“How I sold one million e-books…” revisited

First of all, Heartache is the featured new release at the Short Story Blog today.

In other news, the New York Times published a lengthy article about a “pay for fake e-book reviews” service. One of the service’s patrons was non other than John Locke, he of How I sold 1 million e-books fame.

Now paying for reviews is frowned upon in indie publishing circles. Nonetheless, John Locke is certainly not the only successful indie author who has paid for reviews. Darcie Chan, bestselling author of The Mill River Recluse, also paid for a review, albeit from Kirkus, which is considered respectable. And British indie thriller author Stephen Leather was recently revealed to have used sockpuppets to review his own books (which is also frowned upon). Steve Mosby has more here, here and here.

Steve Mosby also goes a bit into the recent revelations about John Locke in this post and wonders what to do about dodgy practices.

Meanwhile, Russell Blake wonders whether an article in a high profile paper like the New York Times focusing on the dodgy practices of some indie author isn’t a clever hatchet job attacking the whole indie community. He might have a point there, since the New York Times hasn’t exact proven itself friendly to indies in the past, e.g. by omitting indies from bestseller lists until it became impossible to do so.

In this light, it’s also interesting to revisit John Locke’s How I sold 1 million e-books… (here’s a thorough if critical review, if you want to spare yourself buying and reading the book) about a year after it was first published. John Locke has somewhat faded from public view in recent times to be supplanted by newer indie writer stars such as E.L. James or Jamie McGuire (bookwise, I’d rather have Locke). So time to see what has remained of Locke’s marketing advice in a changed marketplace.

Now John Locke never mentions having paid for reviews, probably because the practice has been frowned upon for a long time now. His advice extends mainly to determining the ideal demographic for your books and employing social media to target that demographic on Twitter and by writing so-called “loyalty transfer” posts, i.e. blogging about your emotional connection to a celebrity or popular cause. Now John Locke’s example post, Why I love Joe Paterno and my Mom, is no longer online, probably because celebrated American football coach has recently fallen from grace, having been found to have looked away while his assistant sexually abused children. Now to be fair, John Locke had no way of knowing that Paterno would fall from grace within months of that post. I still think he should have left it up, perhaps with a “Well, I didn’t know then what we know now and of course I’m appalled” note. As for whether blog posts that go viral sell books – well, I had a post of mine go viral last year and it didn’t influence sales at all.

As for John Locke’s advice to use Twitter to persuade people to check out your books, well, it may have worked for him, but even since he gave away his “secret” last year and everyone has been doing it, Twitter has not just become all but unusable for book promotion but also for regular users who sometimes have trouble having conversations without being spammed to death by “Buy my book” posts from eager Locke acolytes.

So with Twitter rendered useless and posts extolling Joe Paterno suddenly becoming politically incorrect (and I noticed very few new posts on Locke’s blog – only three since the start of the year), the gist of what remains of his advice is determining your ideal reader and targeting your books to this ideal reader. And indeed many other indies echo this bit of advice and it’s probably sound as well.

Nonetheless, I have never determined my target demographic beyond people who like what I write. Part of the reason is that the first time I came across a quote of “I only write for X people, not for Y people” in an author interview, I was appalled, especially since I was a part of the Y demographic (I didn’t like the book either and only read it for university, so the author was probably right), because why would any author deliberately exclude potential readers? So I decided I would write potentially write for everybody and let the readers decide for themselves.

Besides, it’s not as if the cultural industry is very good at determining target demographics anyway. Supernatural was originally conceived as a show to appeal to the coveted young male demographic. Anybody who has spent any time at all in the online fanfic world knows how completely mistaken that was.

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4 Responses to “How I sold one million e-books…” revisited

  1. Pingback: Events, Plugs and Links | Cora Buhlert

  2. Pingback: More on the paid reviews scandal, John Locke, loyalty transfer and Joe Paterno | Pegasus Pulp

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