How To Sell 1 Million Books On Kindle: Lessons Learned From John Locke

John Locke is one of the most inspirational writers in the world for indie authors. He burst onto the scene with multiple books in the Kindle bestseller list and last week he became the first self-published author to sell over 1 million Kindle books. He joins the ranks of James Patterson, Stieg Larsson, Nora Roberts, Lee Child and other household names.

***Ebook self-publishing has also gone mainstream with JK Rowling announcing her own business venture Pottermore which will offer the Harry Potter ebooks for sale through her site, no traditional publisher, no Amazon. The world is changing very fast!***

You might have read one of the Donovan Creed novels – here’s my review of Lethal People. Whether you love Locke’s books, or hate them, it doesn’t matter. He is a hugely successful author by anyone’s standards, and has just released a book on how you can follow in his footsteps: ‘How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months!‘ . I devoured this book and here are my main lessons learned from the book. I highly recommend you also buy it and find the information that will help you the most. In order to get the most out of this book, you need to separate the creative, whimsical, craft-loving you and put on your business head. Do you want to sell books and make money? If yes, read on.

  • This is a business. John has an entrepreneurial, business background and he brings those attitudes to the ‘olde worlde’ of publishing. With examples from his career, he explains how you can’t fight on the terms that others set. He has demonstrated success in other areas of business and has independent financial success, so he has every right to talk about how to make money in many different spheres of life. If you are at all squeamish about money, it’s time to get over it! Make a business plan and take it seriously. Set goals that are achievable but still stretch you. Treat your books as sales people. Invest in them at the beginning and then send them into the world to earn money. Develop a brand – John uses the name Donovan Creed everywhere.
  • On the 99 cent price point. Provide brilliant value and it enables people to give you a try. “When famous authors sell at $9.95 and my books are at 99c, I no longer have to prove my books are as good as theirs. They have to prove their books are ten times better than mine!” He also recommends that you find the size of your target audience and then determine how much to sell for e.g. his How To book is more expensive as there is a smaller market of authors who will buy it.
  • Traditional marketing sucks, use Twitter, blogging and email instead. You need a sales and marketing system, but it doesn’t need to cost you money. It just costs time. John used traditional marketing techniques, like using a publicist, press releases, radio, even billboards and made few sales. Then he embraced blogging, twitter and email relationships and sales took off. (If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I went through the same journey!) There are longer sections on writing blog posts, how to use Twitter effectively and how to drive people to an email list which are definitely mandatory these days. John also recommends participating in guest blogging and interviews i.e. use online tools for the social and the networking. He responds to his emails and tries to be personal in his approach. This takes a lot of time but is worth it, basically selling books to one person at a time. This type of relationship marketing is critical – but also enjoyable! These are the tools of internet millionaires and that’s basically what John is and what I certainly aim to be (maybe you too!) You can read more about these online marketing tactics here.


  • Loyalty Transfer. This concept is based on the idea that people who know, like and trust you will buy your books. John doesn’t blog much but he posts occasional pieces that appeal to his core target market. They reveal personal information and resonate with the themes he has identified in his target market. Powerful information and something I will be musing on as I have changed from non-fiction to fiction in the last year and perhaps need a different angle for the readers of my fiction.
  • On writing like Shakespeare or prize-winning novelists. John is not afraid to say that his books are basically light entertainment. They aren’t intended to be literary fiction, they are intended to make you laugh, enjoy the ride and spend a few hours in escape from the daily grind. (I totally agree with this – see my post on bestselling vs best writing authors) You don’t need writing courses or books on writing, you just need to write. “..the more you sell, the more talented you’ll become in the eyes of the public!”


