Examining PW’s adult print bestseller lists from 2017 yields little in the way of trends. Most notable is the fact that it was the year the crayons quit: for the previous two years, coloring books dominated the trade paper list, but sales fell precipitously in 2017. There was nary a one to be seen in the top 25 slots, and of the few that wiggled onto the list, only one, Kerby Rosanes’s Mythomorphia, held on for more than a week or two, with six in total.
In 2016, the 31 trade paper coloring books that peppered the lists, six of which were in the longest-running group, hogged a total of 256 slots—19.6% of the 1,300 available positions. In 2017, eight coloring titles grabbed only 16 positions on the weekly list—a mere 1% of the total.
What remains status quo is the conglomerates’ dominance of the bestseller lists. The Big Five controlled 86.8% of the available places on hardcover lists and 84.6% for paperback. In 2016, those figures were 87.8% and 79.2%, respectively. Of the 279 hardcover fiction titles that hit the lists, a mere six came from outside the power publishers. Two were religious titles: The Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Cahn from Pen & Sword and Tyndale’s Without Warning by Joel C. Rosenberg. Kensington had two titles on the hardcover fiction list: Banana Cream Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke and Lisa Jackson’s You Will Pay. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt also had two titles hit the list (one in two different editions): William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, plus a deluxe edition of that title, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beren and Luthien.
Although Penguin Random House maintained its strong lead in most positions on the lists, it lost more than three percentage points on the hardcover list and 2.5 percentage points in paperback. In hardcovers, HarperCollins showed a gain of 3.4 percentage points; the Hachette Book Group was in third place, with a 13.4% share of hardcover slots and a 14% share of paperback slots. Hachette’s bestseller performance was helped a bit by its purchase of Perseus, which added three hardcover bestsellers. Macmillan had the biggest gain on the paperback list, adding more than four percentage points compared to 2016.
Nonfiction Lends a Helping Hand
Our Hardcover Nonfiction list revealed that readers wanted advice, be it religious (Sarah Young’s Jesus Always and Chip and Joanna Gaines’s The Magnolia Story), inspirational (The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu), authoritarian (Make Your Bed by William H. McCraven), or pragmatic (Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck, which was the longest-running bestseller on that list, holding out for 40 weeks, at #1 for three of them).
Only after beds were made, prayers dispensed, and apathy achieved did readers turn to science, politics, sociology, and issues of the day. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry stayed on the list a healthy 32 weeks and spent four weeks—the most of any nonfiction hardcover—at the #1 spot.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened hit #1 for two weeks and spent 14 weeks in total on the hardcover nonfiction list. Bill O’Reilly’s Killing the Rising Sun (written with Martin Dugard) remained on the list for weeks after he was fired from Fox. The memoir Al Franken, Giant of the Senate spent 18 weeks on the list before sexual misconduct accusations were leveled against its author, leading to his resignation from the Senate.
Fiction Shows Strength on Top
Spending 41 weeks on our Hardcover Fiction list in 2017 (plus an additional 12 in 2016), A Gentleman in Moscow banished all worries of a sophomore slump for author Amor Towles. It took the prize for longevity last year, with no other title coming close. In second place was Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, holding fast for 30 weeks (plus another 20 in 2016).
Last year saw 10 fiction titles that lasted more than 15 weeks on the list; 2016 had only seven, none of which stayed more than 25 weeks. The top seven titles accounted for 10.7% of the total 1,300 positions for fiction in 2016, while last year they accounted for 13%.
John Grisham, after 30 years in the game, still stuns with stats. He had two titles in the top 10 positions. The Whistler was on the 2017 list for 19 weeks after its late 2016 publication; his June title, Camino Island, hung on for 21 weeks after its June publication; and his most recent, The Rooster Bar (published in October), had spent eight weeks on the list as of year’s end, with five weeks in the #1 spot.
Norton had the only longstanding fiction title on the list not published by one the Big Five. Its Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman racked up 20 weeks.
Publishing first fiction in 2017 proved to be an even more excruciatingly Sisyphean task than usual. Of the six debuts that made it onto our bestseller lists, only two had staying power beyond a single week. One of them was Tom Hanks’s collection of stories, Uncommon Type, which scarcely counts as a debut because of his outsize celebrity and Midas magic; it hung on for nine weeks—certainly not an Oscar-winning performance. The second was Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling, which lived up to its prepublication buzz by appearing on the Hardcover Fiction list for five weeks.
In retrospect, 2016 seemed like a cakewalk for first timers. Of the nine debuts that hit the list last year, seven lasted more than a week and several boasted impressive longevity: Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, and Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter held spots on the list for 22, 13, and 11 weeks, respectively.
Movie Tie-in or Book Tie-in?
Perhaps people should start referring to some films as “book tie-ins.” Publishers can take pride in knowing that many of 2017’s bestselling movie tie-ins were from leading authors whose books made much more noise on the page than on the screen, demonstrating that the relationship between books and films is far from a one-way street. Among those that returned to bestseller lists were Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Stephen King’s It, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, and Lee Child’s Never Go Back.
Still, Hollywood helps publishers’ bottom lines. Morrow, in particular, benefitted this year with Hidden Figures, which rode the coattails of the movie adaptation’s Oscar-winning success. Holding the #1 spot on our Trade Paperback list for eight of its 30 weeks there, Hidden Figures was one of a very few books in the format to last more than a few weeks on top. In a more old-fashioned form of film-book synergy, in which a book owes its existence to a movie, Morrow also had a hit with Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture, written by the film’s official historian, Joshua Levine.
