Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish new hardcover editions of two classic dystopian novels next month—George Orwell's 1984 on April 4 and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale on April 25. The move is an attempt to capitalize on the cultural zeitgeist and, in the case of 1984, a sudden surge in sales.
Just two months ago, 1984—a novel set in a world ruled by an authoritarian government that monitors how its population acts, speaks, and even thinks—shot to the top of bestseller lists. The backlist novel's ascension coincided with President Donald J. Trump's inauguration and the use of the term "alternative facts" by Trump campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, to support a false claim made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
In an interview on CNN's talk show Reliable Sources, Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty referred to the term as "a George Orwell phrase," seemingly in reference to the novel's terms "newspeak" and "doublethink." The term "doublethink," as the Guardian noted in its analysis of the incident, "was used to signal a fictional language that aims at eliminating personal thought."
Atwood's novel also saw a sales bump earlier this year around the same time as Orwell's, although that increase could be due to the upcoming Hulu television adaptation of the book, starring Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss. (A stage adaptation of 1984 is hitting Broadway in June.) The book is set in a world in which a small group of men—all white, all straight—hold societal power. The ruling class subjects all people of color to internment or deportation; tortures or execute gay people and those who do not abide by the state religion; and bars women from owning property or learning how to read.
Recently, Atwood's novel has been taken up as a symbol of women's rights. A number of signs at the Women's March in January quoted lines from the novel, and a group of women attended a session of the Texas Senate on March 20 dressed as characters from the book. (The women who crashed the Texas Senate session were protesting a proposed ban on second-term abortions.)
HMH, seizing on the way these two books are popping up in political protests, feels there is space in the market for new hardcover editions. With that in mind, the publisher has issues 25,000-copy first printings of both books. HMH licenses the paperback rights to both books, while retaining e-book and hardcover rights.
Ken Carpenter, v-p and associate publisher of HMH and head of the house's Mariner Books line, said the new editions speak to a sudden opening in the market. "I think for the most part we see an additional opportunity for sales of the hardcover."
The new edition of 1984 will be priced, aptly, at $19.84. A Handmaid's Tale, while lacking the snappy numerical riff of the Orwell title, will be priced similarly, at $22.00. An in-house designer provided the Orwell cover, while the Atwood cover was designed the Swedish illustrator, Patrik Svensson, who is best known in the U.S. for his New Yorker covers.
"Both of these books obviously resonate with readers, and what I think is amazing is that when that phrase, 'alternative facts,' was uttered, people thought of 1984 immediately," Carpenter said. "[Then, when] other things went on in this administration, people thought of The Handmaid's Tale."
He added: "[Both of these books] sell extremely well already, but to have them go up a whole level based on the climate—and to have them become a sort of cornerstone in the resistance—is just fantastic."