Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bestselling historical novels of 2009

This is the 3rd year in a row I'm posting info on the historical novels with the greatest reported sales. (See also the figures reported from 2008 and 2007.) The source for all of these is Publishers Weekly's annual Facts and Figures issue, and the corrected version of the article with the 2009 data appeared on April 5th.

Earlier this year, PW asked publishers to submit sales figures on titles that sold more than 100,000 copies during 2009. Only sales to bookstores, wholesalers, and libraries counted. Book club editions and overseas sales did not. I've pulled out data on the historical novels on the list for easier browsing.

For the first time, we find two historical novels among the top 10 in hardcover sales in 2009:

#3 - Kathryn Stockett, The Help (1,104,617 copies)
#10 - Michael Crichton, Pirate Latitudes (855, 638)

The remainder of the top 10, and indeed most of the top 30, is comprised mostly of thrillers (John Grisham, James Patterson, David Baldacci, and Patricia Cornwell each had at least two entries), Nicholas Sparks, Stephenie Meyer's The Host, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, and the long-awaited continuation of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time fantasy series. The top spot? Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, at 5.5 million copies.

Others outside the top 30, all with sales from 350,000 to 100,000 copies, in descending order:

Diana Gabaldon, An Echo in the Bone
Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna
Jeannette Walls, Half-Broke Horses
Lisa See, Shanghai Girls
John Irving, Last Night in Twisted River
Philippa Gregory, The White Queen
Jeffrey Archer, Paths of Glory
Sandra Brown, Rainwater
Anne Rice, Angel Time
W.E.B. Griffin, The Honor of Spies
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel's Game
Jeff Shaara, No Less than Victory
Katherine Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Jude Deveraux, Days of Gold
Edward Rutherfurd, New York: The Novel
E.L. Doctorow, Homer & Langley
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (was also on '08 list, plus sold 1.1 million copies in trade pb in '09)
Sandra Dallas, Prayers for Sale
Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, To Try Men's Souls

How many have you read? For me, just Deliverance Dane and Guernsey, unless Wolf Hall can also be counted (see below). Lots of diversity in this list, with a nice combo of historical thrillers, literary titles, commercial and women's fiction, and some alternate history.

On the list of trade pb bestsellers for '09, in addition to the Shaffer/Barrows (which is #5 on that list, fiction and nonfiction combined), you'll find other book club favorites like Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key and Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants as well as David Benioff's City of Thieves, Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and Toni Morrison's A Mercy, among others, plus, inexplicably, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. This is probably a mistake, since it's only available in hardcover. Reported sales were 180,000 copies in '09, and keep in mind that it was published in November. (It won the Booker in early October.)


  1. Thanks for posting this, Sarah! It's really interesting to see what HF books captured the public's attention (and wallets!).

    I have DELIVERANCE DANE in my TBR pile. Need to move it to the top! THE WHITE QUEEN is the only one I've already read.

  2. Very informative, Sarah. Thank you for this list!

  3. I've only read The White Queen, (and only half of that). Of the trade pbs, I have read Sarah's Key. I do want to read the Guernsey book at some point.

  4. Thanks for the list, Sarah! I -blush- have read none of the above! Though Wolf Hall is on my TBR, of course.

  5. I have read Shanghai Girls and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.
    Both very good reads.


    I loved WOLF HALL and wait for the next installment eagerly. And I was very pleased and a bit surprised with HOTEL. It was very touching.

  7. Interesting! I haven't read any of them, but I do have 3 or 4 of them in my TBR pile.

  8. I need to get going. I have only read a few. But with some of those, I am surprised that they are considered historical fiction.

    thanks for posting

  9. Books that I have any interest in never seem to do well on these lists, but then I am not much for thrillers or anything.

  10. I'm glad you're posting this. For me it was The Lost Symbol, The Help and An Echo in the Bone. I also bought Rainwater as a gift and got Wolf Hall from the library. Can't believe Water For Elephants is still making the list. I read it a couple years ago and loved it.

  11. Great list of great books. My book club really enjoyed The Help and I liked The Lost Symbol. I just picked up a historical fiction book called "Confucius Jade". I'm learning a lot about the history and politics of China. Can't seem to put it down.

  12. It is amazing how Water for Elephants has appeared on three successive bestseller lists.

    Lost Symbol is one I don't consider historical fiction (to clear up any confusion!). Ditto for the remaining thrillers and others in the top 30... but the rest, I would.

  13. I read New York and absolutely loved it. Tried to read the White Queen but I think I'm Gregory-ied out. Wolf Hall I'm afraid bored me, which surprised me as it's one of my favorite time periods.

  14. Of course I enjoyed the list because my own work is historical, but mostly I just wanted to say that, speaking of work, it took a lot of it to put all that info into that post! Thank you for doing that!

  15. Thanks for posting this, Sarah. I find it interesting to see which books are doing really well.

    Although I've only read a few, I've heard of nearly all of them, which goes to show how well marketing works for sales. There are some really amazing books out there that don't get the marketing (and thus sales) that they deserve.

    I recommend Transgression by James Nichol. It's the best book that no one has heard of!

  16. I keep meaning to read Transgression!

    One interesting thing about these books is that most have appeal far beyond the usual historical fiction audience. One of these (I won't say which one :) was a book I couldn't get a reviewer to take, and I wasn't particularly keen either. Eventually someone took it. But here it is on the bestseller list. Go figure.

    Since I posted the list, I've read Shanghai Girls and enjoyed it very much... and am looking forward to the sequel. There has to be a sequel!

  17. Thank you for your comments and bringing us a little closer to Michael Crichton's "Pirate Latitudes". I was pleasantly surprised as I read this book, knowing it was "discovered" after the authors death. It is described as a manuscript and reads as "raw" material, fresh from the authors pen.

    I too support your recommendation of "Pirate Latitudes".

    Marti Melville
    Author of "Midnight Omen Deja vu"