John Locke made history (again) yesterday when he was announced as the first indie writer to sell 1 million Kindle Books. In case you are wondering about Amanda Hocking – who broke a million a while back – that was for e-books in all formats through all retailers.
On the same day, John Locke released his how-to book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! which broke into the Top 100 items in the Kindle Store at some point yesterday evening. It’s now at #54.
Pretty impressive for a self-published non-fiction book, and pretty impressive for a self-help book, or for any book on writing/publishing/marketing.
Cynics will note that the announcement was made on the same day as the book release. Others have argued that Amanda Hocking must have also passed this milestone by now, but that Amazon aren’t as keen to trumpet her success since she turned down a trade deal with their publishing arm to sign with St. Martin’s Press.
Only Amanda Hocking and Amazon will know the truth on that score, and I’m sure her fans will be asking her the same question, and we may hear something on that soon.
In any event, none of that should detract from this amazing achievement from someone who made $47 in his first six months.
I bought his book yesterday (it’s priced at $4.99) and read through it quickly (it’s not that long). I’m not going to break down the contents for you, that would be unfair, and I’m not going to give much of a pronouncement on it either – I really need to read it with a little more care first.
However, I can say that a couple of things are quite clear. First off, in those first six months when he sold next-to-nothing, he spent a huge amount of time and money (he pegs it at $25,000) on marketing efforts which garnered him no sales – publicists, book trailers shown at movie theaters, publicists, advertising, ARCs, radio interviews etc.
He then switched to a “free” strategy which turned his sales around – he says – overnight. Building relationships (rather than just acquiring followers) through Twitter seems to have been key.
He also echoes the point that Bob Mayer made the other day that marketing efforts won’t bring you much reward before you have several titles out.
You are probably going to ask me if the book is worth $4.99 and whether you should buy it. I can’t answer that for you, and I can’t recommend it or not before I read it more carefully.
However, my logic in purchasing it was that I would pay the money just to hear the story of how he sold a million books, even if there was nothing in there I could use for myself, and I am satisfied in that regard.
On a first – admittedly quick – read there are certainly a few things in there I can use. Some stuff I am doing already (and I think many of you will be too). Other stuff I had figured out and had planned to do. And there was yet more stuff I hadn’t thought of that I will experiment with. But there was some stuff that I either don’t want to do, or I don’t think would work for me.
Forgive me if I don’t go into details, but I think it wouldn’t be right to give a detailed summary of the book here. What I can do is tell you what kind of book it is, and then you can have some idea whether it would interest you.
It’s not a book on how to write a novel (although he does share some brief thoughts on his approach). If you want something like that, I strongly recommend On Writing by Stephen King.
It’s certainly not about advanced fiction techniques (John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction is good). And, he won’t teach the nuts-and-bolts of self-publishing, or present much of an argument for self-publishing.
There is virtually no talk about covers, editing, or formatting, only a brief outline of his 99c philosophy, and he doesn’t go into anything about the state of the e-book market, the future of publishing or anything like that.
It is predominantly about marketing your novel, and he has some interesting insights about finding your niche and exploiting it. He has a very clear idea of who his readers are, and an extremely innovative way of reaching them, turning them not just into customers, but into evangelists for his books.
I don’t think his advice will suit everyone or work for everyone. However, I do think it’s quite likely that someone could follow the steps and turn their books into bestsellers. Please note, the most important word in that sentence was “could”.
It’s clear that he sees writing purely as a business (but one which has the side-effect of being very entertaining when done right). If you have lofty notions about writing as art, or creating something timeless, then you probably won’t enjoy it.
However, if you enjoy books about marketing books, or if you want to read his story of how he sold a million of them, then you will get something out of it. I can say that I stopped twice during reading it to alter the design of my blog (you may notice a slight tweak in the stuff in the right-hand column), and that alone could repay the $4.99 (over time).
I’m sure he will get some heat for the price point. I’m sure some will grumble that he almost gives his novels away and now he his going to squeeze the fat from desperate writers who want to emulate his success.
I think that would be a little unfair. First off, writers are entitled to charge whatever they like for their books. Second, he defends the price point very convincingly in the book.
He argues that the ideas he is presenting are worth a hell of a lot more than the cover price, and that it’s also purely a business consideration, that the target market for this book is much smaller than the target market for his novels. In any event, I think people expect to pay a little more for non-fiction in general.
All of the talk surround the book, its contents, and its price will probably overshadow the actual announcement – at least in the self-publishing world – and I am sure that there is plenty there for his detractors to chew on.
But I don’t think we should lose sight of what he has achieved. 1 million Kindle e-books in 5 months. That’s something else, and congratulations to John Locke for achieving this on his own, doing things his own way.