This morning a new twitter follower who runs a blog called Extremely Average sent me a link to his review of John Locke’s new eBook, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months. I shelled out the $4.99 for this eBook several days ago, after a recommendation from David Gaughran over at Indie Publishing for International Authors. (If you’re not subscribed to David’s blog, you need to be! And watch out for an eBook version detailing Dave’s digital experience soon to be released). I finished reading Locke’s eBook sometime afterward, at about two in the morning. (I have reclaimed the wee hours of the morning as “me” time). Both reviews said Locke’s eBook was worth the $4.99, even though there is, in fact, rather little in it that they weren’t already doing. I can only agree with them.
While the eBook won’t offer a lot of tips for the canny “Authorpreneur” who is already utilising social networking and online marketing to move books off the virtual shelves, it was worth the $4.99 and, if nothing else, is an interesting insight to Locke’s success.
Written in the somewhat circumlocutory stye common to copywriting and marketing, Locke’s book shows why he is such a success, which probably has more to do with his marketing genius than writing skills alone—a point he makes himself rather self-deprecatingly.
I won’t tell you what his mind-blowing secret to success is—suffice it to say that the build-up is rather more interesting than the “big reveal” itself—but I will tell you that he does two things very effectively that big traditional publishing houses should take note of.
The first is simple and something every writer must do: know your audience.
The second is a little more time-consuming but equally as important: connect with them personally.
In my experience, “big” publishing is notoriously bad at doing either of these things. “Genre” you see is different from “knowing your audience”, which is more about understanding the demographics of your intended readers. What do they like? What are their hobbies? Where do they shop? Where do they eat? Most importantly: what do they want? And, even more importantly, how can you give them what they like and what they want in a place where they shop.
Traditional publishers tend to focus more on whether a particular genre sells well, where it sits in the store and the look and feel of a piece. While getting the cover right, the length right and the price right is part of knowing an audience, it is not the only part. Few publishers truly do extensive marketing research and that Locke thinks about his audience even before he puts fingers to keyboard is a telling part of his success.
Mind you, sometimes publishers get lucky. A case in point is the Stephanie Meyer Twilight Series. Is it fabulous writing? I don’t believe so. Yet it garnered many millions of fans and, quite frankly, I’d swap paypackets with Meyer anyday. It did so because Meyer knows her audience and she gives them what they want: teenage angst, a rather insipid everyday heroine, romance, a choice of two hot “boys” (who just happen to be supernatural), and a simple read that doesn’t tax their vocabulary while getting them hot under the collar without overt eroticism or even any sex scenes at all (who’d have thunk it?). Timing, with a vampire genre that hadn’t seen such success since Anne Rice, also probably had something to do with her success. Charlaine Harris‘s much better-written (imo) Southern Vampire series also tapped into that subject area.
Traditional publishers, at least from what I have seen, also tend to promote the author, but rarely promote a true one-on-one personal connection with the work or the author, outside of book signing events. Self-promotion using social networking, on the other hand, now allows for fans to connect directly with authors and forge a personal connection, and that connection is gold … quite literally in Locke’s case. Responding personally to fans takes time. In fact, marketing takes time. Locke may have made 1 million in just five months, but he has put an awful lot of work into getting there, and much of that has been in marketing.
Late last year I went to a seminar run by IF:book Australia where Kate Eltham and Richard Nash mentioned that, where in the past “content was king” in today’s publishing word “connection is king”. People want to connect with their favourite authors without the middleman of a publisher and self-publishing and social networking are allowing them to do that.
I can see that Locke’s book is going to be useful and inspiring for lots of authors seeking self-publishing success. My only caution would be that it is important for authors to ensure they spend as much time making a reader like their book as they do making a reader want to buy their book. What I mean by this is that, while excellent marketing and business skills (which appear to be the common denominator in the success of many best-selling series) can take a good book and make it great, even they can’t take turn a turd into a treasure. Good, preferably great, writing AND proactive marketing skills are both necessary to make it in the new world of self-publishing.
So until I feel that my novel is the absolute best it can be and will totally flabbergast readers, it won’t be going up on Smashwords or Amazon, but perhaps, one day, it will.