Sarah Perry wins Book of the Year at The British Book Awards

Word-of-mouth sensation THE ESSEX SERPENT crowned Book of the Year

As JK ROWLING is honoured at the British Book Awards

The astonishing word-of-mouth fiction sensation, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, has been crowned Book of the Year at the British Book Awards (or “Nibbies”), beating off stiff competition from a diverse range of literary heavyweights and commercial blockbusters including astronaut Tim Peake’s Hello, is this Planet Earth?, Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s break-through novel for young adults, The Girl of Ink & Stars and the award-winning East West Street by leading international lawyer and QC Philippe Sands.

Credit: Graham Turner

Credit: Graham Turner

The Books of the Year, which uniquely celebrate books that have been both well-written and brilliantly published, were awarded tonight in six categories:  Fiction, Debut Fiction, Non-Fiction: Narrative, Non-Fiction: Lifestyle, Children’s and Crime & Thriller. The Essex Serpent, published by Profile Books’ fiction imprint Serpent’s Tail, not only won the Fiction Book of the Year award, but also beat all other category winners.

The team behind The Essex Serpent truly embodies the value of the prize. Bringing remarkable talent, a charismatic author and sublime storytelling - as well as exquisite cover design - to the fore, the entire team mobilised behind the book to deliver a hugely impressive grassroots campaign on a minimal budget. This beautifully evocative gothic novel inspired by a local legend in Perry’s native Essex went on to become a Waterstones Book of the Year and an original fiction hardback number one bestseller, selling over 200,000 copies - 40 times more than the initial sales target.

 Coming from both the impressive literary imprints of the industry’s powerhouses, as well as independent publishers, the six Books of the Year category winners at tonight’s Nibbies together show a resurgence of the printed book, with physical book sales on the up in what has been a record breaking year for the publishing industry. According to recently released Nielsen data, print sales of consumer book titles – fiction, non-fiction and children’s titles – rose almost 9% in 2016 to £1.55bn and overall sales of books and journals reached £4.8bn, their highest ever level.

The extraordinary East West Street by Philippe Sands from Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Orion) triumphed over Bruce Springsteen’s memoir Born To Run and crowdfunding success The Good Immigrant to win Non-Fiction: Narrative Book of the Year. Blending history and memoir with a study of international law, East West Street tells the story of a family tragedy, the Nuremberg trials, and explores how guilt and memory leave lasting scars across generations. It has also won the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, and was selected as Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month for April 2017.

British legend, astronaut Tim Peake also triumphed with a win in the Non-Fiction: Lifestyle category for his collection of breath-taking images of planet Earth taken from the International Space Station in Hello, is this Planet Earth? (Century, Penguin Random House) winning out over Sarah Turner’s The Unmumsy Mum and health and fitness sensation ‘Lean in 15’ Joe Wicks, to scoop the hotly contested prize.

Winning Children’s Book of the Year was another Waterstones Book of the Month The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, a pacey and lyrical young adult novel from Chicken House which saw off household names JK Rowling, David Walliams, Tom Fletcher and Nadiya Hussain. Independent publisher Chicken House’s entire team of 9 staff threw themselves behind the heart-warming and magical debut, which also went on to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017.

Also announced at tonight’s award ceremony was the Debut Book of the Year, the dark and intensely poetic What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell, published by Picador (Pan Macmillan). Launched with an exceptional publicity campaign, it became one of the biggest international literary sensations of 2016.  In a triumph for independent publishing, Dodgers by Bill Beverly, a coming-of-age debut thriller set in the criminal underworld of the US, published by small indie No Exit Press won the Crime and Thriller Book of the Year.

 Fiction Book of the Year - Sarah Perry’s electrifying second novel The Essex Serpent, beat 2016 Man Booker Prize winner The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Oneworld, 2016 Independent Publisher of the Year) and winner of 2016 Costa Book of the Year, Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber), as well as bestselling authors Maggie O’Farrell, Victoria Hislop and Jessie Burton, before going on to win the top prize of the night – Book of the Year.

