Do I still recommend John Locke? No.

Cheaters and Liars
Cheaters and Liars
Back at the end of June, 2011, I read a book that succeeded because of a lie, and I turned my entire life upside down as a result of that lie.

The book was, of course, John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months.

Like a lot of other writers, I let myself be suckered in.

I bought the pretty lie hook, line, and sinker.

The writer, John Locke, had the bestsellers that seemed to prove the validity of his approach. I didn’t like them, but I’m not everybody’s reader. He had the seeming endorsement of Amazon, which had sent out a single-title recommendation of his book.

And mostly, I WANTED to believe.

Sadly, his whole house of cards rested on the unspoken promise that he had actually done what he said he’d done—wrote a blog post a month, hung out on Twitter, talked to people, and wrote good books.

I know I write good books. And I desperately wanted to get back to fiction, which I’d put on hold after a couple of nightmare experiences.

One nightmare was with an editor at Tor (now an ex-editor) disemboweling HAWKSPAR, a novel that I then had to fight like hell to get returned to my version, which still included both main characters.

The second was waiting six months for Scholastic to pay me, after having approved the book…and watching my finances circle the drain while I waited.

WHILE my finances were circling the drain, I started self-publishing nonfiction (Create A Character Clinic was my first onsite self-pub project), and I did very well at that. Well enough that I started creating other writing courses, and put fiction aside for a few years.

But I love fiction, and saw John Locke’s method as my opportunity to revive my Cadence Drake series (which was only ever a series to me, since Jim Baen refused to reprint HUNTING THE CORRIGAN’S BLOOD after it hit Locus bestseller lists two months running, and sold through its initial printing in four months).

I know I’m repeating what a lot of you already know. I’m sorry. I have a point.

Based on John Locke’s lies about how he hit bestseller lists, I ditched a whole long list of planned nonfiction courses, and revived my fiction career. I’m now a couple weeks out from finishing the first draft of my second Cadence Drake novel: WARPAINT.

I’ve planned the revival of another series, MOON & SUN.

I have a list of partially completed novels that have been sitting on my hard drive that I want to finish.


First, I recommended this asshole. I’m very sorry about that. I’m sorry if you bought his book on my recommendation, and I’m sorry if you—like me—thought he was telling the truth.

Second, I took a MAJOR financial hit for stopping writing course production to focus on fiction. I paid, and paid, and paid some more, and told myself it would be okay, because I write good novels, and using Locke’s method, I’d come out all right.

But I won’t. At least not anywhere near as well as what he suggested was possible. Because I won’t buy reviews. I won’t do what MAKE A KILLING ON KINDLE author Michael Alvear suggests either, and make a bunch of fake Amazon accounts so I can review my own books.

I’ve never cheated at publishing, and I’m not going to start now.

Did anything good come out of the wreckage I’ve wrought in my writing business?


  1. I’m about done with WARPAINT, and I love it, and I know I’m never walking away from my fiction again.
  2. And… And… No. That’s it. Just the one thing.

I’m picking up the teaching. Resuming creating courses, offering them exclusively on my site again—though I’ll still do Kindle and Nook versions of everything. And of course I’ll leave the HTTS Direct version available on Kindle, Nook, and Apple (still haven’t uploaded the last lessons, but I’ve been scrambling and doing damage control for a while now). Maybe it will eventually take off in those versions and make the expense worth the massive time and effort it took.

So what happens next?

First, I’ll write fiction every morning, because it remains joyful and wonderful—and moreso because I know some publisher or editor won’t manage to wreck the joy of it.

Second, I’ll create more writing courses. I’ll teach and create courses at a slower pace, because from now on, fiction gets the first few hours of my morning every day.

The plan now is, in other words, to work hard, create the best stuff I’m capable of creating, and count on quality to keep a roof over my head.

This is one of those times, though, when I wish my blog was still titled REAL WRITERS BOUNCE… because after falling for a liar’s lies, you bounce or you fail.

If you bounce, you pick yourself up, figure out how to put yourself back together, and you go on.

I’m a real writer. I know how to bounce.

New York Times
Karen Woodward
Three Percent
Tales from the Sith Witch
Jane Friedman

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230 responses to “Do I still recommend John Locke? No.”

  1. Katharina Gerlach Avatar

    Getting recognition or even earn money with fiction will never be easy. That said, I’ll happily bounce along. Also, there isn’t a soul in the world that hasn’t been wrong once in a while. So, just keep going.

    1. Marilyn Avatar

      Buyer beware!

  2. Ludmila Avatar

    Dear Holly,

    I never heard of Locke before today in regards to epublishing. However, the methods he seems to advocate existed before him and will probably endure for a while. Some of them are indeed underhanded.
    It feels wrong when the writer is paying for reviews, but at the same time, I see nothing bad with ARC practice as such (and I myself several times participated and reviewed books that were given to me as ARCs).
    More to the point, apart from obvious bad feelings you got from associating, however briefly, with a lier, don’t consider yourself at a loss just yet. Increasing internet presence is important. Having Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr accounts does help promoting your work.
    In case of your books it is even more helpful, because it will allow you to reach to a younger audience.
    You are a great teacher. Actually, one of the best when it comes to giving a solid advice on writing. It would be a huge loss for writing community if you stopped teaching altogether. However, you are also a very gifted writer. I’m sure you have a lot of stories that you’ve started and never finished because of time constraints. I’m looking forward to reading your books. Keep working on them and keep advertising. It will not be instant, but I believe you will be very successful if you just press on. The guy may be a lier, but there was a grain of truth in his approach. These days it is absolutely possible to reach more successful sales through self-promotion rather than traditional publishing. And while Locke might not be a great example, there are others.

