John Locke Sells A Million Books, Then Tells The World How He Did It

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 won’t tell you how to edit your novel. For that, I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (although I hear Sol Stein’s book is also excellent).

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.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

43 Replies to “John Locke Sells A Million Books, Then Tells The World How He Did It”

  1. I read about John Locke’s non-fic book yesterday (along with the ridiculous brouhaha over the price point) and I’m interested in reading it for the same reasons you mentioned. How could you not want to know how he did it? Not saying the same will work for me, but it’s interesting. And kudos to him for treating this like a business and succeeding.

    I agree whole heartedly regarding Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m reading it now. Fantastic!

  2. I’m so new to e-publishing – and writing in general – that I have to admit I’ve never heard of John Locke. Having said that, 1 million books in 5 months is some achievement. I probably won’t buy his book – I’m waiting for ‘Lets Get Digital, Digital’, but I’m off to check out his work now.

    Thanks again, David. I’d be interested in reading what you have to say on the book, if you do decide to review it.


    1. Hmmm.

      It’s a tricky one. In one sense my title is a competing one (although I doubt John Locke is too worried about me eating into his sales), and it might not be appropriate to review it. Also, I don’t really do reviews, for a whole bunch of reasons. Finally, to properly evaluate his theories, I would really need to test them. Some stuff I will be trying, and I’m happy to report on how that goes, but some stuff doesn’t suit my approach either. Maybe I will leave the reviews to someone else, but I would be very interested in reading other people’s thoughts who do read it and/or try and implement his approach.


    2. Although I should also point out that my book is very different, and we aren’t really competing titles.

      Mine is more of a practical hands-on guide to self-publishing, as well as a series of essays on the state of the publishing industry and where it’s headed – the “why to” as well as the “how to” self-publish.

      But having said that, I still have to be careful. What if I review it and I hate it? How will that come across?

  3. I’m reading the same book but started too late last night to finish it. I also found some interesting ideas and took some notes. I can also see why he changed price points for this book.

    The only critisicm I have of the book so far is that it’s written like a sales presentation (which should be no suprise to people familiar with the author’s history), and I don’t like sales presentations. Several times I’ve wished he’d just get to the meat of the topic. Now that I’m finally getting to the meat, I’m less put off.

    1. It is like a sales presentation, that’s for sure.

      I would have liked some more of his thoughts on the publishing business, the bits that were in there were amusing. The system itself? Haven’t quite wrapped my head around. There are certainly one or two things I can use, but I did find it interesting.

      I’m quite sure it will divide opinion.

  4. Just the publicity about this will sell copies of his books–and yep, I’ll take a look as well having several nonfiction titles that do well but not FANTASTIC in sales. Who doesn’t aspire to FANTASTIC?

    1. And I’m sure this one will do fantastic in sales too.

      I was willing to pay $4.99 to hear the story of how he did it, aside from anything regarding a system I could use. Parts of it puzzled me, I’ll have to read it again. But I enjoyed it.

  5. When I received the Kindle newsletter yesterday, I immediately checked out Locke’s Amazon page and then his blog. The leggy covers of his books remind me of the old Ellery Queen paperbacks. The 99-cent price point on each book, noted immediately. Both are instant sales generators. Locke has been very wise to publish multiple titles in a short period of time. I think this sends a subliminal message to a would-be reader that you are an established author and the risk of spending money (even just 99 cents—it’s funny how people balk at even cheap prices) is low.
    I’m about to publish my fourth novel. My third was the first foray in ebooks and it’s done well (broke into the Amazon Top 100 bestsellers), but sales could be better. As soon as the new book is published, the first two novels will be formatted into ebooks. It will be interesting to see how all sales are affected when I get this done.
    P.S. Rooting for your new book, Dave!

    1. Hi MP! Good to have you over at my place.

      He’s a smart man, and his brain is hard-wired for marketing – nobody can dispute that. I remember when his sales for first taking off and he said “instead of having to prove I’m as good as James Patterson, with my books at 99c, he has to prove he is ten times better than me. I like my odds.” I read that and I thought this guy is going to sell millions of books. The covers are interesting from a commercial perspective – combining sex and nostalgia. A powerful mix and tricky to pull off.

      Best of luck with the new book! Almost all of the “success stories” have several titles out. It seems to be a big factor.


