Why Brilliant Books Is Offering Refunds To Customers Who Purchased “Go Set A Watchman”

From Melville House:

The publication of Harper Lee‘s Go Set A Watchman has been controversial. But while many have raised questions about Harper Lee’s involvement in the book’s publication, the role of her lawyer Tonja Carter, and the merit of the book itself,few have made explicit arguments about the novel itself—that may be because there are still so many unanswered questions, or it may be because the book is an enormous hit (it has sold well over a million copies since it was published just over two weeks ago).

Brilliant Books is something of an exception. An independent bookstore located in Traverse City, Michigan, the bookstore released a statement shortly after Go Set A Watchman was released condemning its publication and offering refunds to customers who felt duped:

We at Brilliant Books want to be sure that our customers are aware that Go Set A Watchman is not a sequel or prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird. Neither is it a new book.  It is a first draft that was originally, and rightfully, rejected. The book, and some of the characters therein, are very much a product of this era in the South.


We suggest you view this work as an academic insight rather than as a nice summer novel. This situation is comparable to James Joyce’s stunning work A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and his original draft Stephen Hero. Hero was initially rejected, and Joyce reworked it into the classic Portrait. Hero was eventually released as an academic piece for scholars and fans—not as a new ‘Joyce novel’. We would have been delighted to see Go Set A Watchman receive a similar fate.


It is disappointing and frankly shameful to see our noble industry parade and celebrate this as “Harper Lee’s New Novel”.  This is pure exploitation of both literary fans and a beloved American classic (which we hope has not been irrevocably tainted.) We therefore encourage you to view Go Set A Watchman with intellectual curiosity and careful consideration; a rough beginning for a classic, but only that.

The statement quickly went viral, in part because it was arguably the harshest criticism of the book’s publication to date and in part because it came from a retailer. I talked with Brilliant Books’s owner, Peter Makin, about the publication of Go Set A Watchman and independent bookselling.

What led you to release the statement about Go Set A Watchman? Had you been following the story for a while, or did something happen in store that led you to release it?

We had been disappointed in the way the book was marketed from the beginning. We knew the history of Go Set A Watchman and it wasn’t congruent with the marketing: “Harper Lee’s New Novel” “with many of your favorite characters from To Kill A Mockingbird.”

The real eye-opener was from a loyal paying member, who had only become aware of the reality over the previous weekend. She was saddened. She explained that TKAMB was her favorite book of all time and she had been so looking forward to reading GSAW, but now she knew it wasn’t the book she had been led to believe it was.

I immediately apologized, and offered her a refund, which she accepted. I realized then that we needed to offer the same thing to all our customers, of which there were dozens across the country, and explain why. Hence the opinion piece.

What have your conversations about Go Set A Watchman been like over the past five months, both internally and with customers?

Internally, we were bemused by the urging of HarperCollins for booksellers to hold midnight readings, screenings of the movie, all manner of inducements, to get the book sold on day one. Add to that the strict embargo that excites the public, but gives booksellers a wry, knowing smile.

Maybe we’re cynical, but it all pointed to a desperate attempt to get folks to buy the book before they realized what it actually was.

The rest of the article at Melville House.

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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Posted in industry news, publishing news

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