Library News

Inside 2015’s Category Bestsellers

Feb 02, 2016

Film adaptations, TV shows, and big names were behind many of the bestsellers in the adult categories we track

By Jonathan Segura |
Jan 29, 2016

Hollywood, perennial bestsellers, and publishing powerhouses were the engines behind the 2015 bestsellers in many categories on the adult fiction and nonfiction sides, with several of PW’s category bestseller lists looking a lot like greatest-hits compilations. (These lists are based on data from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks print sales at participating outlets.)

The big and small screens made themselves felt across several category lists, notably Science Fiction, where the top three titles were different editions of The Martian, and five others were related to a film or TV series. The Biography and Autobiography list was also heavily influenced by the movie business.

The Cookbooks list was dominated by TV personalities, with half of the top 10 books coming from authors who have shows on the Food Network or QVC. Media likewise had a huge impact on the History and Political Science list: seven of the top 10 books were by conservative media figures.

Though Paula Hawkins is by now a well-known author, she wasn’t when her debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, published last January. It blew away the competition on the Thrillers list, which is traditionally dominated by juggernauts such as Lee Child, John Grisham, and Stephen King.

The other (relative) surprise was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, a personal meditation on race in America that charted on the Biography and Autobiography list. In late June, in the wake of the police shooting of Walter Scott in Charleston, S.C., publisher Spiegel & Grau moved up the publication of the book from September to July. It’s been a bestseller list fixture since, won the National Book Award in the fall, and is a finalist for the NBCC Award.

Fiction

Comics

Rank Title 2015 Units Sold
1 The Killing Joke, Alan Moore, DC 69,913
2 The Walking Dead, Compendium 3, Robert Kirkman, Image 66,442
3 The Walking Dead, Compendium 1, Robert Kirkman, Image 60,493
4 Fun Home, Alison Bechdel, HMH/Mariner 52,403
5 Tokyo Ghoul, Vol. 1, Sui Ishida, Viz 50,541
6 Marvel Encyclopedia, DK 47,694
7 Civil War, Mark Millar, Marvel 46,652
8 The Walking Dead, Compendium 2, Robert Kirkman, Image 45,557
9 Saga, Vol. 4, Brian K. Vaughan, Image 41,073
10 Saga, Vol 5, Brian K. Vaughan, Image 38,281

Perennial bestsellers occupy the top spots of the Comics list, led by Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Collections did big business: all three of the Walking Dead compendiums are among the category’s bestsellers, along with volumes of both the Tokyo Ghoul horror manga and the paranormal SF Saga series. A big-budget film adaptation of Marvel’s Civil War, a collection of comics written by Mark Millar, will hit theaters in May.

Mystery

Rank Title 2015 units sold
1 Top Secret Twenty-One, Janet Evanovich, Bantam 200,068
2 Tricky Twenty-Two, Janet Evanovich, Bantam 189,437
3 The Murder House, Patterson/Ellis, Little, Brown 186,176
4 Gone Girl (MM movie tie-in), Gillian Flynn, Broadway 174,020
5 Flesh and Blood, Patricia Cornwell, Morrow 173,500
6 X, Sue Grafton, Putnam/Wood 159,667
7 The Cinderella Murder, Mary Higgins Clark, S&S/Pocket 144,316
8 Field of Prey, John Sandford, Berkley 138,676
9 Unlucky 13, Patterson/Paetro, Vision 129,420
10 Gone Girl (movie tie-in), Gillian Flynn, Broadway 127,621

 
The mystery category saw a 12% decline in print sales in 2015 from 2014, despite a barrage of bestsellers from the usual suspects. The erosion is largely due to mystery being a popular e-book category; even so, the thriller category, which draws many of the same readers, saw an annual gain in print sales.

