On the first Saturday in August, at midnight, Wordsmiths Books in Decatur, Ga., will be decorated in black and red. Prizes will be handed out and special cookies — some with a filling the color of blood, will be served.
Dozens of teenagers, dressed like vampires, werewolves and other characters, are expected at Wordsmiths to celebrate the release of Stephenie Meyer's “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth and final book of her “Twilight” series, and a novel that has remained at or near the top of Amazon.com's best-seller list for months.
Harry Potter's story has been told, but booksellers, anxious as ever to bring readers to their stores, haven't given up on the midnight party. Thousands of sellers, both independents and superstores, will host events for “Breaking Dawn,” which has a first printing of 3.5 million. Another round of midnight gatherings is scheduled in September for the release of Christopher Paolini's “Brisingr,” the third of his million-selling “Inheritance” fantasy series.
"As the book industry gets tighter and tighter, bookstores, especially independent bookstores, have to start doing more outside of the box just to stay alive in today's market," says Wordsmiths' marketing director Russ Marshalek.
“The retailers have become dependent on event marketing to expect their reach and broaden their sales,” says Judith Haut, publicity director for Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, which publishes Paolini.
“We initially planned to release ‘Brisingr’ on a Tuesday. From the get-go, we knew it was going to be a huge release and we immediately were hearing from our accounts that they wanted a Saturday release. They felt that was the key.”
Booksellers no longer need Potter-like sales for a Potter-style opening. Worldwide sales for Meyer's books top 8 million, less than the first weekend's take for the last Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” But Meyer's rise is still miraculous for a series that began in 2005 and was little known even to obsessive fans just two years ago.
The initial printing for the first book, “Twilight,” was just 75,000, increasing to 100,000 for the next release, “New Moon,” and 1 million for “Eclipse,” which came out last summer. The “Twilight” books have the symptoms of a phenomenon, from its cluster of best sellers on Amazon.com (all four are in the top 20) to its hundreds of Internet fan sites and YouTube videos to anticipation for the first “Twilight” film, coming in December.
“Our sales have been increasing every week on her older titles, and that's unusual,” says Kim Brown, a vice president at Barnes & Noble Inc. for specialty businesses. “We're getting a lot of moms and their daughters. We're even seeing some boys pick it up.”
“We've learned so much from Harry Potter over the years, and one of the things we learned was how effective it was to have a release timed to Friday night-Saturday morning. I really encouraged Stephenie Meyer's publisher (Little, Brown and Company) to release it that way,” says Diane Mangan, director of the children's department at the Borders Group Inc. superstore chain.
Meyer's books center on a romantic triangle involving Bella, a teenager who loves a vampire classmate named Edward, and her best friend, Jacob, a werewolf. “Twilight” appeals to fans, mostly girls, of two major genres — romance novels and paranormal fiction — and has increased interest in other series, including Richelle Mead's “Vampire Academy” and Ellen Schrieber's “Vampire Kisses.”
Like the Potter series, “Twilight” has thrived less on marketing than on a growing, grass roots network of fans.
They include Breaunna Bishop, 19 and a resident of Placentia, Calif. She first heard about the “Twilight” series in 2006, when friends insisted she try it. Bishop wasn't interested. Then, with the Potter series over, and Bishop needing something to read on a plane trip, she picked up “Twilight” and “started reading it out of boredom.”
“I had no idea that I would not be able to put it down!” she says. “I am usually not a romance fan, but I get very caught up in the relationship between Bella and Edward. When I'm reading and something goes wrong with them, I cry. It's fun to let yourself believe that romance like theirs actually exists.”
Lizzie Keiper, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., also heard from friends about the Meyer books and last August finished the first three in the series within days. Shawna Rapp, of West Richland, Wash., got hooked about four months ago.
“I really enjoyed the series as I am similar to the main character, Bella Swan,” says the 20-year-old Rapp, who, like Bella, moved from a big city to a smaller town.
“The thing that I liked most about reading the series is that it was just a story. There wasn't any hidden secrets or reading between the lines, like J.K. Rowling had slipped into her series. I liked that it was a simple fun and exciting story that kept me up into the late night, I could not put it down.”
“Harry Potter was and still is such a huge part of my life,” adds Keiper, 18. “Stephenie Meyer's books did make up for the end of Harry Potter in a sense. They showed me that there are other books and series that I will love and stay up all night reading.”