Sunday, 12 July 2015

Why I'm Mad About The Go Set A Watchman Reveal

I'm going to level with you - I'm pretty damn mad at the moment. With 4 days to go before publication, the first chapter of Go Set A Watchman was exclusively revealed in the Guardian on Saturday. Except, it wasn't that exclusive in the end, because obviously everyone went insane and before you knew it, a big plot twist of a book NOT EVEN PUBLISHED YET was casually being discussed on social media.

I work in the publishing industry and, whilst there are certain areas that remain a complete mystery to me, there are some corners I'm familiar with. One of these is the use of ebook samples, print booklets and paper exclusives as a way of luring in tentative customers. For example, if you offer the first 3 or 4 chapters of a book for free - as a giveaway or download then, hopefully, you'll gain some on-the-fence buyers. It's a common, effective method: it worked on me with What Kind of Mother Are You by Paula Daly, and Robin Hobb is currently doing it with the first book of her latest trilogy, Fool's Assassin. Similarly, selling the rights to exclusively publish a chapter or more in a newspaper before release is another way to hopefully win more customers around to buying your book - people who may not have found it otherwise. In this sense, the publishers of Go Set A Watchman haven't done anything new.

The bit I take umbrage with is WHY. The reveal of the first chapter of one of the most talked about, and arguably, the biggest books of the century seems kind of pointless and, as one sympathiser on Twitter, Jamie Thunder (@jdthndr), suggested, 'heartless clickbait'. This book, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling, or Grey by PL James, probably could've got away with a publicity budget of zero: the reclusive author of a lone book (widely revered as one of the greatest novels ever) that has never gone out of print, suddenly publishes a new one featuring the same characters, but older? No wonder the pre-orders have surpassed those of the final Harry Potter: even with all the controversy and questions over Harper Lee's mental state and her knowledge/understanding of the publication of Go Set A Watchman, this was always going to sell big. I'm a perfect example of the ideal customer in this: even though I find the whole thing sketchy, my curiosity and excitement is going to win over. I love, and am fascinated by, To Kill A Mockingbird: I was always going to read Go Set A Watchman. And the media-storm around the announcement back in February was always bound to spike curiosity in others who had never read To Kill A Mockingbird: in short, this was never going to be anything but a success, which is why I don't understand the need for the exclusive.

It's also the timing; they did this FOUR DAYS before publication, which to me is a bit of a slap in the face. It's been over 50 years since Harper Lee last published a novel: it's been 5 months since the announcement was made that Go Set A Watchman was being published: why on earth would you, mere days from the publishing, give away a chapter with crucial information in, if not to be sensationalist about it? They always knew it would be trending on Twitter and picked up by media worldwide, and probably knew the Big Reveal in the first chapter would make it's way into common knowledge... Which leads me on to my final grievance.

I've waited 5 months for this novel. I know, it's not the longest wait, but to have a spoiler revealed to me a few days before I could've discovered it myself just feels like I've been cheated. I haven't read the chapter yet - I'm refusing to on a point of principle now - but I may as well have, because I know what the Big Reveal is anyway, because it's fucking EVERYWHERE. And it's all the worse for the fact it's the first chapter, days before publication. If you're going to do it, why not reveal the first chapter a month, or more, before publication? Get people talking then? Surely that's allowing more time to whet appetites and inspire interest before publication?Take George R R Martin: his next A Song Of Ice and Fire novel, The Winds of Winter, has been nearly 5 years coming and, with Game of Thrones being one of the biggest TV shows ever, it's just as anticipated as Go Set A Watchman has been for the past few months. Martin knows his fans are impatient and he's up against it, so he's revealed a few teaser chapters: nothing too spoilery, just enough to soothe the baying crowds. The reveal of Go Set A Watchman's first chapter is, in comparison, near pointless: so close to the publication date, when the wait hasn't been nearly as long... It just seems mean-spirited to me.

I was always going to read Go Set A Watchman so, in the grand scheme of things, this doesn't matter. It's a reveal that comes in the first chapter; it's now in the public domain and not restricted in any way; it's not actually THAT much of a spoiler, really: it's hypocritical of me because I'm a terror at accidentally giving away spoilers, (in my defence, there's never any intent to that, I just forget). Really, my stressing about it amounts to nothing, and it will cease to matter once I get my paws on a copy and read the offending chapter in book form. But - after umming and ahhing over whether to read ToKill A Mockingbird one more time before Go Set A Watchman changes everything - the VERY DAY I started it again, the reveal came out, and now I'm analysing everything I'm reading with the unwillingly-discovered context this reveal unleashed. Call it bad timing, call it inevitable, but the fact remains my last re-read of my favourite book as a standalone novel has been marred, and that bothers me.

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