Our Industry KnowHow series, led by The Society of Authors, continues his week with a closer look at special sales  what are these and do they matter?

You’ve written or illustrated a book and been offered a contract by a publisher, but tucked away in the royalty section is a category called special sales or referring to high discounts – what are these and do they matter?

Special sales are editions where retailers (e.g. The Works) pay a very low price per copy for a large quantity of copies, but pay up-front and ‘firm’ for all those copies. Knowing at the outset that such payment is guaranteed, and factoring in economies of scale, can affect the publisher’s budgeting decisions for the work, particularly with highly illustrated works which remain disproportionately expensive to produce. For some publishers, these editions are planned as part of a launch to introduce a debut author to the market (to reduce the financial risk of investing in an unknown); other publishers will always have these sales scheduled in from launch; whereas other publishers make ad-hoc arrangements, e.g. to exploit an anniversary or to lift sales of an old series by introducing a boxed set to the market.

There could be some positives to the arrangements – it might make the book viable in the first place and such deals can be useful for books that have been selling poorly. They can also be used to give a boost to an author’s backlist titles in the wake of publication of a new title, or to promote a special edition of a book, with a different jacket and special market. But why should you be cautious?

Financial implications

Special sales editions used to be branded and/or cheap editions, hand-sold into factories or offices. These days they are often indistinguishable from full-price editions and the internet has opened up consumer access – even Amazon marketplace will list special sales editions alongside full-priced copies. Seeing books for sale so cheaply can damage the perceived value of books and the price that readers expect to pay for them – but also damage you financially.

The royalty on full-priced copies is generally on the retail price, but special sale royalties are usually 10% of receipts (actual price paid by the retailer). If a picture book is bought at 30p per title, the writer/illustrator’s royalty is reduced to as little as 3p. At the SoA, we have had complaints from members where deals permitted at the peak of a title’s life has flooded the market, with the consequence that they have earned far less compared to their other works.

Reputational damage

Aside from financial damage, your profile can suffer too. High street bookshops cannot compete with low-priced sales and regularly check special sale retailers’ catalogues so they know to avoid these titles. Special sales are not recorded by Nielsen BookScan, so they don’t appear in official sales figures. In addition, special sale income is recorded by publishers as subsidiary licensing, but not the number of units sold. The lack of these additional sales figures can make a difference to commissioners (publishers or producers) considering whether to invest in you or what size advance they may offer on your next title.

Get advice first

Remember: always seek advice on your contract. We would expect a publisher to agree that you are consulted on these sales and your approval is sought as to your royalty rate; and would urge you not to accept a deal where your royalty is reduced even further as discounts increase. The Society of Authors offers specialist tailored advice to all members on request.

Find out more about special sales here and read about The Society of Author's CREATOR campaign here.

* Main Image by InstagramFOTOGRAFIN from Pixabay

The Society of Authors (SoA) is the largest UK trade union for all types of writers, illustrators and literary translators, at all stages of their careers. The SoA offers specialist tailored advice to all members and has been speaking out for the profession since 1884. To join or to find out more and seek advice, visit

Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, or know more about, send your suggestions to

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.