Our kind of party

What does it mean to keep planning for a better tomorrow only to be knocked back by fate? Naturally, in a business built on hits and misses, we might be slightly quicker at the getting back up again bit, but I don’t think it makes the wear and tear any easier to manage. As of now this combination of the new strain of Covid-19, Omicron, along with the constant churn of news about the sheer incompetency of the Boris Johnson administration, is likely to make even the most hardy reach for their inner duvet. I won’t even mention the cricket.

Books provide their own solace. As do sales of them. Last week (ending 4th December) was huge through Nielsen’s measure, at 7.5 million books sold for £67.5m. In comparison, 2019 didn’t reach those levels until mid-December. According to our charts analyst Kiera O’Brien, if the market hits nine million books sold next week, similar to 2020, then it could be at 10 million books by the week running up to Christmas for the first time since 2008. Anecdotally, trade publishers are once again talking about near double-digit growth rates year on year, perhaps half what they were in 2020, but still substantial and almost unheard of pre-pandemic. I know of one business that has almost doubled its size over the past two years.

But financial success is a glass only half full when combined with the emotional cost of dealing with such uncertainties that have arisen over the past 18 months. Writing on theBookseller.com, literary agent Nelle Andrew describes using the holidays as a moment to reflect on a year that we endured, rather than cherished: “I will not pat myself on the back, or lament what I could have achieved. I will just sit down and realise I have made it and I can make it.”

It is against this not-uncomplicated backdrop that we open entries for The British Book Awards 2022, because we have made it, and we have made it together, and we will, as ever, celebrate together too. We will aim to bring to you next year’s ceremony as a live in-person event, alongside an online streamed alternative. The combination of live and virtual marks a continued shift for us, but also a necessary one, and one whose merits we saw at this year’s FutureBook Conference. As the author Penny Batchelor writes, the development of online festivals in 2020 was a positive change for the sector but one that now risks “fading into folk memory”. The hashtag #KeepFestivalsHybrid is to be supported. 

Other changes for Nibbies 2022 include the re-introduction of the Individual Bookseller of the Year award (natch), the splitting of the children’s awards into three—including one for illustrated books—and separating the audiobook prize. So now we have one for fiction and one for non-fiction. We are also introducing a new award for the Discover Book of the Year, building on the good work we have been doing to amplify underrepresented writers.

Overall, the intention remains the same: to recognise and reward the trade, for rolling with the punches, for staring misfortune in the face, and for getting back up again—together.