Books abroad: The international reach of bestsellers

One fascinating thing that I do with BookScan data every year is to put together the international bestsellers, across all print editions and translations in the markets that we cover (UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico). The result is often surprising, as a book can be hovering outside of the top titles for a few different countries but then cumulatively be boosted into the upper echelon. And while the UK can be instrumental in deciding those bestselling titles, given the size of the market, two of the top ten books in 2021 saw higher sales elsewhere. Can you guess which two?

Not to leave you in suspense for long: ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller and ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear sold more copies outside of the UK in 2021, the former in Italy, where it ranked third for the year, and the latter in India, sitting at fourth in the annual chart. On the surface, these books might not seem to have anything in common, but one thing ties them together: popularity on TikTok, which has of course had a hand in many a backlist boost. ‘The Song of Achilles’ reached especially impressive levels – 2021 sales were more than double the previous ten years combined across BookScan territories. And aside from the countries contributing the highest sales, both books made other chart appearances as well, with ‘Atomic Habits’ among the top 20 books in Ireland, South Africa and Australia and ‘The Song of Achilles’ the fiction bestseller in Mexico.

On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Pinch of Nom Quick & Easy’ by Kay Allinson & Kate Allinson was the most concentrated in the UK, followed by Richard Osman’s ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ and ‘The Man Who Died Twice’. ‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy made the top ten in the most countries (UK, Ireland, Australia and South Africa), followed by three appearances for ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens (UK, Ireland and Australia), with both banking their second year in a row among the global bestsellers (also accomplished by ‘The Thursday Murder Club’). ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ managed a more widespread base, with nearly 40% of sales coming from outside the UK; the forthcoming film will likely help sales of the novel remain varied in 2022, although we’ll have to wait and see if it can achieve a third year in the top ten.

Over 40% of the copies of ‘The Christmas Pig’ by J.K. Rowling were bought outside the UK, with Italy also a large market for the title, at a quarter of sales. However, the Christmas tale wasn’t the children’s bestseller in any individual country, coming in second in both the UK and Italy; strong cumulative sales brought it into the global top ten, ahead of usual frontrunners Jeff Kinney (‘Big Shot’ made it to 15th overall, and second in children’s) and David Walliams (17th overall, and fourth in children’s). That’s a big change from as recently as two years ago, when the 2019 international top ten featured three Walliams books and the latest ‘Wimpy Kid’, and only one adult fiction title. Fiction certainly took the lead in 2021, and even beyond the top ten we see (again pointing to TikTok) ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid, ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell and ‘It Ends With Us’ by Colleen Hoover all ahead of ‘Big Shot’ based on international sales, and then ‘They Both Die at the End’ by Adam Silvera ahead of ‘Megamonster’.

Featured in the UK Book Market in Review 2021, based on data collected from BookScan retailer panels in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico. For more information, please contact