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Harry Potter proving hard act to follow

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FRANKFURT, Oct 21 (AFP) - Harry Potter has turned a whole new generation of children on to reading but editors at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week said the boy wizard was proving a hard act to follow for authors.

"We carried out a poll among children between the ages of nine and 15 years and 68 percent said that Harry Potter has made them feel like reading," said Hedwige Pasquet, the managing editor of Gallimard Jeunesse, which brought the six Harry Potter volumes to France.

"It is a happy event, it has developed the children's book market and not only helped books of that particular kind, but other genres too."

A competitor in the French market, Actes Sud Junior, said it had also felt the impact of the J.K. Rowling phenomenon among French children, though its current success was a German series translated as "Les Enquetes de la Main Noire" (The Black Hand Investigations) that gives junior readers mind riddles not magic.

"It's quite a paradox, Harry Potter, because these are after all quite weighty books and yet it has appealed to those children who did not want to read," editor Isabelle Remond told AFP.

In the United States, the same thing happened though perhaps not independently of the marketing strategies of other publishing houses who exploited the craze, said Harper Collins' vice president Joan Rosen.

"If you go into a bookshop, you are told 'read this while you wait for the next Harry Potter' or 'if you have liked the last Harry Potter, you will like this too'," she said.

"It has changed the market, and it has become a way of selling books. And of course everybody is waiting to see what the next big thing will be."

Harper Collins' latest big-selling children's book in Britain is Angie Stone's "Magyk", but some publishers have become wary of the "wizards and witches" genre.

Harry Potter has spawned a heap of manuscripts that recall Rowling's bespectacled hero and many houses are steering clear of them for fear of being considered copycats, Sue Parish from Egmont Publishing said.

"We are looking for new trends like detective stories, (because) wizards have been done. You get a manuscript and it's part of a sludge pile. A lot of people think they have written something original and actually it is inspired by Harry Potter."

Egmont's recent successes are the futuristic fantasies of William Nicholson, who wrote the script for the movie "Gladiator", and Catherine Forde's "Fat Boy Swim" that recounts the ordeal of a bullied obese boy.

Parish praises Forde's books for being "completely realistic ... (and) written in the way children in English schools speak" and Nicholson for finding a new take on the battle between good and evil.

Other editors admit Harry Potter is still by far the biggest thing on the market and if they cannot match its enormous success -- more than 300 million copies were sold even before the sixth book hit the shelves in July -- they cannot complain either.

"There does not seem to be a major let-up. Another book that is doing well is called 'The Worst Witch'. It's just that here the main character is a girl instead of a boy," said Victoria Wilkins from Robert Frederick publishers.

"But Harry Potter has helped all of us. In England it is precisely the boys in the age group that were reading less that are now reading him."

And Gallimard's Pasquet says people are wrong to confine the Potter books to the magic genre.

"This is not the main thing in the books, they are first and foremost about relations between people. That is what makes them universal."

Gallimard printed a record two million copies of the sixth book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", while the first five together sold some 18 million copies in France.

Rowling, now one of Britain's richest women, has vowed to write one more and then stop.



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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