How I Sold 1 Million ebooks in 5 Months by John Locke

John Locke writes like this! Nearly every sentence contains both italics and an exclamation point, and sometimes Locke even switches to all caps because what he wants to tell you IS VERY IMPORTANT!

Hand-waving and cheerleading aside, I found HOW I SOLD 1 MILLION EBOOKS IN 5 MONTHS to be a deeply cynical book. Locke states that in order to succeed, a writer must spend more time marketing than writing. His role model is McDonalds, where the business plan is vastly more important than the food. He has absolutely no desire to improve his craft, any more than fast food places want to improve the quality of what they serve. Now, I’m not saying every writer needs to write world-class literature. Some of my favorite books are novels that the literati look down upon. But Locke’s advice–produce slap-dash, cheap novels and market the hell out of them–is exactly the kind of thing that gives self-published writers a bad name.

The sad thing is, it works. At least it did for Locke. I don’t know if other writers can replicate his success, although I see many of them trying. Locke starts the book with reasonable advice: don’t try traditional book marketing, blog effectively, have a website, use social media, and above all, write more books. It’s good advice and I can see why people are swayed. Come on, the guy sold a million books!

Then we come to Locke’s big idea, something he calls “loyalty transfer.” It goes like this: find a popular celebrity that you admire. Craft a blog post that somehow ties you to that celebrity, no matter how fragile the connection. Make sure your post drips with emotion, too. The idea is that some of the celebrity’s glamour will rub off on you and people will therefore buy your books. He includes an especially cringe-worthy example involving himself, his mom, and Joe Paterno.

I’ve seen the results. New Locke disciples are easy to spot. The author is suddenly full of praise for Lady Gaga or Stephen King or George Lucas because they have so much in common. The loyalty transfer blog is always a complete departure in style from the author’s previous blog posts. The insincerity practically oozes through the computer.

The next step, Locke says, is to go on Twitter and tell people to read your post. Not just the people who have chosen to follow you on Twitter, either. Using a keyword or hashtag search, you must seek out people who’ve never heard of you and tell them to read your post, too. (I blame Locke for most of the book spam that fills my Twitter feed.) Worse, Locke cozies up to people on social media not because he likes them or thinks they’re interesting, but because he thinks they’ll sell his book for him.

In Locke’s own words: “If you’re only interested in forming wonderful friendships, you can do that with Twitter by taking an active interest in what your friends are doing. But from a marketing standpoint, it is almost NO BENEFIT to have 10,000 Twitter pals if you don’t get some of them OFF Twitter and onto your promotional team.”

It’s so completely the opposite of the way I use Twitter, I had to read that part twice, just to make sure Locke said what I thought he said. Making wonderful friendships is the whole point of Twitter for me. And yes, I take an active interest in what my friends are doing, whether or not they buy my books. I sincerely hope that none of the great people I’ve connected with on social media think I’m using them as a means to a sale.

I refuse to put out crap books, suck up to celebrities, spam social networks and treat everyone I encounter as a wallet instead of a person. That probably means I won’t sell a million books. Or maybe I will. When I do, it will not be because of anything I learned from  John Locke.


rating: 1 star


I recommend The Author’s Marketing Handbook by Claire Ryan or How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie and Brent Cole instead of this book

32 thoughts on “How I Sold 1 Million ebooks in 5 Months by John Locke

  1. Ooo! Thanks for the great review! You just saved me a couple of hours of my life. 😀 I appreciate your honesty and agree with you wholeheartedly. I’d rather keep my integrity and develop real relationships than sell a million books, though, I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. At what price is he willing to sell his soul? Pretty cheap, it seems.


  2. I’ve always found the title of his book misleading. He states he sold that many in 5 months, but he had a multitude of ebooks published on Amazon and more ready in the wings. If you look at the publication dates – five were put out within a small amount of time in the spring of 2010. Then he puts out a handful more in 2011. Did he have all of these books ready and then launch them on Amazon? I think yes.