  6. I say Bravo, and the more writers like him hitting the 1,000,000 mark, the better it will be for all us Indies in the long run–for all writers in the long run. I’ve stuck this one in my TBR pile too.

      1. I have a theory–having just re-familiarized myself with his titles, but not having read one of his books–that his sales must have something to do with all the ladies’ legs on his covers. Seriously, five of nine just show women’s legs, and two of the remaining four feature much skin themselves…

        Then again, Saving Rachel–which I understand is his bestselling book–features a fully clothed woman hunched over in a glass box, so what do I know….lol

  7. I saw the listing for his new book on Smashwords the other day, and wasn’t remotely interested. First, I’ve read a lot about how he did it, and I know that his way isn’t my way. The key idea here is that he regards writing as a business. His books are deliberately commercial and he churns them out like popcorn. If it’s your goal to write commercially popular novels and make a fortune, then his advice is probably going to be helpful. If not, then it may well be counter-productive. I’m not criticizing either his new book or his techniques, just saying that you have to know what kind of writer you are and what you want to achieve. Otherwise, you can wind up spending money on books that aren’t going to be of much use to you.

    1. Catana, that’s excellent advice.

      I don’t think my writing is that commercial, so felt there were parts of his system that straight-out wouldn’t work for me. But I think there are things in there that could. And there’s some stuff I think most people are doing already to some extent. I’m not sure if I agree with the way he puts the pieces together.

      I enjoy reading this kind of stuff on a purely analytical level anyway, so I was happy to pay for it. I need to read it again to make my mind up about certain parts.

  8. I’ve read the book. It’s quite good, and definitely worth the price. I think every indie author looking for marketing strategies should read this book and experiment with his ideas to see what works for them.


    1. I think that’s key. There are many roads to the top of the mountain, and John Locke’s road mightn’t work for you. Personally, I think I can learn just from reading about his journey. I would have loved more of his thoughts on the publishing industry and where it is headed, but I think it was enjoyable to read. I’m fascinated with this stuff though, and other people may feel differently.

      I think opinion will be divided on this one.

  9. The one reason I’m hesitating on buying it is that I’m not sure if he has any concrete ideas or resources in there. Sales presentation/pitch is not what I want. That’s what I’ve found lacking in all the eBook Publishing Guides I’ve read so far. Mine however is full of links and free!

    So without giving anything away, can you tell me if he actually gives you anything you can use?

    1. Hi Coral,

      Your comment got caught by my spam filter – sorry about that, it can be a little persnickety.

      Personally, I think there is stuff in here that most writers can use. I don’t think the whole lock, stock, and barrel of his system will work for everyone, so don’t peg your hopes to high. They way I looked at it was this: a guy who sold a million books on his own is sharing marketing tips – there’s got to be something useful there. And there was.


  10. I haven’t bought his book yet, but I probably will. One of the hardest things about self-publishing is the marketing end, and for me, Twitter is still a mystery, so it’lll be worth it just to see what he does and what I’m missing.

    Plus, I have a $25 Amazon gift card to use. 😉 Even if I didn’t, I’d probably still buy it. I won’t quibble about the price he set for the book because I can choose to pay it or not. He’s not strong-arming me into buying anything.

    1. Marketing is tricky.

      It’s partly about developing an instinct. You can have all the stats and research you want, but a lot of it is guesswork and instinct. I think it’s something you can learn, with practice. Some people have a natural talent for it, and John Locke is clearly one of those. And Twitter is a huge piece of the puzzle for him.

  11. David, the summary really turned me off. It wreaked of a “get rich quick book” and how it was written in the 3rd person seemed weird. Was the entire book like that, or did the vibe change once he got into the meat?

    1. I wasn’t crazy about the opening either. It’s better after that, but there are parts similar to the opening. Maybe you could borrow it and see if you would dig the rest.

        1. I would lend it to you so you could see if it is your cup of tea, but I only have Kindle-for-PC (no e-reader yet), and apparently that means I can’t lend books. Boo!

  12. Thank you for posting about this. I’m in the process of building a marketing plan for my own books release. I did hear about the milestone yesterday, but hadn’t realized that he published an informative book on how he got there. I’ll have to look into it. Any tips are a huge help at this point and spending $5 is nothing when compared to experience.

