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Inside the Australian book industry

Australian crime fiction in the spotlight

When Australian author Benjamin Stevenson heard that his debut crime-thriller Greenlight had sold into North America and the UK, he quipped: ‘There’s no question international readers are loving Aussie crime right now, and while it may not be doing Tourism Australia any favours, it’s fantastic we can share our books!’

Stevenson is the latest in a growing list of (mostly) debut authors who have lit up the Australian crime-writing scene, including Jane Harper (The Dry, Force of Nature, Pan Macmillan Australia), Sarah Bailey (The Dark Lake, Allen & Unwin), Emma Viskic (Resurrection Bay, And Fire Came Down, Echo Publishing), Chris Hammer (Scrublands, Allen & Unwin) and Christian White (The Nowhere Child, Affirm Press). Not only have their titles become bestsellers locally, they’ve sold into multiple overseas territories and attracted the attention of film and TV producers.

You can read more about Greenlight in our profile below, and about trends in Australian publishing in our overview of the Australian book market.

If you’re currently at the Frankfurt Book Fair, you might like to drop by the joint Australia–IPG Stand Party on Thursday 11 October at 5.30pm (Hall 6.2 A56-A57). You can also find information about more than 200 Australian publishers here.

Andrea Hanke
Think Australian

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The market down under

Australian titles are faring well in a market where personal development books and crime fiction are the standout trends, reports Andrea Hanke.

For the fourth year in a row, the Australian retail book market has posted marginal growth, with sales up 0.9% in value and 1.6% in volume in 2017. To publishers in Australia, it feels like the industry is slowly starting to gather momentum.

‘Like everyone else in the industry, we’re saying “flat is the new up”,’ says HarperCollins Australia publisher Catherine Milne. ‘But I do genuinely feel there is positive momentum in Australian bookselling and publishing, there are some real good news stories out there.’

For Penguin Random House Australia publisher Cate Blake, the current success of local authors in the Australian charts is particularly cheering. ‘As I write this, four of the five bestselling books in the country are from Australian authors. It’s exciting to see that momentum developing.’    

According to sales tracking service Nielsen BookScan, 55.5 million physical books worth A$1.07 billion were sold in Australia in 2017, up from 54.6 million books worth A$1.06 billion in 2016.* These figures do not include ebooks and audiobooks, as their sales aren’t tracked in Australia in any reliable way.

It is estimated that ebook sales make up around 15-20% of the market in Australia, although this can vary greatly between genres. Similar to other English-language markets, ebook sales appear to have plateaued in recent years—at least within traditional trade publishing. Meanwhile, audiobooks continue to grow in popularity, with more Australian publishers converting their lists to meet the current demand.

Read the full article here.


Third O'Neill title sold to UK’s Lightning Books

UK publisher Lightning Books has acquired UK and Commonwealth (ex ANZ) rights to Ryan O’Neill’s 2012 debut short story collection The Weight of a Human Heart (Black Inc.)—the third title by O’Neill that the publisher has acquired in under a year, following the acquisitions of Their Brilliant Careers and The Drover’s Wives. Lightning Books editor-at-large Scott Pack said he was ‘thrilled to now complete the hat-trick’.

Felicity McLean’s debut mystery/coming-of-age novel The Van Apfel Girls are Gone (HarperCollins Australia) has been sold into North America (Algonquin Books), the UK (Oneworld), France and Spain ahead of its publication in Australia in 2019. Set 20 years ago in a remote Australian town, it explores the unsolved mystery of three sisters who disappeared into the wilderness.

Penguin Random House Australia has sold North American and UK (ex ANZ) rights to Benjamin Stevenson’s debut crime-thriller Greenlight to Sourcebooks and Hodder & Stoughton, respectively. Read more about Greenlight in our profile.

In local acquisitions news, Penguin Random House Australia has acquired ANZ rights to The Lifted Brow founding editor Ronnie Scott’s debut novel The Adversary in a two-book deal. The novel follows the evolution of a close friendship between two gay men in Melbourne.

The University of Queensland Press has acquired world rights to the historical novel On Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe, author of the 2017 novella The Fish Girl (Seizure). On Gold Mountain is set on the goldfields of north Queensland during the 1870s and follows two Chinese siblings who are trying to make their fortune so they can return home to pay off their father’s debts.

Several experimental illustrated nonfiction titles have recently been picked up for publication. Brow Books has acquired world rights to writer and artist Eloise Grills’ big beautiful female theory, a book-length narrative essay that combines text and images; and world rights to comic artist Mandy Orr’s ‘diary comic’ When One Person Dies the Whole World is Over, which explores ageing, love and loss, and how we might try to balance work, family and art. Giramondo has also acquired world rights to a ‘photoessay memoir’ by author and performance artist Fiona McGregor, which depicts McGregor’s writing process for her 2010 novel Indelible Ink (Scribe). A Novel Idea is pitched as ‘a tongue-in-cheek rumination on the humdrum and loneliness of the novelist’s daily life, and the act of endurance which the writer must perform’.



