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

image_pdfDownload as PDFimage_printPrint Page

About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.

229 comments… add one
  • Wyatt Stafford Sep 26, 2012 @ 22:08

    Holly, I barely know you, but your entry above convinces me I have, for once, chosen wisely. Thanks for taking a chance on this whole thing. Your judgement, suggestions and products serve me well.


  • Ben Bradley Sep 26, 2012 @ 22:04

    First let me add to the kudos for coming forward and keeping your integrity on this. Locke has surely earned Asshat Of The Year on the big writing forum I spend too much time on.

    But I’ve got an unrelated thing about writing I want to ask you about: As I was reading your post I saw this and it stood out like a sore thumb:

    “Well enough that I started creating other writing courses, and put fiction aside for a few years.”

    It’s a sentence fragment(!). And no, it’s not just you I see using them, I’ve noticed similar fragments (which appear to be continuations of the previous sentence) in many places, including a major-publisher hardback non-fiction book, in the last year or so. I used to hardly EVER see sentence fragments except from bad writers or in English textbook examples. Maybe I miss or skip over them when I read older writing, but when reading older fiction I never come across one. Have sentence fragments become “acceptable” in recent years? I’m in my 50’s, and I must have missed the announcement. It always irks me whenever I see one.

    I’ve seen word meanings change over the decades (electrocute can now mean HURT by electricity, not just killed by it!), but to see grammar usage change takes the cake.

    • Mila Sep 27, 2012 @ 2:03

      Excuse me for jumping in please, but I’m not a native speaker, so your comment has alarmed me a bit – may I ask how do you recognise it’s a fragment and why is it unacceptable? (In my language a sentence like the one you’ve quoted would be completely natural and acceptable, so I’m afraid of committing this error somewhere in my fiction, if error it be)
      Thank you:-)

      • Irrevenant Sep 27, 2012 @ 2:16

        It’s a fragment because it’s not a complete sentence – “Well enough” is “left over” from the earlier sentence – it has no subject within the current sentence so the sentence is incomplete.

        A simpler example is: “I feel good. Really good!” The second sentence is a fragment because the subject is in the prior sentence.

        In my experience, fragments are technically inappropriate for a formal English document, but perfectly acceptable in everyday English for more informal language such as a novel or Blog post.

        • Mila Sep 27, 2012 @ 2:56

          Ah I see, thank you very much!!:-) It is very kind of you.

    • Wendy (estuary) Sep 27, 2012 @ 6:45

      Welcome to the internet, where we all write as though we were speaking.

    • Holly Sep 27, 2012 @ 10:37

      Ben, I’m in my fifties, too. And grammar is still the same mess of inapplicable rules brought over from Latin and shoehorned into a language they weren’t designed for that it ever was.

      My writing voice is a tool, and sentence fragments, commas where I damn well please, and other flagrant abuses of grammar that I commit from time to time are a choice, born out of a desire to create a specific pattern and flow to my writing.

      I could sound like a college textbook if I so chose. Problem is, I wouldn’t be able to drag myself out of bed to go to work in the morning if my prose had to read that way, and I wouldn’t be able to sell stories to real human beings (very few of whom real college textbooks for entertainment) if I did.

      If you do, you’re going to hate my work.

      • Roseanne Salyer Sep 27, 2012 @ 10:48

        Holly, I love sentence fragments and “putting commas where I damn well please”, too. For me,it makes the writing real. Thanks for the comment. I am writing my first novel and was told those two things were not write. Abusing grammar is my big fat in your face to a middle school teacher who was a grammar Nazi. (By the by, do I have to capitalize Nazi?) Thanks for all your help.

        • Roseanne Salyer Sep 27, 2012 @ 10:49

          Let’s change that”write” to “right”. Sorry, I don’t like misspelled words. It just slipped out. Love, Roseanne

    • Yog-Sothoth Sep 27, 2012 @ 10:52

      Grammar’s on the roof and we can’t get her down.

  • Jean Lamb Sep 26, 2012 @ 21:21

    Well, the era of paid reviews may be a short one; in the latest Newsweek, there is an article about a computer algorithm has been developed that can tell pay-me reviews from real ones 90% of the time. How long, do you think, till Amazon and B&N start using it, at least behind the scenes? (I doubt they’ll discourage anything that hurt sales, mind you.) How long before rivals or simply the very curious start using on their own?

    Integrity from the very beginning is starting to sound like a good idea anyway.

    • Kevin O. McLaughlin Oct 7, 2012 @ 7:01

      I somehow doubt this. I mean, sure, maybe it can pick out badly written reviews. But what if I review something by saying “Loved this book!!”

      There are totally legitimate reviews which are that short. Will they all get culled? Readers (customers) will have issues with that.

      Also, a friend pointed out a Fiverr ad to me, for five dollars this person will take the review YOU write and upload it to Amazon or anyplace else on their account. I don’t think there is a computer program out there that can figure that one out. Frankly, I think most fiction writers can out-write any algorithm.

