Review of 2018: Walliams is top of 2018’s author rich list

Review of 2018: Walliams is top of 2018’s author rich list

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.

What’s cookin’?

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

  Move Author 2017 Growth Value
1 SAME David Walliams £16,575,401 3.4% £17,145,406
2 SAME J K Rowling* £15,475,552 -8.5% £14,164,572
3 SAME Julia Donaldson* £14,656,405 -10.2% £13,167,337
4 UP Lee Child £7,500,947 4.8% £7,858,855
5 NEW Michelle Obama £0 NA £7,815,698
6 UP Fiona Watt* £6,011,265 12.0% £6,733,193
7 SAME James Patterson* £6,034,926 2.1% £6,164,452
8 DOWN Jamie Oliver £11,446,106 -46.3% £6,151,010
9 UP Jeff Kinney £5,826,834 0.3% £5,841,576
10 NEW Gail Honeyman £692,208 638.8% £5,114,202
11 DOWN Joe Wicks £6,130,902 -22.3% £4,762,164
12 NEW Tom Kerridge £1,661,863 181.0% £4,669,607
13 UP Yuval Noah Harari £3,596,789 28.5% £4,620,375
14 SAME Liz Pichon £4,238,653 0.1% £4,242,817
15 SAME Roald Dahl* £4,180,616 -12.5% £3,657,630
16 SAME John Grisham £3,696,101 -4.0% £3,547,426
17 RE-ENTRY Yotam Ottolenghi* £1,707,282 106.6% £3,527,703
18 NEW Heather Morris £753 444738.2% £3,349,632
19 NEW Adam Kay £812,802 303.8% £3,281,726
20 UP Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo £2,811,271 13.6% £3,193,260
21 UP Danielle Steel £2,934,722 5.3% £3,088,988
22 DOWN Mary Berry £4,228,919 -31.3% £2,904,191
23 DOWN Stephen King* £3,524,088 -18.4% £2,876,429
24 NEW Michael Wolff £285 1002182.1% £2,855,001
25 UP Jojo Moyes £1,994,587 41.3% £2,819,295
26 NEW Stephen Hawking* £305,696 818.0% £2,806,392
27 DOWN George R R Martin £2,905,268 -4.5% £2,774,238
28 NEW Matt Haig £1,463,796 82.9% £2,676,860
29 NEW Jordan B Peterson £48,203 5315.6% £2,610,493
30 NEW Kes Gray* £1,777,325 44.3% £2,565,100
31 RE-ENTRY C J Sansom £496,271 392.5% £2,444,335
32 UP Michael Morpurgo* £1,873,421 30.3% £2,440,670
33 NEW Ant Middleton £0 NA £2,412,305
34 DOWN Dan Brown £4,783,949 -50.2% £2,383,821
35 NEW Sally Rooney £101,798 2232.6% £2,374,517
36 DOWN Neil Gaiman* £3,011,647 -21.3% £2,370,041
37 RE-ENTRY Stephen Fry £1,227,456 86.9% £2,294,323
38 DOWN Jacqueline Wilson £2,620,861 -12.9% £2,282,544
39 DOWN J R R Tolkien £1,918,476 13.2% £2,172,473
40 DOWN David Baldacci £2,159,444 -1.7% £2,121,823
41 NEW Dav Pilkey £1,029,471 102.1% £2,080,071
42 RE-ENTRY Peter James £1,618,306 26.5% £2,046,465
43 UP Anthony Horowitz £1,788,137 13.0% £2,021,251
44 DOWN Philip Pullman £5,718,866 -64.7% £2,016,025
45 NEW Noel Fitzpatrick £0 NA £1,958,748
46 RE-ENTRY Sophie Kinsella* £1,720,920 11.3% £1,914,757
47 DOWN Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris £4,371,773 -56.4% £1,906,100
48 DOWN Rick Riordan £2,244,410 -15.8% £1,889,089
49 RE-ENTRY Ian Rankin £1,383,014 33.6% £1,848,109
50 NEW Mark Manson £566,795 225.5% £1,844,836

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.