Print Edition - 2018-01-19  |  Life & Style

Female writers dominate 2017’s UK literary bestsellers

- The guardian, LONDON
The Bookseller’s analysis of fiction book sales last year found that Margaret Atwood was the bestselling novelist of the year

Jan 19, 2018-Haruki Murakami was the sole male writer to make the Top 10 bestselling literary authors of 2017 in the UK.

The Bookseller’s analysis of literary fiction book sales last year found that Margaret Atwood was the bestselling literary novelist of the year, with television adaptations of her novels The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace pushing her sales up to almost £2.8m.

Sarah Perry, author of the award-winning The Essex Serpent, came in second with sales of around £1.6m. Helen Dunmore, who died last June but had a novel, The Birdcage Walk, and poetry collection, Inside the Wave, published in 2017, came in third, with sales of around £1.1m. The rest of the top five were Naomi Alderman, whose novel The Power won the Women’s prize for fiction, and Italian author Elena Ferrante, author of the acclaimed Neapolitan series.

Murakami, with sales of around £1m, came sixth, with the list completed by Ali Smith, Zadie Smith, Maggie O’Farrell and Arundhati Roy.

The Bookseller’s Tom Tivnan admitted that the analysts were “making somewhat arbitrary value judgments about what is ‘literary’, and have limited ourselves to those who have been major award winners and/or shortlistees”. But he pointed out that both Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan failed to make the Top 10, each bringing in sales worth £855,000, along with the new Nobel literature laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, whose books made just over £709,000 in 2017.

In June 2015, the acclaimed novelist Kamila Shamsie made a bold call to the books industry, asking it to “redress the inequality” of the literary scene, and commit to making 2018 the year of publishing women. Pointing to everything from the imbalance in the gender of authors submitted to major literary prizes, to the greater space male writers receive in literary publications, to “the gendered decisions about how to package and describe male versus female authors”, Shamsie wrote in the Guardian at the time: “Enough. Across the board, enough”.

Speaking on Wednesday, after just one publisher, the independent press And Other Stories, answered her call to publish only women in 2018, Shamsie said: “The list of writers on [the Bookseller’s] list is a reminder that literary fiction’s most beloved women writers are second to no one in terms of the quality of their work.” 

According to a report from Arts Council England late last year, print sales of literary fiction have plummeted over the last decades, with few writers able to support themselves through literary fiction alone.

Despite women writers’ strong performance in literary fiction, they take up less than half of the slots in the Bookseller’s overall UK Top 50 bestselling authors of 2017. That list was topped by David Walliams for the first time, with just three women writers making the Top 10: JK Rowling, Julia Donaldson, and Fiona Watt.

Published: 19-01-2018 08:27

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