    Best of wishes,


    1. Danzier Avatar


      Holly’s HTTS course has a whole subdivision oh John Locke and his methods (as laid out by _How I Sold 1 Million E-Books_). The hardest-hitting part of this is that rebroadcasting a credible lie gives the lie greater credit. I think Holly is making a wise move here: rather than a simple retraction, she has a plan for repairing the damage. And this post is the first step. πŸ™‚

      1. Danzier Avatar

        Sorry, Luda. My phone autocorrected your name. πŸ™

  3. Claudsy Avatar

    Holly, don’t flog yourself for believing. Instead, turn the lash on the transgressor named Locke. I tried four times to get through Lesson 6 of HTTS, which was the one on Locke. I never got past page 12–why? Because it just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t what you were saying or teaching. It was something he was advocating. I couldn’t in good conscious go along with it and felt somehow as if I was failing to get it.

    I’m so thankful now that I can just get on with it. I don’t blame you for anything/info you passed on to students. We all have learned in the end.

    Just keep writing and teaching as you know best. I’ve followed you for so many years as a reader, I’m not about to forego the instructor because of this. Thanks for the honesty. That’s far more important to me.

    1. robert Avatar

      I agree with Claudsy on this. I, too, just couldn’t get into anything regarding John Locke and I, too, felt it was my own shortcoming. That I just didn’t get it. It’s not that I didn’t get it, it’s that Locke’s method wasn’t selling it to me.

      Don’t feel bad about suggesting him to others. YOUR actions were done in good faith, his were not. Never feel sorry for trying to help out others. You’re generous… he’s a LIAR! Despicable. To play with people’s lives and hopes and dreams in such an underhanded way…

      I trust in you, not Locke. You’re not infallible, none of us is, but your heart is in the right place and I’m happy to be counted in your circle.

  4. Susi Matthews Avatar
    Susi Matthews

    “And you know what? If you can show me a person who’s never been taken in, I’ll show you a person entirely too cynical to recognize (or maybe even have) a muse.”

    Oh my goodness, THIS! I’d never heard of Locke until this but I read the whole thing. I’m so sorry, Holly, that you got taken in but as Texanne said, you’re not alone. And I do admire your integrity and clarity and the courage it took to admit you’d been taken in. SO very sorry.

    I’m a seamstress and costumer, not a writer so our businesses are very different. Reading remains my sole hobby and means of relaxation: sewing is work now although still enjoyable.

    Helluva lot of work is what bunches of us do; I work 14-18 hour days many days just to pay rent. It sucks but it beats working a corporate job (if I could even get one at my age and after having been an entrepreneur so many years.)

    One thing that Locke doesn’t have, will never regain, that you have in spades; integrity. That plus the admiration of your many readers, will take you far. And in the meantime, you can look in the mirror and smile at what you see. He can’t.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Funny you should mention mirrors…

      One of my tests of any action I take is this, “If I follow through on this, will I be able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning and still respect the person I see?”

      One of the other ones is, “I’m explaining this action to my husband and my kids. Are they still going to respect me when I’m done?”

      1. Rabia Avatar

        One of the other ones is, β€œI’m explaining this action to my husband and my kids. Are they still going to respect me when I’m done?”


  5. Sarah Avatar

    Holly, people make bad decisions everyday and some, unknowingly, may pass these on to others. Things happen. Move on.

  6. Nina Hobson Avatar
    Nina Hobson

    I bought his ebook and it is sitting on my harddrive unused and extremely lonely. his methods wouldn’t work for me anyway because they are not conducive to my ‘work’ personality. *laughs*

    I don’t feel bad or blame anyone because you live and you learn. The few books I have written are selling themselves on Amazon, my sells will either pick up or they won’t.
    Eeeh…what are you gonna do? *shrugs*

    I’m glad you are going back to teaching in addition to writing though, Holly. You are my inspiration just the way you are. Don’t beat yourself up over it, do what you do best and all will be okay.

  7. Deborah Robson Avatar

    Bounce along, Holly. I’m really glad you got back to writing fiction. REALLY glad.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Me, too. Would have chosen a less expensive way to have done it, if I got a do-over.

      But if this was the only kick in the butt that could have got me to pull Cady out of fourteen years of mothballs?

      I’ll live with it.

      1. Sylvia Avatar

        Hear! Hear! Sometimes the outcome turns out to be worth the pain. And I pray the joy of returning to fiction will help alleviate your migraines.
        Don’t you dare think we your students think less of you for being human. You are so much more inspiring than he-who-shall-remain-nameless because of your integrity.

  8. Sandy M Avatar
    Sandy M

    Holly–Thanks for the update and your honesty. I am in HTTS and did not buy his book–just never got around to it…all in all, His dishonesty sucks. I’m thinking there’s a life lesson here….and then there is Karma… love it that you always take the HIGH road.

  9. Guinevere Avatar

    The whole thing with Locke is disappointing. But from a purely selfish standpoint, I’m glad that you’re now back to both writing fiction AND teaching. I haven’t had time to do one of your courses before now thanks to my day job, but I’m excited to in the near future!

  10. Rabia Avatar

    My understanding is that Locke just wanted reviews. He didn’t care (or so he said) whether they were good or bad. He paid for reviews, not necessarily for five-star one. But it’s still an iffy thing to do, and he must’ve known it, or else he would’ve mentioned it in his book.

    I’m stunned by the level of cynicism shown by those who support such practices. Everyone, they claim, knows that reviews are advertising gimmicks. Silly me. Here I thought reviews were, for the most part, honest and personal assessments of a product. How naive I was.