In this record breaking year for the publishing industry, record-breaker and all-time international number one bestselling author JK Rowling was duly honoured tonight for her Outstanding Contribution to the book trade.  Her latest book, the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed child written with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (Little, Brown and Pottermore), was the biggest selling book of 2016. Her impact on the trade has been remarkable:  in each year there has been a new Harry Potter the overall book market grew, with 2007 Deathly Hallows taking the sector to an all-time high of £1.79 billion.  Fellow children’s writer and Children’s Book of the Year shortlistee, David Walliams credits her with keeping children reading at a time when they could have been distracted by digital. Her legacy is incalculable and it is worth remembering that JK Rowling received eight rejection letters before being accepted by Bloomsbury children’s editor Barry Cunningham – now at the helm of Chicken House - in 1997.   

On receiving the Outstanding Contribution to the book trade, JK Rowling said:

“How thrilled I am to receive the Bookseller’s Association Outstanding Contribution Award.  Twenty years ago I would hardly have believed I’d have a book published, let alone an accolade as wonderful as this; I am truly honoured and overwhelmed.

But tonight is really all about you, the booksellers, without whom of course there would be no bestsellers. I want to thank you all for supporting my books throughout the years –this award is really for you! Thank you!”

Book of the Year winner, Sarah Perry, said:

“I am absolutely delighted the extraordinary work of my team at Serpent’s Tail has been honoured in this way. It’s a prize for everybody. The team understood everything I wanted to achieve – and they achieved it for me.”

Hannah Westland, Editor of The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry at Serpent’s Tail said:

“This journey has been a masterclass in how it’s done. It’s been fun and such a pleasure.”

Cathy Rentzenbrink, Chair of Judges for Books of the Year and Contributing Editor, The Bookseller, said:  

“The Essex Serpent is a joyous and beguiling novel that made me wish I was a bookseller again so I could press it into the hands of all my customers. Luckily, booksellers up and down the land felt the same urge and it has been a delight to see the care and attention lavished on this book by Serpent's Tale reap great dividends. The Essex Serpent is a perfect winner of this prize - a stunning book published with both skill and love that engaged the entire industry.”

Produced by leading industry magazine The Bookseller, the British Book Awards, or Nibbies, is the definitive event for honouring the commercial successes of publishers, authors and bookshops.

The Nibbies brings together Books of the Year with trade accolades such as Publisher of the Year and Book Retailer of the Year. The idea behind the books of the year is to celebrate the whole journey from the author’s mind to the reader’s hand, and showcase the range and depth of modern publishing.


Book of the Year

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)


Books of the Year Category Winners

Fiction Book of the Year: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)

Debut Book of the Year: What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (Picador)

Crime &Thriller Book of the Year: Dodgers by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)

Non-fiction: Narrative Book of the Year: East West Street by Philippe Sands (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Non-fiction: Lifestyle Book of the Year: Hello, is this Planet Earth? by Tim Peake (Century)

Children’s Book of the Year: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House)


The Shortlists



Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber)

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Oneworld)

The Muse by Jessie Burton (Picador)

Cartes Postales from Greece by Victoria Hislop (Headline Review)

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline)

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail) - WINNER



The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon (TheBorough Press)

The Girls by Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus)

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal (Viking)

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (Picador) - WINNER

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris (Doubleday)

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (Faber)


Crime and Thriller BOOK OF THE YEAR

The Widow by Fiona Barton (Bantam Press)

Dodgers by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press) - WINNER

Night School by Lee Child (Bantam Press)

Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant (Mulholland Books)

Conclave by Robert Harris (Hutchinson)

I See You by Clare Mackintosh (Little, Brown)


Non-Fiction: Narrative BOOK OF THE YEAR

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon (Headline)

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (The Bodley Head)

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate)

East West Street by Philippe Sands (W&N) - WINNER

The Good Immigrant, ed by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound)

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)