  • Identify your target audience and then write to them. This is a business tactic that the most successful companies use. Identify the people who will buy your product, for example, like John, I am targetting people who work hard in their jobs so they want to escape in a book for pleasure. They don’t necessarily want to think too hard, but enjoy the adventure and come away happy with the time spent. My customers are interested in spirituality and religion, as I always want to include these themes in my own novels. You can get very specific about this niche, and the more specific, the more successful you will be. If you write to that market, they will buy everything you write. You can then do this for other genres, as John has done with the Donovan Creed thrillers and now with Westerns featuring Emmett Love. I will blog further on this as it’s something I definitely need to work on myself. John has 7 paragraphs on his target market so he gets into the detail, it’s not just “women aged 18-65″! Be specific.
  • Have multiple books. Yes, you’ve heard that one before! I was stunned to read that Locke has a full-time job, a family, responds to his email, and manages to write a book in 7 weeks. If you think writing fast means bad quality, read Dean Wesley Smith on the matter. I would personally love to speed up to this rate of writing. I have it in my head. I need to get it to the page faster. To be this financially successful, you need multiple books. James Patterson, also a Kindle million seller, has a book a month out now, although he does have co-writers. Again, this is a business and so there needs to be product to sell.
  • The business plan. There is a numbered list in the book that is basically your business plan. If you only want one page to read, spend the money and get this page. Print it out and follow the steps. They can’t be done in one day but they can be done.

This book is excellent and I am truly grateful that nothing was surprising to me on this list. I spent the first year with my first book getting it all wrong and this blog has been the journey to discovering a new way. I would have been devastated if John’s lessons had been to use traditional advertising or to ditch Twitter. But actually, his steps are mostly what I am doing, with a few tweaks needed. In June, I am on track to sell around 2300 copies of Pentecost. If I had 8-10 books selling that well, I would be pretty happy with the income. So if I can put these steps into action, I can see that my books will succeed, maybe even sell as well as John’s!

I like to aim high, and so I’m putting it on the line with you. I’m going to put these steps into action and you will see me on the bestseller lists. Thank you for the inspiration John!

What have you learned from John Locke? Will you commit to this type of marketing?

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    • rick says

      Yeap, it’s an inspiring article in deed, As a writer who has a few books on kindle and other companies across the world, it’s important to communicate with your target audience, and try to develop a relationship huh. I have some books on kindle right now, CrowdFunding Explosion on the mindset of crowd funding, both on kindle and paper back and How To Stop Smoking today, as well as worked with Frank Luna on How to sell your art, not sell out. Which is also available on amazon kindle and coming out to paperback in two weeks.

  1. says

    Simply awesome. I have the ebook publishing bit down pat (even wrote a book on the topic) but am thin on the marketing aspects. Have got to do more reading and blogging on ebook and book marketing. I’ll poke around some more on your site.

  2. says

    Wow this article was great. It inspired me to go out and really apply these lessons learned. I hope to one day be at the position of have had 1 million books sold! Someday it will happen, all i got to do is follow these steps then duplicate them!

  3. says

    I am for sure going to have to buy this book. It seems that everything will be shared and revealed to me. I think it is very important to have a well planned business plan. Do you think that having this many books will help social credibility (e.g. new facebook likes, more twitter followers, etc.) I ask this because i looked up the author and from what i saw there were not very many followers on their twitter account. I probably was just looking at the wrong account!

  4. says

    Thank you for the delightful summary, Joanna! :-) :-)

    I’m beginning to write my first book this week and it’s very exciting to discover the incredible market opportunities available to new writers via the Internet and the self-publishing channels.

    Congratulations on the sales of your book. Are there any particular approaches that have worked best for you in getting the word out?

  5. Linda Hardy says

    What I’d really like is for anyone out there to read the first chapter of my kindle book! Thanks a million!
    Brian Herbert, Skylark by Linda Hardy

  6. says

    Very interesting. I have two books on KDP and another on the way and have been finding it hard to get sales. Maybe this will help. But I thank you for your informed review.

  7. says

    I have been on the fence as to whether to buy this book or not, I have 3 books published and another in editing. You have persuaded me this book is a must and I am off to get it now.

    Great article thanks.

  8. says

    Great tips here! I’m still working on my marketing plan and will definitely implement these ideas into it. I’ve been focused on the social media aspect of marketing lately, I need to work on the email marketing and get a plan together to get that started. I’m working on my second book as well so that I will have more than one book available for purchase. Thanks for sharing these tips and wish me luck!