      So I don’t see computer tracking as a good solution. Maybe a better road would be to ONLY allow verified purchasers to review something. But then, of course, large publishers would scream bloody murder (it would cut off all the reviews THEY pay for). And would just raise the cost of a review by the cost of the ebook, anyway.

      The good news is, I have yet to hear of even one person who made back their investment in reviews through sales. So frankly, cheating by paying for reviews is just a cute way of flushing your money down the toilet. NOBODY is going to buy a bad ebook because it had a bunch of vague five star reviews. People read samples first. Then they buy if they like your writing. And if they do accidentally buy and feel burned? They RETURN the book, and put up a bad review. Sometimes they put up a bad review even after just reading a bad sample.

      Paying for reviews is a waste of a writer’s time and money, AND unethical.

      Has it occurred to anyone that maybe Locke didn’t mention it in his book because it Didn’t Work? ;). It’s not like he kept it a secret that he hired a service to get reviews for his books. Lots of people hire the same service, and it was common public knowledge in the indie community that he had done so. I knew he had done so back in 2010. So did every other indie writer from that time. Many indies were testing out services which offered reviews in exchange for money. None of them were found to really help.

  • Paul Sep 26, 2012 @ 20:02

    Any chance you’ll be revisiting Dreaming the Dead? I was really hooked by everything you did on that one.

    • Holly Oct 4, 2012 @ 10:30

      Yep. It’s on my list. 😀

  • EliseInAZ Sep 26, 2012 @ 19:47

    When the news broke about Locke’s perfidy, I’ll admit that the first thing I thought of was that I bought his book because of your recommendation. However, it isn’t the first book I’ve bought that I’ve been disappointed in, so it isn’t that big a deal.

    I think you underestimate the good that came from this experience. You started writing fiction again. That is (as you would say) HUGE!

    It’s also possible to make a living wage from self-publishing fiction without John Locke’s cheats. Many writers are doing this. You’ve got a leg up because you’re a known traditionally published writer. A woman from my Sisters in Crime chapter gave a talk on her self-publishing experience. When she started, it was a desperation move because she was flat broke. She put up her backlist as cheaply and quickly as possible and is selling very well.

    I wouldn’t give up so fast. Don’t get sucked into more course material because it’s a known factor and, to you, a reliable source of income. Don’t let your fiction writing be sacrificed again. It’s what you love and what you were meant to do.

  • Rachel Sep 26, 2012 @ 19:34

    Holly, I’m sorry for what you’ve done and changed thanks to this jerk. Good for you for being open about it. God knows we’ve all been duped at some point in our lives! I hope things work out for you, and you find a happy medium between your fiction and workshops. I know you will write with joy, whatever else you do. 🙂

  • Fiona Sep 26, 2012 @ 19:24

    Well, I have to give John Locke credit in one way… he didn’t JUST want to have all positive reviews, and he preferred that people actually read his book before reviewing. But still…The problem is that there are so many people trying to break into self publishing, and getting noticed is next to impossible (or so it seems). I decided to self publish one of my books on Amazon, and it went virtually nowhere! It’s not a terrible book, and I had a lovely personal rejection letter for it from a print publisher, so I definitely think it was a “publish worthy” novel. I have to wonder whether it would have sold better if I’d had a nice $500 budget for reviews ;).

    Instead, I’m now just focussing on trying to actually find publishers for my work, rather than trying to promote myself. I believe Holly will succeed at self publishing, as she already has a name and a reputation (which is half the battle)!! I know I would purchase a book of Holly’s with no reviews, because I trust her to produce a quality book that I’ll enjoy. The same can’t be said of the thousands upon thousands of other self published authors, unfortunately, no matter how good many may be.

  • David Sep 26, 2012 @ 18:43

    Holly, it sucks that you got conned and got some bad advice that hurt your business. Don’t dwell on it too long, though. Shake it off and handle your business. You still HAVE your business.

    And, there’s plenty you can do to step your game up and make more money. You have a lot of talent and experience. You have a significant back catalog. Step your game up, handle your business, and make your money. You have a lot of people rooting for you.

  • T.R. Larson Sep 26, 2012 @ 18:10

    Thanks Holly;
    When I read Locke’s book I felt that even his writing style smacked of B.S.

    I can tell you this:
    I write because I love it. I love it because I found this site, this material, and these people. I come to this site to get my writing advise, my inspiration, and find my writing friends. I don’t go to a lot of other places on the internet for writing material. If I do go other places I judge what I am getting based on what I have learned here.

    I work full time outside of writing. I have about 20 years left before I plan to retire. Unless my writing can replace both my wife and my incomes so that I can retire to write full time. If it does, I will have to consider what I have learned here and the people that I have met here to be a big part of that.