    1. Hi Nicole – he only published it the day before yesterday, but it’s already causing controversy. Some think it’s hogwash designed to peel money from desperate self-publishers, others think it’s a genius marketing system which they can follow to the letter and be successful. I think most are somewhere in the middle – $4.99 is a fair price for a non-fiction how-to book, especially one on marketing from someone who has a lot of talent in that area, and you may find some useful tips in there you can apply to your own efforts.


  13. Hi Dave, I bought John Locke’s book and read it in about 2 hours. There are parts that I need to go back and re-read, but overall, I have to say his approach to marketing his work is fantastic. I wasn’t at all convinced about the sincerity of his key blog posts (this may have been only because he deconstructed them for us in this book), but given that they were cornerstones of his marketing campaign, that is not really so important. The way he integrates web site, blog, twitter and eMail is amazing. It’s an object lesson on what can be done (with twitter, especially) if you know what you’re about and if you have a well-worked-out marketing campaign. Of course the first step, as always, is to write a series of books – at least three, I’d say – featuring the same main character(s) so that, when/if you manage to create an audience you have something to give them. Branding is important too. His main brand is his character, Donovan Creed.

    Having said all that, his approach will not work for everyone. I’m pretty sure JA Konrath’s method differs substantially from Locke’s, for example, as does Amanda Hocking’s. Anyway, I’ve come away with lots to think about, and a clear action plan which starts with: Write the first book…

    1. Hi James – Interesting to hear your take. Mine wasn’t that different, but I also need to read it again.

      And you’re right, Hocking & Konrath followed their own path to the top. Personally, I think there is many ways to get there, but it’s useful to read anyone’s story of how they did it and see if there is anything you can use for yourself.


  14. Well, I plunked down my $4.99 and read it this morning. How could I not?

    I liked it. I’m with you, David, in that I don’t think this is an approach that will work for everyone…however, the man is damn smart, and he has the goods to back it up…not just as an author, but — basing this only on this e-presentation — also in two other industries. At the very end, I had to smile. Clever, clever man. All of it. The whole thing — his whole professional author experience — is so well-planned and executed. That he expresses such love and gratitude to his hardcore fans is a saving grace, making it easy to forgive him for forcibly tugging on my arm and leg strings there at the end in a transparent move to get me to hit that “Contact Me” button. But I think sincerity is a crucial element in this marketing approach. No one could spend that many hours responding to emails and comments if he didn’t truly care about his readers, and I think that if there is one secret to this whole strategy working, it’s just that: sincerity in cultivating relationships.

    As for the price point, I think he’s dead on considering that I did enjoy his book and appreciated all of his transparency and secret-sharing, yet I probably won’t be buying any of his other books. Why? Just not my type of story. Like most other writers, I’ve got a boatload of books waiting their turn to be read. So it’s probably good that he got $4.99 out of me since I most likely won’t be part of a cross-over audience. I can dig it.

    All that said, it’s probably not an approach that will work for authors who are uncomfortable with networking and putting themselves out there. Of course, in this day and age, I’d have to say it’s both easier and, frankly, crucial that authors be able to do this in order to succeed. But, you know, different strokes…

    I do agree with other commenters in that it was very sales-pitchy. I think that was very deliberate on his part. And for what it is, I think it works. I will be very interested to see how this pans out for other indie writers. I wonder if this will reduce the number of spam tweets from certain authors I’ve been itching to unfollow. (And yes, I’d rather be befriended than spammed.)

    BTW, I had to laugh when I opened up Yahoo! this morning and saw that Joe Paterno had made the news. I haven’t checked Twitter yet, but I’m willing to bet Locke was busy following up on this. 🙂

    Anyhow, sorry for the long comment. Really love your blog…and your stories. Keep up the great work!

  15. It does come across as hard sell and that’s not my style, but I bought the book because my curiosity overcame my skepticism.

    Not everything he outlines will work for me, but his suggestions for effective blog posts made me completely re-think my blogging (which has been rather unfocused). The changes I’m planning on this front made the book worth more than $4.99.

    I discovered your blog through the “death spiral of print” post. I’ve been enjoying catching up on your other posts — you have some good insights!

    1. I was the same, to be honest. Marketing spiels are a turn off for me. But I really wanted to read the story of how he did it, and I felt if I got anything useful it would be a bonus.

      And as well, there’s some things in the book that I don’t even want to try – just not my style. But there is some stuff I will use, for sure.

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *