More on John Locke and his writing
IP: Tell us a bit about your background before you turned to writing.
JL: When I started in the insurance business I used to hire, train, and motivate sales people. I wrote sales and marketing manuals for them and learned to take complex ideas and make them easy to understand. As a result, my writing style does not get into deep descriptive elements and it’s much more action oriented.
IP: How long have you been writing fiction?
JL: Fiction is new for me; I started three years ago. Obviously what comes naturally to me is nonfiction, as I’ve a little experience with that in the past. As far as the fiction I’m doing now, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time.
IP: How were the Donovan Creed books born?
JL: I wanted to create a character that men would want to be and women would want to be with. I tried to figure out what that would be. I came up with a guy who is part flaws and part superhero. Creed’s a smart aleck who knows what do to in any given situation, and he always gets beautiful women to fall in love with him. Perfect guy fantasy.
IP: What about the female readers?
JL: Women of all ages make up about 70% of my audience. What the ladies like about Creed is he has enough potential to make all of his flaws (everything the guys like) disappear. There has to be just enough in him that is salvageable for the ladies to stay on his side and cheer for him. I like to think of Creed as the big old goofy, lovable dog you see at the pound that you decide to take home against your better judgment.
IP: Have you become a full time writer?
JL: My full time jobs involve managing my shopping centers and overseeing insurance agencies. The writing is still a part time activity though it is occupying more and more time. The Simon & Schuster deal could change everything if the public is willing to embrace my books in a paperback form.
IP: Do you have any other books in the works?
JL: I have to slow down this year; I’m going to write less, promote a bit more, try to make these paperbacks successful, and give everyone a solid reason why they should try those. If I could write three or four books this year, that would be wonderful. I spend so much time with email, Twitter, and Facebook it would be nice to slow that down a little bit and find a balance.
IP Presents: John Locke
His self-publishing success, distribution partnerships, and the future of publishing
As the 8th member of the Kindle Million eBook Club, John Locke made his claim to fame a bit differently than the rest. Featured among authors such as Stieg Larsson and Kathryn Stockett, Locke was the first self-published author to break into the club, and he sold his famous Donovan Creed novels (among others) at 99 cents a pop. Now Locke has sold more than 1,700,000 eBooks and has a paperback distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.
I would call that quite the Cinderella story, though Locke’s action-packed and rather racy writing makes him a far cry from a blonde in a ball gown. In a matter of a few years, Locke has taken the book world by storm and has given self-publishers an honest and down-to-earth role model.
“I never approached an agent or publishing company and I’ve never sent out a query letter,” Locke says of his start to publishing. “As a life-long businessman I wouldn’t have respected a publisher who might have taken a chance on me when I started out! I was untrained and didn’t have an audience. I figured if I built up a big enough following, maybe an agent would contact me. But the agents didn’t start calling until I sold over 300,000 books in a month.”
Getting to that 300,000 mark (that’s 10,000 books a day, by the way) wasn’t easy. Like many other proactive authors, Locke dedicated himself to blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and emailing in his spare time to increase his readership. “Social media was a huge factor in my success,” Locke explained. “Authors can’t just say ‘buy me, buy me, buy me’ – they need to create relationships first.”
Clearly these relationships panned out for Locke. His fan base is incredibly loyal, made obvious by his millions of eBook sales. But simply writing fun fiction isn’t what got Locke to the top. As many opponents of self-publishing have pointed out, there are books that get published without proper editing and formatting, making what could be a good novel a mess. Locke realized that it was important to make a quality product, even if he was making it on his own.
“I hired an editor, Winslow Eliot, an established writer, and I worked with Telemachus Press who does the covers and formatting for me. I set it up so I could write the books and trust the details to other people. I also have a group of critical friends and acquaintances who read the books during the editing process. I take their opinions very seriously; in fact I recently followed their advice not to publish a book I was convinced would be a best-seller. Critical feedback like this helps me become a better writer.”
Having sidestepped many of the common faux pas made by inexperienced self-publishers, Locke was well on his way to success. Of course, he had no idea how successful he would be.
“I was just writing for fun and I had some stories I wanted to put out there,” Locke said. “I didn’t know how well I would do. I had a goal and that was to get 10,000 loyal readers. I figured if I had these readers that would pay me a fair price for my books it would make sense to continue writing.”
Locke snared those 10,000 loyal readers and more. And once he began to bring in big sales on a weekly and monthly basis, publishers began to give him some notice. However, Locke remained true to his original desire of being a writer on his own terms.
“Some publishers were interested in doing a four book deal with me, but I didn’t want to go the traditional route. I didn’t want to work for someone else or write books under self-imposed pressure to maximize a publisher’s profit. I want to write books that are fun to read and if they aren’t successful I’ll just write something else. Plus, I want to keep my books as low priced as possible. There’s so much competition for reader attention and as a reader myself I know it is important to be as reasonable as possible in pricing.”
