Imprint of the Year | British Book Awards 2021

Imprint of the Year


Publishers’ imprints were forced into some pretty dramatic changes in 2020, but quickly adapted to new ways of working together and promoting and selling books. These ten imprints—no fewer than six of them from the Hachette group—all clicked with readers too, providing both escapism and practical support in an unsettling year, and consolidating their distinctive personalities along the way.


Gollancz publishing director Marcus Gipps


Gollancz has ploughed its science fiction and fantasy furrow at Orion for more than two decades, but last year the imprint flourished like never before. Its escapist publishing perfectly met the need for diversions in a year of lockdowns, and sales jumped by more than 50%. It published nearly a third of 2020’s biggest sellers in its genres, led by Ben Aaronovitch’s False Value, and there was renewed energy in backlist—not least in Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher novels after a popular Netflix adaptation. It had a crop of award winners too, including M John Harrison’s The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again at the Goldsmiths.

By launching the Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award, it led a much-needed drive to diversify SFF publishing. Beyond print, audio sales doubled and a record number of film and TV deals were signed. Care of its authors was excellent, and marketing and publicity work pivoted brilliantly to digital platforms.

Its win is a triumph for often overlooked genre fiction imprints, and demonstrates how publishing does not always need household names or a large team to produce big numbers.

“There’s a real energy about the team, and you always know when you’re holding a Gollancz book—which is one of the points of an imprint,” said the judges. “It’s an old list that keeps itself fresh and exciting, and it rose to the occasion magnificently in 2020… this was its year.”

HIGHLY COMMENDED in this category is Dialogue. In just its third year, the list was front and centre of publishing’s efforts on diversity, not least through Brit Bennett’s six-figure-selling The Vanishing Half. “[Publisher] Sharmaine Lovegrove has done an extraordinary job of establishing Dialogue… it’s already a great force for good in publishing,” said the judges.

The Shortlist

  • Fourth Estate
    HarperCollins’ imprint doubled TCM sales in 2020, despite its reliance on bookshops leaving it particularly exposed in lockdowns. Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light had a lot to do with that, but non-fiction hits from the likes of Craig Brown and the backlist showed its strength in depth.
  • Bluebird
    Pan Macmillan
    Pound for pound, Bluebird must be the most powerful new imprint in years. The Pinch of Nom brand gave Pan Macmillan its three biggest selling titles of the year, and Joe Wicks’ books were as reinvigorated as the families he got exercising over lockdown.
  • Bookouture
    Hachette’s digital-led imprint came into its own during lockdowns, getting content to readers when many others could not. Powerful marketing helped ten books to six-figure sales, print-on-demand and audio revenue climbed too, and it launched a new non-fiction list, Thread.
  • Dialogue
    Little, Brown
    Little, Brown’s imprint could not have been more relevant or urgent in 2020. Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half was the standout performer with sales well into six figures, and it published many more important voices than would otherwise have gone unheard.
  • Gollancz
    Orion’s list has been a consistent performer for years, but its sci fi and fantasy flourished as a diversion in stressful times. Ben Aaronovitch was a star as sales rose by more than half, spread evenly across print, digital, audio and export, and it made strides on diversity.
  • HQ
    Providing a second shortlisting for HarperCollins in its fourth year, HQ notched up 13 Sunday Times bestsellers. Success came from both established brands like Adele Parks and Sarah Morgan and new names including Caroline Hirons, and it made the high-profile poaching of Joe Wicks.
  • Tinder Press
    Headline’s imprint focused its energy on two big releases. Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet collected the Women’s Prize, Waterstone’s Book of the Year and 300,000 sales, while Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt was one of the most discussed books of 2020, and also sold strongly for the list.
  • Trapeze
    Trapeze had a record year for Orion, increasing growing sales by well over half. Books from Noel Fitzpatrick, Candice Carty-Williams and the Ordnance Survey all sold in six figures, and it moved Adam Kay’s Dear NHS anthology from concept to shelves in barely three months.
  • Viking
    Penguin General
    Penguin General’s list, winner here in 2018, had the top two Christmas books through Richard Osman and Barack Obama. Jane Corry, Elif Shafak and the late John le Carre gave it more fiction bestseller spots, and it had a slew of popular history non-fiction hits.
  • Yellow Kite
    Hodder & Stoughton
    Hodder & Stoughton’s Yellow Kite has joined Bluebird in the new wave of distinctive lifestyle imprints. Cookbooks from the Deliciously Ella and Two Chubby Cubs brands and a handful of life-transformation titles helped to double turnover, and it is building a powerful backlist too.