British Book Award Issues Its 2021 ‘Book of the Year’ Shortlists

In News by Porter Anderson

This year’s new ‘page-turner’ category is included in the ‘book of the year’ shortlists for the ‘Nibbies,’ for an awards event May 13.

A shot of Piccadilly Circus on March 11. Image – iStockphoto: VV Shots

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

‘To Recognize Effort as Well as Achievement’
Close on the heels of the British Book Award winners announcement Wednesday (March 17) in the bookstore and small-press regional and country awards, today’s (March 21) shortlistings are in the program’s nine “book of the year” categories.

In fact, the British Book Awards program has 28 categories of honors in 2021, as we were told in December.  That overall number comprises:

  • The “book of the year” categories you see today (nine)
  • The program’s trade awards—the commercial balance to the more creative considerations of the “book of the year” awards (17)
  • An additional pair of creative-side awards: top author and top illustrator (two)

Those trade awards include the overall winners of the independent bookstore and independent press regional and country competitions, and they also include two classifications of a “British Book Award for Export” (sales above and below £10 million or US$13.9 million)–  something in which many of our readers are interested.

You can see the trade shortlists here on the program’s site (and of course in The Bookseller’s Friday editions if you’re a subscriber).

Complex awards programs of this kind can mean a great deal to nominees and recipients in so dynamic a market as the United Kingdom. For our readers trying to follow along from other markets, here’s a concise listing of the honors encompassed by the “Nibbies” this year, including two new categories, which we reported in December.

Information: British Book Awards, The Bookseller

‘193 Companies, Individuals, and Books Shortlisted’

In his leader piece in today’s print edition of The Bookseller, editor Philip Jones writes about the special place and importance these awards may have this year in a market that currently holds the world’s fifth place for coronavirus COVID-19 caseloads and death tolls. The struggle there, as our readers know, has been dramatic.

Philip Jones

“There are,” he writes, “193 companies, individuals, and books shortlisted” in the 2021 British Book Awards, “a relatively small but I feel significant increase on last year’s crop. Categories on the rise include publicity, marketing, editor, imprint, and publisher; and categories holding their own despite the circumstances include the children’s and independent bookshop shortlists, and the small press award.

“This was a year to recognize effort as well as achievement, with the shortlists representative of the hard work of the trade.”

Jones also looks to the evolving state of publishing in the UK’s market, as in others, and points out, “We have formed new habits during the restrictions, some of which we may never shake off, and the impact on our work will be profound.”

Publishing Perspectives know that a digital event for the British Book Awards is set for May 13, when the programs’ categories’ winners will be announced. As you’ll recall from our reportThe Bookseller’s British Book Awards drew 40,000 views of their digital awards ceremony in summertime 2020.

British Book Award  2021 ‘Book of the Year’ Shortlists


  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Dialogue Books)
  • The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)
  • The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett (Macmillan, Pan Macmillan)
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Canongate)
  • The Mirror and The Light by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press, Headline)


  • Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (Fig Tree, Penguin Random House)
  • The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré (Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (W&N, Orion)
  • Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez (Dialogue, Little, Brown)
  • Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador, Pan Macmillan)

Crime and Thriller 

  • The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child (Transworld, Penguin Random House)
  • The Patient Man by Joy Ellis (Joffe Books)
  • The Guest List by  Lucy Foley (HarperFiction,  HarperCollins)
  • Troubled Blood by  Robert Galbraith (Sphere, Little,  Brown)
  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Viking, Penguin Random House)
  • A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin (Orion Fiction)


  • False Value by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz, Orion)
  • Rag and Bone Christmas by Dilly Court (HarperFiction, Harper Collins)
  • All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff (HarperVoyager)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owen (Corsair, Little, Brown)
  • Just My Luck by Adele Parks (HQ , HarperCollins)

Children’s Fiction 

  • The Danger Gang by Tom Fletcher, Illustrated by Shane Devries (Puffin, Penguin Random House)
  • The Highland Falcon Thief by MG Leonard and Sam Sadgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (Macmillan Children’s Books, Pan Macmillan)
  • Anisha, Accidental Detective by Serena Patel, Illustrated by Emma McCann (Usborne)
  • The Ickabog by JK Rowling (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
  • Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books)
  • Code Name Bananas by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross (HarperCollins Children’s Books)

Children’s Illustrated and Nonfiction

  • Draw with Rob by Rob Biddulph (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • I’m Sticking With You by Smriti Halls, Illustrated by Steve Small (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books)
  • Kay’s Anatomy by Adam Kay, illustrated by Henry Paker (Puffin, Penguin Random House)
  • The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
  • Black and British: A short, essential history by David Olusoga (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • The Book of Hope by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Nonfiction: Lifestyle 

  • Skincare by Caroline Hirons (HQ , HarperCollins)
  • Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain (Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House)
  • Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty (Thorsons, HarperCollins)
  • Not a Diet Book by James Smith (HarperCollins)
  • Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five by  Daisy Upton (Penguin Random House  Children’s)
  • What Mummy Makes: Cook just once for you and your baby by  Rebecca  Wilson (DK)

Nonfiction: Narrative 

  •  A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough (Ebury Press, Penguin Random House)
  • Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty (Little Toller)
  • Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day by Captain Sir Tom Moore (Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House)
  • A Promised Land by Barrack Obama (Viking, Penguin Random House)
  • Me and My White Supremacy by Layla F Saad (Quercus)
  • Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (Vintage, Penguin Random House)


  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Bloomsbury)
  • Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith, Narrated by Robert Glenister (Hachette Audio)
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, Narrated by Carey Mulligan (Canongate)
  • Grown Ups by Marian Keyes, Narrated by Marian Keyes (WF Howes)
  • Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, Narrated by Matthew McConaughey (Headline)
  • The Promised Land by Barrack Obama, Narrated by Barrack Obama (Penguin Random House Audio)
  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, Narrated by Lesley Manville (Penguin Random House Audio)
  • Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty, Narrated by Jay Shetty (HarperCollins)
  • The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs, Narrated by Full Cast (Audible)
The Coronavirus in the United Kingdom

At this writing, the 7:27 a.m. ET (1127 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 4,304,839 cases in the UK’s population of 67 million, with 126,359 fatalities. Those numbers hold the market at No. 5 in the world in both caseload and deaths.

The BBC is reporting that the British defense secretary Ben Wallace has said that the current ban on international holidays may have to be extended past a previously set date of May 17. Scotland and Wales also have bans on their people traveling abroad prior to then, while Northern Ireland hasn’t yet set a date.

On an upbeat note, the UK set a new record Saturday, per the BBC, for the number of vaccine injections made in a single day, at 844,285 “jabs” that day.

Reuters London today sees at least 27.6 million people in Britain as having received at least one dose of a vaccine. Around 2.2 million people have had both doses. The report quotes the health secretary Matt Hancock saying, “This mammoth team effort shows the best of Britain.”

The report reads, “Britain’s vaccine rollout is the fastest in any major economy, although the government has warned that it will slow down next month due to a supply crunch.”

Londoners queue for entry to a shop, February 26. Image – iStockphoto: Victor Huang

More on the British Book Awards is here. More from us on publishing and book awards in general is here. And more on the UK book market and industry is here.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.