    And didn’t Amazon make the Kindle edition of Saving Rachel free for a couple weeks? This was back in the day when Kindle freebies were few and far between. I also believe he had a handful of $0.99 books out at that time and therefore hit the jackpot regarding his back list. To me, THIS is the reason he sold so many ebooks. Lots of new Kindle owners were surfing the free list. I doubt people found his blog post about Star Wars first, then bought his book.

    I never liked the title of this book and now find that the content is shaky as well. Thanks for the review.


  3. Dude, who wants to be THAT person? The McDonald’s of people? Not me. I am going to do the opposite of what this book prescribes. Also, if he had an ounce of perspective, he’d see that this strategy might be okay in the short term, but it’s going to leave you feeling about as satisfied (and about as remembered) as a McFlurry. Which is to say not much.

  4. Nice to know there’s a source for the insane levels of obnoxious book marketing! Now I know what the voodoo doll needs to look like.

    It always amazes me when someone encounters someone else who’s being a complete jerk and says, “I want to be just like them!”

  5. I agree with you, this book is full of advice that has nothing to do with being a writer, with constantly striving to write better, with forming lasting and true bonds with the people we get to know on social media. It is essentially a quite callous market-oriented book. However, also from that point of view it doesn’t shine. Indeed, in my humble opinion, right now on sale there are a lot of better books on marketing than this one.
    For sure, the information this book provides could have been written in a way more economical style – but then the price should have been shrunk accordingly…

  6. What a tool! His viewpoint seriously undermines the legitimacy of those of us trying to produce quality fiction.
    Shame, Mr. Locke, shame…

  7. There’s some common-sense social-media stuff in there, but I definitely got the used-car-salesman vibe from the text, and I almost didn’t get past the sample because of that. I also think that his advice on what to write blog posts about isn’t going to help most people. In fact, I saw a ton of people trying to implement it after the book came out, and it didn’t work — blog posts should answer the question “what’s in it for me?” for the reader, and it’s questionable whether talking about celebrities achieves that. I do agree with writing posts for your target audience, but even then, there’s something to be said for writing some posts for authors/bloggers, because those are people with blogs of their own, so they link to your site and help it grow.

    In the end, I think Locke was mostly in the right place at the right time with a lot of titles out there. It didn’t take much to push him past his tipping point. That book, by the way, (Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell) is a worthwhile read.

    • Thanks for stopping by the blog, Lindsay!

      I think what worked for Locke falls flat when other people try it, and my twitter feed already has enough spam in it, thankyouverymuch.

      I love Malcolm Gladwell. Now there’s a good writer!

  8. John Locke’s a salesman. That’s his background. Frankly, I found his book worth reading just to see how he applies it to selling writing.

    There are plenty of writers (and agents and editors) talking about selling writing, but salesmen? Not so much. So that’s a different viewpoint to how to approach novel marketing.

    He makes some good points. Am I an acolyte? By no means.

    Do I think everything he did will work equally well now for someone else? Nah. The e-book market’s evolving rapidly. For example, a lot of readers say they’re avoiding freebies and $0.99 titles now, because they’ve been burned so much—and more than one writer’s reported increased sales from increased prices.

    The fact is that John Locke evidently did sell 1 million copies in 5 months. Did he already have multiple titles ready when he started? Yes. Does that make his sales numbers illegitimate? No. Even if he sold 10k copies per title in a single month, that’s still enough to pay the bills for many of us—even at earning $0.35 a pop.

    All that said, I do get more use out of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Think Like a Publisher by Dean Wesley Smith, and Smart Self-Publishing by Zoe Winters.

    • Ultimately you can only get so far following other people’s advice. What worked a year or two doesn’t necessarily work today. What works in one genre doesn’t necessarily work in another. Zoe Winters was one who got in early and sold well early on but not so much with her more recent books. How much of her success was timing?

