John Locke and the Question of Self-Publishing

Today, I received an interesting email from Amazon.com. They informed me that John Locke — someone I’d never heard of — had just joined the Kindle Million Club, meaning he’d sold 1 million Kindle ebooks. I wasn’t aware, either, that this was a club. But it is. And John Locke is now a member.

Actually, for a moment, I wondered if perhaps America had gone nutty for the 17th-century British philosopher John Locke — an Empiricist thinker whose benign outlook on human nature countered the darker vision of his contemporary Thomas Hobbes. Locke, the 17th-century Brit, was influential on Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and a host of other early American luminaries.

But no.

This is John Locke, the thriller writer. He’s just published a new eBook, “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!” (The exclamation point is his.) Ignoring the blatant pyramid-scheme nature of this title, I think that any trend in publishing that puts up these kind of garish numbers bears consideration. I, myself, am curious, since my own attempt to sell short stories online has had some success — but nothing like Locke.

eBooks seem to just be following the paradigm of the regular marketplace, where thrillers routinely sell 50,000+ copies, but works of more traditional literary fiction struggle to sell in five figures (my own first novel included). The question is: Can literary fiction use the eBook format to thrive?

I don’t have the answer, of course. Literary fiction will always be a tough sell to Americans. Though it is not “difficult” to read literary fiction — it seems difficult, somehow, and we are a nation that famously wants ease in our recreation.

For some reason I think of this quote from Ian McEwan’s Atonement — a quote that’s couched in the consciousness of the 18-year old aspiring writer Briony Tallis:

The novel of the future would be unlike anything in the past. She had read Virginia Woolf’s The Waves three times and thought that a great transformation was being worked in human nature itself, and that only fiction, a new kind of fiction, could capture the essence of the change.

John Locke’s how-to book is readable and punchy. His thrillers are fast-paced — and fit well in a crowded genre. Interestingly, they are being referred to, now, as “independently” published. And I will admit — they do set off a flame of wonder in me — especially since the sales of my second novel, out next May, might determine if I’ll continue publishing, into the future.

This is, incidentally, my 200th post on this ongoing site. How remarkable to think of that amount of consistency over the years.

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