Thursday, April 03, 2014

Bestselling historical novels of 2013

For the past seven years, I've analyzed Publishers Weekly's annual Facts & Figures articles to see which historical novels sold the most over the previous year.  The data for 2013 were published in PW's 3/17 issue, which just landed on my desk. As Daisy Maryles notes in her introduction, there are many familiar names overall particularly thriller writers but authors are having shorter tenures on the weekly bestseller lists.  With respect to historical novels, we're also seeing a few authors making their first appearance here in a while.

The usual disclaimers apply.  Books with hardcover domestic sales over 100K in hardcover or paperback were included in PW's list; publishers were asked to take returns into account, but these figures weren't often available at the time.

Here are the historical novels that made it on the list.  See also my previous posts on this topic from 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007.

Looking at hardcovers in 2013, one semi-historical novel made it into the top 15:

#5 - Nicholas Sparks, The Longest Ride, which traces an elderly couple's love story over decades, beginning in 1939.  Did you realize Sparks had written a novel set in the past?

Topping the hardcover list was Dan Brown's Inferno (no surprise) with over 1 million copies, followed closely by Stephen King and John Grisham.

Other historical novels with 100K+ hardcover copies sold, in descending order of sales:

Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller (a perennial bestseller's first work of historical fiction; while mostly present-day, several threads are set in the past)
Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things (read my review here)
Amy Tan, The Valley of Amazement
Fannie Flagg, The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion
Kate Atkinson, Life After Life (which won the historical fiction category in the Goodreads Choice Awards)
Clive Cussler and Justin Scott, The Striker
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

Look at the wide range of settings: Nazi Germany, 1800s America, early 20th-century China, the 1940s South, 20th-century England, 1902 America, and 1960s India.  None are set in the distant past, but nonetheless, readers can travel around the world through these historical novels.

This genre doesn't exactly thrive in mass market paperback format, so let's move on to the trade paperback list.  Here we find Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins (1960s), with 300K+ copies; Christina Baker Kline's unexpected bestseller Orphan Train, which had a nice PW profile last week; M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans, a bestseller in hardcover; The Paris Wife, which continues well on the book club circuit; Ken Follett's mammoth The Winter of the World; The Storyteller again, in its trade pb re-release; Kate Morton's excellent The Secret Keeper... to name many in the 150,000+ copy range.

The top seller in trade paperback overall?  F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  And looking at e-books, the top historical fiction seller is The Storyteller again (400,000+ copies).

How many have you read?  For me, just Signature of All Things and Winter of the World, but I have several others on the TBR.

18 comments:

  1. They have Amy Tan's Valley of Amazement and Kate Atkinson's Life after Life at my library. I'm on the wait list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've had Valley of Amazement sitting in a pile on my desk for the last six months - I'll read it one day, but the to-review pile needs to settle a bit first.

      Delete
  2. I've read none of them as none of them are what appeals to my personal tastes -- particularly the styles of writing of some of them.

    Love, C.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are a few I'm not likely to ever read either, but Signature of All Things in particular was very good (and the author wasn't a household name to me - I must be one of a handful of people not to have read her earlier bestseller. Or seen the movie).

      Delete
  3. I really liked this post! First, I had NO idea Sparks new book was considered historical fiction. Interesting. I also didn't pay attention to the fact that Picoult's new book had historical fiction in it. I have read both authors before, but not a huge fan. I loved Kate Atkinson's book last year. :) Most of these other books I want to read or have on my TBR.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd had no idea about the Sparks either, until a colleague of mine at the Historical Novels Review requested and received a review copy from the publisher. Since I rarely read contemporary issue-driven fiction, Picoult's work is new to me. I've heard that The Storyteller is one of her better efforts.

      Delete
  4. Thanks for putting the links to your previous year's posts - that was interesting too! Our book group is usually reading books a couple years after they came out so we don't have trouble getting copies. And I have to remind myself that these lists are of popular books, not necessarily good books!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a smart idea to wait a bit - that way you can get them in paperback (which are both cheaper and easier to read, at least for me). And your last point is also very true!

      OTOH, these bestselling authors, especially if the books ARE good, have the opportunity to put HF on the map and draw people's attention to it. Which is (usually) a good thing. :)

      Delete
  5. The only one I have read it The Signature of All Things which was an excellent read.

    ReplyDelete
  6. A great post :)
    I"ve read The Lowland, The Paris Wife, Beautiful Ruins and The Light Between Oceans. The Kate Atkinson I have a copy of but haven't read yet. Of those I've read I'd most recommend Beautiful Ruins.
    I kind of wish there were more historical novels up there, but the ones that are, do seem to be REALLY good - so that's good!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kate, glad you liked the post!
      My library has a copy of Beautiful Ruins that I've been meaning to borrow. And I'm working on an exhibit related to novels set in the '60s - I'll have to remember to include it in the display.
      The top sellers are nearly always thrillers and mysteries by the same writers who appear on the lists year after year, but historical novels are still making their mark!

      Delete
  7. I usually sample new books on my eBook reader before deciding to rent, wait, or buy. That has saved me some expensive mistakes because, as we know, bestseller lists aren't reliable shopping lists. Thanks for this information, Sarah.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jeanne - sorry, I don't know what happened to the reply I left earlier, but it's not here now.

      The ability to sample new books on my Kindle is valuable; I completely agree.

      Delete
  8. Life After Life was marvellous. Orphan Train looks fascinating. Gilbert's The Signature of All Things and Lahiri's The Lowland are on my Must Read list, which is much shorter than my TBR list but still requires that there be more hours in a day.

    I am curious about the inclusion of The Great Gatsby. Have often heard that the definition of historical fiction is that the events it describes must take place 50 years prior to when the book was written.

    Thanks for posting this interesting list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Shelley, and thanks for commenting!

      I'll be fortunate to live long enough to read all the books on my TBR. Orphan Train does look fascinating. I found it especially interesting that it became such a huge bestseller, to the surprise of apparently everyone.

      Re: The Great Gatsby, you're right, it isn't historical fiction, and I didn't mean to imply it was. I just found it noteworthy that an older title was the top seller in trade paperback format among all books published in 2013. Undoubtedly because of the film!

      Delete
  9. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Orphan Train and The Light Between . . . have been huge and consistent circulators here at the pub esp. for book clubs. Signature of all Things will be out in trade pb in June!

    Sarah OL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Curious - what do think is the reason behind Orphan Train's huge success? Genealogical interest? The dual-period structure? (Which other novels have, but haven't sold in those quantities...)

      That's good news about Signature. The pb design is so dark, though!

      Delete