Germany’s Bestselling Books of 2019: Fiction, Nonfiction, Self-Help

In Feature Articles by Hannah Johnson

In a strong year for nonfiction sales, Germany’s bestsellers of 2019 reflect a robust group of familiar titles, translations, and new works.

german bestsellers of 2019 from boersenblatt magazine

Börsenblatt magazine’s bestseller lists for Germany in 2019

By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson

Nonfiction 2019 Revenue Up 4.9 Percent
The top names on Germany’s 2019 bestseller lists look remarkably similar to those on the 2018 list, with thriller writer Sebastian Fitzek again topping the fiction hardcover list and the same trio of authors—Bas Kast, Stephen Hawking, and Michelle Obama—leading the nonfiction list.

This month, German trade magazine Börsenblatt has released its lists of overall 2019 bestsellers lists across multiple categories and formats. The lists are put together in cooperation with media research company Media Control using point-of-sale data from 6,550 retailers and covering more than 88 percent of the German book market.

These top-sellers emerged during a positive year for the German book trade. Börsenblatt reported that revenue from the main retail channels grew by a collective 1.4 percent in 2019.

In particular, sales of nonfiction titles generated 4.9 percent more revenue than in 2018. Children’s and young adult book revenue grew by 4.6 percent, and self-help by 3.0 percent. Fiction was down by just 0.8 percent.

Germany’s Fiction Bestsellers of 2019

Top three fiction bestsellers in Germany, 2019

Thriller writer Sebastian Fitzek’s latest novel, Das Geschenk (The Gift), was Germany’s top-selling hardcover fiction title for 2019. Released in October, the book quickly climbed to the top spot. Fitzek is a regular on the bestseller lists, and his books have been translated into a reported 24 languages. His 2018 novel, Der Inasse (Undercover Patient), was last year’s top-selling novel and remains high on the 2019 list at No. 12.

In second place is Saša Stanišić’s semi-autobiographical work Herkunft (Origin), which won the 2019 German Book Prize and reflects the sales boost the prize can give to its winners.

Four of the Top 10 bestselling novels on this year’s list are translations, including the No. 10 book, Der Gesang der Flusskrebse (Where the Crawdads Sing), the novel by American author Delia Owens. The original English edition was the top-selling print book in the United States in 2019, according a Publishers Weekly report based on NPD BookScan data. Owens’ book also rose to No. 4 among overall fiction titles in 2019 in Canada’s English-language market, as reported by BookNet Canada.

Danish crime writer Jussi Adler-Olsen is at No. 7 with his eighth Carl Mørck book, Victim 2117.

Other translations are by two UK authors: Lucinda Riley’s sixth book in her Seven Sisters series, Die Sonnenschwester (The Sun Sister); and Simon Beckett’s sixth thriller featuring main character David Hunter titled Die ewige Toten (The Scent of Death).

Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers in Germany, 2019
The complete fiction list is here.

  1. Sebastian Fitzek: Das Geschenk (The Gift), Droemer
  2. Saša Stanišić: Herkunft (Origins), Luchterhand
  3. Ferdinand von Schirach: Kaffee und Zigaretten (Coffee and Cigarettes), Luchterhand
  4. Lucinda Riley: Die Sonnenschwester (The Sun Sister), Goldmann (translated from English by Sonja Hauser, Sibylle Schmidt, and Ursula Wulfekamp)
  5. Dörte Hansen: Mittagsstunde (Midday Hour), Penguin
  6. Simon Beckett: Die ewigen Toten (The Scent of Death), Wunderlich (translated from English by Karen Witthuhn and Sabine Längsfeld)
  7. Jussi Adler-Olsen: Opfer 2117 (Victim 2117), dtv (translated from Danish by Hannes Thiess)
  8. Ildikó von Kürthy: Es wird Zeit (It’s Time), Wunderlich
  9. Daniela Krien: Die Liebe im Ernstfall (Love in Case of Emergency), Diogenes
  10. Delia Owens: Der Gesang der Flusskrebse (Where the Crawdads Sing), Hanserblau (translated from English by Ulrike Wasel and Klaus Timmermann)

In February 2018, the Börsenblatt and Media Control began tracking fiction sales from independent publishers, creating monthly bestseller lists to showcase the work coming from smaller publishers.

The 2019 overall bestsellers from German independent publishers highlights translations, prize-winners, and a range of unique voices. Just over a year old, Kampa Verlag is proving its place in the book business with two translated titles on the indie bestseller list: Flights by Olga Tokarczuk—winner of both the Booker International Prize and the Nobel Prize—and Still Life by the internationally recognized Canadian crime writer Louise Penny. Our interview with publisher Daniel Kampa on learning of Tokarczuk’s Nobel Prize win is here.

Swiss publisher Kein & Aber also had a strong showing on the list with three titles, including the top-seller The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler. Telling the story of a young man’s friendship with Sigmund Freud during World War II, the novel was made into a 2018 film starring the late Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who died at age 77 in February of last year.

Top three fiction bestsellers from German independent publishing houses, 2019

Fiction Bestsellers from Independent Publishers, 2019
The complete independent fiction list is here.

