The Crime Readers' Association

A Million Books Sold

3rd May 2017

There I was, putting the final touches to my latest manuscript prior to sending it off for editing, and flicking around the internet in case anyone had mentioned my books on Twitter (they hadn’t) or responded to my latest Facebook post (there were no comments). Idly procrastinating, I glanced at my website and spotted a bright red banner my publisher had added at the top, in capitals, complete with an exclamation mark: ‘OVER A MILLION BOOKS SOLD!’

My publisher is a quiet man, measured and experienced, and his estimates of sales are always extremely conservative. If he says we’ve sold over a million copies of my books, that is not hype. Aware that we were fast approaching a million sales, I had asked if the news could be posted on my website when the time came. After all, a million books is a milestone, isn’t it? And one day, there it was, in bright bold letters, staring me in the face.

So, as the author of the Geraldine Steel series, how do I feel about having sold a million books? To be honest, I have no idea. My detective has never sold a million books before, and I’ve never really considered myself a ‘success’ as an author. Some years ago, when my debut Cut Short came out, I wrote a post about how the goal posts move. This seems to be the case more than ever now. Where once it was exciting to be in the Top 100, once you reach Number 1 on Kindle, any other position when a new book is released feels slightly disappointing. It may be only vanity, but when several of your books have been Number 1 in The Times Crime Book List, and in The Sunday Times Best Crime Picks, not being selected is another slight disappointment. I’m hoping that passing a million sales is going to feel less ephemeral. After all, in a year’s time I’ll still be able to say I’ve sold over a million books – unless that figure has increased to two million by then… and there goes another goal post…

In theory, any success helps build my confidence as a writer. Yet every book is a fresh challenge and every publication presents a new pressure. I’m as concerned as always about how Deadly Alibi will be received. So far reviews have been encouraging, and I just hope that continues. While you are writing a book, it is yours alone. Once it has been published, anyone can pass judgement on it in a public forum and writers are at the mercy of reviewers, bloggers and readers. At the same time, I’ve just submitted the manuscript for the book that will follow Deadly Alibi and am waiting to hear back from my editor. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she likes it…

So nothing has really changed. Just because a million of my books have been sold is no guarantee that my next book will be well received. In fact, in some ways success increases the pressure as there are a lot more readers’ expectations to satisfy.

So it’s funny how swiftly the goal posts move, and any achievement is never the glorious success we anticipate. ‘The past is a foreign country,’ LP Hartley wrote, ‘they do things differently there.’ But the future is similarly strange territory, impossible to predict. Just like the expectations we set up for our readers in our books, our own hopes for the future can be fulfilled or confounded. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about having sold over a million books, and wouldn’t exchange my small measure of success for anything. After all, if we could predict our successes with any certainty, we wouldn’t have any time at all to enjoy them before the goal posts moved again…

Leigh Russell


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