The book trade is gearing up for one the biggest releases of the year for Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage with midnight openings, a “magical” event on the eve of publication and activity in several countries around the world.
Kate McHale, Waterstones’ sci-fi and young adult buyer, told The Bookseller that the first in the Book of Dust series has been its “biggest pre-order campaign since last year’s Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child)” and added that the chain “fully expects La Belle Sauvage to be one of the biggest books of the year”.
Activity for the release will centre around Oxford—a key setting in the novel and also Pullman’s home city. Blackwell’s in Oxford will hold a midnight opening on Thursday 19th October (Pullman’s birthday), along with 15 Waterstones stores across the country.
The Bookseller understands security around the distribution of the books has been tight, with booksellers asked to sign non-disclosure agreements about the contents of the book before receiving deliveries.
“It’s fair to say we have tried to be as protective as we can be about the book’s content ahead of publication. Fans have been waiting for the new book for a long time, and we don’t want anything to spoil the surprise ahead of them being able to read it for themselves,” said a spokesperson for Penguin Random House Children’s, which is publishing the novel in conjunction with David Fickling Books.
On the eve of publication, the historic Bodleian Libraries’ Weston Library will play host to an international press conference with the author, with the Divinity School and Convocation House & Chancellor’s Court being transformed into Jordan College—home of Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials—for a “magical launch evening” which will include a special dinner, live music and the first public reading from La Belle Sauvage along with appearances from mystery guests.
More than 4,000 people entered a Waterstones ballot to be one of 50 fans to attend the event.
After its midnight opening, Blackwell’s Oxford will then hold the first public signing for La Belle Sauvage. Waterstones Oxford will mark the occasion with a midnight launch and a breakfast celebration and the chain’s Tottenham Court Road store will host an evening with Caitlin Moran and Mark Grist reading extracts from the new book, while Waterstones Piccadilly will host an exclusive Supper Club launch event and a midnight opening, while Waterstones Canterbury will celebrate with a candlelit launch party.
Pullman will also headline the London Literature Festival at the Royal Festival Hall and hold an event to simultaneously promote his collection of essays on storytelling Daemon Voices (David Fickling Books) at Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath, Village Books Dulwich, at the University of Liverpool and at the Piccadilly Theatre in partnership with Guardian Live.
Hazel Broadfoot, owner of Village Books in Dulwich, said she wasn’t put off selling the title despite steep competition from many supermarkets, Waterstones and Amazon which are discounting the £20 hardback by 50%. This follows other independents, including Kenilworth Bookshop owner Tamsin Rosewell, slamming the heavy discounting on the title, saying over the summer there was “no financial point” in stocking La Belle Sauvage because it was “so heavily discounted, we can’t even buy it into the shop for the price that it’s being sold to the public elsewhere”.
However, Broadfoot said: “It’s a very exciting moment for bookselling. I remember when Northern Lights was published and it feels like the same excitement again. Customers have been talking about it when they come into the shop. I’m not concerned about supermarkets and Amazon selling it cheaper. We have loyal customers who like to shop with us who I know will buy it and we will be able to offer them signed copies.”
Publishers Penguin Random House and David Fickling Books rolled out a “read it before you read it” marketing campaign designed to reach existing fans and excite new ones which resulted in a 156% sales increase in print copies of His Dark Materials through Nielsen BookScan in comparison to the same period in 2016, with the series selling 12,505 copies in the past six weeks.
Meanwhile BBC Radio 4 will feature La Belle Sauvage on “Book at Bedtime” and Daemon Voices on “Book of the Week” from Saturday 21st October.
La Belle Sauvage, which has sold in 33 territories, will be celebrated around the world with events in Ireland, including an early morning opening at Hodges Figgis Booksellers in Dublin; Exclusive Books and Skoobs in South Africa, and a major pre-order campaign with bespoke p.o.s. has run with Dymocks in Australia, which also has plans for Pullman parties in six states across the country. In India, radio advertising across Dehli, Mumbai and Bangalore is aimed to reach over 10 million listeners.
Meanwhile, late openings are also being planned for Waterstones Brussels, Waterstones Amsterdam and W H Smith Paris.