Blurbs are funny things. Those short descriptions from other authors and celebrities on the front covers of books claim that this book, this book you’re holding in your hands, it is definitely the next big thing. This is the book that’s going to change your life. It’s like that other popular book you read, but it’s better! They’re there to suck you in, to convince you that if this guy says it’s the next Hunger Games, it must be worth picking up. But if there’s one thing that turns me off a book the fastest, it’s a cover that claims that a book is the next Harry Potter.
At the peak of Harry Potter mania, this got absolutely ridiculous. I swear that I shelved a book that claimed that the author was “The JK Rowling of interior design writing.” Everyone was trying to ride HP’s coattails–and some still are. Even worse than the ones that claim to be the next Harry Potter are books that assure you they are even better. “Put down Harry Potter, pick up this series!” How dare you, sir. It’s not even the affront to my childhood that makes me not want to pick up those books. It’s that those blurbs immediately make me think “You clearly don’t even know what Harry Potter is.”
There can never be another series that is Harry Potter. The Hunger Games was not the next Harry Potter. Neither was Twilight. Or 50 Shades of Grey. The books that are incredibly popular are never just carbon copies of the last big publishing trend. They’re always a surprise. So it’s unlikely that your wizarding school YA series is going to sell as well as Rowling’s did (and does).
Not only that, Harry Potter did not exist in isolation. It’s not just the words on the page that made it what it is. It was the environment: the exact time that it came into the world. Harry Potter and the internet grew up together. Fandom found a new place to play, and the Harry Potter fandom got to establish itself on an internet that was much less crowded than it would ever be again. No book could be the next Harry Potter for me, because no other fandom could dominate fanfic communities like it did, or could create a music genre at the same time that websites like Myspace were just beginning. Harry Potter existed in a time where fandom was changing, where you didn’t need to send out zines and meet in real life groups to obsess over the last book. I doubt anything will match the mania of the HP fandom online during the gap between the 4th and 5th books. (And thank Merlin for that.)
Those blurbs make me doubt that the writer knows what appeals to readers about Harry Potter. Every fan has something different that they cling onto from the series: the passionate fan community, the social justice undertones, the plethora of fan fiction and fan art, the memorable characters, the world building that seems to expand off the page, the complexity of the books growing with the characters over the course of the series. The food alone! There are so many ways that fans find a foothold in this series. It’s one thing to say “If you loved Hogwarts, you’ll love this other magical school” or “Miss the sass of Harry? Read this sarcastic wizarding hero!” But claiming that one book would appeal to all Harry Potter readers is ridiculous. Some love it because it’s a series they grew up with–an experience that no book coming out now can replicate. Some adore aspects of it while ruthlessly criticizing other elements, so you may end up only repeating the things they dislike about the series.
I understand the marketing appeal of trying to sway HP fans to pick up your book, but it definitely has the opposite effect on me. How much more would I have enjoyed The Magicians by Lev Grossman if I wasn’t expecting an “adult Harry Potter”, as the marketing promised?
Blurbs or taglines that compare books to Harry Potter only do them a disservice. The joy of reading is discovering new stories and new worlds. I want to meet characters for the first time and get to know them. A great story will stand on its own merits. I have no desire to read the “next Harry Potter,” because we already have one of those. Give me something I’ve never seen before. Better to be the book blazing a trail than to follow close behind it.