    Locke’s book has some things that may be useful. After reading it my first thought was that he was a bomb and I am a fire. He made his money fast, I will put my works up and continue to put my works up and will be here (with the rest of the people writing here) for a long time. I will never do anything un-ethical to damage my works or hurt my readers. I will grit my teeth and bear the bad reviews (because there will be some). I will continue to do what I love…. write good fiction. Why? Because I love to write. This is now my business.

    You and the people here did this, Holly. Aside from my family, when I am asked about my influences you all will get top bill. I hope you are ready for that. 🙂

    Thanks Holly. I trust your recommendations and your teaching. I also know if you recommend something such as this and find that it was a bad recommendation, you will tell us. I can chalk this up to another thing that you have taught me.

  • Sarah Sep 26, 2012 @ 17:28

    So clearly and obviously, reading John Locke’s book is definitely NOT recommended. I’ll make sure to keep it in mind.

    My only question is this, it seems like this was a recommendation to read his book in lesson 6 of HTTS (maybe?) or somewhere in HTTS, I’m not sure(I haven’t yet gotten to lesson six, currently on lesson 2). I was just hoping if somebody could point out to me exactly where this recommendation is so I can know to pay little mind to it. Thanks in advance!

    Try not to blame yourself so much Holly, mistakes happen to everyone. If I mentioned your awesome integrity, would you be about ready to bang your head against the wall after hearing it so many times? 😉

  • Wes Brummer Sep 26, 2012 @ 16:48

    Ms Holly,

    That was a heartfelt, genuine post. I got Mr Locke’s fiction on my Kinde. But not the get-rich-with Kindle book. Not his anyway.

    I like Kindle. I have extremelyl poor vision and blowing up the font has made reading print possible again. Up to now I’ve relied on audiobooks. But Kindle has opened up a whole new world of print books. So I’m hoping that you do get more of your fiction in Kindle. That way I can read it. And if I’m reading you, I’m not reading Mr. Locke.

    I think it is fantastic that you are fiction writing again. If you are teaching courses on writing fiction then I would hope that you are practicing the craft as well. It gives you integrity. And it makes you a more valid teacher. And the teacher/writer duo will feed each other. As we said back in the day: Keep on Truckin’. Maintain your integrity. Keep on writing.

  • Irrevenant Sep 26, 2012 @ 16:30

    Another good thing came out of this whole situation – I’ve been wanting to do HttS for years. That whole ‘closing soon’ thing gave me that final nudge I needed.

    BTW, Stephen Locke may not have been able to legitimately pull off the Locke method. Ironically, I suspect you could do what he couldn’t ,because you’ve developed such a loyal follow through your non-fiction work.

    Self-publishing seems to work best for individuals who already have a profile.

    • Irrevenant Sep 27, 2012 @ 13:42

      PS. This was meant to be a comment re: obtaining reviews, not the entire Locke method (which I am unfamiliar with).

      I am amazed that you only have a handful of reviews, Holly. There’s more people than that in this thread alone. Weird.

  • Elaine Milner Sep 26, 2012 @ 16:07

    So sorry you got taken in by this guy. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment.

    I hadn’t bought the book. I’m not that close to marketing yet. But now you have warned us away from it and proved (again!) your integrity. I know you will bounce back, and we’ll be glad to have more of your courses.

    Nobody blames you for being human, and we so appreciate your honesty. We still love you, Holly.

  • Kelly S Bishop Sep 26, 2012 @ 16:03

    Yeah, I got suckered too & bought his book. It didn’t sound like an approach that would work for me but I thought he was for real. Guess not. Sigh, this too shall pass.

    But… I loved your Think Sideways Course. Since you’ve started publishing it on Amazon, I’ve been buying it AGAIN piece by piece because I wanted it in the Kindle format. So, if you decide to pull your courses off Amazon, pretty, pretty please, let us buy it from your website in Kindle format. I much prefer that to pdf. Thanks!

  • Ray Johnson Sep 26, 2012 @ 15:57

    Holly, there is a huge difference between honestly believing in something, however mistakenly, and recommending it and lying. You did nothing wrong. You’re human, so you can make a mistake. I have no problem trusting you.

    As for John Locke, the liar, I’d never pay attention to anything the man said, ever again. I subscribe to the “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” school of thought, and I don’t give sleazeballs a chance to fool me again.

    But your coming right out and being upfront with this is a very honest, classy way to handle the situation. Thanks for letting everyone know as soon as you could, and I hope that you’ll bounce back up without much trouble.

  • Jennifer Sep 26, 2012 @ 15:53

    Holly, you are such an honest & sincere person…I respect that more than you can know. Please do not feel you owe anyone an apology because this dishonest Locke cheated. The concept of Karma is real and he will have to deal with his deceit. I read the article you posted about his method but did not buy his book because, to be honest, I got all the information I needed to craft a good story and self-publish that story from your blog and your articles and your courses (HTTS). You are an amazing person (I love your “rants” about your upbringing in Alaska and all the places you’ve lived while “teaching” us something about ourselves and our writing skills). As another poster has already pointed out, you will make a great living self-publishing and teaching BECAUSE you’re an awesome writer and you have something valuable to teach.

