Thursday, 30 April 2009


There was an interesting piece in the Guardian yesterday (here) about the top-selling authors of fiction in seven leading European book makets. The survey was done by Rudiger Wischenbart and Miha Kovac, based on trade magazines in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands; you can find their fascinating Booklab blog here. From there you can also link to their original findings, which make far more interesting reading that the Guardian's potted summary.

Although the Guardian bills it as a 'diverse reading culture across Europe', the authors' own blog points out more accurately that none of the writers in their top 40 come from outside Western Europe (apart from Paulo Coehlo, 'Brazilian Portuguese'). Although Wischenbart told the Guardian you 'might have expected as many as 80% of the best-sellers to have been written in English', 13 of 40 still amounts to 1/3, though you'd have to agree that 2/3 of western Europe's best-sellers being non-English language is impressive.

Of course eight Swedes, from a country of only eight million people, is even more impressive, with four from the Netherlands following suit. Although Stieg Larsson was number one in five of the seven countries (based on chart position and length of stay factored together), Henning Mankell at 10 was the next highest placed Swede, while five English-language authors placed in the top 10: Khaled Hosseini (2), Ken Follet (4), John Boyne (7), Ceceila Ahern (8) and Elizabeth Gilbert (9). Of course, two of those are Irish, one American, and one Afghan-born, which lessens slightly any English national triumphalism.

The list is limited to 'adult' fiction, so Stephenie Meyer, who would place second overall, is excluded, as is JK Rowling. Both have multiple titles included in their totals, which is another problem when trying to compare like against like. I had thought Boyne's The Boy In Striped Pyjamas, was originally done as a young adult title, but became 'adult' as a result of the movie tie-in. Movies also boosted Ahern, for example, when PS I Love You came out. One other anomaly: Robert Saviano's Gomarra, obviously boosted by its movie tie-in, was marketed in some countries as fiction and others as non-fiction, and it's unclear from the chart and its notes whether it was thus excluded or included.

The other Swedes included Lisa Marklund (12--and she's going to be collaborating with James Patterson), Jan Guillot (15-- interestingly, Guillot's books, while wildy popular in Germany, haven't made much impression in English markets), and Jens Lapidus (17-- whose 'Stockholm Noir' trilogy, first volume titled Never Fuck Up, has yet to be published in English). Johan Theorin and Asa Larsson also make the list, along with Mark Levengood, an American-born Swedish-speaking Finn whose fame came via the Eurovision song contest and whose book, I assume, is non-crime.

I'm surprised at the paucity of American writers included. Apart from Gilbert, the only others were Patricia Cornwell, Patterson, and Mary Higgins Clark, all of whom placed in the 40s. Also down in that territory were England's Martina Cole and Nicci French, and the Indian/Australian Aravind Adiga. The top ten also includes Carlos Ruis Zafon, which may vindicate leaving the title of El juego del angelo in Spanish, and the German neo-feminist porno writer Charlotte Roche. And though I'm as encouraged as the Guardian by seeing Katie Price in close proximity to a French Nobel Prize winner, I question whether it's accurate of the paper to describe Price as 'an author writing in English', since she doesn't actually write her books at all.

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