Self-published author John Locke, who built a large audience selling digital books and became the second independent writer to sell one million books through Kindle, has a few lessons to teach you, if you want to try and follow in his bestselling footsteps.
One of the biggest self-publishing success stories in recent years, Locke's latest professional good news is a deal he's struck with Simon & Schuster for paperback distribution. The publishing company, owned by CBS, will distribute in paperback format eight of Locke's thrillers that feature the character of former CIA assassin Donovan Creed.
Locke will pubilsh the books through his John Locke Books imprint and Simon and Schuster will handle sales and distribution.
Locke is a Louisville businessman who self-published his first book in 2009. He became the second writer this year to sell one million books on Amazon.com, through the company's Kindle Direct Publishing service. The deal with Simon & Schuster was made by Locke's literary agent, Jane Dystel. Distribution will begin in February 2012.
But what aspiring authors want from Locke is his secrets to success. One way to find out is to purchase his work published this summer, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! It's available on Amazon as a Kindle eBook for $4.99.
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Locke's how-to work, at 280KB, is ranked in the top three hundred of all books in the paid Kindle store. The book isn't doing as well as his multiple works that made him join the likes of blockbuster authors who came through traditional publishing circles and have also sold one million books through Kindle, including Steig Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris and Michael Connelly, presumably because his price point is different.
Publishing through Telemachus Press, a print-on-demand and eBook publisher where authors pay to have their works designed, copy-edited and distributed through digital means, Kentucky-based author Locke found he could gain audience through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program by pricing his fiction works at 99 cents.
That's his first secret, and you didn't even have to pay to get it.
Kindle Direct Publishing allows anybody to publish eBooks for free through the company's service, placing the books for sale on the company's Kindle pages. Barnes and Noble booksellers offers a similar program through BN.com and its PubIt! program. Any author who can format their book according to specifications that allow it to show up properly through eBook devices and, for no charge, upload a book and cover and begin selling the product publicly within 24 hours.
The author gets to name the price, any price they want, and they can upload any size book, within reason.So if an independent authors wants to bypass a company like Telemachus, they can just handle the eBook themselves from start to finish.
At Kindle, vampire writer Amanda Hocking became the first independent author to sell one million eBooks, and she followed a similar strategy, pricing her fiction works at 99 cents to earn readers in larger numbers and therefore have a better chance at developing a following leading to more success. She has since signed a multiple book deal with a traditional publisher. Now, Locke has become the second self-published author to find similar success this month crossing the coveted one million book plateau.
His success puts traditional publishing between the age-old rock and a hard place business-wise, since most do not consider his writing Random House worthy. That's why he was self-published in the first place, industry insiders say. But in a business where money is tight, authors with mass followings get attention regardless of writing quality, therefore Locke is said to be considering offers from traditional publishers.
Price-point Determines Author Royalty Rate
Already, he's had financial success, though it's not what one might expect based on the attention he's received. Selling one million of anything typically translates into money and Locke is no exception to that rule, but at 99 cents per book his monetary rewards received are hardly worthy of big-time publishing headlines.
The way programs work at Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and BN's PubIt! programs, authors or publishers using the ebook distribution means get up to 70 percent in royalties for all books sold at a price of $2.99 or above, which can be lucrative if many copies are sold.
But since most self-published authors like Locke and Hocking are earning sales and audience through low-priced books, at the 99 cent level, those fall into the lower royalty tier the programs used for all books priced below $2.99 - yielding only 35 percent in royalties per copy sold. Therefore, on Locke's one million books sold at 99 cents, he received roughly $350,000 in royalties - excellent pay for a self-published writer, but pennies compared to what he would have received had he been published through traditional means at a large house, like Simon and Schuster.
Fiction author John Grisham didn't get a net worth of more than $100 million selling books for 99 cents each, afterall. Typically, the largest handful of the traditional publishers pay royalties of up to 15 percent of the price of a hardcover book sold in English, meaning that an author would earn more than $4 million racking up similar sales.
But that was then, and Locke could not get contracts with traditional publishers, making his feat through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program more unique. Undeterred at being spurned by big-time traditional publishing, he paid money to Telemachus Press, which charges $1,000 or more depending upon services required to distribute books, and took the route of self-publishing.
Before Kindle, spending anything for self publishing was almost always a losing proposition beyond vanity. But now for that price, or more, an author can get cover design, copy editing and distribution through ebook sites and also print-on-demand, which means the author can pick up sales through traditional paperback or hardcover copies that are printed and shipped at the time of customer order.
Typically, however, ebook sales dominate for authors like Locke. For example, Locke's popular book Saving Rachel, which made the New York Times ebook bestseller list, sells on Amazon in paperback for a list price of $10.95. Amazon has discounted the 206-page book to the price of $8.76, but that still hasn't pushed sales much higher in the Amazon Bestsellers Rank than number 23,792. That means Locke is selling fewer than a handful of copies per day of his bestselling ebook in paperback.
In days gone-by, such a disparity between ebook and traditional book sales would be a major disparity in the publishing world.
Speed to Market Aids Self-Published ebook Authors
But nothing is as it was in publishing, and for authors like Locke, and Hocking, price point matters in building an audience. Consider only that among the other authors to pass the one million books sold through Kindle who reached that destination through traditional publishing, books sold by the likes of Larsson and Patterson sell for $9.99 and up - 10 to 15 times more than the self-published authors charge.
Particularly in the fiction realm, Kindle users have shown that plot with a good price often matters more than plot with good writing at a higher price.
Speed is also a way authors like Locke gain success so fast through Kindle's publishing program. Traditional publishing moves slow in comparison in the release time of a work, sometimes taking up to two years or more to get a book into the contract phase and out on bookshelves. Works must be edited, catalogued, sold in through channels, and shipped to stores.
Locke, though, has released 10 books through Kindle since July 7. 2009. The most traditional publishing has ever tackled from one author is several in a year, and that is considered mightily ambitious, and even then it's only been done when an author crossed genres, like Grisham publishing a young adult book in the same year he published another legal thriller.
Irony is not lost on the fact that Locke is selling his book that divulges his secrets of how he sold one million copies of ebooks in less than five months for five times more than he sells his fiction works, since the formula is fairly simple, the least complicated of this equation.
Other independent authors have already figured it out and are using it at this very moment. For instance, a writer named Mike Pettit is already playing off John Locke's new-found fame, selling books in the John Locke Suspense Thriller Series on Kindle. His book The Body Broker is receiving luke-warm reviews, but because of the name tie-in, perhaps, it is ranked number 1,188 in the paid Kindle store.
His wise move, of course, was quick reaction to the John Locke hoopla since speed, like price point (low) and plot seems to matter most among the secrets of how independent authors can sell a bunch of books fast through Kindle and BN.com. Write fiction thrillers, charge 99 cents, and publish them one after another -- then, voila.