With a roughly 4.5 million–copy initial laydown in North America on July 31, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two, a new play by Jack Thorne based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, is poised to be the biggest release of the summer. Despite the fact that it is a play rather than a book, many booksellers have embraced the opportunity to sell the eighth story in the Harry Potter series after the nine-year hiatus since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on July 21, 2007. And a number of booksellers are trying to replicate their past success promoting earlier Harry Potter titles with midnight release parties.
Stores like Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., which turned Deathly Hallows into a gigantic block party with neighboring businesses and drew 70,000 attendees, are working to do it again. “It was incredible; it was so fun,” said publicity and events coordinator Candy Purdom. “It was a lot of collaboration with a lot of different people. We had trivia and costume contests. We played Quidditch.” The store has already begun weekly meetings with its downtown association and will block off one street and a parking lot. To date Anderson’s has pre-sold 200 copies. Its stores in Downers Grove and La Grange will also hold parties.
Other stores that drew large crowds also hope to do it again. In the first six days after Scholastic posted its party locator on its online Harry Potter hub, 1,000 stores signed up, according to Rachel Coun, executive director of marketing and brand management at Scholastic. Among them are the Tattered Cover in Denver, which will host parties at both its Colfax Avenue and Aspen Grove stores. Heather Duncan, director of marketing and events, is planning a variety of activities, including transfiguration (or face painting), wand making, costume photo ops, and live readings from the earlier books.
“We can’t wait to unpack our wizard robes and party like it’s 2007 again!,” Meghan Dietsche Goel, children’s book buyer and programming director at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., said. The staff is pulling out the store’s Diagon Alley set and working with local food vendors. A group called the Typewriter Rodeo will type up poems in the style of each of the houses. And other activities are being planned.
Some stores are turning the fact that the latest story is a script into an asset. At the Voracious Reader in Larchmont, N.Y., owner Francine Lucidon is planning to do a dramatic reading the week after the release and will draw names at the midnight party to select the cast. Similarly Joanna Parzakonis, co-owner of Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Mich., is looking forward to a new generation of children experiencing Harry Potter in a new way and is planning a dramatic read-aloud, after midnight.
“I think a script format for kids is sometimes more readable and understandable than a regular conversation in novels,” Lauren Savage at the Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif., said. She’s hosting two parties: a midnight release event for older kids, where a local children’s theater will perform cold readings from the book after midnight; and a Sunday morning event for younger children.
Barnes & Noble is one of many stores using the release to celebrate the entire series over a number of weeks. It will begin the countdown to the new book on Friday, June 24 at all its stores nationwide. There will be a coloring station, trivia, giveaways, and Harry Potter-themed food at its cafés. Customers can enter a sweepstakes to win a set of seven Harry Potter limited-edition cover prints; two will be awarded at each store. The Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy neighborhood is also opting for a long build to the July 31 release. Starting Saturday, June 18, it will host eight Saturdays of Harry Potter activities and a Harry Potter movie screening.
Other chains are also plotting big celebrations. At Books-A-Million the festivities start at 2 p.m. on July 30 with trivia, a Marauder’s Map treasure hunt, and other activities. Customers can register to win a trip for four to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. The release party starts at midnight.
But some stores are unsure how best to celebrate. At Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn., manager Martin Schmutterer said that he isn’t convinced the new story will have the same reception as the earlier novels or sell as well as last summer’s big book, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. At Prairie Lights in Iowa City, children’s book buyer Victoria Walton said that the store will hold a midnight release party, but haven’t received any pre-orders yet. “People are dubious yet curious about the book’s format,” she said.
A few booksellers expressed disappointment about the Sunday release. As Gregg Belonger, v-p of store operations at Book World, which has 44 stores in the Upper Midwest, pointed out, some of its mall stores can’t participate in midnight parties. Columbia Mall, for example, where its Grand Forks, N.D., store is located, closes at 9 p.m. and reopens at noon on Sunday.
There are other challenges regarding Cursed Child, including the fact that the play opened for previews in London earlier this week and that there is a large chance for spoilers before the book’s release. Previously the books were kept under lock and key until the midnight release. Scholastic has tried to address this with a #KeeptheSecret campaign, encouraging those who attend the play not to reveal any secrets.
In addition, Harry Potter and friends are all grown up – the story takes place 19 years later – as are many of the books’ original fans, some of whom now have children of their own. So booksellers aren’t necessarily sure who will attend. Scholastic’s Coun said that she’s expecting a big multi-generational turnout. Plus, she noted, “It’s just a huge year for Harry Potter. I think it’s going to be incredible.”
Scholastic is still considering whether or not to produce an audio edition of Cursed Child. Much of its marketing to date has focused on the backlist, with bookmarks and billboards that show images of the first seven books. There’s also a Harry Potter pin based on a sticker that Coun created early on in the series, and there’s a poster of a Muggle Wall (like the gigantic one Scholastic had at BookCon) for fans to write about what Harry means to them.
The book is just one of two Rowling scripts Scholastic will publish this year. On November 19, the company will release her screenplay for the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which debuts in theaters on November 18. And on October 4, an illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets will be released, featuring artwork by Jim Kay, who previously illustrated last October’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition, which has sold more than 700,000 copies, according to Scholastic.
With reporting by Claire Kirch, Anisse Gross, and Edward Nawotka