Penguin General and W H Smith Travel won two of the biggest prizes at The British Book Awards, scooping Publisher of the Year and Book Retailer of the Year respectively. Faber took home Independent Publisher of the Year for the second year running, while Picador and Nosy Crow also won prizes, and there was success for three Edinburgh indie bookshops. Individuals winning awards were agent Cathryn Summerhayes, Usborne’s Rebecca Hill, rights professional Andrew Sharp, and bookseller Noor Hemani.
For Publisher of the Year, among the most hotly contested of the categories, Penguin General claimed the prize “for a stellar year”, after coming in close in each of the last three years, growing its TCM sales by almost 30% and racking up 19 different books on the Sunday Times bestseller lists. Its leader of the pack, Michelle Obama’s Becoming, sold half a million copies in just six weeks to become the year’s biggest hardback while “the social impacts of Penguin’s publication and associated events were just as significant,” judges said.
The publisher was praised across the board: for its narrative non-fiction imprint, Penguin Life, for commercial fiction including building Cara Hunter into a major crime fiction brand, as well as for the more literary end of the spectrum, with industry stalwarts such as Pat Parker and Jonathan Coe, debut voices including Sophie Mackintosh, and re-energising midlist authors like Elizabeth Strout. “Penguin General’s marketing, publicity and rights teams were firing on all cylinders,” the judges said. Strong collaboration with retailers was praised, along with “outstanding” author care. “This is a standard of imaginative professionalism to which all publishers should aspire, and which most authors can only dream about,” said one.
Special mention was given to fellow Publisher of the Year shortlistee Little, Brown, which was commended for its “work done by Dialogue Books to support inclusivity" two years after publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove launched the imprint.
In the book retailer category, W H Smith Travel emerged victorious three years after previously taking the crown. Judges praised the company’s books strategy, how it grew book sales once more in 2018 and opened around 20 new stores in the UK and 60 internationally, while refreshing many others. “Three of those launches were standalone bookshops in major British travel hubs—a heartening sign that in a broadly flat market the business remains firmly committed to books,” judges said. As well as sales of the more predictable blockbusters, the chain “proved itself a genuine supporter of lesser-known voices, of fiction in translation, and of independent publishers, through schemes such as Fresh Talent and other promotions."
W H Smith Travel, Book Retailer of the Year
Fellow winners on the night included Faber who scooped Independent Publisher of the Year for the second year in a row, after taking the top prize at the IPG Independent Publishing Awards earlier this month, having “delivered commercial and critical success in equal measure”. The press enjoyed the best financial 12 months in its history, with a 14% jump in sales enough to make it the UK’s 12th biggest publisher in the TCM, in marked contrast to only a few years previously when it was languishing. Last year It had three books in the year-end TCM top 50: two from Sally Rooney, including this year’s Book of the Year Normal People, and Anna Burns’ Man Booker Prize-winning Milkman.
Meanwhile Elliott & Thompson was highly commended in the category, pushing TCM sales up by a third on just 14 frontlist titles with a full-time team of only four. It built on the success of Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography with more hits from authors including Julia Boyd and Tony Kent, and achieved two Waterstones Book of the Month slots.
Children’s Publisher of the Year went to Nosy Crow, for the second time in three years, rewarding its TCM sales boom of a third (32.9%), making it the 12th biggest children’s publisher just eight years after launching. The breadth of its publishing and formats, along with partnerships with companies such as John Lewis, the British Museum and the National Trust, saw it fly in 2018 with one retailer describing Nosy Crow as “inspirational publishers” who have “sparked a buzz of creativity across the industry”. Sales, rights and co-edition business all rose dramatically, with deals struck in 43 countries in all by the end of 2018.
Fellow returning winner Picador took Imprint of the Year – for the second time in four years. Much of that came from Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt, which sold more than half a million copies—and Picador added around half as many units again through e-book and audiobook formats. There were successes right across the board, however, with the imprint hitting £1m in TCM sales in the poetry sector for the first time, thanks to authors ranging from Pam Ayers to John Cooper Clarke. Picador also took an eclectic range of prizes in 2018 as well as displaying marketing ingenuity, seen most strongly for The Secret Barrister.
Meanwhile Kay’s agent Cathryn Summerhayes’ “resourceful, imaginative” approach to making deals took the crown in the strongly-contested literary agent category. This is Going to Hurt – for which she played a central creative and commercial role - became the TCM’s top non-fiction title, selling more than half a million copies as well as spawning various upcoming projects which Summerhayes is navigating such as a 50-date live tour. She has also built an eclectic list, including authors such as Johanna Basford, Ranulph Fiennes, "Deliciously" Ella Mills and Kathy Reichs. Judges also paid tribute to her advocacy and care shown to other agents and authors.
