Non-fiction deals top the bestseller charts from LBF
19.04.10 | Victoria Gallagher, Philip Stone and Helen Nianias

UK publishers preparing to strike book fair deals should look out for non-fiction titles, with the top four bestselling LBF books over the past five years coming from that section of the market.

An analysis of selected titles signed during the London Book Fair and reported in The Bookseller’s London dailies from 2005 through to 2009 revealed that non-fiction titles dominated.

John Grisham’s first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man, about a man arrested for a crime he did not commit, topped the chart. The title was signed by Century in 2005 and has since sold 747,770 copies in the UK, a weekly average sale of more than 4,000 copies. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury) and QI: The Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd (Faber) hold third and four positions, selling 466,239 and 436,328 respectively.

Bill Bryson’s Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid has also sold well, coming in second place with average weekly sales of 3,836. However, sales expectations have often been higher than the reality. Patrick Janson-Smith bought the rights for Bryson’s title in 2005, predicting UK sales in hardback alone would surpass one million copies. He was over optimistic, the title has sold 728,850 across all editions.

Publishers should not be swayed by big name biographies, as previous fair flops include Ken by Andrew Hoskin, about former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, for which Arcadia Books paid its “largest ever advance” in 2007. Cassell Illustrated also paid a “healthy five-figure sum” for world rights in the authorised biography of indie band Babyshambles. However, the ensuing title, Beg, Steal or Borrow by Spencer Honniball, has only sold 1,604 copies.

A number of deals reported are yet to result in publication. In 2007, Jamie Oliver’s long-time publisher Penguin, signed him up to write a memoir, which was due out in autumn 2008. The publisher said the book is “still very much on the radar”, but a new publication date has not been scheduled.

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