  9. Uwe says

    Dear Joanna Penn,
    Hope all is well with you. Have today subscribed to your website and found this: How To Sell 1 Million Books On Kindle': Lessons Learned From John Locke with this comment of yours: ‘I devoured this book and here are my main lessons learned from the book. I highly recommend you also buy it and find the information that will help you the most. In order to get the most out of this book, you need to separate the creative, whimsical, craft-loving you and put on your business head. Do you want to sell books and make money? If yes, read on.
    Since you have it still on your website the following – which is a copy of a customer review on the Amazon website – might have escaped your attention.
    From the “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy”, NY Times, August 26th, 2012:
    There is a key piece of advice crucial to his success that he left out of this book: pay readers to leave fake reviews. In an interview with Locke in today’s New York Times, he admitted that he paid for 300 reviewers to heap praise on his books, a sleazy promotional technique that seems to have worked for him. Locke admits to buying reviews because “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful, but it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.” I have some advice for Locke on a more honest and ethical approach he might want to try: Actually write good books. That’s how to build an audience. You do not gain readers, or recognition, by swindling readers into buying your books with fake praise. It’s unethical and shows a startling lack of respect for your reader.
    No offense meant, but I think you should not have your ‘Locke Praise’ on your website anymore.
    Take care and all the best,

    • says

      Hi Uwe,
      Yes, I absolutely understand your position and thanks for linking to that here.
      However, there is plenty of information in John’s book that still stands so I still think it is worth buying. Paid reviews is DEFINITELY not something that authors should do, but there have been plenty of other bad things done by authors and we can still find things to learn from them.
      Thanks, Joanna

  10. says

    I have viewed your YouTube interview with Stephen Lewis on How To Write The Perfect Press Release. And, now I’m visiting your site. Just thought you might like to know!

  11. says

    Hi Joanna,

    I posted this question previously but didn’t get a response (I forgot to check the box “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail” below). I am publishing a photography book that will be printed in a few weeks. I didn’t use any online print on demand or self-publishers affiliated with Amazon.

    First, is Kindle equipped to display images? If so, how would I go about creating an ebook to sell on Amazon?

    Also, how can I sell books on Amazon?

  12. says

    After being published in print multiple times, I have just put out my first Kindle book. Was glad to come across your post just as I was beginning to wonder if the effort was worth it…not that what I have put out was all that complex or anything! (It’s a book with 30 sex tips for women 😉

    Feeling hopeful and inspired! Thanks Joanna!

  13. says

    Hi Joanna,
    Just want to say thanks for your post. Real inspiring as I am looking to correctly promote a book myself. I already do a few things right judging from the points you raised here but still fairly new to the show. I have an e book on Kindle (just a few days old) titled “Laugh Your Way To Good Health.” and hope to make a series of it. We seem to be on similar wave-lengths even though I can see you a way ahead in terms of experience in the area of marketing. Thanks once again for such an insightful piece for free.

  14. says

    Dear Joanna
    Thankyou for your article and it has made me less nervy of the 21st Century.
    I have written a trilogy, ‘Kind Hearts and Martinets’, and on the recommendation of an agent the first book, ‘Cause and Effect’ is published on Kindle – I get mixed advice but good fedback from those that have read it and are asking to read book two – do I publish the other two books, that are written,or do I wait? This is the first time I have heard someone say, in effect, get your books out there.
    Today I am teaching myself how to Tweet and I feel a proper twit, still misery is optional, is it not?
    Pete Adams

  15. says

    all wonderful points! Let me ask you a question: If you had to pick only three ways (I guess your top 3 ways) to sell your first 1,000-10,000 books as a new writer, what would they be? Thank you :)

    BTW, I finished your book “Business for Authors” and found it very helpful. Thank you for your insight.

  16. says

    I have been on the fence as to whether to buy this book or not, I have 3 books published and another in editing. You have persuaded me this book is a must and I am off to get it now.