Tuesday, August 4 may augur a big-one day haul for booksellers due to an unusual confluence of events: not one, but two highly anticipated blockbuster new releases are landing then. Jeff Kinney’s second fantasy in his Wimpy Kid spinoff series, Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure (Abrams/Amulet) is pubbing with a three-million copy initial print run. Stephenie Meyer’s fifth novel in the Twilight Saga, Midnight Sun (Little, Brown), a retelling of the romance between the vampire Edward and human teen Bella told from Edward’s perspective, is pubbing with a million-copy initial print run. Last week, Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch disclosed that the number of preorders for Midnight Sun set a record for HBG.
Publishers usually try to avoid raining on other publishers’ parades by scheduling their biggest releases in such a way that multiple blockbusters don’t land together. But like so much else this year, both Rowley Jefferson and Midnight Sun’s landing on August 4 can be attributed to some extent to Covid-19: while one publisher postponed a street date, the other stayed the course.
Rowley Jefferson was originally going to be published on April 7. According to Abrams CEO Michael Jacobs, the decision was made in mid-March to push back the pub date to August 4; Abrams shut down its Manhattan office on Friday, March 13, and the following Monday, announced that Rowley Jefferson's release was being postponed to late summer, even though the books were already printed and boxes had been shipped to distribution points.
“We had to pull them back,” Jacobs recalled. “It was quite a production.” August 4 was selected because it was close but not too close to the start of the school year, and company executives assumed at the time that the pandemic would be under better control at that time. Jacobs explained also that Abrams wanted to allow some time between the release of this book and the October 27 release of Kinney’s 15th book in the Wimpy Kid series, The Deep End.
Jacobs maintains that there’s little crossover between Kinney’s middle-grade fans and Meyer’s fans, although her readers might be older siblings, parents, and aunts and uncles to his readers. “Booksellers seem to be excited about both,” he said. "It's going to be a great day for booksellers [on Tuesday]."
Jacobs is right on that score. Carrie Deming of the Dog Eared Book in Palmyra, N.Y. reports that preorders for Midnight Sun are "way more" than she had anticipated, while Stefani Kelley of Benham Book Nook, a used bookstore in Brenham, Tex. reports that she is completely out of stock on all Twilight Saga books, "which has never happened, since maybe 2010/1011." And George Rishel of Sly Fox in Viden, Ill., is so excited, he is opening his bookstore at midnight to sell both books, advertising it as an "Awesome Vampires at Midnight" event.
In an email, Megan Tingley, executive v-p and publisher of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, explained that it had always been the imprint’s intention to publish Meyer’s novel on August 4, although the announcement was not made until May 4, due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Like Jacobs, Tingley regards the laydown of two blockbuster books on one day as hugely positive.
“It seems to me that both books have wildly different audiences,” she wrote. “It can only be a good thing for both bookstores and readers. I know for Stephenie, two of her goals with this publication have been to bring her fans a little joy by returning them to a world they love, and to support the bookstores that have supported her throughout her career.”
Meyer stated in that May 4 release, “It feels strange to be making this announcement when the world is suffering through a pandemic, and no one really knows what’s next. I thought seriously about delaying this announcement until things were back to normal; however, that felt wrong, considering how long those who are eager for this book have already waited.”
A Friendly Competition
As for Kinney, he’s taking it all in stride, joking to PW during a phone interview that he “can’t seem to escape Stephenie’s shadow.” The indie bookstore that Kinney owns, An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Mass., is hosting a virtual event with Meyer on August 8, which will actually take place offsite, at a drive-in theater in North Smithfield, R.I. The event is almost completely sold out.
Noting that a character in Rowley Jefferson, Kristof, is a teenage vampire in parody of Meyer’s Edward Cullen, Kinney said that his pre-pubescent readers can’t help but get the Twilight Saga reference now since the two books are being released on the same day. He added that Barnes & Noble has a clock on its website counting down the days, minutes, and seconds until the release of Midnight Sun and that he tweeted to his followers to simply refer to that clock if wanting that information for Rowley Jefferson.
Kinney also considers Meyer as “being the only reason” that he became “a number one [New York Times] bestselling author” in the first place. Kinney explained that Meyer’s third novel in the Twilight series, Eclipse, was published in 2007, at the same time that the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid was published.
“That third book bumped her to the bestsellers list for series, and so my book became the bestseller on the children’s list. I thought at first it was due to my own merits, but no, it was Stephenie. I think it’s fun to sort of be in competition. Who knew 13 years later, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Twilight Saga would still be going head to head?”