We’ll try to keep this as brief as possible. Barnes & Noble announced Wednesday that sales of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman “at its bookstores nationwide have surpassed first day sales of all other adult trade fiction books in its company history, including Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, the previous bestselling book, which was published in 2009.” Mostly that release shows that BN still has a little PR savvy left in them, since the declaration is not all that different from Amazon’s earlier note that Watchman was their “most pre-ordered print title since the 2007 release” of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. BN’s “first day” sales count includes the pre-orders logged since February.
The Lost Symbol sold over 1 million units the first day on sale when you count the US, Canada and the UK combined, according to the publisher’s report. Once you take away the “adult” designation, there are other candidates, however; Stephenie Meyer’s final Twilight novel Breaking Dawn was reported to have sold an estimated 1.3 million copies on its opening day in 2008, when Borders (remember them) said they moved over 250,000 units.
Less convincing is the contention by Barnes & Noble vp of adult trade and children’s books Mary Amicucci in one of the WSJ’s flood of Watchman updates — now taken in some quarters as proven fact — that it was the surprising revelation of Atticus Finch’s “racial views” in embargo-breaking reviews on Friday that increased pre-orders. (All we can know is that preorders rose — as publication day approached and the flood of articles and early reviews drove awareness.)
Moving further down the scale of reliable facts, the Guardian has a new report further questioning Tonja Carter’s ever-shifting “discovery story” about how and when the Watchman manuscript was found. Their source is Harper Lee’s former agent — dismissed with the help of the courts — Sam Pinkus, and their story is an awkwardly written account based on “a statement” he provided to the Guardian. The primary contention of that statement is not revealed until the thirteenth paragraph of the Guardian’s story. Pinkus says Carter was present for most of an October 2011 with Sotheby’s specialist Justin Caldwell, including “when a textual comparison was made between Mockingbird and the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman in which it became clear that they had found a completely separate novel.” Pinkus also says that meet was preceded by a visit to the famous safe deposit box by Carter and Pinkus in which they “itemized its contents” and decided to bring in the appraiser.
Meanwhile, one of the week’s big winners appears to be Ta-Nehisi Coates‘s Between the World and Me. Spiegel & Grau’s decision to move up publication from September to Watchman release day looks to be paying off quite well. A number of stores report selling the Coates very strongly alongside Watchman, and often selling out (since most ordered the Coates in smaller quantities). Accounts range from Greenlight’s tweeted contest (in which Watchman beat Coates by one sale, 33 books to 32) to Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan reporting customers buying the two books as a pair.