John Locke: Model Vigilante Author

For months, I’ve enjoyed following the astonishing success story of self-publishing thriller author John Locke. Locke is author of a series of action novels featuring a former CIA operative known as Donovan Creed. Through clever marketing — mostly through social networking and a 99-cent-per-book price point — Locke has propelled his Creed series right to the top of the Amazon bestseller lists.

In fact, Locke is the first indie author to have sold more than one million ebooks on Kindle. And he did it in only five months! He has since written a book on how he accomplished this incredible feat, titled, appropriately enough, How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months — which I’ve read and enthusiastically recommend to you.

Anyway, news has come that Locke, indie-author extraordinaire, has just cut a deal with Simon & Schuster concerning distribution of the print editions of his Donovan Creed series. And first word of this sent many self-publishing writers into a tizzy. Had their vigilante hero “sold out” to the rapacious “Big 6” publishers of New York, after achieving his initial success as a vigilante author? Does this mean that the indie-publishing route an inferior career choice, after all?

Not to worry. Locke did not exchange his independence for a big check from a major publisher. In fact, it appears that Locke managed to enlist a major publisher to further his own indie career.

David Gaughran has the story:

First of all, and most importantly, John Locke is not giving up any rights. He has not signed a “publishing” deal, but a distribution deal.

He will remain the publisher of the print editions. Simon & Schuster will distribute them. And he retains complete control of the digital editions – no deal has been struck there.

Rather than abandoning the indie path, John Locke has leveraged his huge self-publishing sales to strike a highly unusual print deal.

It’s extremely rare for a publisher – especially a major player like Simon & Schuster – to sign a “print only” deal of any kind. The reason for this is obvious: print is in decline and digital is exploding.

Normally, a print deal will involve the publisher licensing the rights to sell your book, for which they pay you royalties (and often an advance on royalties) in return.

This is very different. Essentially, as Mike Shatzkin points out, John Locke is hiring Simon & Schuster to distribute the books.

The Mike Shatzkin piece that Gaughran links to teases out many of the implications of this deal, as well as a number of other a la carte publishing arrangements being forged by bestselling authors such as Amanda Hocking, Barry Eisler, and J.K. Rowling.

The key thing that these deals demonstrate is that the traditional publishing model is breaking down. Indie authors are increasingly reluctant to part with their ebook rights, and the potentially huge lifetime royalties they can generate, in exchange for a one-time advance from a print publisher. Highly successful authors, who are in the best position to do so, are setting new terms for their publication and/or distribution by traditional houses. And the latter are being compelled by the forces of economic necessity and technological reality to accommodate them.

No, John Locke has not “sold out”; quite the contrary. He has demonstrated that he’s still a model vigilante author. He’s taken the traditional laws of publishing into his own hands and rewritten them. He has reduced a flagship New York publishing house to the status of being a mere delivery service for his print books into bookstores nationwide. And while his model won’t be duplicated by any but a handful of highly successful authors — at least for a while — he is blazing new trails as a pioneer on the path to indie success.

Congratulations, John. More power, and sales, to you!

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  • Anonymous

    Joe Konrath believes that John Locke’s deal is a Tipping Point moment that marks the beginning of the end for traditional publishers. He makes the case in a post titled “The End Is Nigh.” I think he’s right, long-term; but in the “comments,” thriller master Lee Child weighs in to gently disagree. I follow on with a later comment arguing that while I believe Konrath is correct, the Tipping Point will come a year or two from now.