A History of the Midnight Release Party

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Getting your book as fast as possible has never been easier. With ereaders, you can download the book you want as fast as your internet connection allows. Many places allow preorder so the book will appear in your ereader library at midnight in your time zone on publication day. If you’re more of a physical book fan, there are a million ways to get the book as quickly as possible, including express shipping and apps with gig workers to go get things for you. The history of the midnight release party starts right before the rise of ereaders.

beautiful world where are you cover

However, the midnight book release party endures. With the hotly anticipated release of Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Waterstones hosted a pre-publication day party, and bookstores around the United Kingdom opened early to accommodate demand. This party was a popular event for Sally Rooney fans.

No matter how accessible and easy to get books are these days, midnight book release parties still crop up. The parties span genres and fandoms. It’s a good marketing tool for the author, the book, and the bookstore, because it’s an exclusive opportunity and it gives fans of books a chance to gather and be unapologetically loud and enthusiastic about their book fandom.

The Beginning of the Midnight Book Release Party

Unfortunately, the start of the midnight book release party is associated with a figure I’d rather not promote. The midnight book release party as it exists today can be traced back to an author who has made it her personal mission to strip transgender people of civil rights in the United Kingdom (and the rest of the world). Before her current bigoted campaign, she wrote Harry Potter.

When Harry Potter came out in the U.S. in 1998, it gained steam very quickly, and by the release of the fourth volume in 2000, publishers worked on setting up midnight book release parties.  

a black and white photo of several clocks at midnight
Photo by alexandru vicol on Unsplash

Midnight book release parties became a staple of Harry Potter book releases up until the final book. Fans came to socialize and many bookstores had trivia games, exclusive toys, and various other perks to pass the time until fans could line up to purchase their books at midnight. The Richard Linklater film Boyhood immortalized a midnight book release party in the narrative because the movie was filmed year-by-year documenting the life a kid growing up in the late 1990s and 2000s. They were a fact of life, and they marked the height of the fandom.

Twilight cover

The popularity of these midnight book release parties served as a roadmap for other popular young adult book series. Although I can’t find too many records of Twilight book release parties, Stephenie Meyer helpfully rounded up Breaking Dawn fan photos from midnight book release parties on her website back in 2008. I’ve heard anecdotally about many Twilight-release parties around the United States as well.

The Breaking Dawn midnight book releases also probably served to cross-promote and generate more interest in the film adaptation of Twilight. Breaking Dawn’s publication date was August 2, 2008, and the Twilight film came out on November 21, 2008. The midnight release cemented the Twilight series as a must-read, have-to-have book product.

The third installment of the Hunger Games book series, Mockingjay, got the midnight party treatment in 2010. This was notable as well because the first movie adaptation came out in 2012, which rocketed Hunger Games to more of a global phenomenon. Even The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins’ THG prequel) had a midnight release party, built on the trust of the enduring fandom and the series’ popularity during the height of the midnight book parties for young adult books.

Turtles All the way Down cover

Even as recently as 2017, the young adult book world still supported the idea of midnight parties. John Green was an obvious choice for a midnight release party because of his widespread popularity with Crash Course, VlogBrothers, and his previous bestsellers. When Turtles All The Way Down published in 2017, midnight parties cropped up around the United States.

The point of the midnight release served two purposes: the fans could get the book as quickly as possible, and the event (including pictures of lots of excited fans) drummed up interest in the books for future sales. In the early 2000s, spoiler culture wasn’t so widespread as it is today, but if you wanted to interact with your fellow fans online, it was a good idea to get the book and read it as quickly as their eyes allowed.

Book Parties Grow Up

After all of this, it seems like it would be the next step for midnight book release parties to become a staple for all popular children’s and young adult releases. Midnight book release parties did continue, but they continued to spread out into other genres.

Another sector of publishing that would host a lot of midnight release parties was comics publishing. The Walking Dead released Issue #115 in 2013, which coincided with 10 years of the comic in publication. Image Comics teamed up with local sellers to host parties and give away merchandise. Scott Pilgrim also celebrated the release of Volume 6 with a midnight party in 2010. As recently as 2021, Image Comics again organized midnight release parties for the highly anticipated return of their Saga series (after a three-year hiatus).

Midnight parties geared toward literary fiction have cropped up as well. In 2016, the store Book Culture in Manhattan hosted a party for the two Elena Ferrante books Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey, and The Beach at Night. In 2018, the bookstore Three Lives in the West Village of Manhattan hosted a midnight party for Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami. Fans participated in a trivia competition, and the winner got a tote bag full of pasta and tomato sauce. Only true Murakami heads get the joke.

As for Sally Rooney, The Bookseller reported that 50 bookstores opened early to accommodate demand for her third novel. Customers also got special merchandise with their purchase. The Waterstones at Piccadilly Circus in London hosted a pre-publication day event with Rooney that fans from around the United Kingdom attended. Though not strictly a midnight party, the fandom around Rooney could rival one of the Breaking Dawn parties back in 2008.

The Future of Midnight Book Release Parties

It’s hard to say if midnight book parties will continue with the same fervor in the coming decade. The loss of monocultural book objects could have something to do with this. There are so many great books out every year that there are few books and series that totally dominate the cultural landscape in the same way as the YA series of the early 2000s and 2010s.

Rioters remember the midnight book parties fondly as well. Danika Ellis recalls: “I waited 12 hours with by best friend in line for the midnight release of the last book in our favourite series. We were the first ones there, but plenty of people waited at least 8 hours. Almost everyone was dressed up, and we quickly made friends with people beside us in line. It was a great time! And then when I got the book in my hands, I immediately booked it across the parking lot because I was afraid of someone flipping to the last page, reading it out loud, and spoiling it for me!”

The book release parties included funny marketing tactics as well. CJ Connor used to attend Twilight midnight releases at their local Barnes & Noble and Walmart: “What a time those were…I remember you got a free Team Jacob T-shirt if you bought a certain Frappuccino at the B&N Starbucks.”

a photo of a stack of books with book open in front of them
Photo by Elisa Calvet B. on Unsplash

From my perspective, the growth of midnight book parties from the children’s books of the early 2000s to beloved literary authors of the 2020s (Ferrante and Rooney) lines up with the millennial generation and their taste growing up: children’s to young adult to literary fiction. Midnight parties seem to be geared toward authors that have proven track records, specifically with millennials who were involved in the early stages of the trend.

It’s worth noting that almost all the authors mentioned in this article are white, which shows the kind of books that publishing is throwing their biggest marketing campaigns behind. I hope that in the future, we’ll see more authors of color get the chance to have their books celebrated in this way.

It will be interesting to see if BookTok-famous authors get the midnight party treatment, and how well those can do. Print book sales were still up in 2021 despite the wide availability of ereaders, so it’s possible the convergence of social media-supported party experiences and interest in print books could re-invigorate the midnight release.

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