    Holly, John Locke is not the only one making a good living from self-publishing fiction. There are others doing the same, and I am still optimistic enough to believe they are not resorting to such slimy tactics.

    I hope you find the right balance between fiction and non-fiction for you.

    1. Holly Avatar

      It’s not an iffy thing to do, actually. It’s fraud. There are laws against it.

      I’ll be interested to see what the fallout is.

      And I was already making a nice living self-publishing, so I know it’s entirely doable.

      I don’t think it’s doable the way he claimed, though, and I’d be interested to know if ANYONE got his method to work without cheating somewhere along the way.

      1. Julian Adorney Avatar
        Julian Adorney


        It sounds like the only place he cheated was in buying 5-star reviews. That was unquestionably sleezy, underhanded, and immoral; and I will certainly not defend him. But, once he had those 5-star reviews, the rest of his method worked to get him 1 million plus sales.

        My point is that you already HAVE plenty of great reviews. Readers love your books, and writers enjoy your courses. I’ve posted a few 5-star reviews of your stuff myself. So, why not use the Locke method, and simply adapt it so that you get reviews the honest way, instead of by buying them? If you cut out that one slice of his method and get reviews the honest way, it sounds as though you could still hit gold using the other (ethical) parts of his method.

      2. oic Avatar

        Isn’t there also a Commandment against it?

        Something about; thou shalt not bear false witness…

  11. Karen Prince Avatar

    Oh Oh! I have just published my first book to Amazon today, fully intending to follow the amazing John Locke method of marketing. Thanks for letting me know there is a problem. Don’t worry, Holly, I bought his book before you mentioned him and with all the cool advice and great tips I have had from you over the past year or so, I feel as if all will be well. Besides, we all should have been studying several people’s methods.

    1. Jennifer Avatar

      Congrats on publishing your first book, Karen! I’m hoping to publish my first novel to Amazon and Barnes & Noble in October 2012. I agree that Holly should not worry because as another poster pointed out, she has integrity and is a terrific writer with real talent.

  12. Judy corduan Avatar
    Judy corduan

    I am proud of your honesty and integrity. Give it a few days and your current embarrassment will subside. Then in the spirit of a true creative you’ll be able to look at this objectively, and take the good and ditch the bs.
    I agree with the folks above that your courses are an awesome advertisement for your books. I got one of those first and am just now finishing your Arhel trilogy and wanting more.
    I think you have a good plan to give time to both.
    Let the dust settle for a week or two and share what you found most valuable and how you can put it to good use. Maybe even a slimeball character in a book.
    Wishing you blessings of peace.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Thank you. I really appreciate it.

      πŸ˜€ As for a slimeball character in one of my books, though? No. I have a hard and fast rule I’ve developed over the years. I will base characters on, and immortalize (well, you know, to the best of my ability, anyway), people I like.

      People I despise don’t deserve to be characters in my books.

      1. Marti Verlander Avatar

        But I just thought of such a great name for that character! “John Lacke”

        1. Holly MacKendrick Avatar
          Holly MacKendrick

          lmao So funny but so true!

  13. Sharyn Avatar

    This is one of those “school of hard knocks” lessons. We’ve all been there. The only person this fiasco reflects poorly on is John Locke – not the people who believed him (including me) and not the masses of incredible indie authors who really are writing great stuff and making at living at it — honestly.

  14. David Spiselman Avatar

    My wife runs a large literary agency and I’ve followed publishing through her and her agents for almost three decades. I’ve been published and quoted over ten times, but it wasn’t my primary business until after I retired. Now I write and teach fiction. I’ve learned a few essential things:

    Giving to the community (fellow writers and readers) almost always delivers more than I gave. Sometimes not immediately, but in this business, patience is the biggest virtue. No one knows the formula for success, and, even if they did, that formula keeps changing all the time. Moreso in publishing than any other profession, doing wht you love almost always brings a reward.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I agree.

      I enjoy helping individuals who dare to dream, and who dare to move past dreaming to make their dreams real.

    2. Cynthia Bahnsen Avatar

      I agree with you. A writer needs patience and persistence.

      And Holly, I think in one of your self-pub lessons you talk about how you don’t want to attract a large audience of people who you wouldn’t like to work with or who wouldn’t like your book just to increase the numbers. The techniques in those lessons were just about finding the right readers over time. What you said in those lessons is no different now.

  15. PD Singer Avatar

    Once again you have proven why you are a teacher worth following: you found an error, learned from it, and corrected it.

    I didn’t buy Locke’s book because too much of his advice seemed to advocate spam. I write romance; I’m selling love. I need to have the readers at least like me if I want them to love my books, and spamming me is the fastest way to hate, so I don’t pass that on to others. (I enjoy your emails, so you clearly didn’t take his worst advice.) I’d rather function on “the best promotion is writing the next book” premise.

    I did, however, buy HTRYN, and it was an extremely good investment in my career. ;D

    1. Holly Avatar

      Thank you. And I’m delighted HTRYN was useful for you. I always feel obligated to warn people about that course. Toughest course I offer, first lesson alone will make you crazy…

      But the students come through the other end of it have done some really cool things.

      1. WandersNowhere Avatar

        Amen, Holly. It IS a very tough course, but every worksheet I finish gives me a new insight on my book, so it’s WELL worth the slog.

  16. Douglas Winslow Cooper Avatar

    I, too, was taken in by Locke. Bought the book. Used the subset of methods that seemed ethical. Ended up giving away more copies of my memoir than I sold. Now aid others in writing and self-publishing their memoirs, without suggesting they will distribute many more than to family, friends, acquaintances, and — in some cases— customers of their other businesses.
    It is a nice hobby that I run in a business-like fashion.