  • Lynne Kensington Sep 26, 2012 @ 14:59


    The fact that you made a mistake, owned up to it (publicly, even!) and learned from it make you someone worthy of admiration in my book. I don’t know perfect people and I don’t want to–they’re uninteresting.

    Honestly, I had looked at Locke’s book months ago but I am not a fan of social media, which would have made using his methods a tad difficult for me. 🙂 I know I will have to come into the 21st century eventually, but when I do, I will have the knowledge that my books sell (whether it’s in the single digits or the millions) because they’re good, not because I paid someone to like me.

    Currently, I am reading (and doing the exercises from) Mugging the Muse while I try to get my blog and my fiction writing in forward motion. Thank you for your inspiration, your knowledge, your wit, and your honesty.

  • Tom King Sep 26, 2012 @ 14:05

    I follow your website and newsletters because you have a knack of exploring territory rather ahead of my meandering free-lance career. I have the same problem you do with phony reviews and manipulating my audience. As a reader, if I find an author I like, I buy everything they write. I snag Poul Anderson novels off the bookstore shelves or at used bookstores whenever I find one I haven’t read – which is surprisingly often. Same with Asimov, Card, Pohl, Forester, Clancy and others I like. I still like to believe that a good story will find an audience, but I do realize we need to market our books. With the publishing giants demanding that we either make ourselves famous or do our own marketing, I’m ready to go the self-publishing route myself. The trick is to find a way to support yourself while leaving time for you to write.

    The writing life is tough. Truly genius authors can often putter along most of their life in relative anonymity. Few ever do as well as the fictional Rick Castle or the very real Tom Clancy.

    You have to write what’s wildly popular and you have to really enjoy writing popular fiction in order to write it well. We genre authors have to “keep our day jobs”.

    I bought a book about how to make six figures as a freelance commercial writer a few months back. I got about three chapters in and discovered cold calling was a big part of it. I’m here to tell you that no way on Earth am I going to be able to do cold calling. It eats away at my soul. I realize that my shyness means I will not likely make six figures unless I get very very lucky and at 58 years old, my luck is fast running out.

    Thanks Holly for being honest. It’s so damned refreshing, I think I’ll buy your book….once I get that day job, that is.

    Tom King

  • Diana Layne Sep 26, 2012 @ 13:46

    Holly, I’ve taken your courses, I love them and tell all my writer friends about them. I’ve even blogged about them with the Rubies. I credit you with my being able to final in RWA’s Golden Heart (and become a Ruby) and my decision to have the confidence to jump into the self-publishing venture. Not because of your recommend of John Locke, I’d already read his book before you recommended. (and I also wondered how he felt with that blog post about Joe Paterno going viral he talked about, when it was suggested Joe assisted in the sex scandal cover-up) But neither here nor there, I’ve jumped onto the self-publishing bandwagon, as well as publishing with a small press (The Wild Rose Press) and while I’m not getting rich or able to make a living even, the books are earning which is more than they were doing sitting on my computer. And slowly I seem to be gaining a fan base and getting fan emails, which is pretty darn cool (also kinda nerve-wracking). Keep up the good work!

    • Diana Layne Sep 26, 2012 @ 13:55

      ps I want to add that you have a great fan base who are waiting for your next fiction books (me for one!)

    • Diana Layne Sep 26, 2012 @ 14:01

      ps again, when are you homeschooling? I’m struggling like crazy to homeschool and run a self-publishing biz too. No matter how I try to divide my day up, I manage to run out of day before tasks…

  • Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Sep 26, 2012 @ 13:36

    So sorry to hear you got burned. There is a lot of that going around. I hope you can rebuild your non-fiction business AND succeed with your fiction. Writers, both experienced and new, need all the help we can get now.

  • Ruthanne Reid Sep 26, 2012 @ 13:26

    Thank you for this. Thank you for not being a cheater. Thank you for forging ahead, machete in hand.

    Thank you.

  • Elizabeth Anne Mitchell Sep 26, 2012 @ 13:11

    Holly, I’m sorry you fell for the lies, but that makes you human, and that is a good thing.

    I’m delighted that you have figured out a way to continue to teach AND write the fiction that you love. All of us will benefit greatly from both.

  • Laurie Bullock Sep 26, 2012 @ 12:48

    Holly, I am not one to post comments very often. I have been enjoying your newsletter for over a year. I haven’t allotted time to take your courses, but am thoroughly intrigued and encouraged by your integrity, and how much of yourself you offer for free. I am sure there are many more silent followers out there like me, and that you will succeed in your goals in time. Thank you for always taking the high road, for sharing so much wisdom, and for being so very frank. It’s wonderfully refreshing.

  • Penny Ash Sep 26, 2012 @ 12:47

    Sounds like a successful advertising campaign to me. Not any different from any other PR campaign whether it’s a commercial for gum on TV or a review of a book or a post getting approved on a blog.

