Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Self-published writer joins Kindle Million Club - what does it mean?

Crime and thriller writers continue to dominate the select but growing membership of the Kindle Million Club - authors who have sold more than one million e-books on Amazon Kindle - but the latest entrant is noteworthy for another reason; John Locke is a self-published thriller writer, and the first self-published author to join the likes of big-name print and e-book bestsellers Lee Child, James Patterson, Stieg Larsson and Michael Connelly in the Kindle Million Club. Is this a momentous day in publishing? Does it underline the opportunities provided to modern-day authors via online publication? announced yesterday (NZT) that thriller writer Locke, whose books are released through the online retailer's Kindle Direct Publishing, has sold just over 1 million e-books, many of them priced at 99 cents. The 60-year-old Louisville businessman-turned-thriller writer's novels include VEGAS MOON, WISH LIST, and A GIRL LIKE YOU. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his online success, his latest book is a non-fiction one, HOW I SOLD 1 MILLION EBOOKS IN  5 MONTHS. I would be curious to see what Locke has learned from his experiences, and how they could be applied by other writers.

To me, online and e-book publishing brings both opportunities and challenges for budding and established authors. Just like the traditional publishing world, some authors will make it big, and many won't - and this distinction won't always be a pure meritocracy. Good and great authors will be relatively overlooked, and other lesser authors will seem to have 'undeserved' levels of success, in the eyes of some. Although the better the book you write, the better your chances will be, writing a good book in of itself won't guarantee big sales - if readers aren't aware of your writing, or aren't enticed to give it a go, it will be difficult to build a strong and growing readership. Online publishing allows authors to make their books more widely available (eg Kiwi authors who aren't published in print in the US or UK can be available for readers in those countries if they have e-book versions of their Australasian-published titles), but at the same time this very trait of the technology makes it very easy to 'get lost in the flood'. There are literally millions of books out there - so how will readers come across yours?

Plenty to think about, and Locke's success will certainly inspire many. I'd love to read your thoughts on the evolution of e-publishing, and what it might mean for writers of all stripes.


  1. Craig - I'm glad you raise this topic. I think one of the most important issues here is quality. As you point out, self-publishing and E-publishing that's not self-publishing doesn't mean that only well-written work gets published. But I think that was the case even before these new technologies became available. I believe that the new technologies mean that it's more important than ever that authors be very sure that their work is the best it can possibly be before they put it out there if they want a good reputation.

  2. I agree Margot - if an author wants to do well, the best thing they can do is make sure their work is the very best it can be. That way, once they get a reader to try them, the reader is more likely to recommend them to others, and read more of their work, growing their readership.

    Of course publicity and marketing then comes into it - in terms of getting readers to try the books in the first place, or letting them know they are out there, and that is important - but readership will only grow long-term if the readers are then satisfied with what they've read.

  3. The e-volution can seem like a gold rush, but I suspect things will level out at roughly the same point as in traditional publishing, with huge sales reserved for the very few.

    The main difference is that because the barrier to entry is more reasonable, and a lot of the machinery that makes traditional publishing arduous gone, many more books can have that chance at greatness.

    The clogged pipelines are the biggest threat to this model now, I believe--as the current spam issue Amazon is having suggests.

    I think that content filtering will have to arise to take care of this problem. Some have suggested a Good-housekeeping-type seal of approval. How this will evolve into something radically different from the current gate-keeping system remains to be seen--I'm very interested to see how it all plays out.

    Thanks for raising the topic!

  4. E-book publishing only solves the availability problem if the writer (or publisher) chooses world-wide distribution. Self-publishers probably do (why shouldn´t they?), but e.g. Vanda´s English e-books are not available to me in Europe. I can buy them in German via Amazon, though.

  5. After 12 traditionally published books, I tried self-publishing, and I have to disagree with the comments about quality being the key to success. Certainly poor quality will hurt your chances, but having a great book is not enough (even in traditional publishing). In a flooded market, where you're competing against new traditionally published books, traditionally published authors who are putting out their back lists, and known authors who are self-publishing new books, as well as new talent, it's extremely difficult to get noticed. Most "experts" advise you to spend several hours a day on marketing. How does one do that while still earning a living and creating new work? And even then, everyone admits that a lot of luck is involved.

    I did very little publicity for my first novel (The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure for ages nine and up, published by Clarion) and it's still in print 12 years later. In the last three months, I've done far more publicity for my new self-published books (The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt for ages nine and up, and Rattled, a romantic suspense for adults written as Kris Bock) for a handful of sales. It's too early to tell whether my self-publishing experiment has been a success, but it's certainly every bit as challenging as traditional publishing -- just with different challenges.

  6. It's great for writers but appalling for readers to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Amazon and other e-booksellers need to provide much better filtering and signposting for readers, otherwise we are all conned by thinking books are properly published whereas in fact they are self-published and usually of pretty awful quality.
    There will always be a few bestsellers, especially in the niche or trendy areas (eg paranormal teen, SF and thriller) but for the discerning reader the tsunami has been pretty rubbish, unless you know what you are looking for in the first place. I've not found one new author via self-published e-books that I like, whereas I constantly find them via conventional means (blog reviews, publishers, etc).

    1. I suppose that's what editors and book reps do for us - separate the wheat from the chaff, etc. It's nice for writers to be able to jump over all that, but readers may be grateful for the sieve.