Which brings us to one of the more controversial points of Locke’s self-publishing model. From day one, Locke has priced his eBooks at 99 cents. As we’ve explored here in Independent Publisher before, finding that perfect eBook price point can be difficult, and inexpensive books can get a bad reputation (whether or not it is deserved). In Locke’s case, selling books for 99 cents did not guarantee readership or success.
“I’d been selling my eBooks for 99 cents for a long time – nine months – and got almost no sales,” Locke laughed. “Then I started working with social media and emailing. I attracted attention to my blog site and I was emailing people and making readers one at a time. I did it the same way I started selling insurance: knocking on doors one person at a time. I got some readers, and they told their friends who told their friends and so on. Then the 99-cent price helped me greatly.”
Locke’s key to success wasn’t low prices; it was quality and promotion. Any well-written and well-publicized book would sell like crazy for 99 cents, and that’s exactly what happened with Locke’s novels. And although some critics have railed against selling eBooks for 99 cents, Locke believes the issue has been blown out of proportion.
“The argument people use is that if you’re selling books for 99 cents it brings down the quality of books everywhere. That’s ridiculous,” he declared. “Pricing my books at $1,000 each wouldn’t make them any better, nor would it improve the quality of other books in the marketplace. I make my books as best I can and spend money for professional editing. It’s rare that people find errors in my books, but when they do it gets fixed that same day. There’s no such thing as a perfect book, and I can almost always find at least one typo in most of the professionally published books I’ve read. So selling for 99 cents doesn’t necessarily mean a book is inferior in editing or content.”
One can’t help but admire Locke’s dedication to his principles, his work, and his readers. So it is only fitting that he is about to embark on a groundbreaking and industry-changing partnership with Simon & Schuster. Locke’s Donovan Creed novel Wish List hits bookstores everywhere on February 1st.
“To the best of my knowledge this is the first time this has ever happened,” Locke says of the distribution deal. “I write my book under my imprint and Simon & Schuster distributes it throughout the country. I am able utilize a distribution network that gives me access to bookstores and retail outlets all over the country that aren’t usually available to self-published authors. This is a fantastic opportunity that lets self and established publishers do what we do best.”
So what does this mean for Locke’s current and future books?
“I retain all the rights to all of my books,” he explained, “and I’m going to continue everything I’ve been doing with my electronic books. I will probably raise my eBook prices as the new books come out so I’m not working against the distribution deal. For example, I just raised the price of Wish List to $2.99 (the paperback price is $4.99). I’ll possibly start raising my eBook prices after my loyal group of readers has had a chance to buy them at 99 cents.”
Sounds like a win-win. Locke is very excited about the partnership and the paperback debut of Wish List this month (see below for more details). “Simon & Schuster has done a great thing,” Locke stated. “They recognize that the face of publishing is changing and they are willing to adapt to that change and lead the way into the future of publishing.”
With an initial print run of 750,000 books, Simon & Schuster certainly has faith in Locke and in their new venture. Locke believes that similar partnerships between authors and publishers will be the wave of the future.
“If I look at it as a businessman, publishing companies will have to significantly lower their overhead, bring down advances, give authors a bit more as they earn it instead of up front, and allow authors more freedom to operate. Publishers will spend less on ads, and authors will do more promoting,” Locke predicted.
Whether or not this model comes out on top, Locke has been quite a game changer. I was curious to know how he thinks his influence will affect writers and publishers to come.
“There are two kinds of legacies, professional and personal,” he said. “Professionally, I want to be remembered as the guy who gave self-published authors hope and encouragement. Right now self-publishing is still considered vanity publishing. I want to get that impression away from the public. I would love to see more self-publishers succeed and I want to tell them they can achieve their dreams. It’s hard, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it your best shot.”
“As for a personal legacy, Locke continued, “I like that my books will survive me and will be around forever, especially in electronic form. I think that’s a great way to be immortal. And it’s also a nice way to chronicle what crazy Grandpa John used to think,” he joked.
Locke’s three popular series, his bestselling How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! and more have secured his place among readers for years to come. Despite all the well-rewarded effort and, let’s be honest, good luck along the way, Locke remains humble about his success. “I don’t want to be a great writer,” he said, “I just want to be an effective writer.” And Locke is nothing if not that.
This edition: Paperback, 300 pages
Publication date: January 31, 2012
Featuring Donovan Creed, ex-CIA assassin and hit man with a heart of bronze and a weakness for hookers, Wish List is a rambunctious, nail-biter of a laugh-out-loud thriller.
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Jillian Bergsma is a writer and contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English. She welcomes any questions or comments on her articles at jbergsma (at) bookpublishing.com.