Without a face-off between a Big Five publisher and the world’s largest bookseller (a la Hachette vs. Amazon), or a major e-book price-fixing case (a la The Department of Justice v. Apple), 2015 was, by trade standards, a quiet year. As such, it was marked by unexpected new books from two bestsellers: E.L. James and Harper Lee. Also making headlines was the adult coloring book category, which evolved from fad to big business. Other events that piqued the interest (and sometimes ire) of our readers included the unveiling of the first physical bookstore from Amazon, and a dour report on author earnings. Below is a list of PW’s top news stories of the year.
New Fifty Shades Hits #1, as Vintage Heads to Press for 1.25 Million Copies
E.L. James surprised fans when she announced she would be releasing a fourth novel featuring the star-crossed, and occasionally tied-up, lovers in her Fifty Shades saga. The concept may have been thin (the same story, now told from the perspective of the guy instead of the girl), and the title a mouthful (Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian), but it didn’t stop the sales from rolling in. One day after the book was announced we ran this story, reporting that Random House’s Vintage imprint had already raised its print run to well above one million copies. Given Fifty Shades’ distinction as the fastest-selling adult title of all time, Grey’s jaw-droppingly high print run was, well, not so surprising.
Coloring Books Grow Up
We first wrote about Mel Elliot, a British author who had written a tongue-in-cheek coloring book featuring drawings of Ryan Gosling, back in 2013. At that time, Elliot’s Color Me Swoon was about to be released in the U.S. by Penguin’s Perigee imprint. Fast-forward two years and Elliot is one of a number of author/illustrators benefitting from massive demand for adult coloring books. With authors such as Johanna Basford (Secret Garden) and imprints such as Hachette Pratique (Art-thérapie series) boasting worldwide sales well into the millions, this deep dive into the unexpected success of adult coloring books showed how the subcategory went from an amusing oddity to sales powerhouse.
Inside Amazon's First Physical Bookstore
Opened in an upscale Seattle mall on November 3, Amazon Books, like many efforts from the retail giant, left those in the publishing industry with anxiety and questions. With its relatively small stock of titles (all of which feature a four-star-or-higher rating on Amazon) and its encouragement of showrooming (in which customers access prices by scanning a book’s barcode with the Amazon app on their smartphone), the store is “a far cry from the bookstore as we know it,” as our reporter noted at the time.
Hamilton Ends Deal with SMP Claiming Lack of Support
Authors switch publishing houses all the time for various reasons, but rarely do they make those reasons public. So when two-time Edgar-winner Steve Hamilton announced he was pulling his forthcoming thriller from St. Martin’s Press because the publisher was doing too little in the way of marketing and promotion, people in the industry took notice. In outlining his gripe with his longtime publisher, Hamilton highlighted one of the dirty little secrets in the business: a lot of big houses don’t do very much to promote their midlist authors.
Harper Lee to Publish Sophomore Novel
It was the literary equivalent of stumbling upon Atlantis. That’s essentially what HarperCollins had in Go Set a Watchman, a not-previously-known-about new book by the author of one of the most beloved and bestselling novels written in the 20th century. Initially thought to be a sequel—and later revealed to be an early (and rejected) first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird—Watchman, discovered by Harper Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, was not published without controversy. It led to an elder-abuse investigation, which was quickly dropped, into whether the reclusive 88-year-old Lee was manipulated into publishing the work. Whatever machinations led to the book’s release—no shortage of media outlets have offered theories—none of it mattered in the end. Watchman went on to become one of 2015’s biggest sellers, as well as one of its biggest publishing stories.
New Guild Survey Reveals Majority of Authors Earn Below Poverty Line
People often say writing won’t make you rich, but if the results from this report from the Authors Guild are to be trusted, that adage may need to be made a bit more bleak. While some in the industry questioned the methodology of the survey—the first on author income from the guild since 2009—its grim takeaways were hard to ignore. The most depressing stat? That the majority of authors would be living below the federal poverty level if they relied solely on income from their writing.
Note: This list reflects the most-trafficked news stories PW published in 2015. Some stories appeared only online, and others appeared first in print and then online.