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Cressida Downing blog posts

Respecting your reader – what services should you be paying for and why?

Frustrated writer

Self-publishing can mean doing everything yourself, or it can include a certain amount of sub contracting.  Professional services for the self-publishing author include everything from ghost writing the book itself to formatting, editing and promoting it.

None of this help is cheap and providers range from qualified experts to re-named vanity publishers.  The self-publishing community is very adept at assessing and monitoring the professionals it deals with, another reason to be a part of it.

I always recommend that an author get help with two aspects of publishing – the editing and the cover.  Both these reflect the amount of respect you as an author have for your reader.

Covers are often dismissed, particularly for e-books where a reader doesn’t see it unless they go searching for it.  So why pay out for something so trivial?  Covers are more than just a book’s wrapping, they give out vital information to a potential reader.  There’s a reason why …

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And here are the answers...

In this blog post, editor Cressida Downing explored authors' earnings and explained why you really shouldn't give up the day job. She also asked some interesting questions about the number of copies bestselling authors actually sell - and the answers may not be quite what you expect.

Have you guessed? If so, read on to find out how close you were. 

  1. 620,000 copies of Dan Brown
  2. a).  5,326 copies.  
  3. 1.2 million in total – equally split between paperback and e-books.
  4. 39,527 but only 2,245 in her native New Zealand. A country that likes books but lacks population.
  5. Nearly 26,000 copies.
  6. Morrissey sold about five times as many – 127,922 – but the critical reception was lukewarm.
  7. 67,467 copies – it won Waterstone’s Book of the Year.  It sold just over 2,000 copies on its debut.
  8. Just over 50,000 copies. Of the other books in the top ten for Children’s and YA fiction – David Walliams’ five titles sold a total of 62,556.  
  9. One. Isabel Greenberg did better with …
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Don’t give up the day job

Gone Girl

No – I mean it – don’t give up the day job.

How much money do you think you can make as a ‘proper published author’?   How many copies do you think you’d sell if you were a bestselling poet?  

THE BOOKSELLER – the weekly trade magazine of the publishing industry – brought out an issue about the best books of 2013.  These were the best-selling, the best-reviewed, the titles that had impressed the trade the most.  A summary of the year’s highlights is nothing unusual, but I noticed that they printed the number of copies sold next to the books they were talking about.  These numbers don’t include e-books, so they can’t tell the whole story, but they do illustrate – yet again – that the top twenty or so authors dominate the numbers, and it’s a very steep curve down from them.

Would you like to try my quick sales figures quiz?   I’ll provide answers in another blog (the link is at the end of this post).  Oh, and no googling …

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But 70% of nothing is still nothing…


As a traditionally published author, a typical royalty figure is between 10 and 15% on a hardback, and a bit less on a paperback.  If your publisher sells a few thousand into a book club, they cut the price to the book club, and cut your royalty too. 

If you self-publish, you keep the vast majority of any profits. On Amazon for example, if you are selling an e-book, you’ll get either 35% or 70% of the sale price (minus a few small deductions – including a ‘delivery’ charge for transmitting your book …).

It looks like a no-brainer doesn’t it?  Why put up with pitiful royalties when you can get 7 times as much by putting in the work yourself?

So how much money are self-published authors making? 

As this is a relatively new area, there hasn’t been much information on how it’s been going.  Amazon have been reluctant to hand over figures (the Bookseller has only just begun showing e-book charts).  Authors who have been doing very well have been …

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What does a publisher actually do that you're going to do instead?

When you self-publish you take on the role of the publisher.  So what exactly does that role entail?

Publishers find good books, yes, but they also edit, layout, design (including covers), print, distribute, market, publicise, and sell the rights for the titles they publish.

As a self-published author, you are now responsible for all those aspects of getting your book out there.

Before you panic or employ a vast team of freelancers, stop to think what you want your book to achieve. 

Are you after widespread commercial success? You will probably need your book to look as professional as possible, so spend the time (and some money) in making it editorially tight, and well laid out with a strong cover. 

Are you writing for yourself primarily? Don’t worry too much about what other authors are doing – if your aim is to get your book up or in print, and that satisfies you – that’s fine.

Are you writing for your family and friends?  Concentrate on making it easy to …

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