What I Thought Of… HOW I SOLD 1 MILLION E-BOOKS IN 5 MONTHS by John Locke

I’m over on Irish Publishing News today, reviewing John Locke’s book, How I Sold 1 Million E-books in 5 Months.

I had a mixed reaction to it, which is to say that while on one hand I thought, “This is a near-guaranteed way to sell millions of 99c e-books,” on the other I was thinking, “This has nothing to do with being a good writer.” You may argue that the numbers of readers you have determines the quality of your writing, but it doesn’t, and I’ll be posting more about that thought next week.

“Being a self-published author myself (and currently making a living from it) I was intrigued to find out how Locke had done it. Even more so because I’m one of his legion of Twitter followers, and have been since before he came up with his e-book selling strategy, which he says he did around October 2010. But would this book really contain the secret of selling a million books? Would it say something new or just more of the same? And was it worth the $4.99 (€3.50) price-tag or should he have priced it at 99c like he does all his other books?”

Click here to read the full review.

P.S: What did I learn from this experience? PROOFREAD YOUR GUEST POSTS BEFORE YOU SEND THEM OFF. I don’t really care about typos on my own blog (it’s just a blog people – chillax!) but it’s not the done thing to do it on other people’s. When I have a guest poster, I only skim their article before it goes live; I’m assuming they’ve checked it themselves, and anyway I’m not the best error-spotter. But Eoin of IPN and I have been error-spotting all morning on this thing – clearly I wrote it in a caffeine-free situation. YIKES!

22 thoughts on “What I Thought Of… HOW I SOLD 1 MILLION E-BOOKS IN 5 MONTHS by John Locke

  1. Emma Newman says:

    I enjoyed the review, as I was very curious about the book. It looks like it’s a new way for him to print money, but I won’t let my envy get in the way!

    I was wondering if you think it’s worth while for someone who isn’t looking for writing advice in this book, and is in promotional hell with the stuff they’ve written and has been published – i.e. is the best of both worlds (writing as well as possible whilst also viewing it as a business) achievable? I am, of course, looking for myself and not a corny hypothetical friend…

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Let me put is this way: I think the book is absolutely worth a read for $4.99. It’s fascinating to read about how he did this. HOWEVER… his approach would really only work 100% for new work (I think). It’s very specific and you really have to tick all the boxes.

      Caring about writing and making money from the books you sell is achievable – dare I say I think I’m doing it. But I write what I want to write, and then I try to find people who’d be interested in reading it. I don’t want to get too much into it because it’s unfair to Locke to say what his method is, but that’s not what he does. For instance, if I were to follow his advice, I’d write another book about Disney not because I wanted to, but because I know all the people who read Mousetrapped would buy that too.

      I do recommend reading his book though, just for a little “push” if anything.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Let’s not start that sort of thing!

      I actually think our books are about two totally different things, and each of them does what they’re say they’re going to do well.

      (Yes, I *should* be a diplomat at the UN.)

      (Although I really do mean that!)

      • Mike says:

        Perhaps I should have qualified that comment with , “Better for me” as I am a committed writer. (Well, I WAS committed, but they let me out last week.) In reading Mr. Locke’s book, I noted–as did you–that this was a business model, not a way to become a successful writer, per se, merely a way to sell things.

  2. John McGroarty says:

    Never do proofreading late at night cos it’s just amazing what you will miss when fatigue is around. Oh and never ask someone who has no interest in your work to p/read it either ! The voice of experience, I assure you.

  3. Christopher Wills says:

    I have read his book and I agree with your review in the Irish Times. Good review by the way.
    I think it is worth mentioning that his system probably wouldn’t work if you only have one book to promote. It requires you to write a series of books about the same character, thus capitalising on the fact that the marketing you do for the first will also help the second etc.
    So it’s not for everyone, but I think it is well worth a read by most authors because you can adapt his methods to suit what you want out of it, and his use of Twitter was one of the best I have seen explained.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Christopher I think you mean Irish Publishing News, unless I’m in the Irish Times and I don’t know about it! 😉

      Re: multiple titles, that was one of the things about his book that made me stop and think. I’m going to do a big promotional push in October/November for my first self-published novel – including things that will cost money – and as I reading How I Sold… I started thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. Aren’t I wasting that money? Because if I connect with a reader, they’ll read one book. But if I wait until I have two novels out there, they’ll read two, and I’ll have spent the same amount of money.”

      Now I could write a whole blog post about this – and maybe I will! – but no, I’m not wasting money. I’m doing what publishing has been doing for years and years and years, and it’s worked just fine. If I read a debut novel by an author and I like it, I’ll still buy their second novel even if it comes out a year from now, which it probably will. (If it came out any sooner, I’d be wary. This is books we’re talking about, and they should take time to write.) I’m building a readership one book at a time, and that’s fine with me. It’s working (as far as I can tell). This is my writing career we’re talking about after all, not a get rich quick scheme.

      And that’s why I was so torn over this book. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and it does it very well. But I want to be a writer, not a content producer.

      • Catana says:

        “But I want to be a writer, not a content producer.” That really says it all. Locke’s method will work for anyone who can churn out readable books in a popular genre, on a regular basis, but not for serious writers who are doing well to write two or three books a year, and that aren’t part of a series,

  4. Tahir says:

    I read the book for the same reason as you Catherine and agree with your review. However, without giving away any spoilers I would say that each person has to find their own path to implement it and it requires work-it is not just a one-size fits all formula which is a good indication that it is likely to work if you read it carefully (it’s easy to miss the point). Sales people have always known that buying decisions are *always* made on emotion and not reason. I would also say that there is no reason why it shouldn’t work on a well-written book- but yes, you do have to have 10 books to hit the million but many would be happy with 100K right? That’s one book. You have to hit enough momentum in a short space of time to make it to the bestseller list and then you’re done.
    p.s. another typo in your article – illusive ->elusive (you definitely don’t want a book deal to be illusive!). Chilling.

