The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, has sold more copies in New Zealand than any other book to date* this year.
According to publisher, Fergus Barrowman, the actual sales figures are currently sitting at around 64,000 copies. Victoria University Press have around 11,000 copies available in their warehouse, and hope that this will see them through the Christmas period. Fergus adds, ‘and don’t forget over 7000 copies of the ebook have sold in NZ alone.’
The Luminaries was released in New Zealand on 2 August 2013, a week after it was announced as one of 13 titles on the Booker longlist. (Granta published the title in the UK shortly before). Sales to date average out at a massive 546 copies a day. Fergus puts the success of The Luminaries down to the fact that, ‘…it makes NZ history extremely interesting and exciting’. Readers have found the book enormously rewarding.
Did Fergus have an inkling that this book was a potential Booker-prize winner? ‘Yes. I knew how good it was perhaps two years ago when I first read part one, and I knew that Max Porter at Granta felt the same. Of course, as well as exceptional quality a book needs a bit of good luck.’
While it isn’t unusual for a Booker-prize winning book to rocket to the top of bestsellers charts internationally, it is unusual here in New Zealand for the prize to have such a huge effect (though admittedly a NZ-set book by a NZ author doesn’t usually win!) It is also unusual to see a literary work top the charts for both the general chart (which takes in all bookstores in New Zealand, excepting Whitcoulls), and the Indie Top 20 (taking in only independent bookstores). It is difficult for local publications to beat out the big internationals with their marketing juggernauts – Lee Child’s Never Go Back and Dan Brown’s Inferno take second and third spots in the general chart.
We asked Fergus whether these levels of sales had ever happened before to him in his career as a publisher. ‘The Vintner’s Luck took off at the end of 1998 and sold 40,000 in 12 months.’ After mentioning that VUP didn’t begin to catch up with demand for The Luminaries until the sixth reprint (of 30,000 copies), he reflected that what had happened with The Vintner’s Luck ‘should have given us the courage to respond more boldly when The Luminaries began to go.’
The hardback of The Luminaries also reached number five on the NZ Fiction bestsellers to date, and is the only hardback on that chart.
Victoria University Press publishes both fiction and non-fiction, focusing on good quality literary fiction. Have they published anything else that they thought may have taken off in this way? Fergus says ‘I knew The Vintner’s Luck’s potential, but we pulled back our initial print-run because the trade was cautious…we are very happy to publish books that we know are unlikely to reach a big readership: short stories, first books, experimental fiction. We have published eight fiction titles this year, and all have met expectations.’
Eleanor Catton’s first novel, The Rehearsal, has also experienced an upsurge in sales, and has been prominent in the NZ Fiction charts for the past few weeks. This has led to VUP reprinting twice in 2013.
The only other New Zealand book on the Overall Bestsellers Chart was Annabel Langbein the Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures, which came in at number eight.
by Sarah Forster
* The overall chart is for sales until 30 November 2013.