  • Lynne Murray Sep 26, 2012 @ 12:25

    I want to talk about four things: book sales, John Locke, and Bookrooster/Amazon book reviews.

    Book Sales
    First I should explain my experience is different from Holly’s. Since my first book was published in 1988, I’ve had a total of eight novels published, and never managed to have a book “cash out” (earn back its advance) or give me any hope of quitting my day job. Novel writing is what makes my life worth living but every single book has been a gamble rather than a job for me. When I learned about myself is that I am a slow writer and the books I write may never be popular in a general sense. I have a small, loyal audience that would never tempt a major publisher, so I’m working with a small press publisher who shares my vision (visions? LOL).

    John Locke
    I found John Locke’s book on my own in 2011 before Holly mentioned him. I paid four dollars, read the book and found some interesting ideas in there. Yes the guy is a sleazy self promoter, I know lots of authors successful and “un” who are also slimy and self-absorbed, so I just ignored that part.

    Frankly I don’t think his buying reviews has MUCH to do with his success in selling a million of copies. (See below about Bookrooster/Amazon book reviews)

    One thing I did get from Locke was the idea of doing less frequent blogging, which was helpful to me because, as I said I’m a slow writer and I can’t afford to take time away from my fiction for a lot of blogging–which never has had dramatic effects on my book sales anyway.

    Totally aside from his paying-for-reviews thing, most of Locke’s suggestions were things I could not do. I knew I could never write fast enough to have to a new book every couple of months. Networking on Twitter was limited for me for the same reason as blogging–Time Sink City.

    Bookrooster/Amazon book reviews
    One thing about book reviews that I haven’t seen anyone point out so far is a situation I learned about on the Kindleboards–Amazon treats books differently if they have fewer than 10 reviews. I had hard time getting 10 people to review even my print-published books on Amazon, so I did try Bookrooster. It’s a service where, for $70, the Bookrooster folks offer free e-book copies to their list of 3000 readers with the understanding that in exchange for the opportunity to read the book free, they will post an Amazon review good, bad or indifferent. Bookrooster keeps the offer going until at least 10 reviews are been posted on Amazon

    This is not the same thing as paying for positive reviews. My Bookrooster experience was that some reader/reviewers hated my books, some loved them, and some said “meh, okay.” Each reviewer is obligated to note that they got a free review copy.

    My only concern was getting the numbers up to the point where Amazon would treat me better. This is a real factor with Amazon. They actually sift out books with fewer than 10 reviews for less attention.

    That’s my experience.

  • Yog-Sothoth Sep 26, 2012 @ 12:25

    Holly, glad to read that the HTTS Direct will still be available on Kindle, since I just started working through that series in that format 🙂

    I was a bit confused at first by the title of this post. The only John Locke I’d ever heard of was the political philosopher who founded classical liberalism. 🙂

  • Lynn Sep 26, 2012 @ 12:22

    I was surprised to hear this. I had purchased Locke’s book but had not gotten into it as yet. Now I won’t bother. What a shame – getting hopeful only to learn that its about a false success. I will keep writing my fiction – but must now get back to my nonfiction as well. (perhaps this news was a wakeup call!)

    btw- I read that RJ Ellory faked his reviews – and he sniped “reviews of others authors’ work on Amazon, under an assumed identity.”

    i realize Ellory isn’t the topic here, for he didn’t sell an ebook on how to sell a million books on Kindle (not to my knowledge), but I had been planning to pay for his upcoming workshop on writing and publishing.

    Will now have to investigate speakers, workshops before attending as well. Thank you for this thread/info, Holly.

  • Jenna Bird Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:59

    If even HALF of the people who follow you here on this site were to read your books and provide the same kind of honest and thoughtful feedback on them… that they do on your posts, there’ll never be a lack of good reviews for your stuff.

    Locke, and people like him, are scum. They turned something that was meant to be a source of entertainment and enlightenment for humanity into a system they could game. That’s just disgusting. I hope they reap what they’ve sown.

    That being said – I feel like you’re going to do just fine, or better than fine, regardless of this situation.

    I’m looking forward to both more of your fiction and your nonfiction.

  • B Yeo Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:57

    I bought the book after hearing you talk about it. But I’m not mad or anything. I started blogging and twiter because of it, and I have met other writers doing that. So the way I see it Something positive came out of it for me even though the guy is a big fat lier. I love how honest and hard working you are Holly. Do not let this get you down. We all make mistakes and this guy conned lots of people not just you.
    I like your plans for writing fiction first, but still keeping your hand in the teaching game. Good luck to you in all the things you do. You are a cool person and I know you are going to do well.

  • Craig McLeod Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:47

    I purchased Locke’s book on selling and was disappointed. This thread has inspired me to write a one star (can’t give zero) review.
    Hopefully my voice and others will steer potential purchasers away from him and his BS.
    Thanks Holly for motivating me to take a minute to help expose this sham. I’ve met more ethical used car salesmen, well, not many, but some.

