In discussing Locke and How I Sold (as well as Hocking and Eisler et al.), I think one huge caveat that must be enumerated, and can’t be mentioned often enough, is that: there is no magic bullet. What’s worked for one writer might not–and probably will not–work for others.
I’m sure someone could make the argument that people don’t discuss that bit because it’s understood, but I don’t buy that.
When it comes to writing and publishing, we don’t live merely in interesting times: these times are downright fascinating. Illuminating.
We have never, ever, in the long history of human kind, lived in a culture in which one person could so easily . . . reach? Find? Connect with? Choose your verb . . . so many people. I’m not even talking about selling books here–I still rather idealistically and perhaps not without some naivete believe that selling books is a goal at its best secondary to primary goals like telling great stories and finding ways to get those stories to millions of people.
The population of the world stands at, what, six, seven billion people? It’s increased exponentially, in the old grain-of-rice-doubled maxim: one people beget two, two beget four, four beget sixteen, and before you know it you have a go-jillion people living and dying and fighting for land and love and country.
Sadly, when asked who your potential reader is, “Everybody” does not suffice.
I know! I was disappointed, too.
Here’s the thing: originally, I was writing that it doesn’t matter. That Locke would argue with me but I say first you have to write a story you care about, but then I realized:
I believe first of all that writing is an act of communication, and that communication is not one-sided. Why would you write down–or otherwise tell–a story if you didn’t ultimately plan for someone else to experience it? Makes no sense (lots of people do. Lots of writers like to remain inaccessible. I, personally, find that position masturbatory at best–not that there’s anything wrong with masturbation–and pretentious at worst). So in telling a story, one might argue that one should keep in mind one’s audience.
That “should” is not necessarily either proscriptive or prohibitive. “Should” is the kind of word that implies somebody has to do something, because it’s right or something, and I’m not.
But even still: why tell a story if you’re not intending to tell it to someone? And in so doing, shouldn’t one consider the someone to whom you’re telling the story?
If nothing else, it’s a simple question of language, at its most basic. Given that I write in English, I can’t very well communicate the stories I want to tell to someone who speaks only, say, German. Or Dutch. Or French.
But it goes deeper, because when you start to consider the people with whom you want to communicate–the people to whom you want to tell a story–you might start to consider common experiences, and in so doing, tell a story more effectively. Tell a story that connects more deeply with them, one that resonates more completely.
That’s pretty huge.
And never before has any of us had an audience so potentially huge. Considering the population of Elizabethan Southwark, John Locke has likely connected with more people than even William Shakespeare could manage in his day. Consider that the population of London rose from about 50,000 in 1530 to about 225,000 in 1605–those are roughly the years during which Shakespeare’s plays were staged (the Bard died in 1616).
Last I read, 11 million people bought iPads in 2011. So far.
I’ll let that sink in a moment.
My hypothesis: the reason Locke managed to sell so many books is that he refined a massive target audience down to a niche. Same with Amanda Hocking.
I’d argue both are lucky in that their respective audiences are both large and enthusiastic. I’d also argue that other authors who refine and delineate their target audiences as Locke and Hocking have and who write accordingly will probably find the most success via Kindle.
I’d also argue it’s important to note that Locke’s book is titled How I Sold a Million eBooks, and not “How to Sell” a million ebooks.
Because I’d argue that what’s worked for them is exceptional, but for a reason different from whatever all the people who already say they’re exceptional might note. They’re “indie publishing exceptions” to a rule that indie novels don’t sell well. But the thing is that by virtue of the fact that anyone can now publish, many people are, and when many people are doing anything, there is usually very little in the way of uniformity. Indie publishing–that is, indie authors corporations cling to calling “self-published”–features a huge swath of talent and diversity.
Which is something to keep in mind when people argue that so much is crap, or indie authors are rushing to publication, or in general dismiss it in the myriad ways they’ve come to do so all the while, as Alanis once sang, “chasing that ever elusive kudo.”
I think that what’s worked for Hocke and Locking–er. Wait. You know what I mean–is that they write generally competent serial novels. Donovan Creed and–whatever Hocking wrote. Something about trolls, I want to say? They are writing in a niche in which “good enough” generally is, often for an audience who might well say “Well, there are typos, sure, but I don’t really notice them. What’s important is the story. That’s what I like.” Though I must note that from what I’ve read of Locke’s books, they seem generally free of typos and other such errors.
There’s nothing wrong with “good enough.” It’s just that not every writer is aiming at it. Indeed, in general, most authors–indie or otherwise–probably don’t.
So what do you do then?
Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?