Hanging on to the Holy Grail
Many titles have had fleeting encounters with #1 status, but she remains a fickle mistress, and few held on for long. The longest-lasting chart toppers on our Trade Paperback list besides Hidden Figures were Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, with 18 weeks at #1, and Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers, with 10 weeks.
Across the other lists, including mass market, only John Grisham and Danielle Steel saw #1 for more than five weeks. As noted above, Grisham’s three books to reach the top garnered a combined 16 weeks: five weeks each for his two hardcovers and six for his mass market paperback. Steel’s mass market paperback of The Apartment enjoyed the #1 spotlight for five weeks.
The vast majority of bestselling nonfiction hardcovers spent only one or two weeks at #1. Of the 30 titles to reach the summit, five lasted for three weeks, one lasted for four weeks (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry), and one for five weeks (The Pioneer Women Cooks: Come and Get It!, Ree Drummond’s latest in her series of cookbooks).
Bestsellers by Corporation
How the Big Five fared on PW’s 2017 lists
|Books||Positions||Share 2017*||Share 2016*||Books||Positions||Share 2017*||Share 2016*|
|Penguin Random House||214||986||37.9%||41.0%||141||755||29.0%||31.5%|
|Hachette Book Group USA||73||349||13.4%||14.2%||65||364||14.0%||14.8%|
|Simon & Schuster||65||300||11.5%||12.1%||35||295||11.3%||8.4%|
*This figure represents the publisher’s share of the 2,600 hardcover and 2,600 paperback bestseller list positions during each year. (There are 25 positions on each of our four weekly adult bestseller lists: hardcover fiction and nonfiction, trade paperback, and mass market.)
PW’s 2017 Longest-running Bestsellers
|Weeks On||Hardcover Fiction|
|41||A Gentleman in Moscow |
|30||Underground Railroad |
|25||Before We Were Yours |
|21||*Camino Island |
|20||*Norse Mythology |
|19||*The Whistler |
|19||*Into the Water |
|17||Two by Two |
|17||*Lincoln in the Bardo |
|16||Small Great Things |
|Weeks On||Hardcover Nonfiction|
|40||*Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: |
A Counterintuitive Approach to
Living a Good Life
|39||Jesus Always: |
Embracing Joy in His Presence
|35||The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness |
in a Changing World
Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu
|34||*Make Your Bed: Little Things |
That Can Change Your Life...
William H. McRaven
|32||The Magnolia Story |
Chip & Joanna Gaines
|32||*Astrophysics for People |
in a Hurry
Neil deGrasse Tyson
|27||*Hillbilly Elegy |
|24||Born a Crime: Stories from |
a South African Childhood
Random/Spiegel & Grau (5)
|23||Killers of the Flower Moon: |
The Osage Murders and the
Birth of the FBI
|21||*Option B: |
Facing Adversity, Building
Resilience, and Finding Joy
Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant
|18||*Killing the Rising Sun: |
How America Vanquished
World War II Japan
Bill O’Reilly &
|18||*Al Franken, Giant of the |
|17||*Lose Your Belly Diet |
|16||The Whole30 Cookbook |
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (1)
|15||Tools of Titans |
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2)
|14||*What Happened |
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Simon & Schuster
|Weeks On||Mass Market Paperback|
|22||*The Whistler |
|20||*A Dog’s Purpose |
W. Bruce Cameron
|15||*Night School |
|15||*See Me |
|Weeks On||Trade Paperback|
|42||Lilac Girls |
Martha Hall Kelly
|38||All the Missing Girls |
Simon & Schuster
|37||*All the Light We Cannot See |
Simon & Schuster
|36||*The Woman in Cabin 10 |
Simon & Schuster
|34||The Nightingale |
|30||*Hidden Figures |
Margot Lee Shetterly
|29||*On Tyranny |
|29||The Couple Next Door |
|27||The Offical SAT Study Guide |
|27||*A Dog’s Purpose |
W. Bruce Cameron
|23||Behind Closed Doors |
|20||Two by Two |
|19||My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You... |
Washington Square (36)
|18||The Shack |
Wm. Paul Young
|18||The Zookeeper’s Wife |
|17||The Handmaid’s Tale |
|16||The Orphan’s Tale |
|16||The Nest |
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
|15||*The Girl on the Train |
|15||In a Dark, Dark Wood |
|15||What to Expect When You’re Expecting |
Heidi Murkoff & Sharon Mazel
|15||Being Mortal |
*These titles reached the #1 spot on PW’s weekly bestseller lists at least once in 2017.
Note: The numbers in parentheses indicate how many weeks the title in question spent on PW’s bestseller lists prior to 2017. PW’s 2017 longest-running bestsellers
Ranking the Houses
How the divisions and imprints competed in 2017
|Publisher||Titles on Lists||Positions on Lists|
|Simon & Schuster||26||126|
|Houghton Mifflin Harcourt||9||50|
|Random/Spiegel & Grau||4||31|
|Wizards of the Coast||3||4|
|America’s Test Kitchen||3||3|
|Grand Central Life & Style||2||2|
|Love Inspired Suspense||2||2|
|America’s Test Kitchen||4||6|
|Houghton Mifflin Harcourt||3||15|
|World Almanac Books||2||4|
|Chicken Soup for the Soul||2||2|
|Simon & Schuster||1||38|
|Old Farmer’s Almanac||1||3|
Note: Publishers that had a single title hit the lists for just one week are not included in the ranking. PW’s lists include only frontlist titles.
Bestsellers by Format
The table above indicates the number of titles that appeared on the bestseller lists in each format during the given year.