Influencers rule the bestsellers lists – here’s what publishers want

Posted by Caroline Edwards in Comment

3 weeks ago

Being a bestselling author was once a coveted role few could achieve. A writer could spend years – decades – penning their opus, grafting to find a publisher and even then only dream of gaining recognition as the next Sally Rooney or David Nicholls. Now, thanks to the power of social media, becoming a bestselling author is entirely possible. Well, if you’re an influencer.

This week about a fifth of the 50 books on Amazon’s bestsellers list were written by influencers – from food and parenting Instagrammer Rebecca Wilson to food blogger Pip Payne and former Love Islander Dr Alex George. Being listed in these rankings is never a flash in the pan for influencers either – chef Anna Jones’ cookbook One was on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for 13 weeks and presenter Laura Whitmore’s debut – No One Can Change Your Life Except For You – has been on the Irish bestsellers list for 10 weeks.

It’s no surprise then that publishers are now releasing influencer titles at pace. The big book of this week? Lizzy Hadfield and Lindsey Holland’s Things You Can’t Ask Yer Mum – the literary companion to their podcast of the same name. Meanwhile, Scummy Mummies’ Helen Thorn announced her book, Get Divorced, Be Happy, mid-May and less than 24 hours later, it was one of Amazon’s top 100 bestsellers, landing the number one spot in divorce books ahead of its July release.

But not every influencer is successful in securing a publishing deal – earlier this month, YouTuber Katie Snooks shared her heartbreak at writing a book which no publishers wanted. So what are commissioning editors looking for when it comes to turning digital stories into literary gold? An editor – who wished to remain anonymous – from one of the UK’s biggest publishing houses says: “It is very appealing to work with an influencer who knows their audience inside out and can create a book which can tap into current trends and appeal directly to that market.”

In terms of publishing trends, she believes the focus is on medium-sized influencers (think 50- to 100K) who are affordable and have more time than those with audiences of millions who ask for “very high advances based on high subscriber numbers but ultimately are unable to deliver book sales as their followers are not as engaged.”

A frequently made observation of influencer books in reviews and columns is they are – as a genre – just not very good. Take Zoe Sugg’s 2018 lifestyle manual Cordially Invited, which encouraged readers to use umbrellas in the rain. In a Grazia piece, a publishing industry insider said: “I predict that 50% of all books deals with influencers are as a result of their followings rather than their writing capabilities or ideas.”

So why do these books dominate the charts when the authors are no Stephen King or Hanya Yanagihara? Because influencers have loyal followers who are fully bought into their culture. Speaking of Sugg, her debut – 2014’s Girl, Online – sold 78,000 in its first week of publication, making it the UK’s fastest-selling book of the year. That same year, lifestyle vlogger Tanya Burr’s book Love, Tanya debuted at #5 according to The Bookseller and in 2017, YouTuber Carrie Hope Fletcher’s All That She Can See was a top-three Sunday Times bestseller.

Given these insights, it seems Influencer marketing and publishing go hand-in-hand. For influencers, it’s a way to add depth to their personal brand, and for publishers, it’s a one-way ticket to a bestselling book with minimal marketing required. Win-win, right?

By Caroline Edwards, staff writer for CORQ. Picture credit: Lizzy Hadfield via Instagram.