  5. Holger Haase says:

    Funny you “reviwed” this today as I also read up about John Locke this morning. And now your post. But seriously, though, you should have discussed his method. Why? Cause his writing here really annoyed the hell out of me. I only read the first 20% which was pure fluff. (So much for respecting one’s time.) It feels like those overlong web posts that’ll try to motivate you to buy a How-To book (this method is worth a few thou, I could sell it for $300 but it is all yours for just $4.99; it is proven; everyone feels it’s awesome yadda yadda) and if you’re ever foolish to buy it, it could be summarised in a single sentence or two. Allan Carr is one of the worst offenders: Pages of pages about why this is a great system and in the end you get something like: Name a date; just give up. Huh? Reading the 20% so far I sure won’t fork out $4.99 for that.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I did think there was a bit of “when I tell you about it…” at the start but we both know if he’d just cut straight to the chase, it wouldn’t have been able to charge $4.99 for it! (Perhaps that was the plan…?) But I do think he has a specific method for selling books that would work, in all likelihood, if you followed it to the letter. However it has nothing to do with writing good books, writing the books *you* want to write or anything at all that I want to do with my own books. And in the interests of fairness, it’s not up to me to reveal that in public when he’s charging money for “revealing” it. It’s up to individuals to decide whether or not they want to buy it. However judging by your reaction to the first 20%, I’d recommend you don’t! ;-D

      • Holger Haase says:

        Haha, agreeing with me about the start chapter, then saying that it may be workable regardless, followed up by telling me I should probably *not* buy it and bringing out my inner contrarian. Dammit, I may just buy it. After all it’s only $4.99. 😉

        • catherineryanhoward says:

          So my evil agreement/disagreement/reverse psychology plan is working then! (That’s *my* secret e-book selling strategy, by the way!)

          My guess would be though that at the end of it you would be very incensed, and annoyed that you’d spent the money. But then it is only €3.50 or something. Whatever you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you!


    • Catana says:

      I felt exactly the same way about it, Holger. The smell of hucksterism was just too strong for me to want to read past the sample. But I suppose that’s the point. The book is undoubtedly meant to appeal to people who are comfortable with that approach.

      • catherineryanhoward says:

        I think self-publishing is splitting into two camps, and it’s something I’m going to blog about in the near future: those who have suddenly decided to try their hand at writing because they keep reading headlines about people making millions selling e-books and hey, how good does a 99c e-book really have to be, and those who have always wanted to be writers and either haven’t yet been lucky enough to get published, have given up trying or are exploring new ways of reaching readers. In the space between them, I imagine, is a scale of quality. Personally, I don’t think a book has to be all that good to be 99c but I couldn’t let anything I wasn’t 100% proud of out into the world because at the end of the day I want to be known as a writer – and a good one, ideally – above all else.

        • Catana says:

          I absolutely agree, Catherine. How many people who write because they love to write, who are willing to work themselves into the ground trying to attain some kind of creative ideal, are going to be tempted by information on how to sell a million books in five months?

  6. holgerhaase says:

    So I did buy the book after all and spent reading it until about 2am, then had ideas buzzing round my head until 4 and after barely 5 hours sleep am now definitely “Holger Not-quite-caffeinated-yet”. Yawn.

    It does get better after the first 20%. The fluff stops there though the next shortish chapter is probably equally useless as it deals with mistakes not to make. As those had cost Locke $25.000 over a year and involve hiring publicists and setting up shop outside Barnes & Noble etc, it is fair to say this would be out of my price range anyway and not really anything I would have done.

    When we finally come to the last two thirds of the book it starts getting interesting. It actually isn’t just one big reveal as I had initially suspected but a series of steps. None of which are necessarily anything new; most of them are Modern Marketing 101 but sometimes it is handy to be reminded again what needs to be done to promote a book (or in fact any other service) and Locke puts a neat spin to some of those methods that you can’t help thinking about ways on how to improve your own online presence…. and lose another 2 hours sleep in the meantime.

    I sure won’t go out writing any serial fiction anytime soon. In actual fact I never wrote fiction and probably never will but I do write non-fiction and most importantly have my German lessons and Massages to promote. As such I always enjoy reading Marketing books from different areas. Let’s face it: There isn’t a whole lot of info out on how to promote yourself as a private German tutor in Cork but Marketing is Marketing so it is possible to get tips from other areas I am also interested in.

    Catherine’s book (which I still favour far more) helped me finally make the move from Blogger to WordPress and within less than a month online get at the very least one new student through it and a number of interested parties. So I got my $2.99 worth. I am sure with some of Locke’s ideas I will also get the $4.99 back that I invested in it. All it takes with those books are generally two or three good ideas (and a sleepless night) to make it worth the read.

    So all in all: Not great but good enough.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      That’s just it – I wouldn’t do the specific things he outlined, but I definitely had a bit of a sleepless night thinking of all the things I could do with my books if I put in the effort! 🙂

      • Tahir says:

        Yeah, I think the book is a great motivator to think about the specifics of your particular project. A good triple large cappucino costs $4.35, not much less than the book. I was even more curious and bought his 300k-selling novel. Conclusion: Everyone on this thread has a long-term goal in mind in terms of what they want to achieve as a writer, branding, and what they can be proud of. I think everyone here agrees that adding a 99c book to your repertoire with the thought that it doesn’t need to be as good as a $2.99 book degrades and reverses all of that, even though you could probably make more money. That’s an important realization to come out of all of this and is kind of reassuring. There is no way I could write the kind of book I want write in 8 weeks part time, 99c or not. No way, it’s just not an option.

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