The British Book Awards: 2021 Winners

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The British Book Awards’ digital prize program included Nibbie winners announcements in 28 categories. ‘Shuggie Bain’ is Book of the Year.

An opening shot of the British Book Awards’ three hour streamed presentation set at the Battersea Arts Centre in London. Image: Publishing Perspectives

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

No Rest for the Video Editors
The British Book Awards this evening (May 13) have streamed—for three hours from London—their second annual digitally delivered awards program. This year, the program’s interstitial hosting segments were set in the empty main hall of the Battersea Arts Centre in Lavender Hill, a handsome backdrop for The Bookseller editor Philip Jones, publisher relations director Emma Lowe, and broadcaster Lauren Laverne.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, this is a competition that has a big roster of 28 categories in place this year. That number changes slightly in most years, and it helps to remember that the “Nibbies” as they’re known, are divided like all Gaul into three parts.

  • There are nine “book of the year” categories
  • There’s an additional pair of creative-side awards: a top author and a top illustrator
  • And the program’s 17 trade awards are the commercial balance to the more creative considerations of the “book of the year” awards

As in previous years, shortlists are not released to the news media in the trade awards group, so you may feel more familiar with the “book of the year” group (our shortlists coverage is here) and the independent bookstore and small press regional and country competitions that lead up to the big night (our shortlists coverage is here, and our regional and country winners coverage is here.)

Douglas Stuart: Still Winning

Douglas Stuart on the ‘Shuggie’ sofa for the British Book Awards. Image: Publishing Perspectives

When we interviewed Douglas Stuart in December for his 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction win for Shuggie Bain (Pan Macmillan / Picador), we kidded the Scottish-American author about having been sitting for days on his New York City sofa doing interviews with the press. “You’re never getting off that couch,” we told him. We thought we were joking. Stuart tonight collected the British Book Awards Fiction Début and the overall Book of the Year honor. A very durable sofa.

In speaking about the selection, Peter Frankopan (you know him better as a Cundill History Prize juror) is quoted, saying, “It was so hard to choose between such very different books, written for very different audiences. But we all agreed that Shuggie Bain is a classic that will be read in 20 years’ time.

“It’s an immensely powerful book and an unusual one too. We were incredibly impressed by the writing, but also by the way the book came about, and by how it was supported by the author and the publisher. A very worthy winner from a very strong field.”

In media messaging, the program has reiterated some of the news released late last month by the Publishers Association about the UK market’s 2020 performance, coming in with sales of books, journals and rights/co-editions combined rising 2 percent to £6.4 billion in 2020 (US$8.9 billion). More from our report is here.

And at this year’s Nibbies, there’s interesting news in the typically robust bookstore brawl, in that the Book Retailer of the Year honor, which usually goes to one of the powerhouse multi-venue companies, has been given to Moon Lane, a books and toys store in Ramsgate.

One surprise for several crime and thriller readers who sent us a message was that Richard Osman didn’t win that category for The Thursday Murder Club, although he ended up with Author of the Year. And another surprise was in the nonfiction narrative category in which 17-year-old named Dara McAnulty won for her Diary of a Young Naturalist in a shortlist that included Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet.

We’ll start with the awards in the “book of the year” categories in the program.

And just a note to say that many of us missed seeing Nigel Roby in the festive fray. He’s the former owner of The Bookseller under whose deft hand the British Book Awards were purchased from the estate of Publishing News’ founder Fred Newman and revived in 2017. It’s easy to see the Nibbies as an annual reminder of Roby’s keen leadership.

‘Book of the Year’ 2021 British Book Awards


  • Jay Shetty, Think Like A Monk (HarperCollins Publishers)

Children’s Fiction

  • Junior MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, The Highland Falcon Thief (Macmillan Children’s Books)

Children’s Illustrated and Nonfiction

  • David Olusoga, Black and British: A Short, Essential History (Macmillan Children’s Books)


  • Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet (Tinder Press)

Fiction: Crime and Thriller

  • Robert Galbraith, Troubled Blood (Sphere)

Fiction: Début

  • Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain (Picador)

Nonfiction: Lifestyle

  • Caroline Hirons, Skincare (HQ)

Nonfiction: Narrative

  • Dara McAnulty, Diary of a Young Naturalist (Little Toller)


  • Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing (Corsair)
Top Author and Illustrator, British Book Awards 2021

Author of the Year

  • Richard Osman 

Illustrator of the Year

  • Charlie Mackesy
Trade Awards, British Book Awards 2021

Canongate’s reliably expressive publisher Jamie Byng accepts the 2021 British Book Award for independent publisher. Image: Publishing Perspectives

Marketing Strategy

  • Fourth Estate, for The Mirror and the Light, Matt Clacher, Lindsay Terrell, and Olivia Marsden

Publicity Campaign

  • The Year of Bernardine Evaristo, Penguin General, Anna Ridley

Small Press 

  • Sweet Cherry

Academic, Educational, and Professional Publisher 

  • Bloomsbury Academic

Children’s Bookseller

  • Moon Lane in Ramsgate, Kent

Book Retailer

  • Moon Lane in Ramsgate, Kent

Export, Less than £10 Million 

  • Nosy Crow

Export, More than £10 Million 

  • Bloomsbury

Literary Agent

  • Nelle Andrew, Rachel Mills Literary

Rights Professionals 

  • Individual winner: Caroline Clarke, Canongate
  • Team winner: Nosy Crow rights team


  • Gollancz, Orion


  • Katy Loftus, Viking


  • Jane Buckley, Simon & Schuster UK

Independent Bookshop

  • Sevenoaks Bookshop, Southeast England

Independent Publisher

  • Canongate

Children’s Publisher

  • Wonderbly


  • Orion Publishing Group
The Long Show They All Stay For

Orion managing director Katie Espiner accepts the publisher of the year British Book Award, thanking ‘The Bookseller’ for its job in “the weirdest of circumstances.” Image: Publishing Perspectives

Once more, The Bookseller team has shown itself to be perhaps the best producer of digital book publishing awards programs. The bedroom broadcasting required by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, of course, means a lot of ups and downs in the audio and video quality as the show moves from presenters to winners, but for overall conception and professional execution, it’s hard to beat this effort. Edits are clean, the thing moves quickly in its first and third hours, especially, and at one point we saw nearly 900 live viewers being counted by the YouTube stream.

You can review the production in three hour-long tapes here. Keep in mind just how many small segments you’re seeing run as a unified whole. This show may be digital but the workload is not virtual, and the effort pays off.

The three-hour factor is also your first clue that it’s an intensely in-market program, at times difficult for those watching from other parts of the world to follow. That’s okay, of course, it’s targeted to the British industry, as it should be. The first hour is given to the “book of the year” series of awards and the third hour goes to the trade awards. The central hour is primarily a series of interviews with authors.

It’s a good format, if a long haul, and one wishes at times for a diagram that might just lay out the coming awards on the creative and then the business side so that things don’t run together. Nevertheless, in a close-knit and awards-impassioned market like the United Kingdom, the program answers many needs and has done a lot in its digital evocation to keep a sense of continuity in place for two years.

May vaccinations be the biggest prize of all, returning the show safely to the Grosvenor House in 2022.

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

Facebook Twitter

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.