By the time J. K. Rowling finished promoting the eighth book of the Harry Potter series, she’d accomplished a huge task. Not only had she written more than a million words, but she’d also published the fastest-selling book of fiction in recorded history. Within only 24 hours of its release, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series,sold more than 8 million copies. As a whole, the series has sold more than 500 million copies, making Harry Potter one of the most popular characters in the history of fiction.
Although the success of the popular books may be obvious in hindsight, J. K. Rowling famously struggled to get her manuscript published. Charley Lanyon, writing for New York Magazine, explains, “Eventually, Bloomsbury agreed to publish Harry Potter, though they were less than enthusiastic. Her editor, Barry Cunningham, even advised her [Rowling] to get a day job because she would never make any money in children’s books.” Rowling has since posted many of her rejection letters from different publishing companies to Twitter in order to inspire young writers.
While most middle grade fiction books are between 25,000 and 40,000 words. Young adult books range from 50,000 to 80,000 words. So, with the list below, you can see that J. K. Rowling pushed the limit, making each book in the Harry Potter series longer than a typical manuscript for those age groups.
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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Sorcerer’s Stone — 77,325
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — 84,799
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — 106,821
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — 190,858
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — 257,154
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince — 169,441
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — 198,227
British and American English
You may notice that the first book in her series has two titles. That change came from a suggestion from Arthur Levine of Scholastic Books, who thought that American audiences would prefer the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In addition to the title change, the U.S. edition of the book had a number of other changes, including swapping the word “sellotape” for the term “scotch tape.” In the publishing industry, it’s also typical for small errors to be revised in a new printing of a book. Obviously, every small change can impact the total word count. For that reason, even if you look at two different versions of the book in English, they might not have the exact same number of words.
Since the Harry Potter books have been incredibly popular around the world, it’s probably no surprise that they’ve been translated into lots of other languages. According to Gina Barton, writing for Vox, the books have been translated into more than 60 different tongues. She writes, “The books are filled with a tricky mix of wordplay, invented words, songs, allusions, British cultural references, and more.” Translators didn’t have an easy task, reworking Rowling’s series.
Take the longest book, Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix, which contains around 257,154 words. Whereas the Amazon Kindle version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 412 pages in English, it is 896 pages in Spanish and 1,030 pages in French. Depending on the language, the length and word count for each translation of the book will be different. The total word count for the entire series has a unique number for each language, too.
Here’s the good news. Although the number of words may vary from one country to the next, you can count on Hogwarts to be a magical place. And, whether you’re reading the book in Chinese, Arabic, or Portuguese, it’s probably safe to assume that Lord Voldemort acts just as sneaky in every translation.
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.