Andrew AlbaneseMany bestsellers are surprise hits, appearing almost out of nowhere to dominate and saturate. The latest blockbuster, though, was a guaranteed smash from the day this past winter when its publisher announced the title.

Go Set a Watchman is only the second novel from author Harper Lee; its predecessor, To Kill A Mockingbird, has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide since 1960. Both books share characters and settings, even if the portrayals diverge dramatically. Only days after its publication this week, Watchman has also shown the same Mockingbird-like strength in the marketplace.

“Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million have both pronounced that Go Set a Watchman had the largest first day sale of any adult fiction book in the history of both retailers. The book also knocked E.L. James’ Grey off of the top of B&N’s bestseller list, and the company expects that Watchman will be its biggest seller for the year,” reports Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer.

Yet the book’s white-hot reception by readers contrasts with a lukewarm one from critics. “The critical reception has been mixed,” Albanese tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “For many there is the shock of learning that Atticus Finch, the iconic character in the book is racist – though I don’t find that shocking myself. And per the publisher’s own admission, the book was left un-edited, and to many critics, it does read like a draft. And none of that matters to HarperCollins’ which is selling the book heavily.”

Every Friday, CCC’s “Beyond the Book” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.

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