Discussing sales at The Bookseller Children’s Conference would have been lacking without mention of two major 2020 releases. Both Kiera O’Brien (charts and data editor at The Bookseller) and Jaclyn Swope (publisher account manager at Nielsen) highlighted the extraordinary success of two YA series reboots. Suzanne Collins and Stephenie Meyer have resuscitated a declining YA sector, and added fire to a growing revival trend that indicates strengthening ties between industries.
Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and Meyer’s Midnight Sun have boosted the YA sector post-lockdown, capturing sales amongst loyal fans of the Hunger Games and Twilight books and blockbuster adaptations. These reboots are only the latest YA offering, and the same trend can be found in Adult Fiction too.
Two years after the TV success of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood produced a sequel, The Testaments, some thirty years after the origin. The film adaptation of Call Me By Your Name was followed closely by its sequel’s publication, Find Me, twelve years after the first novel’s release. A film adaptation for it is already in the works.
Every adaptation brings new audiences eager to find out what happens next, and an opportunist who turns it into gold. And it is gold; Midnight Sun sold over one million copies in its first week1, towering over other bestsellers. The Testaments saw the UK’s biggest launch week since Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman in 20152 – another reboot. These inevitable hyper-bestsellers cross audience demographics and reawaken love and sales for previous releases: sales of The Handmaid’s Tale increased by 154% in volume following the sequel’s publication3.
This poses new questions for publishing. As these revivals see even greater sales than chart companions, a publisher with a dormant story but loyal fanbase could be sitting on a new bestseller. Pushing for screen adaptations could result in opportunities for later revivals. Will the success of these post-adaptation sequels cause further integration of the publishing and entertainment industry? Books become films, prompting new books, that become new films? If Reese Witherspoon continues to make it her mission to adapt every book she enjoys, will the industry see even more familiar characters reappearing in bestseller charts?
After BBC Three’s Normal People was released in April, fans were desperate to find out what became of Connell and Marianne, while author Sally Rooney has said there’ll be no book sequel. She may be wise, revivals can backfire for authors. While financially successful, most are not met with the same acclaim as their predecessors. Reactions range from elation for a new story, criticism of content, style and purpose (“did we need another sequel?”), to anger that it’s not the story envisioned by fans.
In terms of reactions, an Annie Wilkes Misery situation is yet to occur, but revivals and their connections to the entertainment industry present interesting questions: for publishers, on how to capitalise on this growing trend and for authors, on whether they want to participate.