Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing surpassed one million print copies sold in 2019, making it the feel-good publishing story of the year. The debut novel, preempted by Putnam’s Tara Singh Carlson in December 2017 and published by the Penguin Random House imprint in August 2018, is the rare adult fiction novel to sell more than one million print copies in a year. In 2018, for instance, the top-selling adult novel was The President Is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton, which sold more than 703,000 print units at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. In 2017, Origin by Dan Brown sold more print copies (almost 747,000) than any other adult novel. The success of Crawdads is also notable because it was written by a debut author, not a big name such as Patterson or Brown.
Crawdads, which is set in 1950s North Carolina and melds a coming-of-age tale with a romance and a mystery, got off to a respectable start. After its August 2018 release, it sold 186,000 print copies through December 30 of last year. The book really took off, though, in the week ended March 23, when it sold more than 75,000 copies. Since that time, print sales have ranged from about 38,000 to 49,000 copies per week (it sold 49,000 copies in the week ended July 20). Since the beginning of this year, Crawdads has been the #1 overall print bestseller on BookScan for eight weeks and the #1 adult fiction title for 22 weeks.
So what made the novel click? Popular wisdom has credited much of Crawdads’ success to Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club, which selected the title as its September 2018 pick. From there, strong word-of-mouth has helped push the book, which has been celebrated for its lush descriptions of the natural world, into the sales stratosphere. (Sources close to the publisher have also noted that, though print sales for the title are huge, e-book and audio sales, which BookScan does not track, are even bigger.)
Given Crawdads’ setting, it’s not surprising that it has performed particularly well in the South, which has accounted for 39% of its print sales this year. The book has done the best in what BookScan calls the South Atlantic region (Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Maryland; North Carolina; South Carolina; Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and West Virginia), which accounted for 24% of the novel’s print sales this year.
Angel Schroeder, owner of Sunrise Books in High Point, N.C., said she had initially been cool to the title, based on its synopsis. But once she read it, she said, she loved it. “The strong female protagonist is very well drawn, she’s not an angel, which makes the book interesting,” she added.
Crawdads has been one of the bestselling titles at Sunrise since it opened in 2016, Schroeder said, and it remains a steady seller. “I have a customer who keeps coming in and buying it to give away as gifts,” she noted. “It’s one of the $28 hardcovers that’s really worth the money.” She predicted that the store will do very well with the paperback edition whenever it is released.