John Locke and Promotion

Followers of this blog of course understand that I’ve been attempting to crack the stubborn nut called book promotion.  I find this to be HUGELY exciting in the sense that every day is an opportunity to learn something new.  I’ve got this wonderful product (Abyss of Chaos, heard of it?) which I’ve built from the bottom up, and in a very real sense, I’m now learning my third career.  David Beem:  Business man.

I’ve been reading like a madman these past few months.  (Editing Abyss, critiquing others’ works, supporting other Indies, researching promotional dos don’ts online, etc.)  But one of the books I’m reading now is John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in Five Months.

John Locke is the first independent author to sell more than 1 million copies through Kindle’s Direct Publishing platform, fundamentally altering the concept of “vanity press,” and striking a powerful blow at the traditional publishing industry.  Bear with me, and I’ll explain.

“Vanity press,” for those of you who have never heard the expression, refers to an author who seeks to self-publish and has the financial means to mass print and promote his/her work.  The expression is only recently dated, since the ability to e-publish is only a few years old.  “Printing” is no longer cost prohibitive either, since businesses like Lightning Source and CreateSpace have blown open the market, making it possible to print on demand instead of mass printing your books.  These two market pressures have created the canvass for the John Lockes and Amanda Hockings of the world, and now traditional press faces a fast-changing business landscape.

Of course, traditional press isn’t going anywhere any time soon.  Also, when I say that Locke struck a powerful blow, I’m not just talking dollars.  (Although he’s made quite a few of those, and it’s earning big bucks that has a way of commanding people’s attention.)  No, I’m talking about art and commercialism.  Traditional press concerns itself with both art and commercialism, but at the end of the day, it must seek to recoup the expense of publishing.  That’s how business works.  Therefore commercialism is very much at the center of what traditional press does.  But with the advent of authors like John Locke and Amanda Hocking, traditional press now has to contend with a significant threat.

This gets complicated as the subject devolves into royalties and fine print.  You see, an author like John Locke can sell his books for 99-cents on Amazon and earn 35-cents per sale.  He’s loaded up his shelf with multiple titles, and his sales are remarkably consistent across the board.  In other words, the number of sales per title are super close.  His fans are loyal, and they come back for more.  Now, I can’t tell you what John Grisham makes per book on a $10 title, but the question John Locke wants you to ask is:  Is it ten times better than my 99-cent book?

The implications here are profound.  Locke has done more than crack the bestseller formula:  John Locke has cracked the ability to market his bestsellers, and he’s doing it affordably by leveraging social networking tools, blogs and websites.

Think about that.  Traditional press has boxed out the indie author (the children of the vanity authors, right?) for years.  You can’t get your books into Barnes and Noble, or Borders, and the privately owned brick and mortar bookstore down the street has suffered dwindling sales for years anyway, so it’s unclear how important this is for authors seeking discovery.  Locke even recounts a story about buying a six-foot tall kiosk and placing it right outside his local Borders.  He even offered the store 100% of the profit of his book if they sold it there, and they still turned it down.  (Locke was a millionaire by age 28, so he had some money to experiment with on his road to authoring fame.)  I a game like that, how can you win?

By not playing the game the way traditional press would have you play it.  And that’s exactly what Locke has done.  He’s cracked the stubborn promotional nut and I’m green with pistachio envy.  I don’t want to just take a page from John Locke’s book — I want the whole thing!