  17. Dane Ensign Avatar
    Dane Ensign

    Wow! That was a terrible experience that you had Holly. My heart goes out to you. It drives a crucial point home, for me and likely others, or at least it should. There are 2 currencies that we live with: honor and money. Success and luck are defined by timing and preparation. We need to earn the honor points for ourselves first and be rich with honor points, first and always, regardless of what money we earn. From there everything else falls into place. Keep up your good work. You are rich with knowledge and talent, and the experience. In our book that is very successful. =)
    All the best, Dane

  18. Elena Dillon Avatar

    I did buy his book on your recommendation. That being said I am having a great time on Twitter because of his book. I probably never would have taken Twitter seriously if I hadn’t read it. I have learned a lot from all of my now many friends on twitter and have grown from it. I am glad something good came out of reading something from someone so dishonest. I certainly don’t hold your recommendation against you. How could you have known? I appreciate all you do for us as students and in life we are always learning. I am so glad you are back to doing what you love so much. You always say “Write with Joy” and now you are. I am so happy for you. I will keep taking your recommendations. No worries. I am also happy you are still going to write courses! I need them! Thanks for doing all you do. Elena

    1. Holly Avatar

      I’m glad the book didn’t hurt you. And that something good came out of it.

      And I am. Writing with joy. Every morning, I get out of bed and Cady is waiting impatiently to get onto the next good bit.

      I love that.

  19. Mike Schulenberg Avatar

    No worries, Holly. I’m glad you’re still planning on making new teaching materials. I’m also glad you’re not doing it at the expense of your fiction. I’m happy to buy both your fiction and non-fiction products πŸ™‚

    1. Holly Avatar

      Thank you, Mike.

      I really appreciate it.

  20. Victor Flores Avatar
    Victor Flores

    I’ve written you before, a long time ago, and I purchased and did your HTTS course. I’m a web developer, and had a bunch of domain credit with my domain manager, I purchased with some of that credit and would be happy to transfer it to you, or simply point it to you if you like. Never stop writing, I can’t wait to read about Cady!

    1. Holly Avatar

      Thank you. I’d like to buy it from you if you’re interested in selling.

      I think Real Writers Bounce fits me better than Pocket Full of Words. if you’d be willing to consider this.

  21. Andrea Avatar

    Second, I took a MAJOR financial hit for stopping writing course production to focus on fiction. I paid, and paid, and paid some more, and told myself it would be okay, because I write good novels, and using Locke’s method, I’d come out all right.

    So … you based your business plan on the assumption, that it was totally impossible not to sell many many copies of your e-books, just because John Locke promised you could?

    Yes, it’s bad, that he lied. But even if he had told the truth, there would have been no guaranty that you could have copied his success. Nobody knows why some books become bestsellers and some books don’t. Marketing is one aspect of it for sure. And writing a book, that doesn’t totally suck ist im portant, to. But it’s not all of it.
    There is always a risk. If there wasn’t, publishers would only publish books that sell well.

    1. Holly Avatar

      So … you based your business plan on the assumption, that it was totally impossible not to sell many many copies of your e-books, just because John Locke promised you could?

      Your assumption being, of course, that I’m a fucking moron?

      No. I ran extrapolations of how many books I thought I could sell using his methods, based on 3% of his sales at the low end, and 10% of his sales as my shoot-the-moon high end, figuring the speed at which I can write, edit, and produce each book, and subtracting out from that income I’d lose from not doing new courses.

      There’s a difference between making a business decision based on legitimate risk while using a proven successful approach as your template, and making a business decision based on a fraud that never worked.

      But you know all this, of course, because you run your own successful business and are responsible for every decision made in it, and the success or failure of each one?

      1. Maureen Catlow Avatar
        Maureen Catlow

        I am still chuckling about the “fucking Moron” comment you made. I have been looking at your site and wonering if I should try your books. After reading this thread I will be buying your books once I get out from under the course I am taking. You are allowed to be spitting mad.


      2. Linda Blevins Avatar
        Linda Blevins

        Holly ~
        Well said, friend! I had my poison pen ready to respond to Andrea’s ignorance, but your response was perfect. A writer can diligently research different strategies to hone their craft or promote their writing, take a leap of faith based on “proven” methods and still not get desired results. If Andrea knows all the answers, why is she subscribing to your page?

        Chin up and thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping integrity within the profession!


      3. Andrea Avatar

        But you know all this, of course, because you run your own successful business and are responsible for every decision made in it, and the success or failure of each one?

        Yes I do. And I wouldn’t have done what you did, sorry. I would have searched for people already using John Locke’s method (or a method similar to his) and looked at their sales. I wouldn’t have based my calculation on the sales numbers of the most successful person available, because there it no way knowing how big the gap between his sales and the sales of most of the other selfpublishing-authors is, even if they are using his method. Maybe 3% of his sales is still more than most people can hope for?
        And I would have published one test ebook before I stopped to do what I was living from. To see how it works for me.

        But I didn’t mean to call you a moron. I’m sorry if my comment read that way. I was just really perplexed.

        1. Holly Avatar

          I did look at what other folks were doing. And I looked at what I was doing, too.

          I hadn’t explored Kindle to that point, aside from having four writing clinics up on it, but I looked at those and figured out what my sales were with zero promotion—and would bring in if I had more up there like them. And I figured how many books I had, and how many courses.

          And made the big mistake of starting with the course that made the most for me, and putting that on Kindle. It wouldn’t have been a mistake if the ethical portion of Locke’s description of his method had been real.

          Business mistakes happen. They happen even with careful planning.

          I’ve done a good job in the past by modeling my success on methods other successful people use—there’s not much point in modeling yourself or your actions on failures.

          Choosing a model who committed fraud, though? That breaks the math.

