May 06, 2002 01:00 AM

Attention, J.K. Rowling: Your fans are waiting. And waiting. After quickly turning out four Harry Potter books — one per year since July 2000 — the usually prolific author is months late in wrapping up her fifth entry into the sensational series, reports The New York Times. How late? It apparently will not be ready for its scheduled July 2002 publication. The only word about the book, to be called “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” says The Times, is that its American publisher, Scholastic, has told its stockholders (as well as hungry young readers) that it expects to publish it some time before June 2003. This means it will come well after this fall’s movie premiere of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” the sequel to the last year’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” “Clearly we understand that her readers are eagerly waiting for it but you can’t hurry the creative juices, and we understand that,” Scholastic spokeswoman Judy Corman told The Times. “She is writing. She is working hard on the book. We will be happy when we get it.” The Times reports that once Rowling, 36, turns in her manuscript, it will be another four or five months before the finished books hit stores. As The Times also notes, the phenomenal success of Harry Potter (Scholastic alone has sold 67 million copies of the first four novels, and that doesn’t include international editions) has changed the life of the Scottish writer, who was a single mom on public assistance while she was writing the first Harry Potter book and is now one of Britain’s most wealthy people. Last Dec. 26, after a record-setting $90 million opening weekend of the first “Harry Potter” movie (that record was only broken this weekend, with the $114 million opening of “Spider-Man”), Rowling married Dr. Neil Murray, an anesthesiologist, but their honeymoon was brief. They both needed to get back to work.

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