These are the bestselling books you'll be unwrapping this Christmas
To mark Super Thursday - the literary world's biggest publishing day - our reporter looks at the potential bestsellers you'll be unwrapping
Dare we say it, the festive season has begun - in the book world, at least. Today marks the biggest date in the publishing calendar and the launch of the book trade's assault on the Christmas market.
The now annual event is christened 'Super Thursday' as it represents the day on which more books are published than any other day of the year. Approximately 480 titles are due out today in Ireland, some two-thirds of which will make their way onto the shelves of most good bookshops.
"What Super Thursday does is bring focus to books in advance of what is obviously the industry's busiest sales period by raising awareness and coverage with a big bang of releases," says Brendan Corbett, head of marketing for Eason.
The big hitters this year include sports autobiographies from GAA stars Cathal McCarron and Kieran Donaghy, cookbooks from Rachel Allen, Donal Skehan and Jamie Oliver, and memoirs by Carrie Fisher, Phil Collins and Chris Evans. Paul Howard is already flying high with his 16th Ross O'Carroll-Kelly book, but today he releases a more personal project called 'I Read the News Today Oh Boy', a biography of Tara Browne, the Irish aristocrat who inspired the Beatles' song 'A Day in the Life'.
October is always a frenzied time for publishers, and we've already had a number of huge releases, including Pippa O'Connor's 'Simple Tips to Live Beautifully', Paul O'Connell's 'The Battle', Graham Norton's debut novel 'Holding' and Bruce Springsteen's autobiography.
"October is definitely the focus of the trade," says Maria Dickenson, MD of Dubray Books. "We do about 40pc of our business in the last quarter of the year, so it's very heavily weighted to that time of the year. What's interesting this year is that it's actually been a super October, and there were a few very big releases that came earlier."
The Christmas book market is typically built around celebrity titles, as publishers famously vied for the biggest personalities with ever more outrageous advances. These books dominated the bestseller lists for years, but readers appear to have grown tired of the 'me-me-me-memoir', with disappointing sales for many recent releases suggesting we have reached saturation point.
"Lately, there have been some celeb books that underperformed, such as the Tom Jones one. Penguin paid a lot of money for it and it didn't do well," says Tom Tivnan of 'The Bookseller', the UK's leading publishing industry magazine.
"There are fewer celeb books out this year, but I don't think that's necessarily bad for publishers or booksellers. There's a nice spread on Super Thursday, and it sort of reflects the strategy to get away from those big celebrity books."
If you pop in to your local bookshop today, you may notice there is considerably more on offer for male readers, with the usual seasonal surge of memoirs by sporting heroes and ageing rockers, but Mr Tivnan says this is a deliberate move by publishers.
“In general, a lot of publishing is aimed at a female reader because women read and buy more books than men, and one of the reasons that the Christmas gift-type books are aimed at men is that they are for that uncle you can’t think of anything to buy for,” he explains.
Penguin Ireland launched its two major celebrity titles earlier this month, with Pippa O'Connor and Paul O'Connell's respective books already reigning in the top spots on the bestseller lists.
When gambling on a big name, managing director Michael McLoughlin says: "Publishers aren't stupid. They publish hoping that every book will get a certain number of readers and hopefully be bestsellers, and of course, not all of them will be.
"To be honest, publishers and retailers have no greater insight into which books will work and sell than the reader has, so that's what makes it interesting and exciting. We've had lots of big books over the years we thought would be big bestsellers but then turned out to be dogs and didn't work."
While the demand for the standard celebrity memoir may be diminishing, books by YouTube vloggers (video bloggers) such as Zoella, Joe Sugg and Dan & Phil, have proved more profitable for publishers, particularly with younger readers, and can be picked up for a far less lavish advance than the likes of Tom Jones.
In the past, the bulk of the children's and young adult market tended to be in the summer months, but Tivnan says it has been "really ramped up for the Christmas period". While the biggest book this season is likely to be David Walliams' 'The Midnight Gang' in November, among the can't-miss Super Thursday releases are Roddy Doyle's 'Rover and the Big Fat Baby', the latest from 'The Gruffalo' author Julia Donaldson, and Fatti and John Burke's follow up to last year's hit 'Irelandopedia', 'Historopedia'.
Irish illustration is a notable area of growth in the children’s market, and along with 'Historopedia', books by Chris Haughton, Chris Judge, Oliver Jeffers and Margaret Anne Suggs (working with Kathleen Watkins) are expected to do very well.
