For the next three weeks (starting last week, 4 December) the Bookseller is looking back at the UK book trade over the past decade. The first feature provided the 100 bestselling authors of 2000-2009 "drawn exclusively from Nielsen BookScan data". *
Hearteningly, the top author by far is J. K. Rowling, who this decade has sold a phenomenal 27,556,478 novels about schoolboy and eventual young adult wizard Harry Potter, at a value of about £216 million. That is presumably just for the books, the merchandising must add tremendously more than that. She's doing better than a country! Seriously, I am so pleased that this brilliant series of (seven) books, with such a strong message about the values of personal integrity and enduring love in a treacherous world, has been enjoyed by so many people and has had such a broad reach. It gives you hope.
Second is Dan Brown (just over 13 million sales of five religious and symbolic thrillers), third is Roger Hargreaves of the children's Mr Men and Little Miss series (11 and a half million sales of these distinctive small-format cartoonish books) and fourth Jacqueline Wilson (just under 11 and a half million), author of contemporary children's and teenage novels. Completing the top 10 are Richard Parsons (don't know him), Terry Pratchett (fantasy), John Grisham (legal supremo), Danielle Steel (romance sagas), James Patterson (increasingly bland thrillers) and, at tenth, Jamie Oliver (a celeb chef). I think this is a pretty good selection of authors – a couple of duffers maybe, but on the whole, it gives you a bit of hope for the human race, or at least that part of it that buys books in the UK! [Crime and thriller authors are in bold.]
Out of interest, how do crime-fiction authors fare in this list?
13 Alexander McCall Smith (6.5 million) Ladies' No 1 Detective Agency (Botswana); short, charming yet unflinching. Also other series one set in Scotland.
14 Ian Rankin (6.3 million) Inspector John Rebus (Edinburgh) and others. Police procedurals; alcoholic, smoking, loner protagonist.
17 Patricia Cornwell (6.1 million) Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta (Virginia, USA). Gruesome and, latterly, slow-paced and boring.
19 Martina Cole (5.6 million) East End of London gangster sagas. Plucky heroines.
35 Andy McNab (3.6 million) not read, but safe to say, military SAS type of stuff.
37 Michael Connelly (3.5 million) Harry Bosch, LAPD. Classic masterpieces of the genre.
41 Kathy Reichs (3.3 million) Forensic archaeologist Tempe Brennan. Quebec. Gruesome. slow-paced and boring.
44 Lee Child (3.2 million). Ex-army MP Jack Reacher roams round USA finding adventures.
53 Jeffrey Deaver (2.7 million) Lincoln Rhyme, paraplegic detective. USA somewhere. I've only read one, serial killer genre if that is anything to go by.
56 Harlan Coben (2.6 million). Myron Bolitar, sports agent detective, and several standalones. The author for whom the phrase "nail biting suspense" was coined. Exciting.
74 Karin Slaughter (2.2 million) Georgia coroner Sarah Linton. Good start to series, showing danger of becoming infected with 17 and 41 disease (gruesome and boring).
91 Peter Robinson (1.9 million). Alan Banks, Yorkshire. Good, classic police procedurals.
96 John Le Carre (1.8 million) Classic spy novels, latterly international conspiracies.
100 P D James (1.7 million). Adam Dalgliesh, senior cop. Was in London last time I read one but I think he's now on the East coast in retirement. Modern "golden age" novels.
Maybe next decade we may even see a translated author in this list – most likely Stieg Larsson (Sweden), though he only wrote three books so is at a disadvantage in a decade list. Other possibilities are Henning Mankell (Sweden), thanks to the recent TV films starring Kenneth Branagh as well as the Swedish TV versions being shown on UK TV. Outside chances are Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland) and Fred Vargas (France), who keep winning awards, or the sublime yet easy-to-read and short novels of Andrea Camilleri (Italy). All credit to the various translators, respectively Reg Keeland, Laurie Thompson and others, Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb, Sian Reynolds and Stephen Sartarelli (an award-winning poet in his own right).
As an addendum, three "classic" authors make it onto the list, J.R.R. Tolkien at 23 (sales of 5 million), William Shakespeare at 57 (2.6 million) and Charles Dickens at 93 (1.8 million). The last two of these will have had their sales helped by school syllabuses and the Royal Shakespeare Company et al., as well as the odd TV or film adaptation ;-) Enid Blyton is another high scorer, at 12 (6.8 million). My own favourite author, Ian McEwan, comes in at 36 (3.6 million). Just under Andy McNab! (But just above Michael Connelly.)
*Authors in this list are only counted as sole authors. So, for example, James Patterson is included only for his sole-authored novels, not his collaborations. Nora Roberts (not on the top 100 list) is counted as separate from her J.D. Robb persona, combined she would have made 88th place.