Strong start for Becoming as PRH UK confirms 350k copies shipped and two reprints

Strong start for Becoming as PRH UK confirms 350k copies shipped and two reprints

Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming (Viking) has shipped 350,000 copies across the UK and Commonwealth and been reprinted twice after just two days on sale. The book has also helped Penguin Random House UK to raise more than £2,000 for The Advocacy Academy through a discounted staff sale. 

After publishing on Tuesday (13th November), the former First Lady’s autobiography soared into Amazon's number one slot and generated a flurry of positive reviews whilst Obama herself graced a number of newspapers and magazine covers. Although sales data through Nielsen Bookscan won’t be available until next week, Penguin General sales director Sam Fanaken confirmed sales over the past few days have been “excellent”, exceeding expectations and already forcing the publisher to hit print again – twice. 

"We are absolutely delighted with the publication of Becoming,” Fanaken said. “We shipped 350,000 across the UK and Commonwealth. Sales have got off to such a strong start that we have already reprinted twice. The book is number one on Amazon physical and audible and Waterstones has been leading the way as the biggest bricks and mortar retailer.

"The support from retailers has been extraordinary – from an incredible pre-order campaign run by Waterstones, to a brilliant launch right across the retail market. There are beautiful window displays across the country, nonstop bookseller enthusiasm on social media, celebratory events, FSDUs in supermarkets.

"The first two days’ sales have been excellent and we are looking at a bigger part week than we had hoped for. We then move straight into Black Friday week trading followed by her visit on 3rd December, so we feel very confident about the weeks ahead.”

The giant above-platform screen at Waterloo beamed images from the book on publication, as part of Viking’s biggest ever marketing campaign, and retailers have been giving it pride of place in-store. 

Waterstones, particularly commended by Fanaken for its support of the book, next week launches a week-long 'Becoming pop-up shop' at 2 Bury Street devoted to books by women and non-binary people of colour. As well as hosting numerous events over the course of the week curated by gal-dem, the pop-up will exhibit photos from Obama’s life featured in the book that afterwards will be donated to Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives.

The book was meanwhile celebrated in-house with a range of attractive displays across the PRH’s London offices, themed menus and staff sales. PRH staffers managed to raise £2,000 for The Advocacy Academy through Viking’s staff sale of the book. The fundraiser for the Brixton-based non-profit social impact organisation saw the book sold at high discount (just £5). In the mix was also one limited edition signed copy for one lucky member of staff to find.

Currently carrying a 4.4 star rating on The Bookseller’s Books in the Media page, incoming reviews for Michelle Obama’s Becoming have hailed the former First Lady's book "compelling", "a polished pearl of a memoir" and "a tough, true story with a streak of romantic gold”. 

While Radio Four made Becoming its Book of the Week, praising Obama’s  honesty and wit”, Gaby Wood for The Telegraph called it “a work of realism” and its author “nothing if not inspiring”. 

“That may be a strange conclusion to draw about a work of non-fiction, but one of the features of a certain kind of American memoir is an ‘inspirational’ quality that soars above life, even as it includes ‘hardscrabble’ beginnings,” wrote Wood. “Michelle Obama is nothing if not inspiring. But her story rings true, and tough. Those who’ve loved her for dancing on TV with Ellen DeGeneres or doing ‘Carpool Karaoke’ with James Corden will find that her childhood is not a comedy routine but a history lesson.”

Afua Hirsch for The Guardian also commended Obama’s authenticity: “It’s hard to be cynical about either Obama’s strength of character or her authenticity,” she said in her review. “Her book confirms what was observable about her time in the White House, that while she may have had to shape herself into the mould of what politics requires of a first lady, it was still a first lady-shaped version of something real.”

After months of the book’s contents being heavily embargoed, revelations in the book include Obama’s vehement denial she will ever run for office herself. She also opens up about her childhood on the South Side of Chicago, her romance with husband Barack and the couple’s fertility struggles before having their two daughters, and adjusting to life before and after the White House. 

Obama is due to discuss the book at a sold-out live event at The Royal Festival Hall on 3rd December.