"In the last two or three years, children's and YA books is the one area of the market that has grown significantly. Publishers have stepped into the frame and filled the 'Harry Potter' gap with fantastic new works which appeals to that younger generation," says McLoughlin, adding that the development of dedicated children's sections in bookstores around the country has helped to draw customers in.
And customers have been coming in, in their droves. Sales from last Christmas were the best in seven years, and 'The Bookseller' predicts that this one may be even better, noting that the market is up 10pc in both the UK and Ireland year on year. The fuss over e-readers that made headlines for several years has plateaued, while physical book sales are on the rise.
"There's a lot of buoyancy in the book trade now," says Dickenson. "One thing I'm really interested in is that, almost as a reaction to e-readers, publishers have put a lot more effort into the production of books. You'll find they're much more beautiful objects, the paper is nicer, the illustrations are richer, and they're more pleasant items to behold than they were five or six years ago. Particularly from a gifting perspective, they are a lovely item to give."
Literary fiction in particular tends to sell more printed books, she adds, noting there is a remarkable appetite for literary fiction in Ireland at the moment, with Donal Ryan's 'All We Shall Know' one of Dubray's biggest sellers this month.
Super Thursday's top fiction title this year is Dublin native Sebastian Barry's hugely anticipated 'Days Without End', while Mayo-born author Jess Kidd's debut 'Himself', out next week, comes highly recommended.
It's a particularly strong year for Irish authors. In terms of popular fiction, Graham Norton's novel is selling well, and we can look forward to new releases from Cecelia Ahern, Cathy Kelly, Liz Nugent and Deirdre Purcell before the year is out.
In cookery, it looks like the fashion for clean eating may be starting to wane. Although the latest from the healthy-eating Happy Pear twins is expected to flourish, this season sees a more indulgent offering, with Anthony Bourdain and Jamie Oliver championing shamelessly rich meals, and Catherine Fulvio's 'Taste of Home', along with Neven Maguire's 'Complete Family Cookbook' earlier this month, tapping into the desire for homeliness and traditional cooking.
Overall, it's looking like this year's Christmas selection will be very diverse, offering an impressive spread across fiction and non-fiction with titles to cater to a range of interests. But what will be the runaway hit we're all hoping to find in that festive parcel under the tree?
"The lovely thing about the book trade is there is always one dark horse that comes from nowhere, that was on no one's Christmas catalogue, that just gets the right exposure at the right moment and everybody's always on tenterhooks until that one's out of the traps," says Ms Dickenson. "That's what's exciting about this business."
Who’s in the running for Christmas number 1?
Paul O’Connell, The Battle (€28.99)
The Ireland and Munster powerhouse’s autobiography immediately landed on the bestseller list on its release earlier this month, and looks set to stay there through the end of the year. Dads all over the country will expect to unwrap this come Christmas morning, and they’re in for a treat, as critics have commended O’Connell for his unhindered honesty and former Limerick Leader editor Alan English for capturing the voice of the rugby colossus.
Graham Norton, Holding (€19.85)
While readers may have approached the beloved comedian and chat show host’s debut novel with some trepidation, they were pleased to find a brilliantly observed and sharply crafted story. Merging elements of murder mystery with a portrait of rural Irish life, ‘Holding’ bridges the gap between popular and literary fiction and is sure to appeal to lovers of both.
Sebastian Barry, Days Without End (€23.99)
Any new work from the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist comes with big expectations, and his latest novel offers an expansive vision of life during the American Indian and Civil Wars of the mid-19th century. Early reviews indicate another masterpiece, and with its beautiful metallic cover, it’s an ideal Christmas gift.
Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups (€8.99)
Last year’s spoof series of the classic children’s books were a huge phenomenon in the UK and Ireland, and this year sees a new tranche of guides, with ‘How It Works: The Cat’ and ‘How It Works: The Dog’ expected to be the standout hits. Also tapping into this trend in humour, 'Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups' sends the Famous Five on a “strategy away day” and on an adventure to find the perfect gluten-free cream tea.
Pippa O’Connor, Simple Tips to Live Beautifully (€24.99)
Fans of the hugely successful blogger will be eager to get their hands on a copy of her first book, which is filled with tips and advice on all things fashion, beauty and lifestyle. It’s already the number-one bestselling book in the country, and we reckon it’s going to be top of a lot of Christmas lists this year.