(CBS) J.K. Rowling says that when she wrote the first Harry Potter book, sitting at Nicolson's Café in Edinburgh, she never expected to make money. She told CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips that a journalist once assumed making money was her motive.
"That's rubbish. I was totally realistic about what writing children's books involved. And that involved no money, really, at all. A lot of really great children's writers I know have to do other work."
Although Rowling is more than amazed by her success, she thinks she knows why the series of books about the orphaned boy wizard appeals to children.
"It's a very common fantasy with children: 'These boring people cannot be my parents. They just can't be. I'm so much more special than that.'"
"Nearly everyone I know went through that," she says.
By reading the books, says Rowling, "Not only are you leaving this boring existence, but you really are special. You're not only magical, but you're famous as well."
Rowling says that life becomes "more cruel" for Harry and his friends in the fourth and later novels.
"Things are getting darker, definitely, and people are going to die," she says, ominously.
"When I tell children that, they all say, 'Don't kill Ron!' No one gives a damn about Hermione," she says ruefully. Rowling has said in the past that Hermione is the character most similar to herself.
The children in the series get older with each book, and Rowling says "part of the reason it's so much fun to write is that they're discovering their hormones. And they're mainly in love with all the wrong people, just to make it lifelike."
Rowling didn't anticipate that her books would trigger such a tremendous surge of interest in reading among children. "But there's nothing better than that, is there? That's the most incredible thing," she says.
The frenzy to be among the first to acquire her fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, sparked bookworm sightings Saturday in most parts of the United States and England. The new book went on sale the minute the clock struck midnight, and fans had been awaiting it for months.
With no school to worry about, thousands of parents and children waited at bookstores for the stroke of midnight, with bizarre touches marking the carnival atmosphere in evidence almost everywhere.
In Oklahoma, Potter fans young and old dressed up as witches, wizards and goblins. The refreshments - Wizard toast and bug juice - were added attractions for true Potter fans, who dug in without hesitation, knowing the treats in question were French toast and apple juice with gummy worms.
In Atlanta, 6-year-old Jason Lathbury was among the hordes attending a pajama party while waiting to scoop up the new book.
"I really like Harry Potter. He reminds me of my friends. When I'm lonely, he makes me happy. He's my imaginary friend," said Jason, accompanied bhis father and a friend to the party at Chapter 11 at Ansley Mall.
In England, one central London bookshop held a sleepover party for children and parents.
Booksellers say it isn't only children rushing to snap up the vivid tales of the young orphaned wizard and his battles against evil in a fantastic, parallel world invisible to "Muggles" - that is, ordinary people.
"They are selling like hot cakes," said Brigitte Bunnell of the Hatchards bookstore chain. "They are literally vanishing from our shelves. And it's not just children reading it. Adults are too - we had readers from 8 to 80 in our store last night."
As always, there were a few rebels and malcontents.
In Columbus, Ohio, Sally Oddi, owner of the Cover to Cover bookstore, chose to pass up the chance to hold a midnight party. Oddi calls the midnight hype silly and says she doesn't want the Harry Potter popularity to turn into fad like the Beanie Babies – that is, a fad that hits big and then dies out.
That doesn't mean Oddi is out of the loop entirely. She thinks parents should encourage their kids to read the new book and she did agree to open her store an hour early, at 9 a.m., to sell the books she had on hand. That includes 250 copies ordered by customers in advance.
Then there's the case of Tom Schuppe, an independent bookstore owner in Stockton, California, whose name is bound to be remembered for some time by publishers, booksellers and his customers.
While sales of the Harry Potter book were not supposed to begin before Saturday, Schuppe had his own interpretation of how things ought to be.
He put the book on sale late Thursday, selling a few copies then, and 40 more – his entire supply – the next morning. We open at 10 a.m. By 10:05 a.m., they were gone," says Schuppe.
Most bookstores signed contracts with the publisher prohibiting them from selling the book or divulging any details about its contents before Saturday.
Schuppe says he never signed any such agreement.
Bookstores all over, both on the web and the bricks and mortar variety, expect the new book to break sales records. Saturday, Amazon.com alone took 400,000 orders, a new e-tailing record.
Barnes and Noble chalked up 360,000 orders in advance of the release date and expected to break records for both first-day and first-week sales of any book in the company's history.
"We sold 114,000 books in just 60 minutes in our stores. On-line, we sold another 93,000 books," said Mary Ellen Keating, senior vice president of Barnes and Noble. "So by the end of this weekend, we'll be well over 500,000 books.
Rowling is in awe over her good fortune. "I'm amazed - think of a stronger word and double it," Rowling said at London's King's Cross Station, where she boarded a special Hogwarts Express to promote the book.
For the day, the platform was designated 9 3/4 - after the starting point for her fictional wizard's adventures.
At 734 pages, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is twice as long as earlier books.
"It was the hardest so far to write - it's a long book," she said. "It's the culmination of 10 years' work. There was a lot of external pressure this time. I knew it was going to be longer than the third but I was surprised at how long it was. That's how long it needed to be to tell the story," she said.
Young readers snatching up the first copies didn't seem daunted by its length. Chloe Castenguay said it would be worth the work, "because it's Harry Potter and it's, like, the coolest book in the world."
With a new movie expected in 2001, Harry Potter revenues could reach $1 billion.
An Author's Tale
CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips reports:
The British launch of J.K. Rowling's fourth Harry Potter book was as imaginative as the world she's created.
At London's Kings Cross station, she arrived to catch an old steam train waiting on the unlikely platform nine-and-three-quarters, just like Harry Potter himself did when he went off to Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.
To see Rowling today is to see someone whose own story is as magical as Harry's own.
Rowling is now easily the most marketable author on the planet—the first British and American print run for this book is an almost unbelievable 5.3 million copies.
It seems long ago and far away that Jo Rowling was an impoverished single mother, scribbling away in the cafes of Edinburgh, putting life to a character who, she explained in an interview some time ago, had come to her on an earlier train trip.
"I suddenly thought 'wizard school,' and I got so excited about the idea, I really did," said Rowling.
The brilliance of the central idea was immediately grasped by Rowling’s readership—that there’s a whole mystical world all around us that non-magical 'muggles' like adults cannot see, but kids can.
Rowling has gone from being penniless to being worth millions. And in an age of computer games and television, she’s enriched the lives of a generation using a strange antiquated device: the book.