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The Best-Seller Babe: How Books Are Sort of Like Hollywood

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Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall, was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Her book was also an Amazon.com best-seller.

The only similarity the book world ever normally has with the Academy Awards is the occasional, woefully adapted novel-to-movie. But, on the subject of acclaimed books versus popular books, I had a theory that books weren’t as dissimilar to movies as people think.

I wanted to find out whether the books that won awards are also books that a lot of people buy. I had no idea if best-sellers go on to became winners. Although, I can guess that Janet Evanovich (author of the Stephanie Plum series) isn’t going to win a Pulitzer, I wondered if the best-seller lists were populated with the same books as the lists for book awards.

I found that in 2009, at least, it’s a split.

The National Book Award Winner for Fiction, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, was not in the top 100 sellers on Amazon.com.  Neither was 2009’s Edgar Award for Best Novel, Blue Heaven by C.J. Box.

However, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was the 34th best-seller on Amazon. And Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, was 81st.

I would note that Amazon.com does not allow me to see if the top 100 fiction or literature best-sellers for 2009, only the top 100 books overall.  There are at least 14 books ranked higher than Olive Kitteridge on the list, including the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual, Sixth Edition. Apparently, a lot of people need to know how to write for psychological publications.

So I guess that books don’t have to be best-sellers to win awards, or vice-versa. It would be interesting to see if books became more popular after winning an award. For example, did a bunch of people decide to buy Wolf Hall after it won two awards?

What about you? Did you read or buy any of these books in 2009?

–Sarah Morris

Sarah is a senior journalism major at the University of Missouri. She can be found on Twitter at @smorris198888.

Photo: TheManBookerPrizes


Written by whitney teal

April 5, 2010 at 9:19 am

Posted in The Best-Seller Babe

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