  1. Robert Seethaler: Der Trafikant (The Tobacconist), Kein & Aber
  2. Axel Hacke: Wozu wir da sind (Why We’re Here), Kunstmann
  3. Anke Stelling: Schäfchen im Trockenen (Drying Sheep), Verbrecher
  4. Ayelet Gundar-Goshen: Löwen wecken (Waking Lions), Kein & Aber (translated from Hebrew by Ruth Achlama)
  5. Louise Penny: Das Dorf in den roten Wäldern (Still Life), Kampa
  6. Gabriele Tergit: Effingers, Schöffling
  7. Takis Würger: Der Club (The Club), Kein & Aber
  8. Olga Tokarczuk: Unrast (Flights), Kampa (translated from Polish by Esther Kinsky)
  9. Francesca Melandri: Alle, außer mir (Everyone But Me), Wagenbach (translated from Italian by Esther Hansen)
  10. Francesca Melandri: Eva schläft (Eva Is Sleeping), Wagenbach (translated from Italian by Bruno Genzler)
Nonfiction Bestsellers of 2019

Top three nonfiction bestsellers in Germany, 2019

Although ranked in a slightly different order, Germany’s three bestselling nonfiction books in 2019 are the same trio of titles that topped the list in 2018. While Michelle Obama and Stephen Hawking continue to captivate German readers, science writer Bas Kast takes the top spot in nonfiction for 2019 with his nutrition book The Diet Compass.

Published in 2018, The Diet Compass has remained a hit in Germany. It compiles Kast’s findings after analyzing thousands of sometimes contradictory studies on nutrition and diet. Rights have been sold into a reported 18 languages so far. And a companion work, Kast’s The Diet Compass: The Cookbook was the seventh bestselling self-help book in Germany in 2019.

Nutrition appears elsewhere on the list with Dr. Andreas Michalsen’s Healing Through Nutrition and Anne Fleck’s The Big Fat Lie.

And anyone following the German book market will recognize the author taking spot No. 5 in this list, Peter Wohlleben. He rose to international recognition with his 2017 bestseller Das geheime Leben der Bäume (The Hidden Life of Trees). His 2019 book Das geheime Band zwischen Mensch und Natur (The Secret Bond Between Humankind and Nature) is the latest of his bestsellers.

Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers in Germany, 2019
The complete nonfiction list is here.

  1. Bas Kast: Der Ernährungskompass (The Diet Compass), C. Bertelsmann
  2. Stephen Hawking: Kurze Antworten auf große Fragen (Brief Answers to Big Questions), Klett-Cotta
  3. Michelle Obama: Becoming, Goldmann (translated from English by Harriet Fricke, Tanja Handels, Elke Link, Andrea O’Brien, Jan Schönherr, and Henriette Zeltner)
  4. Edward Snowden: Permanent Record, S. Fischer (translated from English by Kay Greiners)
  5. Peter Wohlleben: Das geheime Band zwischen Mensch und Natur (The Secret Bond Between Humankind and Nature), Ludwig
  6. MontanaBlack, Marcel Eris, Dennis Sand: MontanaBlack, Riva
  7. Prof. Dr. Andreas Michalsen: Mit Ernährung heilen (Healing Through Nutrition), Suhrkamp
  8. Anne Fleck: Ran an das Fett (The Big Fat Lie), Wunderlich
  9. Meike Winnemuth: Bin im Garten (I’m in the Garden), Penguin
  10. Michael Winterhoff: Deutschland verdummt (Germany’s Dumbing Down), Gütersloher Verlagshaus

In self-help, it’s impossible not to notice the dominance of John Strelecky, whose books took four of the top ten spots in this category in 2019. Strelecky is a self-published American author who found success in 2002. The first book he wrote, The Why Café, takes spot No. 1 on this list, and the Börsenblatt reports that publisher dtv has sold 2.3 million copies since it was translated into German in 2007. In total, dtv has sold 4.2 million copies of Strelecky’s books in German.

Self-Help Bestsellers in Germany, 2019
The complete self-help list is here.

  1. John Strelecky: Das Café am Rande der Welt (The Why Café), dtv (translated from English by Bettina Lemke)
  2. Stefanie Stahl: Das Kind in dir muss Heimat finden (The Child Within You Must Find a Home), Kailash
  3. John Strelecky: The Big Five for Life, dtv (translated from English by Bettina Lemke)
  4. John Strelecky: Wiedersehen im Café am Rande der Welt (Return to The Why Café), dtv (translated from English by Bettina Lemke)
  5. John Strelecky: Auszeit im Café am Rande der Welt (Downtime at The Why Café), dtv (translated from English by Bettina Lemke)
  6. Alexandra Reinwarth: Am Arsch vorbei geht auch ein Weg (The Good Girl’s Guide To Being A D*ck), MVG
  7. Bas Kast: Der Ernährungskompass – Das Kochbuch (The Diet Compass: The Cookbook) C. Bertelsmann
  8. Das Vorsorge-Set (The Pension Set), Stiftung Warentest
  9. Alexandra Reinwarth: Das Leben ist zu kurz für später (Life is Too Short for Later) MVG
  10. Senna Gammour: Liebeskummer ist ein Arschloch (Heartache Is an Asshole) Ullstein Taschenbuch

More from Publishing Perspectives on the German book market is here. And more on bestsellers is here.

About the Author

Hannah Johnson

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Hannah Johnson is the Publisher of Publishing Perspectives. Before joining PP in 2009, she worked as Project Manager at the German Book Office New York.