Skip to Content

Bestsellers across the globe

19 January 2009

So who are the most popular fiction writers across the globe? Rather surprisingly, a recent study shows that Khaled Hosseini and Ken Follett share that accolade. They are the only writers to have books in the top ten in seven out of the nine countries where data was available.

Follett is a long-standing international favourite whose books have sold extremely well for a many years and his latest, World without End, is following that pattern. Hosseini is more of a surprise. The author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns did benefit from selection by Richard and Judy in the UK but the novels' international success seems to be based on their novelty, since they are highly original books from an interesting new writer. Hosseini's writing has great narrative drive and his books open up Afghan society to western readers. They are generally regarded as rather 'literary' and their strong themes make them popular with reading groups.

Coming behind these two writers on the list are the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson and the much better known John Grisham. Other more obvious names such as Stephenie Meyer, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, the European bestseller Henning Mankell and J K Rowling make it into the top 10 fiction lists of just four countries. There's also Muriel Barbery, a French writer virtually unknown in the UK and US, who is in the same category.

In total 387 writers featured in the top 10 lists of the nine countries where the lists were examined - which were France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, China, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US (so they do not encompass the whole world). But only 48 of these had top 10 hits in more than one country, suggesting that fiction bestsellerdom may vary more than we think from one place to another.

The data is taken from book trade magazines in the countries listed above by the consultant Rudiger Wischenbart. Perhaps even in this era of globalisation these figures show that each market is unique. Some British and American writers have appeal across the globe, but there are not actually very many of them. Each country has its own favourites and translates and sells internationally bestselling authors according to the internal dictates of their own market. It could be argued that the strong appeal of each country's own writers to their readers is a good thing and essential for the maintenance of a healthy local publishing industry and for continued cultural diversity across the globe.