John Locke Shares His Strategies for Selling a Million Books on Amazon

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John LockeIn 2011 I wrote a few business book reviews based on a couple of Kindle purchases.  In addition to the business books, I picked up one of those  $.99 Kindle Singles written by John Locke about a savvy CIA assassin named Donovan Creed.  I got hooked on his engaging and entertaining stories and before I knew it, I had read through all nine of them and there were no more! (sniff).  When I checked back a few months later, at the end of the list of nine was How I Sold a Million Books on Amazon in Five Months.”  I picked it up without even thinking about it.

Now that it’s a nominated best business book for 2012, I asked John Locke to share some of his secrets for writing, promoting and selling ebooks.

Ivana Taylor:  What was the tipping point that took your novels to the 1 million mark?

John Locke:  This is a very difficult question to answer and had you asked it six months ago I would have given you a different response. Back then I would have said it was a combination of the blog posts I’d written, emails I’d answered, Twitter contacts I’d made, and the Amazon sales engine that links similar books and identifies the categories readers search, such as Movers and Shakers, Top 100, and so forth.

But today I have a different answer because, while my last two books were best sellers, neither did as well as my flagship books, Saving Rachel and Wish List. Those books drove my sales into the stratosphere. These days my blog is still effective, I have ten times as many subscribers as I did when Saving Rachel came out, four times as many contacts, and twice as many Twitter followers. And the Amazon sales engine is as effective as ever.

My recent book, Call Me! got no higher than #20 overall. I look around and see other authors setting all sorts of sales records with a first book, and realize there are many roads to the top. But the tipping point to that top level of sales seems to be the book itself. Saving Rachel and Wish List caught the public’s imagination, and the sales were breathtaking.

For an entire month I sold more than 12,000 units a day. At one point Saving Rachel and Wish List were #1 and #2 overall. On my best day I sold 30,000 ebooks. All the marketing methods helped, and the Amazon sales engine was a huge factor. But these days I’m convinced the major factor, or tipping point, is the book itself. Writing that type of book is like catching lightning in a bottle. And when you write one of those, you know it. But everything you write is not going to have that type of effect on the public.

Ivana Taylor:  You said, “Don’t let the things you don’t have prevent you from using what you do have.” Do you have an example of this principle in action around marketing your books?

John Locke:  Here’s one: I had no formal training as a writer. I never took a writing course, never attended a seminar or workshop. In other words, I had no experience. But I didn’t let that prevent me from using what I did have: imagination, drive, determination. As for marketing, I did have money to spend on ads and so forth, but the money I spent didn’t help. Cost-free marketing is the only type that generated sales for me. So if you don’t have money to invest, don’t let that stop you from using what you do have: enthusiasm, empathy, people skills.

What I’m saying, there’s always a way to compensate for what you don’t have. If I’m not as smart as you, I’ll have to work harder. If another woman is prettier than you, you might have to be more charming. There’s always a way to compensate.

Ivana Taylor:  What do you mean when you say you don’t set sales goals, you set project goals.  How does that work? What’s a project goal that a small business author might set and how would they track it?

John Locke:  I always tell people that goals should be low enough to hit and high enough to matter. A wonderful project goal for a starting author would be to get five, 5-star reviews for his or her book. That’s a significant goal when you’re starting out. Without a specific goal like this, you won’t do the necessary things it takes to achieve it. In other words, if you set a goal to get five 5-star reviews, you’ll be able to create a plan for hitting it. You’ll ask friends to review your book. You’ll read reviews others have gotten and it will dawn on you to contact the reviewers and see if they’ll review your book.

These are simple things, but without the goal, you’ll never draw up the plan. Without the plan, you’ll never take the action.

Ivana Taylor:  You say that you should have a quotable quote for each encounter and interview.  Why? How does this help your marketing?

