Orion took Publisher of the Year at this year’s British Book Awards, its imprint Gollancz also scooped a prize, while Bloomsbury, Nosy Crow and Moon Lane all enjoyed double wins—with Moon Lane becoming the first indie to scoop Book Retailer of the Year.
Literary agent Nelle Andrew also made history as the first person of colour to win the Literary Agent of the Year, while Viking publisher Katy Loftus was honoured for her work on Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, across a female-dominated winners list. Judges said the winners have shown continued ingenuity and drive throughout the challenges of Covid-19 and lockdown.
Publisher of the Year Orion was praised for recording a sharp increase in sales and profits in each of its lists with eight books topping £1m in sales and number one publications from several big author brands. Katie Espiner, Orion m.d., said: “My team really is the best in the business and I’m so enormously proud of them. I should also thank booksellers who have done the most phenomenal job in the weirdest of circumstances.” HarperCollins was highly commended in this category for showing strong leadership during the pandemic.
Orion’s imprint Gollancz was singled out for its “standout performance”, according to judges, netting Imprint of the Year. Last year “saw the imprint flourish like never before” with bumper sales and a new prize aimed at diversifying science fiction and fantasy publishing. Judges said the imprint “perfectly met the need for diversions in a year of lockdowns, and sales jumped by more than half”. Hachette stablemate Dialogue Books was highly commended with publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove praised for her “extraordinary job of establishing” the imprint.
Agent of the Year Andrew was described as a “powerful force for change” by judges, netting more than £2m of deals in less than a year at agency RML. “From Caroline Michel’s assistant to Literary Agent of the Year in barely a decade, Nelle Andrew is one of the industry’s brightest rising stars,” judges said.
Andrew said: “I cannot tell you how much it means to me to be someone who grew up in a pretty challenging environment and entered an industry which was predominantly for people who did not look like me... but to have this recognition is phenomenal. I think I might be the first person of colour who’s got this award but I hope very much I’m not the last.”
Independent Publisher of the Year went to Canongate seven years after it last won the prize. Despite bumping nearly a third of its 2020 titles back to 2021, the Edinburgh and London-based business achieved major growth through Nielsen BookScan’s Total Consumer Market and judges highlighted Matt Haig bestseller The Midnight Library’s performance with 310,00 copies sold in all editions. “Canongate showed the agility of independents to act decisively at times of crisis and pivot quickly to fresh ways of generating sales,” judges said.
Children’s indie bookseller Moon Lane made history by becoming the first independent to win the Book Retailer of the Year title as well as taking the Children’s Bookseller trophy. Judges said: “Its three shops rose brilliantly to the myriad challenges of lockdown, shoring up sales through home deliveries and using the extra time on its hands to develop a bright online personality, including via a revamped website, social media and a popular new Moon Lane TV channel on YouTube.”
The Independent Bookshop category went to Sevenoaks Bookshop, now in its eighth decade with owner Fleur Sinclair calling the win “extraordinary”. Judges noted “its small but indefatigable team responded brilliantly to all the challenges of lockdowns, moving to web, phone and email orders during months of closure and dispatching around 3,500 books to loyal customers, many of them personally delivered by foot and bike”.
The highly coveted Editor of the Year went to Loftus, named as “the driving force behind the bestselling new book of 2020: Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club”. Judges said of the TV presenter’s début novel: “Its record-smashing success was the result of a textbook publishing campaign that got everything right from the point of Loftus’ acquisition onwards.” She was also praised for her string of print and digital hits from fast growing author brands, “exceptional” author care and her championing of greater diversity in publishing including her co-founding of Penguin’s WriteNow scheme.
New awards category
Jane Buckley, Simon & Schuster’s children’s division art director, became the first winner of a new British Book Awards category: Designer of the Year. “After more than 20 years in the industry, Buckley knows how to get the very best out of S&S’s stable of picture book illustrators, and crafts cover designs that combine creativity with strong instincts for what will sell,” judges said. As well as her creative flair and commercial acumen, she was praised for her memorable cover designs for several of 2020’s biggest picture books and nurturing of illustration talent, including artists from underrepresented backgrounds. Stuart Wilson was highly commended for “standout” covers including Shuggie Bain (Picador).
Bloomsbury scooped two prizes: its academic division took the Academic, Educational & Professional Publisher of the Year while the overall company won the Award for Export (above £10m). Bloomsbury Academic was praised for its very strong growth in digital sales, constructive support for remote teaching and learning as well as the strategic acquisition of radical publisher Zed Books.
The Marketing Strategy prize went to the team behind the campaign for Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (Fourth Estate). Matt Clacher, Lindsay Terrell and Olivia Marsden were praised for their campaign behind the eagerly awaited final instalment of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy. The campaign started more a year before release, inspired by major-league entertainment marketing, boasting a billboard teaser in Leicester Square and a projection of the cover onto the Tower of London on the eve of publication. “It turned publication into an event that other publishers will be trying to emulate for years, and kept the sales momentum going brilliantly despite the pandemic,” judges said.
Another Booker-winning author’s campaign reigned supreme with Penguin’s Anna Ridley named winner of Publicity Campaign of the Year. Her approach made Bernardine Evaristo “unmissable” in 2020, according to judges. The campaign included more than 120 interviews with Evaristo in the UK and overseas, and she made 60 appearances on TV, radio, podcasts, social media and live events. An appearance on “Desert Island Discs” and a guest edit of the Sunday Times’ Style magazine were among the highlights with Evaristo herself dubbed “a force of nature”. Alice Herbert was highly commended for her work on Susie Dent’s Word Perfect (John Murray Press), described as “a masterclass in crisis management”.
The Rights award went to two winners: Canongate’s Caroline Clarke won Rights Professional and Nosy Crow won the Rights Team of the Year award. Clarke was “instrumental in the superb 2020 performance” of Canongate, according to judges, as she and her two rights colleagues secured nearly 200 deals, growing revenues by a third. Meanwhile, the Nosy Crow rights team of Michela Pea, Erin Murgatroyd and Núria Martí Pampalona and Lucy Dunnet enjoyed “another stellar year of international trading” and were dubbed “a rights machine” by judges. A Covid strategy of focusing on core customers and coedition deals and exploiting the backlist was successful, also establishing several dozen new partnerships. Judges noted that the award also belongs to Nosy Crow’s rights manager Ola Gotkowska.
A Nosy Crow double
Nosy Crow also won the prize for Export (under £10m) for the second time in a row “after another exceptional year of exports”, judges said. The indie’s decision to switch to direct management of exports paid off significantly in 2020, its 10th anniversary year. It added more than £1m to overseas sales despite the massive disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fellow indie Wonderbly was crowned Children’s Publisher of the Year. The personalised publisher had by far its best year yet in 2020, selling more than one million books in a year when its direct-to-consumer operation was able to fulfil the demand of lockdowned consumers..
Finally, Small Press of the Year went to Midlands-based Sweet Cherry after a record year of sales and continued commitment to children’s reading delivered through education and entertainment. Its sales topped £1m for the first time in 2020, thanks in part to the appeal of its books to home-learning children and parents. Magic Cat Publishing, founded by former Templar and Quarto duo Rachel Williams and Jenny Broom, was highly commended.
For the full list of this year’s award winners go to British Book Awards website.
- British Book Awards crowned Event of the Year at PPA Awards
- British Book Awards 2020: Sykes, Rayner and Candlish among Nibbies judges
- The British Book Awards 2019: New Nibbies for small presses and kids
- Stuart’s Shuggie Bain bags Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2021
- The Essex Serpent crowned British Book Awards' Book of the Year