Eleanor Oliphant crowned Book of the Year

Eleanor Oliphant crowned Book of the Year

Gail Honeyman’s standout debut Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins) has been named Book of the Year at The British Book Awards.

The judges praised both the writing and the publishing of Honeyman's debut, and said the combination made it a clear winner. The novel was “absolutely hilarious”, “literary and commercial” and struck an “amazing balance between light and dark”, while the campaign to promote it was “beautifully done”, they said.

HarperFiction acquired Eleanor Oliphant on the eve of the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair in an eight-way auction and straight away decided that they would make 2017 “the year of the Oliphant”. Its retail strategy was focused on Waterstones, independents and also Scotland, where the author is based. The title went into the Sunday Times Top 10 before Christmas, with nearly 290,000 copies sold across all formats before paperback publication. To date, print book sales through Nielsen’s Total Consumer Market have reached 387,949 copies, and it has already won the Costa First Novel Award 2017. The Marketing Strategy behind the book was also recognised at the awards, winning Marketing Strategy of the Year in the trade awards.

Ahead of its overall Book of the Year win, Eleanor Oliphant was earlier named Fiction: Debut Book of the Year. It beat off competition from The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker), The Lost Words by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton), La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, narrated by Michael Sheen (PRH Audio), Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (Fourth Estate), 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph), Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Bloomsbury) and The Dry by Jane Harper (Abacus), to be crowned the overall winner.

Thomas’ The Hate U Give (Walker) and The Lost Words by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton) were both named joint winners of Children’s Book of the Year. Thomas’ book is a “game changer for both YA fiction and BAME publishing”, according to this year’s Children’s Book of the Year judges, while The Lost Words is an “extraordinary achievement [that has] captured imaginations and hearts”.  

Jane Harper won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year for The Dry (Abacus), “an out-of-nowhere, word of mouth sensation" that the publisher "really capitalised" on at the paperback stage, according to the judges. In the Non-Fiction: Lifestyle category, Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients (Michael Joseph) was given the crown. Oliver’s latest cookbook has so far racked up sales of 944,916 copies, and is shifting around 3,000–4,000 a week through Nielsen BookScan. The judges of the Non-Fiction: Lifestyle category praised both the content and the design; one said: “The concept works for all kinds of people and it has opened up cookbooks to people who wouldn’t normally buy cookbooks.”

The Non-fiction: Narrative award went to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s urgent polemic Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race (Bloomsbury). It was praised for “one of the most striking front covers of the year” designed by Greg Heinimann, and wide-range publicity arrangements and cross-promotional partnerships. The judges of the Non-Fiction: Narrative category said the title was “fascinating”, “brilliant” and “breathtaking”, and one described the deal as a “very, very smart acquisition” for Bloomsbury, which “added value to the book: it could have been consigned to obscurity if it wasn’t packaged right”.

Reservoir 13 (Fourth Estate), Jon McGregor’s “dazzling” novel about a missing girl, was named Fiction Book of the Year. McGregor took centre stage at HarperCollins’ Independent Booksellers event and was interviewed by the Guardian and “Open Book”, his publisher also sold signed and customised hardbacks directly from its own website. The coup de grâce was when BBC Radio 4 commissioned McGregor to write a series of 15 short stories based on the novel, to be broadcast in the autumn. The “Reservoir Tapes” ensured that the publicity—and sales—rolled on throughout the year.

Described as "the best piece of narration I’ve ever heard", the audiobook edition of La Belle Sauvage was the winner of Audiobook of the Year. Narrator Michael Sheen was chosen by Pullman himself to read the book and was coached on accents and pronunciations. Penguin Random House hired Creative Fix to produce a bespoke trailer, including an extract, which was used in a digital radio advertising campaign on podcasts, digital radio and Spotify. La Belle Sauvage reached number one in the Audible chart and spent three months in the top 40. Sheen was also nominated for Narrator of the Year at the 2017 Audio Production Awards.

You can read about The British Book Awards' trade winners here.