Interview with Lily Zalon, author of Dear Mr. Potter
Interview with Lily Zalon, author of Dear Mr. Potter
Conducted by Keith Hawk
Keith Hawk: I am here with Lily Zalon, the author of Dear Mr. Potter, a 16-year-old from Connecticut. Lily, congratulations!
Lily Zalon: Thank you.
Keith: Dear Mr. Potter is truly a remarkable project. It’s going to a fantastic charity cause [since] you are giving everything to the Harry Potter Alliance, is that correct?
Keith: Now, you are making an extraordinary contribution to the Potter fandom with Dear Mr. Potter. Have you been exposed to the fandom outside of the online community yet? Have you gone to any of the conventions or the theme park or anything?
Lily: I’ve been to the theme park, and I went to about four hours of LeakyCon in Boston. I also went to the premiere, the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 premiere, where I saw you and was terrified by your trivia knowledge. I’ve gone to wizard rock concerts, I went to New York’s Wizard Rock Festival, and I went to the Quidditch World Cup, but I’ve never actually been to a convention.
Keith: So you are going to LeakyCon.
Lily: Yes, I am. I am excited!
Keith: I bet you are excited. Now, what are you going to be doing at LeakyCon? Anything for the book?
Lily: Yes. First of all, we are going to be selling the book. We are going to be selling it directly at the Harry Potter Alliance’s vendor table, which is cool. And we’re doing a program, which involves a couple of things. There is an aspect of it that people who don’t actually come to the program can do. What we’re going to be doing, although we haven’t actually talked about this yet, is that the envelope that we feature on the cover has been modified, and we made it a blank envelope with the “Dear Mr. Potter” in the top-left corner, and we are going to be handing them out by the hundreds, if not the thousands, to LeakyCon attendees and having them write their own Dear Mr. Potter letters on these envelopes that is like the envelope on the cover of the book, and we’re going to be displaying them all and showing the best of them at our program. But we are going to have all of them displayed somewhere at LeakyCon; we just haven’t figured out the logistics of where it will be at. But we are going to have them all displayed and show everybody’s stories, and I’m sure some people will draw stuff, and it will all be very interesting and very cool. So it’ll be like a mini, less professional version of the book.
Keith: That’s awesome!
Lily: And then we will also be doing a program, which will feature a bunch of things. I’ll be talking about the project a lot, I’ll be taking questions, I’ll be reading some of the really touching stories and putting a video together, and then we will be showing the best of those envelopes. So that’s going to be our program, but I’ll also be enjoying the convention for myself too. So it’ll be fun.
Keith: The conventions are amazing to go to. They are a lot of fun; there is a great spirit at a convention. So I’m sure you will have a blast.
Keith: Now, there is a bit of a connection between yourself and MuggleNet. Of course, MuggleNet was started by Emerson Spartz when he was just 12 years old and homeschooled and looking for something to do with Harry Potter, and here you are, a young fan of the series [who] has created something significant for the fandom. Can you take us back to the beginning of this project and tell us how it all began for you?
Lily: Well, I’ve always been somebody who gets random ideas and then tries to start them, and most of the time they don’t work out. It was March 2010, and I sort of had this idea, and I’ve been dealing with some stuff that Harry Potter helped me through, some personal stuff. And then I’ve been dealing with a lot of people [who]… I mean, I am very open about my Harry Potter obsession at school, and people sort of make fun of me for it, which I can take and laugh about it; it doesn’t bother me that much. But I sort of needed that whole feeling of needing something because I was not involved in the fandom as much as I was as I got older, and I sort of departed from the fandom a bit.
