Sales of To Kill a Mockingbird have increased by 1,000% at Waterstones and 500% at Blackwell’s Oxford since the news of a second novel by Harper Lee was announced.
Penguin Random House’s William Heinemann, part of the Cornerstone division, will publish Go Set a Watchman, a novel written by Lee before she penned To Kill a Mockingbird and featuring some of the same characters, this summer.
Waterstones’ fiction buyer Chris White said of To Kill a Mockingbird: “It will continue to sell strongly for a good while yet. There’s a new generation who have yet to experience its unique pleasures and even those who have already read it may wish to get themselves a new copy to refresh their memory before 14th July. Shops will be creating table displays of To Kill a Mockingbird which highlight the new book.”
Blackwell's Oxford area manager Rebecca McAllister told The Bookseller the flagship Oxford shop had seen 500% uplift in sales of To Kill A Mockingbird on the same month last year.
"And that will definitely go up over the weekend as we have only had a couple of days of sales since the announcement,” she said. “We have got the book front of store and at the till points and there will soon be a special display of all the editions in the literature section. There is a buzz around it because it had been in the news, people have been talking about it, which has been sending customers into the shops, which is great. I can't wait for when the sequel is published."
As well as Waterstones, there has also been an uplift in sales of To Kill a Mockingbird, first released in 1960 at Amazon. Waterstones predicted earlier in the week that Go Set a Watchman would be “the most sure-fire hit of the century”.
Doubts have been raised since news of the novel was released on Tuesday (3rd February) about Lee’s health, but in a quote released yesterday (5th February) by her publishers she said she was “alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to Watchman”.
Her agent Andrew Nurnberg has now also waded into discussion, saying in a statement: “There will inevitably be speculation regarding Harper Lee as she has lived a very private life. She was genuinely surprised at the discovery of the manuscript but delighted by the suggestion to publish what she considers to be the ‘parent’ to Mockingbird. I met with her last autumn and again over two days in January; she was in great spirits and increasingly excited at the prospect of this novel finally seeing the light of day."
He also told the Guardian that “this [Lee] isn’t somebody with dementia who is being led up the garden path” and described Lee as “very lively, very funny”.
Nurnberg told the Guardian that Go Set a Watchman was the third novel in the trilogy.
He said the plan for the series came to light in letters between Lee and her old agent, and added: “They discussed publishing Mockingbird first, Watchman last, and a shorter connecting novel between the two. It would appear she never wrote or finished the middle novel, but it is clear that Lippincott was planning on publishing Watchman.”
He described Go Set a Watchman as a “very, very fine book” that is “beautifully crafted – the language and the passion and the humour, and of course the politics, that you know her for”.
Lee initially questioned whether the novel was good enough to be published, said Nurnberg.
“She questioned – is this really good?” he said. “Are you sure? And when we said yes, she said if you think so, do it. She didn’t say she didn’t want it published. Quite honestly, she was surprised by the discovery and bemused that somebody might be interested in an earlier book. But once she knew it was deemed publishable, she was completely for it.”