Last summer, as town squares filled with thousands of families celebrating the final Harry Potter volume, customer expectations were forever changed for big children's book releases. Many kids and parents now expect an activities-packed evening that peaks at the stroke of midnight with a coveted new book. But are midnight parties necessarily the best way to boost sales and reading excitement?
Fans as far as the eye can see, for a Meyer signing last year at Borders in Fairfax, Va.
One year after the late-night celebrations for HP7, two books are about to put the midnight-party concept to the test: Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga (Aug. 2), and Brisingr, third in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle (Sept. 20). Weighing in with 3.2 million copies, Breaking Dawn is breaking Little, Brown's previous record for largest first printing, while Brisingr with 2.5 million marks the first time Random House Children's Books has had a Saturday release. Final preparations for thousands of events are under way for Breaking Dawn, while many Paolini events are still in the planning stage.
“These books make us very happy. They get kids excited about reading,” says Kim Brown, v-p of specialty businesses at B&N. She plans to build on that excitement with midnight parties for Breaking Dawn at more than 650 stores. Three Meyer books and Brisingr are currently among the top 10 bestsellers on BN.com, and the chain is actively soliciting pre-orders both instore and online. To further boost sales, it will post a special episode on July 14 dedicated to the Twilight Saga on its Tagged! video book series (www.bn.com/tagged).
According to Diane Mangan, director of the children's category, sales for all of Meyer's books have been “building, like a tsunami.” More than 900 Borders and Waldenbooks stores will hold midnight parties scheduled to start at 9:30 p.m. Some will do radio broadcasts live from the festivities. Plans for Brisingr are still being finalized, but will also involve midnight parties across the country and several outsized events.
“Events are the reason we're still here,” says Vivien Jennings, founder and president of Rainy Day Books, who organized her first midnight release party 12 years ago (for Anne Rice's Servant of the Bones). “What we're constantly striving for is that as customers leave they say, 'I'm glad I gave you my time.' ” Her goal for their Breaking Dawn party is a short, fun experience: it will start at 11 p.m. and end at midnight. For Brisingr, Rainy Day will open at 8 a.m. and is partnering with Whole Foods to ensure that young readers have a healthy breakfast before they head home and start reading. “You can't have Woodstock every year,” Jennings says.
At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., children's marketing coordinator/events planner Mandy Brooks is planning a midnight dance party for Breaking Dawn, with a photo booth for taking pictures. But she is pulling out the stops for their Brisingr party, which will take place the evening after the book has been released: the store parking lot will be transformed into a Renaissance village, with food stalls and activities to accommodate 1000 people.
Meyer (third from l.) with (l. to r.) Stesha Brandon, Duane Wilkins, Anna Minard, Caitlin Baker and Lauren Maye, children's staffers at University Book Store in Seattle.
For Eclipse, the previous book in the Twilight Saga, Books & Books in Miami held an event with Meyer that drew 1300 people. Now children's events and marketing coordinator Emily Pardo is trying to create just as much excitement for an authorless party. With help from four teen fans, who designed a special tote bag to be given away with the book, and who planned out details like a boys-only store area (Edward's Lair) for boyfriends who were dragged to the party, Pardo is trying to make sure that no details are overlooked. And there are a lot of them, including a chocolate fountain, an Edward lookalike and a raffle for an iPod Nano preloaded with Meyer's favorite playlists.
Erin Taylor, owner of Wonderland Books and Toys in Rockford, Ill., has a nice problem: her baby is due in mid-July 20. “I will probably be up,” she says, “but I think the last thing I will want to be dealing with is a bunch of excited teenagers. I have several adults on staff, but all of them have families with young children.” Plus, she says, her city has a midnight curfew for everyone under 18. So she'll do her Meyer party during the day of the release, and hasn't decided yet about Paolini.
Clearly, midnight parties can be a lot of work. But as Judith Haut, senior v-p of communications and marketing at Random House Children’s Books, points out, with more than 2500 midnight events in the works for Brisingr, there are bound to be some happy kids. That’s one thing everyone wants, booksellers, parents and publishers—kids happy to have a book, whether it is picked up at the witching hour, the next day or even the following week.