From a five-ft. mockingjay and a 17-ft. cornucopia with a four-ft. opening filled with books at Powell’s Books in Portland to seven mockingjays painted on the exterior of The King’s English in Salt Lake City, booksellers found unique ways to celebrate Monday’s midnight release of the final book in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay (Scholastic). As a result, “sales were fantastic,” says Sarah Hutton, children’s book buyer at Village Books in Bellingham, Wash. “With it not being on a weekend day, I wasn’t sure what to count on. I was pleasantly surprised. We sold a third of our stock right out of the gate.”
Because Scholastic upped its originally announced print run of 750,000 copies to 1.2 million, there were few complaints about stores not having enough inventory. Powell’s got its full order of 3,600 books, and sold quite a few at its midnight party, which drew between 500 and 700 people, according to sections manager Michelle Williamson. Christy McDanold, owner of Secret Garden Books in Seattle, had nothing but praise for Harper and her reps getting her books. “I don’t think we’ll have to go to Costco,” she says.
Still, as is inevitable with such a large printing, not everything went off without a hitch. The Blue Marble Children’s Bookstore in Ft. Thomas, Ky., received books from the second printing. “My main concern as an independent bookseller,” says owner Peter Moore, “is the way we stay in business is to keep collectors happy. One of our staff went out to Target and Wal-Mart to buy first editions.” According to Tracy van Straaten, v-p of publicity and education/library marketing at Scholastic, printing number was not a factor in the distribution plan. She recommends that booksellers contact their Scholastic sales rep. “We will do our very best to accommodate those requests with the limited quantity of first printings that may be available at our warehouse,” she said.
In addition, a few retailers broke the on-sale date. In Moore’s community, Amazon deliveries were made on Monday instead of Tuesday, and a Kroger near Mudsock Books & Curiosity Shoppe in Fishers, Ind., put up their Mockingjay display a day early. “We expect all of our retailers to honor the on-sale date for an embargoed title, and we take on-sale breaks seriously at Scholastic,” says van Straaten. “We are aware of those retailers that broke the on-sale date for Mockingjay and we are handling these situations as appropriate.”
Celebrating at Midnight
Collins kicked off her “multi-District” tour on Monday night at New York City’s Books of Wonder, site of her first reading with then first-timers Shannon Hale and Christopher Paolini. Owner Peter Glassman closed at 7 pm as usual, then reopened at 8 pm for the hundreds of fans who had pre-ordered the book. Leading up to the witching hour, when Collins read from Mockingjay, Books of Wonder offered a range of entertainment, from face painting and tattoos to jugglers and tarot card readers.
Some booksellers who will host Collins later in her tour, like Hicklebee’s in San Jose, Calif., settled on low-key events to mark the actual release. Rather than host a midnight party, Hicklebee’s opened at 6:30 am for those who had pre-ordered. In addition to getting a 20% discount, those who pre-ordered have line priority at the store’s Collins event in November.
That wasn’t the case at The Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, Ill., where many, including co-owner Iris Yipp, came in costume. The store’s entryway was transformed to resemble the rubble of District 12, and a DJ was on hand to keep the music coming. About 100 people attended; some drove two and a half hours to take part in the festivities. The store announced the winners of its Hunger Games essay, art, and costume design contests. All three winners will get their photos taken with Collins when she comes to The Magic Tree on October 4. In addition, thewinning essay writer will receive an internship with a local small press, Windy City Publishing; the art winner will be able to trail a professional graphic designer in Chicago for a day.
Stores took a varied approach on how best to mark Mockingjay, even within the same bookstore group. Only four Joseph-Beth stores out of seven, for instance, held parties. The Cleveland store waited until 5 pm on Tuesday to turn its bistro into Haymitch’s Bar and to hold Nerf archery and cornucopia contests, while the Joseph-Beth in Pittsburgh stayed open well past its usual 9 pm closing time for a midnight party.
Even before the Pittsburgh store nailed down its party details, general manager Chris Rickert said that she saw an uptick in sales. People who waited to buy The Hunger Games in paperback returned for Catching Fire and other works of YA dystopian fiction such as Susan Beth Pfeffer’s The Last Survivors series and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s The Missing books. “The whole genre is getting more attention,” Rickert says. “It’s exciting that young adults are reading these books, which are darker and more intense, and that parents aren’t preventing them.”
Balancing Fun and School
The fact that Mockingjay released on a school night was a concern for many booksellers. Even so Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati went with a midnight party, decorating the store, and setting up displays in three areas: for children’s, teens, and near the entrance for adults. According to children’s manager Stephanie Porter, the store typically does well with midnight launches. Also, The Hunger Games was chosen earlier this year for Cincinnati’s On the Same Page city-wide reading program, the first time the same book was selected as both the adult and teen read.
For other stores, school put the kibosh on late-night partying. “We were really looking forward to planning a midnight Mockingjay party,” says Meghan Dietsche Goel, children’s book buyer at BookPeople in Austin, “until I realized that it coincided with the first day of school. The store opened at midnight for kids and parents to pick up preorders, but Mockingjay pre-orders for Tuesday outstripped requests for a midnight pick-up.
At Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Bookshop in La Verne, Calif., manager Andrea Vuletta said that because of school they moved their party to 5-7 pm on Tuesday. She was surprised that of the roughly 40 attendees nearly half were adults. The store has a four-foot section for adults and stocks mostly independent bestsellers.
Secret Garden in Seattle held an all-day party and sold 80 books over the course of the day, according to events coordinator Suzanne Perry. To add to the atmosphere, the store had archery training with Nerf arrows, served survivalist chocolate, and played a prerecording of heraldic revelry music every time a book sold. “We had a great time throughout the day,” says Perry, adding that sales on the two earlier Hunger Games titles were strong leading up to Mockingjay’s release.
On its Web site The Magic Tree suggests, “Just tell Mom Mark Twain said: ‘I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.’ ” And some stores sidestepped the issue entirely and pitched their parties to adults, i.e. those old enough to drink. “We went that route because that’s what we did for the last Harry Potter book, and it was incredibly successful. Also, I’d guess our YA section is at least half sold to adults,” says Stephanie Anderson, manager of WORD in Brooklyn. The store had 60 preregistered guests for the party, which included a signature Haymitch cocktail, homemade bread (go Team Peeta!), trivia, Nerf archery, and a Katniss look-alike contest.
The Harvard Coop in Cambridge, Mass., held its event at a nearby UNO Chicago Grill. “There is such a wide range of people interested in the books: teens, mid-20s, and mid-30s,” says trade book manager Nancie Scheirer. “After Harry Potter and Breaking Dawn, people like the idea of something different and something social.” The restaurant gave registered party-goers, mostly people in their 20s but a few mothers and daughters, a 20% discount on the menu and a free mini-dessert.
Still, as Anne Holman, general manager of The King’s English, points out, “Isn’t it great to have a book come out that kids want to read the first week of school?”