One of the more positive notes sounding in 2020 is that people in the UK almost doubled the amount of time they spent reading during lockdown. Only 10% of adults, according to a study by Nielsen, said they read less. This is also interesting in the context that people’s social media use went up 72% this year – people are still reading as well as scrolling so it’s no surprise to see the glut of influencer books packing the bestseller lists. It’s the perfect publishing storm.
Influencer books tend to fall into categories: either they are another brand brick in the influencer’s portfolio, one that continues to establishes them as an authority. Or they are collector pieces – like merchandise, if you will – and they are bought by the influencer’s ravening audience, keen to own every piece of content produced by their favourite. You only have to look at the success of OG YouTuber Zoe Sugg’s debut fiction novel, Girl Online, which was the fastest selling debut fiction book of all time and topped the Sunday Times Bestseller list in 2014. And there is the other, more elusive category which is the one that becomes a cultural moment in itself. The unicorn of the book world, but more on these later.
A quick glance at the Amazon Bestseller List 2020 (so far) reveals an interesting landscape – the murder of George Floyd and subsequent spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement meant that two 2018 books by BAME authors returned to the top of the charts: Akala’s Natives and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Charlie Mackesy’s book has long been a bestseller but Covid has imbedded The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse into British consciousness and it has been unassailable on all book lists. Also, worth noting is the success of the freshly-honoured Joe Wicks’ Wean in 15 – and his Lean in 15 topped last year’s charts. People are following his journey as his offering expands. Ella Woodward’s latest culinary concoction, Quick & Easy, has been a quick and easy hit. There is also the massive continued success of the BOSH TV team’s book, BOSH!, which is still a hit two years after its release, and is the highest-selling vegan recipe book of all time.
Now to the unicorn – there are three books in the 2020 bestseller list by Sophie Hinchcliffe, AKA Mrs Hinch. This includes her October 2020 memoir, which is dominating the Sunday Times chart. The success of Mrs Hinch is unprecedented – her memoir This Is Me is the biggest single-week seller of any title this year to date, and her first book, 2019’s Hinch Yourself Happy, was the second fastest selling non-fiction book of all time (the first being Pinch of Nom). Mrs Hinch is a digital-first phenomenon, whose cleaning videos on Instagram gained her a – and we do not use this term lightly – cult-following. Mrs Hinch is represented by the influencer literary agent, the powerhouse that is Abigail Bergstrom, head of publishing at Gleam Titles. In August this year, Gleam Titles posted the following on Instagram: “We are thrilled to have not one, not two, but THREE of our books in this week’s Sunday Times Bestseller charts! Celebrating at number 3 in the charts on the first week of publication we have Mum Life by @louisepentland 👩👧👧🎈in at number 4 we have Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by @florencegiven 💅🏼🚫and at number 10 we have Hinch Yourself Happy by @mrshinchhome 🧼👏🏼 a huge congratulations to all of our talented authors!”
Bergstrom has been guiding the talents of Mrs Hinch and Louise Pentland as well as the likes of Florence Given and Emma Gannon – her roster of representation reads as a who’s who of the influencer scene. The Gleam Titles mission is simple: “our USP is digital-first, and we work with writers to help them nurture a direct connection with their audience across social media. Our aim is to develop a long-term strategy with our writers and to grow long-term value in their books across multiple media platforms.” So for Gannon, for example, it has been a book about her multi-hyphen life, a book pegged to her podcast, a millenial-targeting novel and now a handbook to combat self-sabotage, establishing her as an authority for a generation, giving an eco-system for all her work. Gannon’s latest offering, Sabotage, began life as an essay for The Pound Project, the crowdfunding imprint that works with influencers to create small tomes that have often developed into longer form works. So Pandora Sykes’s essay – The Authentic Lie -previewed her set of essays How Do We know If We’re Doing It Right which was a Sunday Times bestseller this summer. The Pukkas, Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson, wrote a short story, Quarantine. Its first 24 hours on Kickstarter were the most successful of any Pound Project to date, and the pair have just inked a deal for their debut novel, Underbelly. Incidentally Abigail Bergstrom’s debut novel – What A Shame – will be published in 2022.
Then there is the cultural moment that is the artist known as Florence Given whose debut Women Don’t Owe You Pretty has made her the youngest author ever to spend over 12 consecutive weeks on the Sunday Times Bestseller List. So who else is booking it? Well, the aforementioned Zoe Sugg is back in the publishing arena with another fiction first this month – she is releasing a young adult gothic thriller entitled The Magpie Society with Amy McCulloch, having each written alternating chapters. Candice Brathwaite’s I’m Not Your Baby Mother came out in May and Erica Davies’s styling tome Leopard is a Neutral has been a hit with the sartorial set. Cultural commentator Raven Smith’s Trivial Pursuits was a Sunday Times bestseller and he has been described as Instagram’s David Sedaris. Education vlogger Jack Edwards released Uni-verse, The Ultimate University Survival Guide although it probably wasn’t his year.
Another hit is TV and Instagram cutie Georgia Toffolo’s chick-lit tome Meet Me In London and comedian Romesh Ranganathan’s As Good As It Gets came out in October. Also worth keeping an eye on is Niran Vinod and Damola Timeyin, whose book How To Build It will be published by Merky Books later this month as part of the imprint’s “How to…” series.
As far as authority publishing goes, they don’t come much more powerful than Caroline Hirons, whose skinCARE: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide has been a smash. This is a woman who can make or break a moisturiser over YouTube. Ditto another win for soggy bottoms – Nadiya Hussain’s book Nadiya Bakes came out this month and is already a bestseller. Other influencers continuing to build on their brand success include Chris Ramsey and his wife Rosie whose book based on their hit podcast, Shagged Married Annoyed, is also chart-topping. Another tiny point of interest is the hastily published book Olive, Mabel & Me by sports broadcaster Andrew Cotter, whose sporting commentary over his Labradors were a lockdown sensation.
Looking ahead to 2021, there are some significant announcements already. Sophie Beresiner is writing her second book, The Mother Project, which will be released in March 2021. Beresiner’s surrogacy journey has been a hit with readers in The Times and on Instagram and she is continuing to chart her journey now that her baby has arrived. Bryony Gordon has written another book – her fifth – this one tacking mental health provision, called No Such Thing As Normal (January). Gordon’s book about her alcoholism, Glorious Rock Bottom, came out in the summer. Also double-booking is Otegha Uwagba who is releasing her book, Whites – which covers racism and whiteness – in November and her second, We Need To Talk About Money in May 2021. Connie Glynn is writing the fourth in her Princess series and Grace Beverley’s success manual Working Hard/Hardly Working is due to appear on our shelves next year. Last but not least is Munroe Bergdorf’s debut Transitional which will be out in 2021, published by Bloomsbury after an 11-way auction. Her agent? Abigail Bergstrom.