Review: How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months, by John Locke

It’s a safe bet that any book flogging a “marketing system” will contain a few nuggets of hard information surrounded by thousands of words of padding. John Locke’s how-to is no exception. It sticks closely to the business self-help template, which goes something like this:

Page 1
In this book, you’ll discover the secrets of X that made me a millionaire! You don’t need any special powers, or any money, or any talent! No! All you need is the secrets that I’ll reveal in this very book! Yes sirree, once you’ve finished this book you’ll know the marketing system that made me so much money!

Page 37
We’re nearly ready to discover the secrets of X that will make you a millionaire! When you discover how simple my system is, you’ll slap your own head! “Man!” you’ll say. “I wish I’d had this book ten years ago!” Once you’re armed with the knowledge I’m offering in this book – knowledge that I’d pay $10,000 for, but I’m giving you for $4.99 ebook or $9.99 paperback! – you’ll be able to do what I did!

Page 432
We’re just one step away from discovering the secrets of X, secrets so useful I’d happily pay $10,000 for them if I didn’t already know them! And you’re getting them for just $4.99 ebook or $9.99 paperback! Don’t skip forwards, though, because the steps only work if you know the context! And when you do, man! You’ll be blown away! So let’s talk about my first pet, Spot the dog. Man, I loved that dog!

Page 999
Work out what lots of people want to buy. Make it, price it cheap, tweak the formula to make the most people happy and work really hard on direct marketing.

I’m being unfair, but only slightly. The book is a pamphlet padded out to book length, and most of the advice is Marketing 101. Locke does bring a few of his own ideas to the table, and they clearly worked for him (I’m not going to tell you the details, because that would be a cheap shot) but I’d personally be extremely uncomfortable following some of them. There was something about the process of blogging and promoting the blog posts that made me uneasy.

Most of it is classic “pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap” stuff: Locke compares his own work to McDonalds, and points out that William Shakespeare may be a better writer but Locke’s sold more ebooks on Amazon.

It is not, you’ll be amazed to discover, very well written. There are very many exclamation marks.

What Locke excels at isn’t writing. His skill is in working out exactly what his audience wants. That’s why his novels sell, and this book’s just as precision-targeted. Vanity publishing is a conspiracy perpetrated by the publishing industry, he argues, and books can’t be bad if the author’s spent so much time and effort on them. While that plays well to Locke’s buyers, a quick trawl through a day’s Smashwords uploads demonstrates that there are plenty of bad books out there.

Locke is absolutely right that some worthwhile books don’t get picked up by traditional publishing, but that doesn’t mean that every rejected book is worthwhile.

This isn’t a publishing-only phenomenon, of course. You see the same thing in music: one visit to a Tuesday night Battle of the Bands is enough to prove that most musicians aren’t geniuses cruelly snubbed by an uncaring music business.

What Locke’s system reminds me of most is search engine optimisation, which all too often leads to articles like this:

How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months by John Locke review. In this How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months by John Locke review I’ll review How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months by John Locke. John Locke’s book, How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months, is a new book from the author of [title here], [title here], [title here], but with How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months John Locke is going after a different audience.

It works, to a point, but it’s hellish to read. Locke’s system isn’t dramatically different (Incidentally I’m aware of the irony that by slagging SEO, I’m committing acts of SEO): he’s a human algorithm, tweaking the content of his books to maximise his readership and his income. It’s worked spectacularly well for him, but as with SEO, the more people who use the same tricks, the less effective those tricks will be.

I don’t have an axe to grind here. Locke is clearly a smart man, and his success is well deserved. This book, like everything else he’s written, is going to sell by the shedload. I’m just not sure the same will apply to the books of Locke’s disciples.