Synchronicity Films will adapt Heather Morris’ bestselling novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Echo Publishing) as a television drama miniseries. The miniseries is planned to be broadcast in January 2020 to tie in with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been published in multiple territories around the world.

Tim Winton’s Booker-shortlisted The Riders (Penguin) will be adapted into a feature film produced by director Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free. Scott will produce the film alongside Kevin Walsh and Michael Pruss, with screenwriter David Kajganich to adapt the screenplay.

For the latest Australian rights sales and acquisitions news, click here.


Finalists announced for triennial Melbourne Prize for Literature

Five Australian authors—Tony Birch, Gideon Haigh, Alison Lester, Christos Tsiolkas and Alexis Wright—have been selected as finalists for the Melbourne Prize for Literature, which is awarded triennially to an author based in Victoria whose body of published work has made an outstanding contribution to Australian literature and to cultural and intellectual life. Another 10 authors were shortlisted for the Best Writing Award for work ‘of outstanding clarity, originality and creativity’.

The shortlists for several Australian literary awards have been announced. They include: the Barbara Jefferis Award for ‘the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society’; the Waverley Library Award, which recognises the role of research in fiction and nonfiction; and the CHASS Australia Book Prize, which aims to draw international attention to Australia’s achievements in the humanities, arts and social sciences. The longlist has also been announced for the Voss Literary Prize, awarded to the best novel published in Australia in the previous year.


Introducing literary agent Benython Oldfield

Benython Oldfield is an Australian literary agent and the Sydney-based director of Zeitgeist Media Group Agency, which represents 40 Australian authors alongside other international writers and illustrators. He spoke to Think Australian.

How many Australian authors are on your list—and what kinds of titles do you represent?

Zeitgeist Agency is a small agency representing 40 Australian authors. We have offices in Sydney and Brussels, and being small means we can be very selective with the authors we sign. Publishing is a highly personal business, so for us there are two main criteria: we have to adore the work, and like the author.

Discovering new writers is a focus. We specialise in literary and mainstream fiction, memoir, nonfiction, YA and kids.

How do you select the Australian titles for your list?

First and foremost, we must be entertained. With so many new ways to tell stories, to make it to the book publishing process, the book has to ‘pop’. I have to want to read it and see a market. I’m always thinking, ‘can this sell ten thousand copies, can this sell outside Australia, can this be adapted to the screen, audio, stage or an app’. Saying that, if there is a book that we think is particularly culturally significant we will strive to represent it, hoping it will add to the fabric of society and create change. We also aim to find books that represent the full gamut of the Australian life experience, as over half of us now have a parent born overseas.

Which of your Australian titles have been most successful overseas?

The Lost Flowers of Alice Heart by Holly Ringland (HarperCollins Australia) was sold into 25 countries. Other books that have a huge response with international readers include Lost and Found by Brooke Davis (Hachette Australia), Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (Allen & Unwin), The Burial by Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin), On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope (Bloomsbury), The Art of Reading by Damon Young (Melbourne University Press) and Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe by Antony Lowenstein (Verso Books).

Which Australian title or author on your list do you believe deserves bigger recognition overseas?

A J Betts, YA author of globetrotting Zac and Mia (Text Publishing), is a powerhouse. Hive (Pan Macmillan) is a thriller set in a tiny closed society where no-one knows their parents. This first book in a two-part series—Rogue is to follow—has just been published in Australia.

Do you represent authors from other countries? Which have been most successful?

We represent authors from many parts of the world including Russia, China, France, Belgium and the UK. British writer Annabel Abbs (The Joyce Girl and just published Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley, both Hachette Australia) are both doing extremely well with Australian readers.

What is your most recent Australian acquisition (that may appeal to international publishers)?

Earlier this year there was a five-way auction for 16-year old Vivian Pham’s novel The Coconut Children, a perceptive and funny coming-of-age story set in the Australian Vietnamese community. Penguin Random House Australia won the auction and I’m calling it as the largest advance ever earned by an Australian 16-year old author. It will be published with much fanfare on the Vintage adult list in 2020.


Introducing Benjamin Stevenson’s ‘Greenlight’

Australian author Benjamin Stevenson’s debut novel Greenlight is a ‘nail-biting thriller that turns popular true-crime such as Serial and Making a Murderer on its head’. Released in Australia in September, it has recently been sold into North America and the UK. Think Australian spoke to Penguin Random House Australia senior rights manager Nerrilee Weir and publisher Beverley Cousins about the novel’s rights sales potential.