  • Thea Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:41

    Hey, we all make mistakes. And, like everyone’s said, wise people are those who take those mistakes as a chance to learn, grow, and generally become even more awesome than they already are. You’ve done that.

    As to you recommending self-publishing, it’s because of you that I realized it was possible, and I am absolutely loving it so far. Something that I’ve never liked about traditional publishing was the loss of control, of autonomy in the process of creating a book, and that doesn’t happen with self-publishing. I can use my artistic skills and create my own covers, I can write about things that no-one’s ever written about before, I can be enthusiastically involved in every step of the process. The big thing, for me, is choice. Choosing which path I want my book to take, and doing so with full knowledge of the pros and cons of my choice, is what makes me excited about publishing.

    Also, the amount of crazy awesome things that have happened in my life because of Twitter is just… I can’t even think of an adjective that can properly describe it.

    Honestly, it wasn’t because of John Locke that I did any of this. It was because I trusted you, and because, as you pointed out, you’ve been making a good portion of your living off of self-publishing. That’s proof enough for me.

  • Lacey Savage Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:39


    I bought John Locke’s book on your recommendation. I enjoyed parts of it, but mostly found his techniques too… car salesman-like for me, and ignored most of them. Unfortunately, I also recommended his book to others, and endorsed it on my blog. I feel just as cheated as you.

    I was so disappointed when I first read you wouldn’t be doing any more writing courses. I love your fiction, but I got more from your writing courses than from everything else I’ve ever read about writing put together (and I have a library of 200+ craft books). I’m delighted to hear you’ll be offering courses again, and I’ll be first in line to sign up for them. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us!

  • Che Anderson Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:35

    okay, he is a jerk and despite good efforts you were misled. There’s a good side to this. It inspired you to make changes in your life that gave you back your first love – writing fiction. We benefit from that. We get more good books to read and learn from. And now you’ve decided to divide your time between both your loves. Again, we benefit, getting both good books and lessons to learn from. I call that a win – win situation.

  • Laraine Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:34

    I’m so sorry you got caught by a scam, Holly. I’m afraid ‘m horribly cynical. II take the line that if anything looks too good to be true (and the title of Locke’s book certainly does) it almost invariably isn’t true. In fact I’m so cynical that when I received an email from Copy;right Licensing Ltd telling me they had nearly $450 for me for the use of one of my articles on my web site, I went searching for the organisation and contacted them. I didn’t see how the email could be a scam (the writer wasn’t asking me to send money, or my credit card details) but that was my instant reaction on reading it.

    I would never buy a book like John Locke’s. There are literally thousands like it, and not just ones aimed at writers. There are health scams, weight loss scams. You name it, there are hundreds of useless books written on the subject. The only intention of the writers is to make money from gullible people.

  • Shawna Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:27

    OK, so far I’ve only read the New York Times article, so my opinion may change after more reading, I don’t know. But based on what I’ve read so far, and my own personal experience, I have some thoughts to share:

    I review homeschool-related materials. With the group [it’s a magazine] that I review through, the way it works is this: the magazine is paid by the homeschool companies for the review “spot” – it’s work to organize the review, and there will be an informational (not opinion) post made on the magazine’s blog at the same time as the reviews are posted.

    The reviewers receive the products, ebooks, or online subscriptions for free. Sometimes these items are worth $10-20; sometimes hundreds. I have a $795 product I’m reviewing right now – that’s by far the most expensive I’ve had yet.

    We’re perfectly entitled to have whatever opinion we please of the products, and to share that opinion. Given that we want to keep a positive working relationship with many of the companies – many have multiple products – we’re expected to phrase things in a tactful manner. And identify reasons why the product wasn’t a good fit for us – and if possible, what type of homeschooler it might work better for.

    Keeping things neutral and tactful at minimum, doesn’t occur just because the magazine facilitating things is getting paid, or because we get free products and we want to keep getting free products – it happens because that’s the way we should be presenting ourselves professionally on the internet.

    Speaking for myself – when I read through reviews on Amazon, I’m a lot more likely to pay attention to the well-written person who fairly presents pros and cons and sees a middling road on a product, than I am to the person who just raves about it being fantastic, or rants about how awful it is.

    It’s sort of like encountering someone who, when they speak, every other word that comes out of their mouth is foul; I tune them out pretty darn quick because it’s obvious they have nothing important to say if they need *that* much filler!

    Anyway, all that is to say: from the New York Times article, at least, it seems to me that while many of the reviews might be questionable, if Locke truly did tell them that he didn’t care what the rating was, and believed that the reviewers were receiving and reading the books before reviewing, then HE was attempting to play the game fair.

    The fault, at least the impression I received from the article, lies with the company.

    Had the review company been on the up-and-up, held to the same standards as the one that I am reviewing for, that you actually use and honestly review the material you receive, I’d have seen nothing wrong with the situation whatsoever. People have always been paid for book reviews in newspapers and magazines; it’s not the issue of payment that concerns me in the slightest, it’s the issue of honesty.

