This has been a good summer for fans of thriller author John Locke. He’s already published two novels and a third one was just released last week. John’s eleventh Donovan Creed thriller (Because We Can!) became a best-seller only seven hours after the official announcement of publication, and his fourth Emmett Love western (Goodybe, Enorma) hit best-seller status in the space of a week. In addition, Amazon Kindle Worlds released his latest book, A Kiss For Luck, which became an Amazon best-seller as well as the #1 book on Kindle Worlds less than 24 hours after release.
Self-Published in the U.S.A. – Traditionally-Published Internationally
Although John Locke is one of the best-selling self-published novelists in the USA, he’s also been traditionally published in Spain (Ediciones B), Italy (Rizzoli), Japan (Toyo Keizai), Poland (Buchmann), Hungary (Kossuth Konyvkiado), Bulgaria (Orange Books), Lithuania (Metodika), and the United Kingdom (Head of Zeus). He’s always been one of indie authors’ staunchest supporters, so I asked why he opted for the traditional route abroad?
“It’s exciting and validating to learn that major publishing houses on the other side of the world have read your books and want to purchase the foreign rights,” John says. “Translating books into other languages is a daunting, very expensive proposition. It takes even traditional publishers many months to translate a single book, and I simply didn’t have the time, expertise, or connections to oversee it.”
“The way my deals were structured, there’s no difference in the content, since in all cases the foreign rights were for books I had already published. But it’s obviously a plus when a company writes you a check for the rights and then pays all the publishing, distribution, and marketing expenses.”
As well as being available in Eastern Europe, his books are published by Ediciones B in Spain, who translated them not only into Spanish, but also into Catalan. John was featured in an article in El Paiz that describes his success. Rizzoli published John’s books in Italian, and in hardcover and there too he was an immediate success.
He has a Japanese publisher too: Toya Keizai. “To date Toya Keizai has only bought the rights to my nonfiction book. That said, I’ve always felt the Creed series would be perfect for a graphic novel. In fact, I attempted to commission one for Saving Rachel two years ago, but the company I chose was very small. They said it would take them a year to do the project, and they’d have to charge me more than $80,000, so I quickly abandoned the idea.”
And then England wanted a part of the success story: John says the experience of working with a London publishing house like Head of Zeus has been everything a self-published author dreams of. “Everyone I dealt with in the company was sophisticated, professional, and respectful. My account exec had read all my books and made me feel special from the very first contact. She wanted to give my book covers a uniform branding for the European market, and even offered to let me use their designs for my American covers. I asked my wonderful cover designer and publisher, Claudia Jackson (Telemachus Press), what she thought, and Claudia loved the idea, so we ran with it. Then Head of Zeus came up with some of the most unique marketing ideas I had ever seen. I was totally impressed!”
Are UK sales what John hoped for too? He says, “I remember checking Amazon UK one night and saw that all 8 books were in the top 50 at the same time. In the category of Thriller, all 8 were among the top 17. It was a heady experience.”
Mr. Locke goes to Hollywood?
We’ve all heard the rumors of movie deals, including the fact that John turned down a movie offer. Why would he do that? He says: “When Saving Rachel became #1 in America, I was contacted by three independent movie producers in a two-week span. These were small companies, with capitalizations of around $2 million or so. One of the guys had a connection to a major studio, but unfortunately, they didn’t share his enthusiasm for the project. All three producers had the same pitch: they couldn’t offer me any money for the rights, but they would commission a screen play and approach investors. If the movie was made, I’d get a share of the profits.”
“As part owner of two movie theaters, I’ve learned a little about how movie studios define profit. By way of example, Sylvester Stallone claims he’s still waiting for the first dime of profits from Rocky 6, a movie that did over $200 million, worldwide! So I told the producers they could have the movie rights for free, and 100% of the profits. All I wanted was a percentage of box office receipts. That way I could look in Variety each week and know exactly how much they owed me. Of course, no one wanted to make that deal.”
Anything since then? According to John, Canada might be interested. “Last year a movie starlet attempted to get a group of Canadian investors to option the entire Creed series for movies. I thought this could be my big break, but the investors decided against it early in the process, so that one fell through. But you never give up. Last week my literary agent sent Promise You Won’t Tell to a Hollywood producer. She feels this book is my best chance to land a movie deal. Will Hollywood be interested? Probably not, but we’ll keep pitching, because it only takes one hitter to step up to the plate.”