      4. Lee Avatar

        Spew alert! Really. I had just taken a big swig of sweet tea. (Yes, I am Southern, why’d ya ask? Oh, ya didn’t.) *Shaking my head* Holly, I can’t imagine anyone thinking that you’re any sort of moron. But I did appreciate the giggle occasioned by this little exchange. Terrific pain in my nose from spewing and in my throat from coughing notwithstanding.

  22. Kari Avatar

    Holly, just because he cheated at what he did doesn’t necessarily mean that the advice he gave was truly bad advice. Well, not all of it anyway. And it probably will take longer than he claimed and include some different marketing tactics than Locke used.

    The IDEA is still there though. And, of all people, you can do it because you’re creative and just stubborn enough that you’ll do it πŸ™‚

    Here, I’ll share my own experience writing book reviews. I accepted an “internship” at a small press that was focused on writing book reviews. I was told that if I couldn’t give 4 or 5 stars, that I should talk with the publisher who would then try and convince me that it deserved 4 or 5 stars.


    Since then, they have stopped offering “internships” but it still makes me angry at how I was treated.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I already had a process that worked very well. I’ll go back to doing what I was doing, and write my fiction without the expectation that it will pay my bills by itself. That was the thing I’d hoped to gain from the Locke method—mornings writing fiction, and the rest of my time free.

      At least I’m back to writing fiction.

    2. Holly Avatar

      And I’m really glad that you didn’t get caught up in that business.

  23. Jaimi Sorrell Avatar

    Holly, there was no way you could have known. Nobody did. The only people who knew besides him were the guy he bought the reviews from and the people who wrote them.

    I think the clue, in hindsight, was probably what John Locke said about himself…he’s a businessman, not a writer. So he really has more in common with all those internet marketing sharks out there who are pushing courses in how to make a killing on Kindle. (They’re not all sharks, though, thank God. I know some good ones who really believe in the platform and are doing their very best to deliver what they promise.)

    Like a lot of businessmen, Locke didn’t see the virtue in the slow build because it hurt his bottom line. He wanted to make money. So he took the shortcut. He gamed the system. And it worked…for a while. Then it was all exposed. Will it hurt his sales? Probably not much. He has an established audience and they’re not going to let a little thing like this stop them from buying his work.

    There is a huge silver lining to all this, though. Despite himself, John Locke inspired hundreds of writers to take a chance on publishing their own work. And some of those will succeed. Some of them bigtime.

    And he got you back to writing fiction. Blessing enough, I’d say.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I’m a businesswoman. My writing is, and has for twenty-one years now, been my business.

      It’s not that he was a businessman. It’s that he was a liar. The two words are not synonyms.

      There are unethical writers, too. Writing does not confer sainthood, trust me. I’ve known some real creeps in this business.

      I’m damn glad to have my fiction back, though.

  24. Judy rich Avatar

    Holly, I did buy his book on your recommendation and found some interesting info, but frankly I’m relieved that I don’t have to do what he outlined. I am doing well with my network of friends and colleagues and using ethical and intuitive methods to get the word out about my recently published book, LIKE SHEEP.

    Thanks for sharing your struggles as well as your successes. Both are helpful.

    Judy Mitchell Rich

    1. Holly Avatar

      Would you like to post a link to your book here? I’ll be happy to pass it through the spam filter if it gets snagged.

      1. Judy rich Avatar

        Thanks, Holly.
        Also on amazon, kindle and nook

        Frankly, I’m not clear how to do a link.

  25. TimothyH Avatar

    Holly, I’m sorry to hear about you finding the whole Locke scheme was just built on misinformation and flase expectations. To make it worse you changed your life around to get back to what you love, writing fcition, at great financial and emotional hardship. What a skunk!

    If it helps, I’m sure your readers and students support your work and appreciate what you go through to bring us great stories and great lessons. Whereas Locke has probably cost some their dreams, your workshops, clinics, and bootcamps have encouraged us and helped us make our writing dreams a little more attainable.

    Thank you Holly for giving us hope for our writing dreams.

  26. Terrie Avatar

    Thank you for your honesty. I still believe in you and love all your work.

    A faithful fan,


  27. Kenra Daniels Avatar

    A couple of years ago, I attended a panel discussion that Locke was part of, just as he was beginning to gain all that notoriety. Listening to him talk about his ‘methods’, it sounded pretty crack-pot. So I disregarded, and forgot all about it. I even had to check back through my notes to be sure he was actually the person who spoke at the panel, lol.

    With the recent fuss about buying reviews, I’m glad my bullshit alarm was operating at peak sensitivity that day, or I might have fallen for it just as hard as so many others did.

    Since it was early in his notoriety, I’m wondering if perhaps he might not have perfected his sales technique then, and was trying it out at that tiny little local conference? If I were inclined to do something like what he did, that’s how I would have evolved my sales technique – trying tweaked versions out on small, rather isolated sample audiences, until I found the one that had the best results.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Dude was a professional liar. I’m betting you were right, and you caught him while he was perfecting his patter.

  28. Dee Avatar

    It’s sad that folks like Locke sell out their integrity to make a few bucks. Locke is never going to get back the respect and trust he lost before this information came to light. But you, Holly, have always been straight forward with your fans and students in both your mistakes and successes, and I have freakin’ heaps of respect for you for it.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Thank you.

  29. Jordan Avatar

    From my self-publishing/indie friends, I’ve heard the best way to success is to write more, get more quality books out there (and make the first book in the series free). The haven’t sold millions, but they do sell thousands monthly.