Romance

Rank Title 2015 units sold
1 Grey, E.L. James, Vintage 1,406,868
2 See Me, Nicholas Sparks, Grand Central 445,531
3 Fifty Shades Darker, E.L. James, Vintage 241,896
4 The Longest Ride, Nicholas Sparks, Grand Central 230,596
5 Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James, Vintage 221,100
6 Fifty Shades Freed, E.L. James, Vintage 194,866
7 Fifty Shades of Grey (movie tie-in), E.L. James, Vintage 181,598
8 Stars of Fortune, Nora Roberts, Berkley 168,498
9 Whiskey Beach, Nora Roberts, Jove 158,471
10 The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion, Simon & Schuster 158,352

Similar to mysteries, print romance sales continue to be chipped away at by digital. The category posted a 9% unit sales decrease for the year. The print romance market is still vast (with 28 million physical copies sold in 2015), and is, like mystery, fueled by reliable powerhouses. E.L. James, Nicholas Sparks, and Nora Roberts posted big numbers last year, with James’s Grey coming it at #3 overall on our Romance list.

Science Fiction

Rank Title 2015 Units Sold
1 The Martian, Andy Weir, Broadway 673,041
2 The Martian (MM movie tie-in), Andy Weir, Broadway 246,118
3 The Martian (movie tie-in), Andy Weir, Broadway 198,532
4 Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, Broadway 175,162
5 Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel, Vintage 133,756
6 Star Wars: Aftermath, Chuck Wendig, Del Rey/LucasBooks 103,377
7 Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, Ballantine 87,567
8 Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick, HMH/Mariner 76,994
9 Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card, Tor 64,278
10 Seveneves, Neal Stephenson, Morrow 61,318

 
Film and TV had a big impact on the SF category last year, with The Martian becoming the genre’s hottest property thanks to the Matt Damon–led film adaptation. The new Jurassic Park film lifted sales of the original novel, and Amazon’s adaptation of Man in the High Castle was a boon for Philip K. Dick’s classic (it sold just shy of 7,000 copies in 2014). The new Star Wars flick, meanwhile, has set off a licensing gold rush, with Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath one of many books to catch fire.

Thrillers

Rank Title 2015 Units Sold
1 The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins, Riverhead 1,345,721
2 Rogue Lawyer, John Grisham, Doubleday 576,362
3 Gray Mountain, John Grisham, Dell 365,392
4 The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King, Scribner 322,298
5 The Girl in the Spider’s Web, David Lagercrantz, Knopf 305,929
6 Finders Keepers, Stephen King, Scribner 261,589
7 Cross Justice, James Patterson, Little, Brown 250,996
8 Personal, Lee Child, Dell 229,713
9 Memory Man, David Baldacci, Grand Central 229,277
10 The Guilty, David Baldacci, Grand Central 222,325

 
This time last year, The Girl on the Train was enjoying its second-straight week atop our Hardcover Fiction list. It would go on to stay there through mid-April, and stay in the top five until September. It outsold the #2 book in the thrillers category by 769,000 copies. Not bad for a debut novel from an imprint not known as a commercial fiction juggernaut.

Nonfiction

Biography/Autobiography

Rank Title 2015 units sold
1 American Sniper (movie tie-in), Chris Kyle, Morrow 851,457
2 The Wright Brothers, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster 443,801
3 American Sniper (MM movie tie-in), Chris Kyle, Morrow 354,536
4 Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand, Random House 341,446
5 Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Random/Spiegel & Grau 319,352
6 Unbroken (movie tie-in), Laura Hillenbrand, Random House 285,537
7 I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai, LB/Back Bay 270,604
8 Wild, Cheryl Strayed, Vintage 266,873
9 Killing Patton, O’Reilly/Dugard, Holt 261,821
10 Night, Elie Wiesel, Hill and Wang 214,941

 
The category notched a 3% increase overall in 2015 compared to 2014, with gains driven by film adaptations and name-brand authors. Two editions each of American Sniper and Unbroken feature in the top 10, and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild also rode a wave of Hollywood popularity. But the break-out book on the Biography and Autobiography list last year was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.