    That said – people were paying him $99 to read and review a book??? And I’ve been doing it for the free book? Heck, I’d be willing to really READ the book and give an honest review of it for much much less.

  • Dawn Sep 26, 2012 @ 11:10

    I’m one of your students and I did buy his book as you recommended, but I don’t feel that I lost anything by doing so. Even though his book gave me an uneasy feeling in my stomach and his methods are false, I’m glad I know more about the dirty laundry of e-publishing. And once you know, you can’t un-know 🙂 So I’ll be wiser at the other side when it is time to publish my book.

    You are honest with us and it is one of the main reasons I will continue to buy your courses and your fiction (recently finished FIRE IN THE MIST and am enjoying the Arhel series). I appreciate you telling the truth, even when it hurts. Thanks Holly.

  • Calissa Leigh Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:50

    I hope you won’t feel like you won’t be a success. John Locke did it one way, true. He was unhappy that after two months (imagine!) he wasn’t satisfied with 1000 sales (based on a .99 cent price, .35 cents in profits) and used paid reviews to boost his income faster.

    While this might have worked for him, there are other fiction writers who are making a good amount of money from writing.

    They do it by: Writing well, publishing often, increasing their catalog size.

    That’s it. I have a few friends who are working hard to put stories out there, and they are already making livable incomes off of their writing to where several of them quit.

    I’ve produced a few nonfiction books but I’ve also for the first time published a couple of fiction projects. This was based off of your encouragement that it was okay to strike out alone. I’ve already seen the rewards after just one month and I’m on track to double that income very soon.

    I just wanted to say that the idea is right, even if John Locke wasn’t following his own prescribed path. I’m not using any deviant means of paying for reviews (I’ve even tried to coerce friends to leave reviews and they won’t!) 🙂 But I didn’t want to not say something in defense of self publishing and to help encourage you and your readers to at least try it. It’s still viable, you can make a living wage from fiction. It takes time to build a catalog, but then again, we’re a group used to waiting and working hard, aren’t we?

    Best of luck!

  • wednesday Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:47

    There are two writers I trust to give good advice about selling ebooks online, and about building a brand as a writer. Both are honorable. Neither one is peddling any extended “Do it my way and pay” way.

    J.A. Konrath
    Kristen Lamb

    Both help newbies. One is selling a lot of his books and makes his numbers public. The other gives a lot of good advice, has an online community focused on ebook writers helping ebook writers, and works her tail off…and is a regular person.

    Neither one makes impossible promises. Neither one asks for their “followers” to invest, and they’re not running any scams.

    For the record, I’m affiliated with neither one: I’ve just had good results with their suggestions.

    • Scilla Sep 26, 2012 @ 12:33

      Excuse me? You came to Holly’s site to pimp Kristen Lamb and J.A. Konrath? You get ten points for brass cajones, but lose a hundred points for being a jerk. And yes, when I said “jerk” I was thinking something a lot less work-safe.

      • Felicia Beasley Sep 28, 2012 @ 15:48

        I am not sure how this person is a jerk. I Googled both names because I did not know who they were and find a treasure trove of information about self publishing and social media. Their advice does not negate Holly’s. I for one thank Wednesday for this mention. It’s not like she is being paid for mentioning their names.

        Holly recommends taking advice from various sources and in no way does “pimping” Kristen Lamb and J.A. Konrath take away from Holly.

  • Amy Keeley Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:45

    I’m sorry it turned out to be a scam. However, because of it, and you, I got into Twitter, which has been a lot of fun and gotten me in touch with resources it would have been difficult to find otherwise.

    I’m also sorry to hear that HTTS on Kindle isn’t working for you. It was the only way I could afford the course, so it worked fantastic for me, but if it’s not profitable, it’s not worth it.

    But you’re right, you’ll bounce. 🙂 Looking forward to seeing it.

    P.S. I began to wonder about Locke when Taleist’s survey came out. Have you seen the summaries of it? Very good info and seems solid.

  • Laura Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:44

    I respect the hell out of people who can admit they’re wrong. If That Book (and yes, I do have a copy) galvanized you into reviving your favorite character, that’s the motherlode silver lining in the storm cloud. My Kindle awaits.

    Currently I don’t have anything out yet or close enough to start marketing. I do have a lot of projects at various stages toward publication and my take on That Book was: When the *@%!#)($@ am I going to have time to actually – you know — WRITE?

    I like your method a lot better – hard work and books coming out. I’m not sorry I got That Book. It’s one of those learning experiences.

    Boing! Boing! Boing! Boiiiiing!

  • Rachel Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:40

    Hej Holly!
    You are an inspiration!! Of course you will bounce on to the next thing, I am so sorry you had to deal with this moron you had the misfortune to deal with. Something good has to come out of this….no doubt time will tell.
    I have had some weird experiences with so called ‘Writing Competition’ people who are no more than con artists wanting to take your money, and then close the competition down half way through (that is changing the goal post).
    The web is full of lots of scum bags, but you know, there are also people of integrity too – like yourself.
    Don’t let the bastards grind you down…
    Very best from me to you!