John Locke:  Quotes are sound bites. People remember sound bites. If you listen to the evening news, it’s all sound bites. When someone tells you about a movie or TV show or comedy act they enjoyed, they’ll quote dialog or jokes, which are nothing more than sound bites. Monday I did an interview and got this quote in: “Wish List is half rocket ship, half roller coaster.” I spoke to the interviewer a full hour, but that’s the comment she remembered. Yesterday I got this quote in:

“It’s amazing how everything comes together when you put the reader first.”

I could have pontificated on the subject for an hour, but people appreciate the economy of words a sound bite offers. I believe authors should set a plan for each interview. In the past three days I’ve done five interviews, and had a specific plan for each. I went to each site and became familiar with the type of interviews they’ve done in the past. I tried to figure out the best way to approach the upcoming interview. I’ve heard authors say they’ve done so many interviews they could do one in their sleep.

Don’t worry, they say, they’re good on their feet, they’ll just wing it. “Just winging it” is another way of saying you didn’t bother to prepare (that’s my sound bite for you!)

Ivana Taylor:  This quote was a whack on the side of the head for me, “My work isn’t 10x worse and theirs isn’t 10x better for the price.” How did you set the pricing for your book? What advice would you give other business authors about pricing their book?

John Locke:  You should always have a reason for your actions. I set my prices low because I wanted to make buying my books an afterthought. Also, I was writing day and night at the time, so I figured to make volume sales. So those were my reasons for the 99-cent price point. But circumstances change.

On February 1st, Wish List will be available in mass-market paperback in every bookstore and retail outlet in America. I set the price extremely low for a paperback book: $4.99, because I’m trying to get noticed in a new market. But I don’t want to self-compete against my ebooks, so for the first time, I’m raising the prices of my Donovan Creed series.

Am I abandoning my core readers? No. All future Creed books will still debut at 99 cents for a period of time that allows my loyal readers to download them at my “friendship” price of 99 cents. After that, I’ll raise the price so as not to hurt sales of the paperback versions. My Emmett Love and Dani Ripper series will continue to be sold for 99 cents unless the circumstances for those books change. So my advice is to have a reason for your pricing. It can be based on experimenting with different price points, or some other factor that makes sense to you.

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

12 Reactions
  1. Great story. I actually downloaded his guide to selling ebooks and instantly lowered my book price and the resist was instant. Good interview.

  2. John is an inspiration. After reading your review of his “How I Sold…” I snatched up the book on Kindle. After reading it, I bought my first Donovan Creed book. It won’t be my last. John, you inadvertently (or maybe completely advertently) created a new marketing funnel with your “How I Sold…” book! Can’t wait to hear more from you.

    Susan Payton

  3. Excellent Excellent accomplishments, insights and approach. I especially love his goal setting philosophy 🙂

    I’m going to integrate and apply some of the strategies mentioned in this interview. Wishing John continued success in his publishing journey.

    Thank you!

    Live Your Dreams,

    Jill Koenig
    Author, Goals Coach

  4. I’ve been following John L. throughout his inspiring career as a writer and have learned much from him. I agree wholeheartedly with his bottom line; the tipping point is simply a good book – which is targeted to the right reader.

    Thanks for ‘breaking trail’, John.

    John J Blenkush

  5. I have over 30 5 star reviews for my book The Parrot’s Perch on but I need it to go further. My goal is to get the feature length movie made. I would love to hear from you!

  6. Great interview. John Locke’s interviews are always informative and worth reading, never about fluff. Thank you for sharing!


  7. The reference to Malcolm Gladwell is apt, but I imagine it is really very difficult to select one or two factors and say this was it. It has to be quality that makes the biggest difference as readers would not take it up so readily without. It is the same in the Music Industry, without quality your product is so heavy you will not budge it no matter what advertising or promoting you do. John Locke sounds like an author worth checking (word of mouth)

  8. Mark Youngblood

    John is simply a great writer (I love his Donovan Creed series), it has nothing to do with marketing and those writers who bought his book about how he sold millions of books will be disappointed, because there’s no recipe, you can’t imitate John Locke, you have to write a good book. But today it seems that everybody thinks “Oh, it’s marketing!”, that’s the secret. It’s not.