    Question: what do you think of services like BookRooster? It’s a site where reviewers sign up for the genres they like, and authors pay a flat fee to have BR send out an email to everyone interested in that genre. Reviewers who sign up for a book get a free copy, and are supposed to post genuine reviews (good, bad, indifferent) once they’ve read it.

    1. Emily Ann Ward Avatar
      Emily Ann Ward

      Jordan, I haven’t heard one good thing about BookRooster. Over at Kindleboards in the Writers Cafe you can read about people’s poor experience with the service. I haven’t personally tried it myself but I wouldn’t based on all I’ve read about it.

    2. Holly Avatar

      I’ve never even heard of BookRooster. Buying reviews sounds like a bad idea, no matter how ethical the reviewers are supposed to be.

  30. RNFrancis Avatar

    To put it plainly, that sucks. As if self-publishers don’t have enough hurdles, jerks have to make it harder for us to attain legitimacy.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Seriously. The one thing I found genuinely positive about the guy was that he had proven a self-publisher could compete with commercial publishing on platforms dominated by commercial publishers.

      Discovering that he cheated to do that sucks.

      But hey. Joe Konrath. Amanda Hocking. And if you’re looking at a good, steady, reliable income and not wild stardom, me.

      Self-publishing still works, and is still wonderful, and the black eye Locke gave it will heal.

  31. Carole McKee Avatar

    I bought that book, but I haven’t read it yet. I guess it’s a waste of money? Would actually reading it be a waste of time?

    1. Randi Avatar

      Well, it depends. If you we’re to loosely base a villain on Locke, then yes, it would be worth reading.

      1. Holly Avatar

        Sums it up nicely, I think.

        Carole, the book will be a waste of time. The methods he claims were the cause of the success of his books in fact had nothing to do with the success of his books.

  32. Felicia Beasley Avatar
    Felicia Beasley

    Thank you for posting your thoughts on this subject. Integrity beats out deception in the long run. And you have a whole lot of integrity. Locke’s method may be a sham, but one does not have to sell millions in order to live their dream. You’ve shown me that. You’ve given me renewed drive to follow my dreams. I’ve recently read your four self-pub lessons on HttS and I believe they are still very applicable and solid.

    Good luck, Holly. I’m rooting for you!

    1. Holly Avatar

      Thanks, Felicia.

      I’ve enjoyed watching your progress, by the way.

  33. Susan Avatar

    Holly, your teaching courses are the best advertisement for your fiction … that might be the way many people come to your work. (And a teacher who shows us that she walks the walk, not just talks the talk, is the inspiration we all need.)

    And consider this – self-publishing is in its infancy. You will help define the movement by your participation.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I like that.

      Well, WARPAINT is my first original shot into the battle, and the title reflects both that fact, and the content of the book.

      And when you’re on the bleeding edge of something new, you can anticipate losing some blood of your own.

      1. Joe bouchard Avatar

        I agree with Susan. You have thousands of students, yes, but writers are readers. I love your fiction as much as your teaching. The Secret Texts was an awesome series, and Cadence Drake #1 was brilliant, exciting, and fun. I would never have found your fiction if it weren’t for your courses. So you see, you have a leg up on us new and aspiring indie publishers.

        Write with joy, and publish profusely, and your fiction WILL explode in popularity. It can’t NOT happen for you. I believe this strongly.


      2. Lee Avatar

        “And when you’re on the bleeding edge of something new, you can anticipate losing some blood of your own.”

        It’s lines like this that make me love you, Holly. Of course, there are many other reasons to love you, too. Your courage, your honesty and integrity, your heart and intelligence that always shine through everything you say and write. I don’t know you personally, Holly, but danged if I don’t feel like I do. And I love the sense of friendship and community here on your writing site. πŸ™‚

  34. V. J. Chambers Avatar

    I was a chasing agents in 2009 when I got your email about Rebel Tales. That was what inspired me to self-publish. I’d written eight novels (seven of them with help from your website or from the Forward Motion forums), and I decided to put my book up on the web as a serial novel. From there, it was easy to end up pubbing ebooks on Amazon, etc. It’s three years later, and I quit my day job to write full time in December of last year. Anyway, my point is that if someone like me, with no audience and no following and no establishment whatsoever can support herself entirely by self-publishing fiction, then someone like you can make a killing at it.

    While I’m not a huge fan of epic fantasy, I have read and LOVED many of your books. SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL is a personal favorite. And MINERVA WAKES. And I also remember reading a few of your co-written books with people like Mercedes Lackey when I was in high school. Before I even knew who you were.

    Anyway, all of this is only to say that I’m happy that you’ll still be devoting time to writing fiction every day, because the world needs your stories! And I’m grateful to all that you’ve given back to writers everywhere because I wouldn’t be where I am without you.

    1. Holly Avatar

      That’s a wonderful story. Congratulations. Would you like to recommend a few of your books here, with links? Links tend to catch in my spam-catcher, but I’ll approve your post. πŸ˜€

    2. Jacintha Avatar

      Yes please, share your books!

  35. S.J. Driscoll Avatar

    It was up to your students to do due diligence…

    Bounce so high that you never come down.

  36. Mary M. Avatar
    Mary M.

    Oh Holly, I absolutely adore you. Another good thing that came out of falling for that idiot’s lies is that you had one more opportunity to prove how incredible you are, why YOU are worth following and listening to and learning from. You are one great lady and I am so grateful for you as a teacher. And, I know you will succeed because you have what it take. I also love knowing that first thing you are sitting down and writing fiction. You can teach us in the afternoon. Big hug…

    1. Holly Avatar

      Thank you, Mary. And hugs back. It’s been a crappy day, but that helped.

  37. Dawn Avatar

    Who needs fake reviews when you have people who follow your work? When your books come out, we’ll write the reviews.

