As It Happens

Michigan bookseller offers refunds for 'Go Set a Watchman'

Peter Makin, owner of Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Michigan, is offering refunds to early buyers of the new Harper Lee novel "Go Set A Watchman." He feels he is complicit in the publisher's misrepresentation of the book.
Released July 14th 2015, Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman' is the authors first book since she released her classic 'To Kill A Mockingbird' 55 years ago. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Few books have been so highly-anticipated -- or debated.

The release of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman created a literary buzz reminiscent of the Harry Potter craze. But the reception of the book publishers dubbed the To Kill A Mocking Bird sequel has been decidedly mixed.

Peter Makin, owner of Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Michigan is taking action.

"We had dozens of people pre-order the book," Makin tells As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

Despite the surge of advance sales, the independent bookstore owner saw his customers' displeasure once early reviews of the book went public. Makin recalls one customer in particular:

"She came in and was palpably saddened because the book she thought she was reading . . . advertised by Harper Collins as being Harper Lee's new novel and quote 'with all your favourite characters from To Kill A Mocking Bird' . . . it really didn't seem as this was an extension."

Of course, many fans of the Harper Lee classic have had similar reactions. As Makin puts it, "Whereas the industry may have known the true provenance of this book . . . the readers generally didn't."

Makin was sympathetic to his customer's point and gave her a full refund instead of the standard exchange. The gesture prompted him to extend the refund even further.

"I then put a notice on to our website . . . explaining to folks this is what the book really was. I wanted them to go into it with their eyes open . . . I never expected for the life of me that I'd be the only person in the country to do so."

The notice has sparked a conversation online. Makin explains, "We have had a handful of people who have decided they too would like a refund . . . a lot of others are extremely grateful that we've explained what the book is."

Like many, Makin feels the novel was mislabeled as "the latest great summer novel." He suggests Stephen Hero (the original version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) as a more appropriate model for release.

"It was published for what it was . . . an early draft . . . an academic piece . . . it wasn't published and marketed as James Joyce's new novel or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Two: Portrait of the Slightly Older Man.'"

Makin admits that he has not read the book. But insists his shop is "not offering refunds based on the quality of the book . . . that would be quite odd . . . we're doing this because we were complicit," he says. "The marketing goes through us . . . I believe I have a duty to my customers to offer them a refund."

The store front of Brilliant Books independent book store in Traverse City, Michigan. (brilliant-books.net)

Makin concedes that his choice to offer the refunds has been great publicity for his business. But, beyond that, he hopes the attention will create a larger discussion on the problems facing independent book stores.

"I think we have begun a conversation about the relationship between booksellers and publishers," he says. "My thoughts are that it is a little too cosy and we need to be somewhat more independent from them."

Nevertheless, Makin can appreciate why so many stores bought into the Harper Lee hype. 

"It's extraordinarily difficult to resist what the rep wants you to buy, if your business model relies upon their largesse. It simply isn't a relationship that I believe is sustainable."

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