So I had the idea and began it as a blog on Tumblr, and somehow it got really, really popular, which was incredible, and it sort of evolved. it was always intended to be a book, but it was going to be… Well, at one point, there was a question that maybe we should print these out and make them spiral-bound ourselves, and we will make, like, a hundred books and sell them for ten dollars and give a thousand bucks to the HPA. And obviously, it evolved from that, where now we have a professional shipper, but it was always with the intention of being a book and collecting stories from Harry Potter fans and giving all of the money to the HPA and nonprofit and enjoy it as a community and as a manifestation of what the fandom meant on a specific and more emotional level than what has been shown before.
Keith: Why did you choose the Harry Potter Alliance?
Lily: Well, it was sort of the default option. We weighed the idea of a couple of charities that we were considering: Lumos, J.K. Rowling’s charity, and Book Aid [International]. But in the end, the Harry Potter Alliance was the obvious choice because they do stuff for literacy, they do stuff for LGBT equality, which is something I am very devoted to, and they are doing it all in the name of Harry Potter, so it just didn’t seem like there was a better choice than the HPA.
Keith: Getting published is definitely not an easy feat, so tell us the steps you had to take, and when did you decide to go self-published?
Lily: Well, we never really considered going to an actual publisher because it was so complicated, and I wanted to do it nonprofit. I say “we” because there is a group of, like, 25 staff members [who] are helping me now, so I have sort of gotten [sic] into that habit. But I knew that I wanted to do it nonprofit, and I knew that if I were to take it to Scholastic or somewhere, they would not be able to do it nonprofit, and if they did it, they wouldn’t be able to give the money to the HPA, which is what I really wanted because I wanted the book to be about the fandom and the fan community, and an alternative charity really would not have been able to meet that need as close to heart as the HPA can and is. So we never really considered going to a publisher, just because it was so complicated. But it sort of evolved from going to handmake this book, which was the original plan. Apple has this studio where you can design a book, and then you send it off to Apple and they print it for you and you get a dollar profit per book, is what it would have ended up being. And my dad works directly with printing factories through his job, so we finally started weighing that option, the idea of actually doing it through a printing company. And we figured out that that was really the best way to go because it would produce the most profit and it would be the easiest and we could get the best-looking book, so we self-published, and that’s how that happened.
Keith: That’s great! Is there anything in particular that you hope the fans get out of the book?
Lily: I hope that they get out of it what I got out of it because I’ve been living it more directly than I think any of the people who have been following the blog. My staff members have been getting it, but really, I’ve been directly involved in this, and it’s been really incredible to see how Harry Potter has really changed and [affected] so many people. And it has sort of inspired me; I think my inspiration was partially drawn from how incredible and inspiring all of the stories I received were. I think that if the stories that I had gotten [sic] weren’t as good as they were, I would never have continued the project because I just would not have been inspired enough by it. So I hope that they get that out of it. I mean, some of these stories are absolutely heartbreaking, but really, it’s just a really clear description of what the fandom and what the series has meant to so many people, and I realized that through the project, and I hope that the people who read the book and the people who read the blog can get the same thing out of it.
Keith: Now, you received a lot of high-profile letters: MuggleNet’s own Andrew Sims and Eric Scull have written in, [the] Leaky Cauldron’s Melissa Anelli sent you some stuff, and of course fan favorite Evanna Lynch. But is there one letter that has stood out to you, personally?
Lily: Yes, and I’ve used this letter so many times when talking to people and when discussing the book. It was from a 15-year-old girl – she is probably older now – named Lydia who sent in a letter about how she had never been interested in Harry Potter, but her little brother was passionate about the series and was always carrying it around, and then her little brother actually died, and she remained connected to him by reading the Harry Potter series and by finding in it what she loved in him, and that was the first letter that made me cry, and it still remains to me the letter that stands out the most in the book. So it would have to be that one, definitely.
Keith: That’s really powerful. Now, you shared with me a few of the letters, including Evanna’s, and I have to tell you, without a doubt, Evanna is amazing. She is such a perfectionist, and I love that about her, how she writes and how she wrote to Luna, and I think the fans are really going to enjoy it. Have you had the opportunity to personally thank Evanna for this letter?