    1. Holly Avatar

      πŸ˜€ Thank you.

    2. Susi Matthews Avatar
      Susi Matthews

      I second this.

    3. Sylvia Avatar

      Right on, Dawn! I LOVE Holly’s fiction and am so glad she’s back writing it.

  38. AJ Avatar

    There will always be someone who lacks a moral compass and gets away with taking advantage of others. Finding your way to your own truth took guts. In the end, quality of ethics and character, coupled with a damned good read, will always win.

    1. Holly Avatar

      That’s what I’ve always thought.

      You know, there’s something kind of fitting in a guy who wrote scumbag character turning out to be scum, too? Hadn’t thought of that until just now…but his work reflects who he’d like to be if he could get away with it, I think.

      And …


  39. Kathryn Anthony Avatar

    I did follow your suggestions last summer and took the leap into self-publishing after reading the Locke book.

    The fact of the matter is that, I would never have tried it if not for your suggestions, BUT I’ve *TOTALLY LOVED* the self-publishing experience. I’m not getting rich, sure, but that’s why I have a day job (and wouldn’t have been in a position to quit it even if I hadn’t self-published)! I’ve loved choosing covers, and puzzling my way through branding the different books. I’ve loved being empowered to put my own stuff out there, to my own standards. It has been enriching and has empowered me as a person, in ways far beyond just the authorship/publication portion of my life.

    So while I cannot approve of Locke’s fraud, I also knew early on that I don’t have that kind of personality one would have needed to ply the method he claimed had worked for him–that’s not who I am. I also know that you have integrity, Holly, and you would not have recommended something you thought to be false. It’s unfortunate (and worse) that he did this stuff under false pretenses, but in a serendipitous way, I’m glad of it. I’ve had a fantastic year.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I’m cheering for you. And if you’d like to post titles and links for a couple of your books here, I’ll be happy to pass the comment out of the spam-checker to go live.

  40. z. l. sasnett Avatar

    I am so sorry, Holly. I know this kind of revelation can really feel like a hard blow. Despite his lies, you sound like you’re bouncing back and I have no doubt you’ll stick the landing.

    My first introduction to you was HTTS and that course, followed by the many clinics and books you’ve sold on writing, have really been what I needed to take my writing to the next level. Never once did you blow sunshine up our keisters, always reminding us that writing is hard, but rewarding work if we just keep moving forward.

    You’re an inspiration for many of us. *hug*


  41. Sawyer Grey Avatar

    Locke’s success had a lot more to do with being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of the 99 cent wave on Amazon when that still worked than it had to do with any reviews on his books. I am not convinced that social media is anything but a huge time sink for writers; writing in two vastly different genres, I haven’t seen any indication in either that most of the people hanging out on writer’s blogs and following them on Twitter and such aren’t other writers. I know a lot of folks who have stopped using their blogs for anything but new product announcements because of this.

    The only real key to success in indie publishing is to be prolific. Put your head down and crank out words. The more titles you have out there, the more likely you are to be noticed, and the more also-bys available for new fans who stumble across your books. Lots of titles with decent covers and blurbs. That’s it. The rest is mostly wishful thinking.

    1. Jeremy Avatar

      “The only real key to success in indie publishing is to be prolific.”

      1. Jeremy Avatar

        “The only real key to success in indie publishing is to be prolific.”


        Ooops, commenting glitch.

        If you can write 500,000 words per year that are either interesting or useful (you just need one), and you have rudimentary business/marketing skills, then you can make a living with your pen.

        Write interesting stuff–that’s fiction.
        Write useful stuff–that’s non-fiction.

        Either way, if you just get down and put words to internet, you’ll make a living.

        It would take someone really dedicated to being a bad writer to write 500,000 words a year and still suck after 5 or 10 years.

  42. Misty Avatar

    If it helps, don’t forget that you’ve still got real people out here like me, rooting for you and enjoying your work. πŸ™‚

  43. Kit Avatar

    Hey Holly, I was one of those people who bought John Locke’s book at your recommendation, but I chose to buy it even though something about the book made me suspicious. Buying the book didn’t break me financially, and I’m glad I did because it educated me on what forms of marketing and promotion to not bother with. Your honesty about the John Locke fiasco is greatly appreciated and I am grateful for being introduced to the underhanded techniques he uses, because it’s knowledge, and all knowledge is good. I hear over and over again self-publishing is hard work and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

  44. Ted Avatar

    I think the actual positive effect of buying reviews or using sock puppets is over rated. I think this mostly because of what I read of Joe Konrath who seem to be doing okay despite not using these practices.

    I’m glad you are going to write more courses. Everyone I’ve bought has been more than worth what I paid for it.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Someone is using sock puppets? THAT sounds cool…

      Sorry. Humor. I’m sick today and I saw that one bright moment in there.

      Yes. Joe Konrath. Pretty much the same method I’m using. The work your ass off method.

  45. Carmen Hudson Avatar

    This is actually a relief, Holly–it tells me that it wasn’t ME that was failing when the method didn’t seem to be producing much (to the point where I also finally had to just pretty much refocus on what was bringing in the income). At least it was just the method!

  46. DaltonLynne Avatar

    I’d heard rumblings about Locke a few weeks ago. I did hear about him through your site and I did purchase his book and I did plan on implementing the plans … when I was ready for self-publication (which is probably not until next year anyway).

    After I read the Locke book, I found the MAKE A KILLING title. I agree with you that creating multiple accounts to write fake reviews is not the way to go. I wasn’t going to take him up on that method. However, some of his other advice is solid enough to me and I’ll probably use THAT when the time comes next year.