Business/Economics

Rank Title 2015 Units Sold
1 Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath, Gallup 528,506
2 Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey, Thomas Nelson 214,439
3 Get What’s Yours, Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Simon & Schuster 170,574
4 The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick M. Lencioni, Jossey-Bass 148,744
5 Money: Master the Game, Anthony Robbins, Simon & Schuster 140,360
6 Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry, Talentsmart 129,401
7 The Energy Bus, Jon Gordon, Wiley 123,299
8 Crucial Conversations, Patterson et al., McGraw-Hill 107,621
9 Start with Why, Simon Sinek, Penguin/Portfolio 99,077
10 Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink, St. Martin’s 92,285

 
The business category saw unit sales up 3% in 2015 over the previous year, with established authors (Anthony Robbins, Dave Ramsey) doing a lot of the heavy lifting, alongside category classics such as Strengths Finder, Crucial Conversation Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, and Emotional Intelligence.

Food

Rank Title 2015 Units Sold
1 The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime, Ree Drummond, Morrow 569,925
2 Thug Kitchen, Michelle Davis, Rodale 217,739
3 Make It Ahead, Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter 121,697
4 The Skinnytaste Cookbook, Gina Homolka, Clarkson Potter 117,832
5 The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, Ree Drummond, Morrow 115,535
6 Inspiralized, Ali Maffucci, Clarkson Potter 114,576
7 Blue Jean Chef: Delicious Under Pressure, Meredith Laurence, Walah! 114,147
8 The Food Lab, J. Kenji López-Alt, Norton 110,543
9 The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays, Ree Drummond, Morrow 96,726
10 Franklin Barbecue, Aaron Franklin, Ten Speed 94,230

 
Last year’s bestselling cookbooks support the notion that the category is platform driven: Food Network star Ree Drummond claimed three of the top 10 spots; Ina Garten took another. Other big titles included Thug Kitchen (originally a Tumblr) and a cookbook from QVC personality Meredith Laurence.

History/Political Science

Rank Title 2015 Units Sold
1 Killing Reagan, O’Reilly/Dugard, Holt 851,980
2 Dead Wake, Erik Larson, Crown 333,989
3 Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, Brian Kilmeade, Penguin/Sentinel 291,245
4 Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Liars, David Fisher, Holt 282,133
5 Plunder and Deceit, Mark R. Levin, S&S/Threshold 195,418
6 A More Perfect Union, Ben Carson, Penguin/Sentinel 194,502
7 It Is About Islam, Glenn Beck, S&S/Threshold 167,759
8 The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson, Vintage 162,479
9 Crippled America, Donald J. Trump, S&S/Threshold 155,306
10 The Witches, Stacy Schiff, Little, Brown 119,672

 
The category saw a 13% gain in 2015, with titles from conservative imprints dominating the top 10 list. Bill O’Reilly, Ben Carson, Glenn Beck, Brian Kilmeade, Mark R. Levin, and Donald Trump are the household names who have right-leaning category bestsellers. Outside the political arena, Erik Larson claimed two spots, and Pulitzer-winner Stacy Schiff took the #10 spot with The Witches.

Religion

Rank Title 2015 Units Sold
1 Jesus Calling, Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson 545,217
2 Fervent, Priscilla Shirer, B&H 164,740
3 The Power of I Am, Joel Osteen, Hachette/FaithWords 162,800
4 I Am a Church Member, Thom S. Rainer, B&H 150,064
5 For the Love, Jen Hatmaker, Thomas Nelson 130,429
6 The Battle Plan for Prayer, Stephen Kendrick, B&H 127,327
7 The Mystery of the Shemitah, Jonathan Cahn, Frontline 105,113
8 The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst, Thomas Nelson 99,146
9 Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, HarperOne 92,199
10 Jesus Calling (large print), Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson 90,793

 
One of the big stories out of the religion category in 2015 was the success of books related to the movie War Room. Fervent (#2 on the list) and The Battle Plan for Prayer (#6) are both companion books to the film. Other titles that helped to push a 13% gain in the category were various editions of Jesus Calling, Joel Osteen’s The Power of I Am, and Lifeway CEO Thom S. Rainer’s I Am a Church Member.

This article appeared in the 02/01/2016 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Inside 2015’s Category Bestsellers



  • 109 Crosby Street
  • Mansfield, LA 71052
  • p: 318.872.6100
  • f: 318.872.6120