Lily: We have tweeted back and forth, and she is following me on Twitter, but that’s the extent of our relationship with each other. She knows who I am and we have had friendly tweets, but that’s the extent of it. But through the way that we publicized the letter, I hope she realizes how grateful I am, and I can’t wait to thank her in person at LeakyCon.
Keith: That’s incredible. That’s going to be a great moment for you.
Lily: Yeah! I am terrified, absolutely incredibly nervous.
Keith: Well, you shouldn’t be terrified. She truly is just one of us.
Lily: And I think the letter showed that; I think she is just from reading her letter. Clearly, she is one of us, and clearly, she has been touched as much as we have by the series.
Keith: Absolutely. Now, I understand you have Rupert Grint signing a few copies to be given off in a raffle style from the preorders that have been taken. How did you manage to accomplish this?
Lily: Well, we contacted pretty much every actor in the Harry Potter series, trying to get them to write letters for us. And the only people we heard back from was Evanna – obviously, we had through the HPA – but then Rupert Grint’s agent also told us that they were very interested in the project and that they would love to help. And Rupert Grint was actually hoping to write a letter for the book, [but] filming interrupted that. And it was so nice for him to even consider that because obviously, he is incredibly busy with all of the hype going on in his new movie. But they said that Rupert would be happy to sign copies of the book for us to raffle off and that he was sorry that he couldn’t write a letter, but they would be very glad to do this for us. So we got that through his agent, which was wonderful. And actually, one of my staff members, who is a former MuggleNet staff member, K’lyssa Selmon, works for RupertGrint.net, is how we got the connection to his agent in the first place.
Keith: Good, so MuggleNet helped out there too.
Lily: Yes, MuggleNet is the best!
Keith: Now, is this book going to only be available in print form, or are you doing anything to get an e-book type of format out of it?
Lily: We haven’t even considered it. I’m not saying that it definitely won’t happen, but I wouldn’t expect it in the near future. It’s such a visually gorgeous book; we had a professional graphic designer do it, and it’s so visually gorgeous that it’s sort of important to me to preserve that, and I worry that an e-book won’t be able to do that as well, so that’s not at the top of the agenda. But it’s definitely a possibility; a slim possibility, but it’s something that I might look into later.
Keith: Is this going to be available to fans outside of the United States?
Lily: Yes, it’s available for preorder internationally. And the letters are international as well [since] they come from people all over the world.
Keith: Do you know how many countries you received letters from?
Lily: [We] received letters from more than 50 different countries, and I think out of the letters in the book, there are letters from more than 25 different countries.
Keith: Now, the book is going to be released on July 1, is that correct?
Lily: Yes, it is. We start shipping them out then.
Keith: Tell the fans how they can get their own copy of this book.
Lily: To get a copy of the book if you are not going to LeakyCon… Although we really encourage preordering because the price is going to go from $15 to $20 after July 1, and this isn’t really publicized yet, but it is going to raise just so we can get a lot of money for the HPA. It’s thehpalliance.org/dearmrpotter; that’s the URL. And if you’re not willing to preorder it – which I think is a good idea because I think it’ll be cheaper and you’ll get a chance to win the Rupert Grint-signed copies and the personalized Hogwarts letters – they’ll be for sale at that URL after July 1 and also at LeakyCon.
Keith: Do you have a goal set for how many copies you are hoping to sell?
Lily: We’ve printed 5,000, and we sold a little more than 2,100 right now, but we are hoping to sell the full 5,000.
Keith: I hope you get a lot more than that.
Lily: That would be incredible. We will definitely be able to reprint if we sell more than that, but the goal is to get that. That’ll get us a good chunk for the HPA.
Keith: Lily, once again on behalf of MuggleNet, I’d like to say that we are extremely proud to have you as part of the Harry Potter fandom. I cannot wait to see the huge success that Dear Mr. Potter will be for the Harry Potter Alliance and for you.