So what might a writer learn from Locke? You’ve written a “good enough” novel–whatever you’ve decided that means. Maybe you just finished it for NaNoWriMo (and in which case, congratulations!).
Maybe you’re an experienced indie author still frustrated when you see other authors selling crazy amounts of books while sales of yours trickle in.
Maybe you’re an author who got a corporate deal–advance and all!–but your publisher never really got around to marketing you. Maybe you signed with Simon & Schuster, and they’re too busy with uploading and then deleting Snooki YouTube videos.
I’ll tell you a couple lessons I’ve learned, the single most important of which is that this is your career, and your writing, and you need to know that. If you can’t look at your book and be proud of it, no amount of external validation is going to make it up to you–I’ve seen plenty of authors who signed corporate contracts worth millions who subsequently complained about marketing or publicity or were, in some other general way, not completely satisfied with their experience.
And I say that because, conversely, if you’re proud of your book, those external things fall away.
That’s something I’ve been experiencing first hand. The Prodigal Hour never shot up the Kindle rankings lists. But on the other hand, I am really proud of the book, and think it’s really good, and on the other other hand besides, response to it has been not just generally positive but downright superlative. Any time a book you write prompts someone to email you to say, “You know, I knew you were a good writer, but this? Holy shit, this is great!”?
You can’t take that email to the bank, but maybe it’s more valuable than anything you might.
This whole thing, this writing thing: it’s about the long game. It’s not a sprint. It’s about generally and slowly building a reputation and body of work.
Me, I lost sight of that. I got wrapped up hoping for more followers and more comments and more subscribers and more and more and more, but a good book does something a trending topic never will.
I don’t know what that is, mind you, but something.
The other thing that I think is useful is that Locke and Hocking figured out their target markets and wrote to them. And engaged them.
Back when I was a personal trainer, I had a client who’d forgotten more about marketing than I learned in school. Really smart, canny guy. We had an interesting trainer/client relationship. Being a businessman, as he was, he had very specific goals and talked about things like net weight and columns and putting things in bullet points. It was difficult, because training is often more conceptual and abstract, at its best, but it was a good challenge.
During one of our last sessions together–this came just after I’d finished Meets Girl–he asked what I was doing to market my novel. How I was selling it. I told him I had a few different things going on.
He told me something I’ll never forget: figure out who your target market is, and go where they play.
I’d done that first bit already. For classes, mainly. If someone asked me whom I kind of figured would like my books, I’d be able to discuss it just as Locke was able to in his book.
I’m still working on that second bit. Because here’s something he didn’t tell me, and I haven’t seen other people note, but which is, I think, really important, and part of going where they play: it’s where they play. Not where they work. Not where they want you to see an ad for a book.
Where people are playing.
When you play, do you want to see ads? When you go out dancing, do you want someone to approach you with a timeshare?
I’m still learning this bit, too. Both because I don’t know where, exactly, the people who would like my books play and because hell, I know I sometimes go overboard with promotion. I kind of have to–it’s the lament of the indie author, after all. I think one of the big things writers hope about corporate contracts is that some big corporation will do the promoting for them. They’ll have somebody else to tell everyone how great their books are.
A lot of indie authors don’t have that luxury.
What worked for John Locke isn’t going to work for me. We don’t write the same books. Locke expresses, several times, that he’s not interested in writing great novels; all he really cares about is entertaining people.
Me, I don’t see why those two things have to be mutually exclusive. And I’ll be honest: Locke might not be out to write great stories, but I am.
But motivation and intention might be beside the point.
The simple fact that Locke–who’d never really written a book in his life, much less sold one, up until a few months ago–exists is more important than how he sold the number of books he did. A lot of writers who remain steadfast in their pursuit of corporate publishing contracts dismiss independent publishing partly because they claim that the most successful indie authors are people who’ve had corporate publishers beforehand–guys like Konrath and Eisler, for example. But the two biggest independent authors, the two who sold the most copies of their novels, were indie first–Locke and Hocking. They’re the only two indie authors in the Kindle Million club, up there with Patterson and a dozen others.
I think there’s a very fundamental paradigm shift going on here: the independent publishing phenomenon is, like the Occupy Wall Street movement, alerting people that corporations might not have society’s or culture’s best interests in mind. My belief is that a tip has already occurred, but my hope is that it will continue to proliferate and propagate, that people will reclaim culture from corporate interests.
I’m really not sure it matters how Locke–or Hocking–sold a million copies of their novels; you are, one hopes, not writing Locke’s and Hocking’s novels. You are, hopefully, writing your own, while corporate publishers jump on trends Locke and Hocking started last year.
It might be that all that matters is that they have. That the possibility is there. And that we can now create our own possibilities.
Isn’t that what storytelling and writing are all about?