British Book Awards 2017: The ‘Nibbies’ Honor Literature and Industry

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The combination of the UK’s leading book industry awards with the ‘Nibbies’ produces The Bookseller’s broad picture of a robust and busy books community.

Little, Brown’s Kate Hibbert, left, is the British Book Awards’ 2017 Rights Professional of the Year. Here, she’s pictured with Dorothea Grimberg of Frankfurt Book Fair, which sponsors the award. Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

23 Categories of Prideful Accomplishment
In the inaugural year of its newly expanded British Books Awards, The Bookseller gave out both literary and industry awards on Monday evening (May 8) at London’s Grosvenor House.

As Publishing Perspectives reported from London Book Fair, the “Nibbies” name was acquired by The Bookseller from the estate of Publishing News’ founder, Fred Newman. While that awards program had lain dormant for some time, it was revived this year, unifying the British Book Industry Awards and the British Book Awards for the first time since 2004.

And the program produced a particularly busy set of 23 shortlists in both business and literature.

One of the key individual awards covered here at Publishing Perspectives is the Rights Professional of the Year, an award that’s sponsored by Frankfurt Book Fair (October 11-15 this year), reflecting the trade show’s prime emphasis on rights as a means for world publishing to expand its revenue sources.

Kate Hibbert

Kate Hibbert

The winner of that award this year–suggesting that the fourth time, not the third, is the charm—is Kate Hibbert, of the Little, Brown Book Group, a four-time shortlisted nominee for the honor.

In commentary provided on her win, prize organizers write, “The judges were impressed with Kate Hibbert’s passion for her authors, tenacity in negotiations, and a knack for pairing the right book with the right publisher.

“Her win this year is a reward for a magnificent 2016 in which she steered Little, Brown to a best-ever rights year, notching up an average of almost three deals a day in more than 40 different languages.” No stranger to linguistics, Hibbert studied in the University of London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Honored in three other categories under the over-arching label of “Great People,” were:

  • Juliet Mabey of Oneworld, named Editor of the Year;
  • Catherine Clarke of Felicity Bryan Associates, named Literary Agent of the Year; and
  • Rebecca MacAlister of Blackwell’s, Oxford, named Individual Bookseller of the Year.
Six Wins in Literature

The key element of expansion in the awards program this year–what comes with the Nibbies acquisition, in essence–is the literary set of awards, which produced six winners:

  • The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House), named Children’s Book of the Year
  • Dodgers by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press), named Crime and Thriller Book of the Year
  • What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (Picador), named Debut Book of the year
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail), named both Fiction Book of the Year and Overall Book of the Year
  • Hello, Is This Planet Earth? by Tim Peake (Century), named Nonfiction Lifestyle Book of the Year
  • East West Street by Philippe Sands (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), named Nonfiction Narrative Book of the Year

Sarah Perry’s ‘The Essex Serpent’ swept Monday’s British Book Awards, being named both the Best Fiction Book of the Year and the Overall Best Book of the Year, as well as having its publicity campaign honored for Anna_Marie Fitzgerald’s work at Serpent’s Tail.

Getting Books and Readers Together

Waterstones was named Book Retailer of the Year, a prize sponsored by Bonnier Publishing, the awards’ organizers noting that the bookstore chain, under James Daunt’s leadership, has recorded “a profit for the first time since it flirted with bankruptcy in 2011.”

Here are the remaining honors in the “Bringing Books to Readers” section this year:

  • Library of the Year: was given to Camberwell Library of London’s Southwark
  • Independent Bookshop of the Year: Dublin’s Gutter Bookshop
  • Children’s Bookseller of the Year: Tales on Moon Lane in London
  • Nontraditional Retailer of the Year: the Royal Horticultural Society, complimented by judges for “a bookselling operation that any pure bookshop would be proud of”

A banner on Nosy Crow’s site crows about its Nibbies win as Children’s Publisher of the Year

‘A Big Four in the UK’

The core of the British Industry Awards, both alone and in combination with the new literary additions, are those that see various elements of the close-knit UK industry community’s publishing companies.

The big get of the cycle, of course, is Publisher of the Year, and the accolade this year goes to Pan Macmillan, with judges rhapsodizing about its strength “in almost every area it published into”–a company “that just keeps building and building and building.”

This is, in fact, the second time in three years that Pan Mac has drawn down the prize and this time around saw TCM (total consumer market) sales jump roughly 30 percent “to a point where it can now be considered alongside Penguin Random House, Hachette and HarperCollins as part of a ‘Big Four’ in the UK,” the judges said.

That perennial winner in young people’s literature, Nosy Crow, once again pulled through, as Children’s Publisher of the Year. What we learn from some of the judges’ commentary is that the house is the 13th largest children’s publisher, a size achieved in six years.

Last year, it became one of the top 40 in UK publishers for sales, with an increase of 70 percent on its ledgers, with sales to the States, Asia and Australia doubling.

And if you feel as if you’ve seen the tightly T-shirted Joe Wicks offering you a massive hamburger for most of your life, it’s a credit, say the judges, to the Pan Macmillan marketing approach that won the Lean in 15 campaign the Marketing Strategy of the Year honor.

The word is “relentless,” in fact, from the judges–a lot of us can vouch for that–and they point out that “Wicks’ fans were at the heart of the campaign, with Facebook ads, YouTube Q&As, video content and a selfie promo” in play.

As sated as we may feel ourselves to be, the “Sustain Plan” had sold 230,000 copies by the end of 2016, putting a lot of food on Joe’s table.

In tandem with the win for author Sarah Perry for The Essex Serpent, the Publicity Campaign of the Year honor went to Serpent’s Tail Anna-Marie Fitzgerald.

Head of Zeus was named Independent Publisher of the Year for its expertise in “spotting the value in unknown authors and undiscovered backlist.”

Hachette’s John Murray was named Imprint of the Year for a being “a dynamic and forward-thinking publishing division that’s enjoying its best year ever.”

And the prize for Academic, Educational, and Professional Publisher of the Year went to Collins Learning. Judges’ commentary about the company as it approaches its 200th year: “It evolved from a UK heritage brand into a properly global business, and the smart use of the renowned Collins label in reference has doubled international sales in the last five years, while pushing deeper into both the UK’s primary and secondary school markets.”

JK Rowling. Image: Mary McCartney

And it was a good night for JK Rowling, who was honored by the Booksellers Association for her Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade—and she got to take along the Bestseller Award, too, for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which “became the bestselling book of the year on publication, shifting 847,886 copies in its first week,” the judges wrote.

In addition, Cursed Child broke “all records for Drama Texts, Plays and Screenplays categories, with a first-week value of £8.7m.

“The book held the number one spot for six weeks, hitting the million-copy mark after just a fortnight on sale.”

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.