There is an air of familiarity to the very top of our 2018 authors chart. Positions one to three are the same as they were in 2017, with David Walliams, J K Rowling and Julia Donaldson holding the gold, silver and bronze positions respectively.
In fact, this trio (and their illustrators) have had an iron grip on the top of the league table for the past half-decade. Only twice in that time period has the “WalRowDon” triumvirate not claimed all three top spots: Joe Wicks was third in 2016, knocking Walliams to fourth, while John Green also hit number three in 2014, when Rowling could “only” claim ninth. WalRowDon has traded the number one spot for six years on the trot (Walliams for the last two, Rowling in 2016 and Donaldson from 2013 to 2015), and it’s been seven years since none of them appeared in the top three.
There is more similarity in the amount the big authors shifted through the TCM: the 50 writers on this chart generated £199.8m in 2018, almost exactly the haul of the top 50 in 2017 (£199.97m).
Yet the rich list expanded slightly. There were 127 authors whose TCM totals eclipsed £1m in 2018, collectively earning £296.8m, compared to the 115 “BookScan millionaires” who shifted £279.3m in the previous 12 months. This is the eighth consecutive year that the number of authors selling at least seven figures through the TCM has increased—although in 2017 the amount earned by those seven-figure authors actually declined year on year.
Fifteen of the top 50 authors make their first appearance in the list, led by Michelle Obama’s whopping £7.9m, a total the former First Lady achieved in just a month and a half on sale. With Becoming selling 3.5 million copies in the US, which probably translates to $70m in retail sales (if we assume a $20 average selling price; there is no value data available), then the Obamas’ reported $65m-ish book deal with Penguin Random House US does not seem so insane after all.
With Trump exposé Fire and Fury earning £1m in its first week on sale, US journalist Michael Wolff posted the chart’s biggest percentage value growth year on year.
Tom Kerridge nearly trebled his TCM takings year on year, and is one of the leading lights of last year’s healthy eating trend (for more stars from that sector, see below). Jamie Oliver, at £6.2m, is still cookery’s top dog, but one imagines he would have fared much better if he had released, say, a more zeitgeisty vegetarian book this autumn’s rather that the meaty and carb-heavy Jamie Cooks Italy. In fact, Oliver’s more health-conscious 2017 autumn release, 5 Ingredients, outsold Jamie Cooks Italy in 2018 by a factor of almost two to one.
The fiction débutants are led by Gail Honeyman and Heather Morris, who dominated the charts for much of the year. Incidentally, Morris’ 444,738% increase in sales year on year is due to The Tattooist of Auschwitz earning £753 in the last week of December 2017 through the TCM, ahead of its official January 2018 publication date.
But it is tough out there for first time fiction writers. Honeyman and Morris combined to earn more than £8.1m through the TCM, but only eight début novelists/short-story writers sold more than £500,000 through BookScan last year. But even that is stretching the criteria somewhat. Leila Slimani earned £836,000 in TCM takings for her Prix Goncourt winner Lullaby. That was her first novel in English, but her second outing in French (Faber will publish her début as Adèle later this month). “J P Delaney” did indeed have a £883,000 haul for his first psychological thriller The Girl Before, but Delaney is the latest nom de plume for Tony Strong, who has published seven novels under a variety of pseudonyms. The bestselling short story writer? That would be a first-time author called Tom Hanks, whose Uncommon Type earned £602,000.
Eyes on the prize
Man Booker winner Anna Burns enjoyed the biggest bounce of the literary award-winners in 2018 (+406,008%), followed by Steve Cavanagh, whose sales surged 2,925% after his CWA Gold Dagger triumph. Man Booker International winner Olga Tokarczuk (+1,201%), Baillie Gifford victor Sergei Plokhy (+679%) and Nibbie- and Costa-winning Gail Honeyman (+639%) also soared.
Author Top 50
|2||SAME||J K Rowling*||£15,475,552||-8.5%||£14,164,572|
|13||UP||Yuval Noah Harari||£3,596,789||28.5%||£4,620,375|
|20||UP||Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo||£2,811,271||13.6%||£3,193,260|
|27||DOWN||George R R Martin||£2,905,268||-4.5%||£2,774,238|
|29||NEW||Jordan B Peterson||£48,203||5315.6%||£2,610,493|
|31||RE-ENTRY||C J Sansom||£496,271||392.5%||£2,444,335|
|39||DOWN||J R R Tolkien||£1,918,476||13.2%||£2,172,473|
|47||DOWN||Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris||£4,371,773||-56.4%||£1,906,100|
Date range 52 weeks to 29th December 2018. Value and volume figures are for all print edition combined. *Includes co-authored titles and pseudonyms. An illustrators’ chart will run in a following issue of The Bookseller.
For a deeper dive into some of the biggest-earning authors' book sales, click here.