Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent (Serpent’s Tail) has won the British Book Awards accolade of Book of the Year, beating off strong competition from 36 shortlisted titles. Meanwhile, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Little, Brown) has won the inaugural The Bookseller’s Bestseller of the Year award, which recognises the commercial success of the year’s big books and their wider impact on the book market.
The Essex Serpent, winner of overall book of the year, is Perry’s second novel and it “emerged from the dark to become one of the smash hits of 2016”, according to the judges. Sam Baker, judge and co-founder of The Pool, praised its “intriguing title, compelling storytelling, covetable packaging and an inspired slow-burn publicity campaign”.
After publisher Serpent's Tail set a modest sales target of just 5,000 hardback copies for the title, the book exceeded expectations by selling 104,078 in that format alone through Nielsen BookScan in 2016. The publicity campaign has also been commended at the awards, with publicist Anna-Marie Fitzgerald winning Publicity Campaign of the year, sponsored by the Publishers’ Publicity Circle. It was crowned Waterstones Book of the Year in 2016.
Alice O'Keeffe, books editor at The Bookseller, said: "From the editor's acquisition to selling over 100,000 copies in hardback, The Essex Serpent has been an absolute masterclass in how to publish exceptional fiction exceptionally well. Hannah Westland, Sarah Perry's editor, championed her author from the beginning. The jacket is not a knock-off genre historical jacket but a stunningly beautiful work of art unlike anything else on the shelves. The publicity campaign was outstanding, achieving press coverage across the board and also generating huge word-of-mouth among booksellers and readers."
The Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playscript by Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, published by Little, Brown, was crowned the inaugural winner of The Bookseller's Bestseller of the Year accolade after becoming the bestselling book of 2016 on its publication birthday - 31st July. The eighth Harry Potter book became the fastest-selling title since the seventh Harry Potter book released nine years before it, shifting 847,886 copies in its first week of sale. The Cursed Child held the number one spot for six weeks in total, hitting the million-copy mark after just a fornight. By the end of 2016, the playscript had racked up 1.46 million copies sold for £15.96m. Together with Paula Hawkins' The Girl on The Train and Joe Wicks' Lean in 15, which also surpassed the seven-figure mark in 2017, and David Walliams' The Midnight Gang and The World's Worst Children (HarperCollins Children's), collectively the titles boosted the book market by 5% last year.
Ahead of its overall Book of the Year win, The Essex Serpent was earlier named Fiction Book of the Year, beating off competition from Costa prizewinning title Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber), The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Oneworld), The Muse by Jessie Burton (Picador), Cartes Postales From Greece by Victoria Hislop (Headline Review) and This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell (Tinder Press).
Kiran Millwood Hargrave took the gong for Children's Book of the Year for The Girl of Ink & Stars (Chicken House), a magical tale about an island, the girl who travels to the heart of its story and the myth that guides her path. Judges praised the poetic beauty of the novel and were impressed by the time and effort put into editorial and production for a debut author. The book beat Tom Fletcher's The Christmasaurus (Puffin), Nadiya Hussain's Nadiya's Bake Me A Story (Hodder Children's), Kes & Claire Gray and Jim Field's Oi Dog! (Hodder Children's), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Walliams' The World's Worst Children to win in the category.
Debut Book of the Year was won by Garth Greenwell's What Belongs To You (Picador), which follows an American man teaching English to students in Buglaria, who becomes fascinated by a troubled young hustler, Mitko, whose casual approach to his own life is both pitiful and heartbreaking. Sales of the book, mostly through Waterstones, Amazon and independent bookshops, showed there is an appetite for gay literature, a genre that has been neglected for a number of years, said the judges. Greenwell triumphed over fellow shortlistees The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon (The Borough Press), The Girls by Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus), My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal (Viking), Five Rivers Met On a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris (Doubleday) and Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (Faber).
Bill Beverly won the The Crime & Thriller Book of the Year for Dodgers (No Exit Press, the crime imprint of indie publisher Oldcastle Books), for his coming-of-age crime novel set in the US. The novel won out over The Widow by Fiona Barton (Bantam Press), Night School by Lee Child (Bantam Press), Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant (Mulholland Books), Conclave by Robert Harris and I See You by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere).
In the Non-Fiction: Lifestyle category, Tim Peake’s Hello, Is This Planet Earth (Century) was given the crown. The book was the result of three years of conversations between the publisher and Peake, but it only took three months to go from commssion stage to the bookshop. The judges were impressed by Century's flexibility and ability to turn a book around quickly, as well as making it a quality, covted product both "awe-inspiring and educational". Peake triumphed over chart hits Five on Brexit Island by Bruno Vincent (Quercus) and Lean In 15: The Sustain Plan by Joe Wicks (Bluebird), along with Sidemen: The Book by The Sidemen (Coronet), The Unmumsy Mum by Sarah Turner (Bantam Press) and The Little Book of Hygge by meik Wiking (Penguin Life).
Finally, East West Street, part memoir, part legal thriller, part historical detective story, by Philippe Sands (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), was crowned winner of the non-fiction: narrative category, selected by the judges ahead of Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run (Simon & Schuster), Bryony Gordon's Mad Girl (Headline), The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound), The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate) and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (The Bodley Head).
The winners of the trade category awards are available to view here.