Cathryn Summerhayes, Literary Agent of the Year, and Rebecca Hill, Editor of the Year
Similarly Emerald Publishing was singled out for its care of people – authors and staff alike – with the west Yorkshire-based company winning Academic, Educational and Professional Publisher of the Year. “This is obviously a great place to be published—a real go-to place for academics,” judges said. With a social sciences list featuring more than 3,000 books and 300 journals, Emerald had one of its best ever years in 2018, securing double-digit book sales growth and launching the Emerald Open Research platform, providing an open peer review process and free access to all.
Meanwhile Usborne’s Rebecca Hill became the first children’s publisher to win the Editor of the Year award. A Bookseller Rising Star of 2017, she followed up with the Branford Boase Award later that year with Mitch Johnson’s début, Kick. Will Hill’s After the Fire, which she edited, won the The Bookseller’s 2018 YA Book Prize and she had titles nominated for a clutch of other awards. This year she is longlisted for the Branford Boase for two books all while steering the success of established writers such as Holly Bourne. “It’s a brilliantly curated and successful fiction list… she’s breaking new ground for Usborne," judges said.
Another highlight for children’s publishing was Andrew Sharp, of Hachette Children’s Group, winning Rights Professional of the Year, after four appearances on the shortlist. His remit has grown hugely since joining Hodder Children’s Books as a rights executive in the late 1990s. Over 2018, his team sealed more than 800 deals, notched up three million co-edition sales, and served around 1,400 publishing partners.
Vintage publicists Louise Court and Lucie Cuthbertson-Twiggs were awarded Publicity Campaign of the Year for their passionate campaign for The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar, helping to make it, the publisher claimed, the top-selling literary fiction hardback début of the year. They secured an afternoon off for all Vintage employees to read it, sent more than 1,000 proofs, scheduled author visits for more than 50 shops and a special walking tour of Georgian London for 30 booksellers. The campaign was called “a total masterclass” by judges.
Marketing Strategy of the Year went to Joanna Rose, Jen Callahan Packer and Jessica Hay at HarperCollins for their delivery of bestselling vegan cookbook BOSH! by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby. Their “All Plants” campaign, which steered away from vegan associations, included "promotions tailored to different retailers, extensive social media activity and a festival-style event at Borough Market in London". HarperCollins identified a growing interest in the market and used every social media tool available to realise big sales,” said one British Book Awards judge. Additionally, Rosamund de la Hey, Bill de la Hey, Phillippa Henley, Vivienne Seeley and Vivian Bannerman, of independent bookshop The Mainstreet Trading Company, were highly commended for their 10th birthday campaign at the store.
Across the nine-strong shortlist for Independent Bookshop of the Year, Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh nabbed the trophy for its stylish boutique-style store, its sharp growth in sales, and its capacity for innovation – including a book subscription service, collaborations with local businesses such as a Wine and Cheese Book Club with a nearby wine bar, and reading clinics with booksellers. “There’s an incredible energy and passion there—they must never sleep,” said the judges of Golden Hare’s team.
Independent Bookshop of the Year Golden Hare Books and Individual Bookseller of the Year Noor Hemani
Meanwhile another Edinburgh outlet, the Lighthouse Bookshop, saw employee Noor Hemani named Individual Bookseller of the Year for helping develop one of the most diverse ranges in British bookselling. Spikes in the shop’s sales can often be correlated to her recommendations and handselling while she has also helped organise 180 events in 2018, pitching to publishers and shaping sessions at its Radical Book Fair.
For Children's Bookseller of the Year, Waterstones emerged victorious, for the first time since 2011. The chain generated big sales for the top children’s titles of 2018, and used creative launch activity to capitalise on J K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Little, Brown). There was another highlight for the Scottish capital at the awards, with the Edinburgh Bookshop earning a high commendation, after securing double-digit sales growth last year, much of it drawn from its children’s section.
Two British Book Awards were previously announced at London Book Fair in March: Wild Things won the inaugural British Book Awards Small Press of the Year, while Walker Books and Collins Learning scooped the relaunched British Book Award for Export.
Finally, Tim Godfray was recognised for Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade ahead of his retirement this autumn after 35 years as chief executive at the Booksellers Association. Described as “a tireless leader and an active and engaged role model for his colleagues,” by BA m.d. Meryl Halls, Godfray has continuously challenged Amazon, lobbying the Competition and Markets Authority and Directorate-General for Competition, while showing longstanding commitment to the BA and its members. He became the BA’s executive chair in April 2018 which he juggles alongside numerous other roles including a directorship of Book Tokens. Halls added: “His deep knowledge of bookselling has made him the go-to resource for booksellers, and his high standards and epic work ethic will ensure his legacy in the book trade for years to come.”
Tim Godfray, recipient of the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade
For more information, visit The British Book Awards' website.
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