Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 25, 2021


Publishers Lunch Deluxe came out last week on Friday, January 15, 2021 with their stats on 2020’s Publishing Industry Book Sales. I thought you would be interested in seeing the results.

Overall Stats
Broadly speaking, the data aligns with US book sales reports, in that deal volume was up measurably, in all major categories. Financial investment in the biggest deals softened, particularly in adult books, while six-figure children’s book deals spiked. International sub-rights deals, declined however. Specifically:

– US deals were up 8 percent overall, after holding roughly flat for the previous 4 years

– Adult Fiction deals grew the most, rising 14.7 percent, though only returning to levels last seen in 2016 and 2017. (See chart below.)

– Children’s deals grew for the fourth year in a row, up 4.9 percent, to a new high

– Translation deals declined 8 percent. Here fiction suffered the most, down 10.7 percent, falling for the fourth year in a row

– As in the US, UK deals rose as well, up 4.6 percent – with fiction reports jumping 43 percent (our UK deal flow is much smaller, however). Deals by Canadian publishers were softer, down 2.3 percent

– Six-figure or better reports for adult deals were down modestly, 5 percent lower than the previous four-year average, a bigger divergence than usual. Six-figure children’s deals jumped 43 percent over their previous four-year average.

– Combined, that put all six-figure US deals up 3.3 percent for the year. But the biggest investments – major deals – declined for the second year in a row. They were down 17 percent versus 2019 and versus the previous four-year average, at the lowest level seen in five years (lower still than the most recent trough, which was in 2016).

Specific Trends
As noted above, adult fiction sales grew the most overall during the year. While total reports here were strong, six-figure deals were roughly flat with 2019 and well below the levels in 2016 – 2018, with major deals down, at their lowest level in the past five years. So publishers were buying more, but spending or risking less.

Within our sub-categories, debut fiction showed particular promise. Deals were up 13.6 percent over last year, and the highest total in years. Six-figure deals also grew, the only fiction that was up discernibly in terms of investment. Women’s fiction/romance also surged in 2020, with volume up 28 percent, back to deal levels last seen in 2016 and 2017 — even though six-figure deals in this sub-category remained low.

In nonfiction sales, befitting the year, deals for history/politics/current affairs were up 16 percent (versus a 5.6 percent overall gain for all nonfiction deals). Business/personal finance sales were also particularly strong, up 44 percent, while cookbook deals declined for the fifth consecutive year.

In children’s books, the clearest trend is increased investment in middle grade fiction: Six-figure deals were 55 percent higher than in 2019, with a growing number of “significant” deals. Six-figure deals for children’s graphic novels were also much higher than ever seen before, with 24 reported sales, compared to 10 in 2019 and only 3 in 2018. (No doubt our breakout sub-category here, in line with market trends, has had an influence.)

Young adult fiction is still the biggest sub-category, and has the most six-figure deals among the children’s sub-categories, but here we see investment levels declining, with more “good” deals than ever but the fewest “major” deals in 5 years. Still, total six-figure YA fiction deals were 16.3 percent above 2019, and 6.5 percent above the recent four-year average.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing, Kathy. Glad to see books are here to stay!


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