    I’m sorry for anyone who got caught up in Locke’s lies – and for the blow it might have dealt to anyone’s dreams. How unfortunate all around. :-/

  47. Patti Avatar

    I have John Locke’s book, but haven’t gotten too far into it. Glad you have shared some light on him. Hopefully it will save a lot of writers some heartaches.

    Thank you for sharing!

  48. jennifer Avatar

    Does this mean you’ll be offering your workshops for affiliate sales again? I lost a ton of money and sales when you changed your formatting and it sucks because so many people were buying your books and enrolling in HTTS from my site. I’d love to be able to recoup that money and continue to sell your stuff on my blog, especially because it sells really well. The broken down versions HTTS just aren’t cutting it.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Margaret’s still working on the drip content plugin.

      I’ll start offering full courses for students to recommend as affiliates as soon as she gets it done and I get the full courses moved onto it.

      I’m sorry about the jump. Seriously sorry. To you, and for me. Damn near no one has found HTTS on Kindle, and I think the a la carte method of offering the course will continue to fail—most people who buy courses need the structure, the classroom, the added stuff—all the things Kindle and Amazon cannot deliver.

      Changing the format of HTTS the biggest mistake I made—and that was my pure John Locke moment.

      1. Paul Williams Avatar
        Paul Williams

        Don’t see it (trying Locke’s methods) so much as a mistake per se: see it rather as a test that returned a negative result, enabling you to return to a different test with a more positive result.

        Tricksters lie Holly, it’s all part of the weave. Jesus had Judas, Baldr had Loki, (insert your own cultural pantheon’s equivalent here), Holly had John Locke. Like others have said, your integrity is huge and it has enough gravity to keep all of us in tow despite the odd anomaly that orbits for a while.

        It won’t change my Oscars dream speech where I thank you as my main inspiration πŸ˜‰

        This kerfuffle is just one more step along the road to wherever it is that we are all going. Me, I’m just glad that Holly Lisle is one of us pilgrims.

      2. Ruth Avatar

        On John Locke – well, I can’t sneak a look through your window to check you weren’t sitting there cackling to yourself as you riffled through wads of kickback cash from him, but I suspect it would be more a case of dodging thrown bricks! You’ve been able to let people know who otherwise probably wouldn’t have about him (and given a valuable lesson that no matter how good your research, sometimes there’s a rusty nail in the puddle). It happens. Once it happens, either you behave ethically, or you don’t. You have.

        On the other hand, something good has come out of this.

        You got back to writing what YOU love. That’s important.

  49. Amy Avatar

    I’m sorry to hear about this, but I can’t say it really surprises me much. I have never expected to see anything close to the kind of results he got, mostly because I can’t imagine getting to the point of having multiple books to feed off each other. I know some people do a lot of blogging and twittering, but I find it too time consuming and I just don’t think I’m schmoozy enough.

    However, I still see the possibility for writers earning a healthy income by writing well and networking with other writers like themselves so they can cross promote. I agree, it will take a lot more work than was outlined in JL’s book. But personally, I always expected that anyway.

    I’m just thankful that you’re part Tigger, Holly. It’s encouraging to know that you bounce and the rest of us can too.

  50. Texanne Avatar

    Yes, I’d read that Locke lied, too. And some other writers are using underhanded means to climb–temporarily–to the top of the heap. It happens.

    But that doesn’t mean that self-publishing or small press publishing is not viable, especially for an author with a large backlist and a lot of experience at publishing.

    So, we’ll regroup. That’s what we do. As you said, writers bounce.

    And you know what? If you can show me a person who’s never been taken in, I’ll show you a person entirely too cynical to recognize (or maybe even have) a muse.

    What I really hate is that Locke has revealed himself to be such a flagrant stereotype of the crooked, gleefully dishonest salesman. That’s just lazy writing. :)TX

    1. Holly Avatar

      Self-publishing is amazing. I’ve been making the majority of my living off of it for the past six years. Getting pretty close to seven now, actually.

      And the past three years, it’s been a nice living. No worries.

      I’ve never sold a million of anything—and I certainly didn’t do it either the way Locke said he did, or the way he really did. I’m proof it can be done, though.

      My way, it’s just a helluva lot of work.

      1. John Iovine Avatar

        I’m so confused. (or Lost)
        I did buy John Locke’s book on your recommendation, but haven’t gotten a chance to read it.
        Originally I thought this guy John Locke was a book based upon the John Locke character, or the character John Locke writing a book from the TV series LOST. Could the name have something to do with his success?
        Anyway I’ve written seven non-fiction books on science and technology for major publishers. Many years ago I walked away from writing, wasn’t enough money, and started a business. Having worked in the business more than ten years , I want to get back to writing, but not just non-fiction but fiction as well.
        With the explosion in self-publishing and ebooks I figured now is a good time to jump back in. I have multiple projects in the works and just updated and republished (as an ebook) one of my earlier works on neural networks that went out of print and to which I obtain my copyright back.
        From what I read here, his success was based on buying reviews (not ethical), doing blogs and tweeter? Further following an ethical path one cannot replicate his results, even for Holly Lisle.
        So Holly when you have the time show us your best ethical practices to promote one’s book, make it an ebook, I’ll buy it.

      2. Jean Avatar

        You’ve never said it wouldn’t be a helluva lot of work.

    2. Jeremy Avatar

      The guy sold INSURANCE (actually owned his own agency) before becoming a novelist.

      Putting this grizzled businessman up against authors was like Godzilla vs. Bambi. And surpriiiiiiiise, Bambi lost.

      1. Yog-Sothoth Avatar

        If he sold insurance, it’s not surprising he was up to no good. The insurance industry, especially life insurance, has a reputation for engaging in shenanigans.

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