are released in English; thus there is a lag of several months before the translations are available. This has led to more and more copies of the English editions being sold to impatient fans in non-English speaking countries. Such was the clamour to read the fifth book that its English language edition became the first English-language book ever to top the best-seller list in France.
The United States editions of the Harry Potter novels have required the adaptation of the texts into American English, as many words and concepts used by the characters in the novels may have not been understood by a young American audience.
In December 2005, Rowling stated on her web site, “2006 will be the year when I write the final book in the Harry Potter series.” Updates then followed in her online diary chronicling the progress of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with the release date of 21 July 2007. The book itself was finished on 11 January 2007 in the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh, where she scrawled a message on the back of a bust of Hermes. It read: “J. K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11 January 2007.”
Rowling herself has stated that the last chapter of the final book (in fact, the epilogue) was completed “in something like 1990”. In June 2006, Rowling, on an appearance on the British talk show Richard & Judy, announced that the chapter had been modified as one character “got a reprieve” and two others who previously survived the story had in fact been killed. On 28 March 2007, the cover art for the Bloomsbury Adult and Child versions and the Scholastic version were released.