Non-fiction: Lifestyle BOOK OF THE YEAR

Hello, is this Planet Earth? by Tim Peake (Century) - WINNER

Sidemen: The Book by The Sidemen (Coronet)

The Unmumsy Mum by Sarah Turner (Bantam Press)

Five on Brexit Island by Bruno Vincent (Quercus)

Lean in 15: The Sustain Plan by Joe Wicks (Bluebird)

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (Penguin Life)



The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher, Shane Devries (illus) (Puffin)

Oi Dog! By Kes & Claire Gray, Jim Field (illus) (Hodder Children’s Books)

Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story by Nadiya Hussain, Clair Rossiter (illus) (Hodder Children’s Books)

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House) - WINNER

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J K Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (Little, Brown and Pottermore)

The World’s Worst Children by David Walliams, Tony Ross (illus) (Harper Collins Children’s Books)

·         The Judges: The overall Book of the Year judges are: Cathy Rentzenbrink, chair of judges, author and contributing editor of The Bookseller; Sarah Shaffi, deputy chair of judges and online editor and producer The Bookseller; Peter Florence, director, Hay Festival; Sam Baker, author, editor in chief of The Pool; Dorothy Koomson, author of My Best Friend’s Girl and The Woman He Loved Before; June Sarpong, TV presenter and author; Damian Barr, author of Maggie & Me.


·         The category winners were decided by six panels of judges:



Alice O’Keeffe – chair (Books Editor, The Bookseller)      

Hannah Trevarthen (Events and Development Manager, English Pen)

Claire Armitstead (Literary Editor, The Guardian)

Chris White (Head of Publisher Liaison and Fiction, Waterstones)

Charlotte Heathcote (Arts Editor, Daily and Sunday Express)

Eric Karl Anderson (Blogger, Lonesome Reader)               


Debut fiction BOOK OF THE YEAR:

Matt Bates – chair (Fiction Buyer, WHSmith Travel)

Sharmaine Lovegrove (Books editor, Elle)

Ted Hodgkinson(Literature Director, Southbank)

Fanny Blake (Books Editor, Woman & Home; Debut novels, Daily Mail)

Alex Clark (Journalist The Guardian & Observer; Bath Festival Artistic Director)

Alison Finch (Books planning producer BBC Radio 4)


Crime & Thriller BOOK OF THE YEAR:

Joseph Knox – chair (Author Sirens)

Sandy Mahal (Director of UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature)

Dreda Say Mitchell (Author)

Jake Kerridge (Critic: Daily Telegraph, Sunday Express)

Sheila O'Reilly (Village Books, Dulwich)


Non-fiction: Narrative BOOK OF THE YEAR:

Cathy Rentzenbrinkchair (Author The Last Act of Love, A Manual for Heartache, contributing editor The Bookseller)

Suzanne O'Sullivan (Author of It's All in Your Head)

Robbie Millen (Literary Editor, The Times)

Lucy Menendez                (Director, Books WHSmiths)

Arifa Akbar (Critic: The Guardian, Financial Times)

Katharine Fry (Trade Buying Manager, Blackwell’s)


Non-fiction: Lifestyle BOOK OF THE YEAR:

Caroline Sanderson – chair (Associate Editor and non-fiction previewer for The Bookseller)

Karen Brindle (Book buyer, Tesco)

Katie Law (Deputy Literary Editor and Features Writer, Evening Standard)

Suzi Feay (Critic, Financial Times)

Richard Humphreys (Retailer, Waterstones)



Fiona Noble – chair (Children's and YA Previews Editor for The Bookseller)           

Tricia Adams (Director, School’s Library Association)

Rachel Foster (Books Editor, Mumsnet)

Tamara MacFarlane (Owner, Tales on Moon Lane)

Juno Dawson (Author, Spot the Difference, This Book is Gay)

Charlotte Colvill (Retailer, Foyles Bookshop)

David Solomons                (Author, My Brother is a Superhero, winner British Book Award 2016)

Dan Mucha (Director for books, Amazon)