Why one bookstore is offering refunds on Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman'

Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Mich., is offering customers who bought the newly released Harper Lee novel 'Go Set a Watchman' refunds because it says marketing for the highly anticipated volume was misleading.

Andrea Mabry/AP
Nancy Rogers reads "Go Set A Watchman" in the old Monroe County Courthouse on the morning of the book's release in the hometown of "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee, in Monroeville, Ala., Tuesday, July 14, 2015.

It might be the ultimate insult in the publishing world.

One US bookstore is offering refunds to any customers who purchased Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman."

Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Mich., is offering customers who bought the newly released Harper Lee novel "Go Set a Watchman," refunds because it says marketing for the highly anticipated volume was misleading.

"'Go Set a Watchman' is not a sequel or prequel to 'To Kill A Mockingbird,'" the store said on its website. "Neither is it a new book. It is a first draft that was originally, and rightfully, rejected."

Store owner Peter Makin told the Detroit Free Press that customer complaints led him to make the unconventional policy.

One woman who came to the store to pick up her pre-ordered copy told Mr. Makin that she felt misled by the book's marketing.

"Her disappointment was palpable, so I immediately apologized for being complicit in the marketing, and offered her a refund, which she accepted," Makin told the Free Press. "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."

"We are not offering refunds based on the quality of the [Harper Lee] book or its content. We are offering refunds to those who bought the book based on marketing that led them to believe it was something other than what it actually was," Makin added. "If you find yourself complicit in misleading a customer, you should make amends. Again, this isn't about whether they liked the book. Its about being misled by the marketing."

So far, he said a handful of copies have been returned.

"Go Set a Watchman" is set two decades after its predecessor, "To Kill a Mockingbird." It continues to explore life and race in the south in the 1950s, and has become famous for its revelations of Atticus Finch as a white supremacist dedicated to preserving the second-class status of blacks.

Publisher Harper Collins has been marketing the book by Lee, an Alabama native who won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1960 novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," as "a newly discovered novel."

"Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014," the publishing house explained on its Web site. "Exploring how the characters from 'To Kill a Mockingbird' are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, 'Go Set a Watchman' casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee's enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right."

Lee had in fact sent "Go Set a Watchman" to publishers first. Her publisher rejected it and suggested Lee explore the childhoods of the characters in the original novel, which led to the now-famous "To Kill a Mockingbird."

But reviews of the new novel have been mixed.

Christian Science Monitor reviewer Randy Dotinga called it "Talky and preachy," saying that "this sort-of-sequel lacks the cinematic power of its legendary predecessor."

Which is why Makin, of the Traverse city bookstore, is offering refunds, and using the opportunity to shame the publishing industry.

"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)," he said on the store's website. "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."

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