Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (William Heinemann) racked up first-day sales in the UK of over 105,000 copies, across print and digital editions, according to publisher Penguin Random House. Meanwhile Waterstones' own sales for the title are approaching 30,000, m.d. James Daunt told The Bookseller.
The book was published yesterday (14th July) to a torrent of publicity as well as widespread bookshop events.
Nielsen BookScan does not provide single-day sales, but Fifty Shades of Grey author E L James is the only author this year to have hit over 100,000 units in a single week in "e" and "p" this year; the previous author to do it was Alex Ferguson in December 2013. Harper Lee’s previous one-week record for sales will be shattered by the new sales figures, as she has only sold over 10,000 units in a week six times (in print), and her previous TCM weekly high point was 14,652 in 2003. To Kill a Mockingbird's all-time sales in the BookScan era are 1.4m copies for £8.2m.
Susan Sandon, Cornerstone m.d, said: “It’s so fabulous to see a book dominating the news agenda and to be reminded of just how important literature and reading is to all of us. I speak for everyone at Penguin Random House when I say how privileged we are to be part of this piece of publishing history.”
Waterstones appears to have grabbed a good portion of market share of first day sales of the title, with the chain’s m.d. James Daunt telling The Bookseller that pre-orders and first day sales combined would bring the company near the 30,000 unit mark. "We have sailed comfortable past 20,000 and 30,000 is well in sight," he said.
The company’s commercial manager Peter Whitehead wrote in an email to staff that their efforts to sell the title had been “stunning.” He said: “There’s little doubt that yesterday represented something hugely significant toward our recovery as a bookseller. From our toe-to-toe duel with Amazon over pre-order numbers to the blistering sales performance we achieved by the close of play, our commitment and passion to make Go Set a Watchman ours was, frankly, an honour to witness.”
He added: “Our shops – looking better, more cohesive now than at any point I can remember – were a source of pride and the sheer pleasure of bookselling was absolutely palpable. In the understated words of regional commercial manager Chris Davis, ‘I’m just delighted for the booksellers’.”
The reviewers' verdict on the book has been a mixed bag, with some describing Go Set a Watchman as more "edgy" and "ambitious" than To Kill a Mockingbird. Latest reviews include the New York Times reflecting that "though it does not represent Harper Lee's best work, it does reveal more starkly the complexity of Atticus Finch, her most admired character", and that the story Lee first envisioned was "perhaps even more promising" than the Mockingbird version, which instead has "the appeal of a fairy tale and the makings of a popular movie".
However author and critic Philip Hensher, writing for the Spectator, damns it as a "routinely inept" first attempt which "should never have been published."