John is part a small group of authors who are breaking new ground with Amazon’s fan fiction division, Kindle Worlds. His latest book, A Kiss For Luck, is the story of a high school girl who’s kidnapped by a mentally-deranged man. It was commissioned by Amazon Kindle Worlds, and is the first book John wrote published in the United States that isn’t self-published.
“Earlier this year, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, created a new division called Amazon Kindle Worlds,” John explains. “The company purchased the fan fiction rights to several TV shows, and asked if I wanted to help kick off the launch by writing an original fan fiction piece. I chose the TV show Pretty Little Liars because my college-age daughter loved it. I downloaded all 75 episodes of the show, watched them, and wrote a story using characters from the show. My book was accepted by Amazon, and was released last week.”
John Locke approaches writing as an artist, and the business of selling his books as an entrepreneur. That is why he opted to be self-published – so that he could be in control of the product and the marketing. He engaged in a groundbreaking publishing deal with Simon & Shuster, which allowed for his self-published books to be bought in all major bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Walmarts, and airports. The deal was complicated and John took 100% of the risk. “Most people who read about the Simon & Schuster deal never understood it,” he says. “I took the financial risk for two reasons. One, I believed in my writing. Two, I felt if I succeeded, traditional publishers would give other indie authors distribution deals. I envisioned signing some promising indie authors to my own book label, and building a bridge between self-published authors and traditional publishers that would give indies a presence in big box retail stores.”
His books were the first indies to be sold in U.S. airports and supermarkets. “The airports did very well,” John says. “The supermarkets, not so well.” While he has no regrets, John decided the profit margins were too thin to pursue his original plan of signing other authors to his label.
I asked him about the NYT article concerning authors who purchased phony reviews for their books. John’s name was included because at one time he had been associated with the person who owned the promotion company he’d used. He was accused of buying phony reviews, an accusation he vehemently rejects. “I never bought a phony review in my life. Anyone who claims I have is either misinformed, or lying.”
Well, we writers know that success does not depend only on writing a great book and being lucky – we also need to approach the business of writing with a clear plan on how to market and sell our intellectual property. I asked John if he had any entrepreneurial advice to offer his fellow writers.
“My best advice is to believe in your work. Because if you don’t, no one else will. You’ll also need to cultivate a loyal fan base. For me that means getting to know my readers, which I do through emails and social media. Of course, you’ll need a substantial number of sales to attract the interest of foreign rights buyers. And when they finally contact you, don’t attempt to negotiate a deal. That’s what your agent is for. Don’t have an agent? No worries. By the time legitimate foreign rights people contact you, you’ll have an agent.”
John says he answers every email he gets personally. He is involved in a fan forum that discusses his books, and he always responds to fans’ criticisms. Although this may take hours – even days – he feels it’s an important part of his success.
“Of course it’s polite to answer emails, but even more importantly, it’s an honor to receive emails from your readers. The way I look at it, my readers’ time is every bit as valuable as mine. If you take the time to buy one of my books, and take the time to read it, and take the time to write to tell me you enjoyed it, how in the world can I say I’m too busy to respond? The hours you spend reading my books are hours of your life that can never be replaced. It’s a piece of your life that you exchanged, hoping I would entertain you! What greater compliment can one person possibly give another?”
Fun John Locke Facts:
- John Locke writes four different series: Donovan Creed thrillers, Emmett Love westerns, Dani Ripper mysteries, and the Dr. Gideon Box books, that defy categorization
- NY TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR
- 8th MEMBER of the KINDLE MILLION SALES CLUB
- First self-published author to hit #1 on Amazon/Kindle
- First self-published author to hit Kindle Million Sales Club
- John sold 1,100,000 eBooks in 5 months by word of mouth
- John wrote and published 6 best-selling books in 3 separate genres in 6 months, part-time
- John has had 4 of the top 10 eBooks on Amazon/Kindle at the same time, including #1 and #2! He’s also had 6 of the top 20, and 8 of the top 43 at the same time!
- Every eBook John Locke has written and published has become a best-seller.
- John was one of the first 8 authors in history have sold more than 1 million eBooks on Kindle. The others were Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins, and Michael Connelly.