      I respect KKR and DWS, but if you go by their sales rankings on Amazon, neither sell particularly well, so I pick and choose which of their posts I pay attention to. They’re definitely not where I’d go for marketing advice.

      I’m not a Locke fan, but he is someone who sold a lot, so I’m more inclined to listen to what he has to say on the matter, though I’ve read his fiction and it’s depressing to see such a hack writer doing so well. But I guess that’s just another sign that he knows something about selling…

  9. I read this post and was compelled to comment. As you know, my background is in marketing and public relations, and I’ve handled PR/Marketing for all sorts, from celebrities to Writer’s Digest magazine. So, let me say this:

    Locke is the ONLY writer I know who tells you how to TRULY use social media to generate book sales. Let’s put aside the quality of his books. Let’s put aside the whole loyalty transfer stuff. The thing that makes this book extremely valuable–and the TRUE key to his system, the key that many people seem to miss–is how to use social media to sell books. And this is it:

    He says that you must use social media etc to get people to your SITE and to capture their EMAIL addresses! Then, when you are marketing your books, you MUST send individual/personalized emails to people. This is the way to effectively use social media to sell books.

    He is the ONLY person I’ve read who says this. And this will work whether you write a classic or crap. In this day, when publishers do NOT actively market for writers, and when we are being told to use social media but not HOW to use it to get sales, writers are hurting their book sales by dismissing Locke’s method.

    That’s my two cents. Or 99cents!

  10. Thanks for this review. I was pondering dropping the $2.99 to see if he really did have any big secrets, but like most writers who promise big, the only “secret” is spamming your friends and family while comparing yourself to McDonald’s? Yuck. While I am all for self-promotion, I think there’s an appropriate way to do it, and a gross, cheap way to do it. Blasting everyone you know with messages until they buy your book? Gross. I don’t care if it sells a million copies; it’s not worth it. As some of your other comments have said, our souls are worth more than that. Why not try writing a good book and spending time marketing that?

  11. Who writes to sell a million books? I am happy if I sell a 100 🙂

    A commercial world will produce commercial writers. However, a commercial writer does not get respected for their craft.

    I will stick to writing books I feel proud of.

  12. The point of writing isn’t to sell, it’s to write. Otherwise, you’re an insincere a-hole who writes books like Locke. Stephen King writes books because he has to. The words are in his head and he has to get them out. The fact that they sell so well is just an added bonus.

    In other words, don’t follow this guy;s advice. You might sell a million ebooks, but nobody will know who you are after a year or two.

    • It has recently come to light that Locke bought hundreds of 5-star reviews for his own books in hopes of gaming the system. Funny, he never mentioned that fact in his book.

      Just one more way that John Locke gives all indie authors a bad name.

  13. I’m glad I came across this review. It sounds like Locke is a proponent of a multi-level marketing approach to promoting one’s book. At the risk of offending readers of your blog who are involved in Amway, Candlelight Parties, Pampered Chef, etc., I’ve never wanted to make my friends and family feel obligated to buy something from me, whether it’s soap, a kitchen gadget, or my book.

    And the “loyalty transfer”? That just sounds sleazy and a little creepy.

    • Locke’s loyalty transfer blogs are really hard to read. He wrote about Davy Jones on the day of his death, saying that he and Jones had so much in common because they never took things too seriously. Trying to exploit a recently-deceased celebrity seems so wrong to me!

  14. I’m starting to work on an e-book: I think it’s a pretty good idea with potential. But as I see it, writing a book that delivers on what the buyer is looking for is important, while marketing is essential if I want to make money off of it. (I don’t understand this notion that marketed books are crap and disrespected: I want my book to be great, and have great sales!)

    I’m starting out with small goals. I want to sell 10,000 copies in the first few months. What do you think my strategy should be to reach this goal?

    Appreciate your input,
    Thanks for your Blog.

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