1 million ebooks in five months

John Locke is the eighth person to have sold one million ebooks on the Kindle. The other seven are hugely famous and successful writers who have sold far more print copies through traditional publishers. Locke has sold hardly any printed copies, and published the books himself. More interesting, he sold those books in five months. And he wrote a book about it, appropriately titled How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months.

I bought and read Locke’s book. It’s very good, not too long, and I learned a lot for five dollars. Locke’s system is straightforward and there’s nothing magical about it. It is designed for building an audience for series fiction, but some of it is applicable to just about any sort of ebook.

I particularly appreciated his point that you need to have a clearly defined niche, as well as a deep understanding of the readers who fit into that niche. He writes for a particular kind of reader (he calls them “the cool people”) and can describe them and their thinking to you in great detail. This allows him to create a very direct and personal connection to them, not only in his books but in his promotional efforts.

Locke is controversial among writers trying to thread their way through the ebook maze because he chose to price all his novels at 99 cents. Some others, particularly Dean Wesley Smith, think Locke is leaving way too much money on the table when he nets only 35 cents per sale. Even at $2.99 his take would be over $2, or six times as much per book. These folks also worry that Locke’s pricing scheme also somehow devalues writing in general, i.e. the reader owes the writer more than 35 cents for the work that went into producing 100,000+ words.

I’m no fan of speculating about what might have been, e.g. how much better off Locke and the other writers would have been if he had priced his books differently. Back when I was a programmer in an industrial research lab, a friend of mine was offered a position in a startup that included stock options. He asked them how much the options would be worth if they made 100% of their goals; they told him 100 million dollars.

He told me he didn’t expect them to make 100% of their goals. But if they only made 10% of their goals, he still stood to make 10 million dollars. And even if they only made 1% of their goals he would still walk away with a million.

I asked him, “But what if they make ZERO percent of their goals?”

He didn’t take the job, the company made zero percent of its goals (negative, actually, since there were lawsuits and personal liability at the end of the road), and he continued to earn his cushy corporate salary.

We can argue about how much money John Locke MAY have left on the table. But we know with certainty what pricing his books at 99 cents allowed him to take–not just money, but heaps of press, the eighth spot on the Kindle million seller list, and a how-to book title that just about any writer would kill for.

And all in less than a year. And all without locking himself into contracts, pricing schemes, or future directions. Nicely played.

I say let a thousand flowers bloom. Locke can continue his project as he sees fit, Smith and the rest can follow what they think are better paths, and those of us currently on the sidelines can watch and learn.

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