What is your pitch for Greenlight?

Recently true-crime programs (think The Teacher’s Pet and Serial) have consumed the public conscience, providing everyone with the opportunity to declare their personal verdict on these cases. Benjamin Stevenson has used this fascination as the basis for his debut novel Greenlight, exploring how these programs have created a system of social media justice, and their resulting real-world impact. In his debut novel, Stevenson poses the question: what happens if you convinced the world a guilty man was innocent?

Who will this book appeal to?

Greenlight will appeal to true-crime and thriller lovers alike.

Who is the author?

Benjamin Stevenson is an award-winning stand-up comedian and author who has sold out shows from Melbourne International Comedy Festival all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Off-stage, Benjamin is a literary agent at Curtis Brown, where he has worked with a number of writers including Liane Moriarty and Chris Hammer.

How has Greenlight been received in Australia?

Greenlight has received glowing endorsements from authors who have described the book as an ‘an outstanding debut—confident, compelling, with a surprise around every corner’ (Jane Harper) and reviews that have commended Ben for his ‘clever, heart-racing read’ (Courier Mail) and ‘perfectly executed plot twists and turns’ (Herald Sun).

Benjamin has an incredible talent for writing gripping stories and his debut has proved that. We are excited to continue to grow with Benjamin on his second novel, which is pegged for publication in 2020.

Have any international rights been sold?

The North American rights for Greenlight have sold to Sourcebooks and UK rights to Hodder & Stoughton. We have a lot of interest from other international markets and hope to secure more deals over the coming weeks.

Has there been any interest in film/TV adaptation?

The film rights are held by Curtis Brown Australia but there has also been a lot of interest in Greenlight from producers.


Australian bestsellers in September: ‘Scrublands’ and ‘The Barefoot Investor’ remain at the top

Australian fiction bestsellers: September

Australian crime-thrillers are currently dominating the local bestsellers chart, with Chris Hammer’s debut novel Scrublands at the top of the fiction bestsellers chart for September following its release a month earlier. Other crime-thrillers in the top 10 are Christian White’s The Nowhere Child, Michael Robotham’s The Other Wife and Caroline Overington’s The Ones You Trust. Second on the chart is The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which Echo publisher Angela Meyer says has sold over 101,000 copies since its release in late January. Among the new entries in the chart are recent releases from bestselling commercial fiction authors Kate Morton (The Clockmaker’s Daughter) and Fiona Palmer (Sisters and Brothers); and a modern Australian classic that has been re-released to coincide with a film adaptation, Madeleine St John’s Ladies in Black.

  1. Scrublands (Chris Hammer, Allen & Unwin)
  2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris, Echo Publishing)
  3. The Nowhere Child (Christian White, Affirm Press)
  4. The Clockmaker’s Daughter (Kate Morton, Allen & Unwin)
  5. Boy Swallows Universe (Trent Dalton, HarperCollins)
  6. The Other Wife (Michael Robotham, Hachette)
  7. The Ones You Trust (Caroline Overington, HarperCollins)
  8. Sisters and Brothers (Fiona Palmer, Hachette)
  9. Ladies in Black (film tie-in) (Madeleine St John, Text)
  10. The Husband’s Secret (Liane Moriarty, Pan)

Australian nonfiction bestsellers: September

‘Australia’s sweetheart’, singer and actress Olivia Newton-John’s memoir Don’t Stop Believin’ is one of the new entries in the Australian nonfiction bestsellers chart for September. Another celebrity memoir with international appeal is Australian TV presenter Osher Gunsberg’s Back, After the Break, a ‘powerful, dark, funny and heartwrenching memoir about life, love and living with mental illness’.

  1. The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, John Wiley & Sons)
  2. Winx (Trevor Marshallsea, ABC Books)
  3. Tries, Lies and Meat Pies (Sam Thaiday, Ebury)
  4. Don’t Stop Believin’ (Olivia Newton-John, Viking)
  5. Back, After the Break (Osher Gunsberg, HarperCollins)
  6. Working Class Boy (film tie-in) (Jimmy Barnes, HarperCollins)
  7. Leather Soul (Bob Murphy, Nero)
  8. Working Class Man (Jimmy Barnes, HarperCollins)
  9. Best Foot Forward (Adam Hills, Hachette)
  10. Monash’s Masterpiece (Peter FitzSimons, Hachette)

© Nielsen BookScan 2018 (Period covered: 19 August to 15 September)

Data supplied by Nielsen BookScan’s book sales monitoring system from 1000 retailers nationwide




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