  • Kevin O. McLaughlin Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:36

    I’m going to have to preface this with the statement that I don’t agree with buying reviews, and don’t do so, have not ever done so. I feel bad having to preface things that way, but…that’s the way it goes. 😉

    Ok, that said? Folks, OPEN YOUR EYES.

    What Locke did was not unusual. What Locke did was not unethical (except, perhaps, by not mentioning it as part of his marketing in his book, which is perhaps excusable given the reaction he’s since gotten from the writing community).

    Are you against paid reviews? Don’t EVER publish anything through Macmillan, then. Their Thomas Dunn imprint regularly uses fake reviews. A recent release, “Stormdancer” has a large number of easily documentable fake reviews attached.

    Fact is, most if not all of the large publishers are doing this. They hire publicity agencies to push the book. Among other things, those publicity agencies have scads of fake accounts on twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, and other key locations which they use to post blurbs, ads, and reviews of the products they are marketing.

    This is the normal course of the publishing business today. This is how publishers are selling books.

    All Locke did was what the Big Six are doing. He leveled the playing field.

    Do I like that he felt he had to do that to compete? No. I don’t like that corporate money is buying our elections, either. I’d prefer a world where the cream rises to the top naturally, and no one is allowed to influence that with money. We don’t live in that world. Lambasting Locke for doing industry-standard marketing practices is hypocritical for any writer hoping to get a “big six” contract (because that publisher will likely use similar methods to Locke’s to get your book reviews, if you do).

    All that said? Holly, you’re over-reacting. Perhaps your fiction won’t sell to Locke levels. But the are hundreds of other indie writers making a GOOD living from their fiction right now. You don’t need to sell a million ebooks to do that. Selling a few hundred copies a month of each of twenty books will do the job nicely.

    *hugs* I know this whole thing is upsetting, I understand you feel blindsided. But I think it’s vital to retain some perspective here, first on the fact that what Locke did is no different from what the major publishers are actively still doing; second, that many, many writers are doing pretty well even without those tactics.

    • Geraldine Ketchum Sep 26, 2012 @ 12:12

      Who are you? Holly is already successful. Do you think you are telling her something she hasn’t figured out, yet? And it certainly is unethical to pay someone to write a positive review – to pay someone to write a lie. How is that ethical?
      To paraphrase several generations of mothers: “If all the publishers jumped of a cliff, would you do it too?” So because they are corrupt it’s okay for us to do the same?
      I don’t know why you would encourage anyone to turn a blind eye to immoral behaviour, and sending a ‘hug’ when you do so is just a bit sickening.

  • Linda Blevins Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:32

    My son’s band wrote a song called “I’m No Preacher.” Part of the lyrics go “The biggest difference between a teacher and a preacher is one’s a liar.” Can’t quit humming that tune. The song builds and ends with a dramatic “Baby I’m no LIAR!”

    (You, of course, being the teacher and Locke the preacher.) Hope this cheers you up a bit.

  • Lisa Threadgill Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:29


    None of this changes my opinion of you, your work, your teaching, or anything. Still top notch to me.

    I just shook my head when I read about his antics a couple of weeks ago. Also wondered what the agent he acquired(from what I consider a pretty darn excellent agency)thought.I thought Locke was a reeking slimeball when I read the book,but a lot of successful people are reeking slimeballs.I decided to do the self-pub thing but in ways that I could live with. I’m still traveling that direction.

    As to how you are approaching things now, in a way, writing and creating classes forms more of a balance I think; enabling both things that you love to co-exist. I an cheering for you and look forward to seeing you succeed on your own, ethical, artistic terms.

  • Elin Gregory Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:25

    Getting mad is fair enough, but once you’ve worked off some steam get even by out-selling the man.

  • Christopher Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:20

    Holly, you did nothing wrong don’t beat yourself up over it. A lot of people were fooled by this creep. I am however glad that you are back to writing fiction. Money is nice but joy is where the heart is. Love you, love your work.

  • SJ Collins Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:18

    Holly, I just wanted to say I have so much respect for you. Bounce on.

  • Roseanne Salyer Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:15

    Holly, I’m glad you bounced. Your courses and daily tips are an invaluable source for this beginning writer. Thank you for your honesty and integrity. I look forward to reading Warpaint, I have read the tidbits and I can’t wait. Once again, thank you for all your help. I am coming up on the muddy middle of my first book and I will need your help. See you soon and keep on keepin’ on.

  • Autumn Macarthur Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:11

    Holly, I’m so sorry you feel you made a bad business choice because of trusting John Locke. The guy’s a master salesman, and he sold his message very persuasively. Part of that talent was getting people to trust him and beleive his message.

    He did wrong. Buying reviews or publishing fake reviews is never acceptable, and nothing changes that. But he still wrote books people bought and keep buying. He gave the book an artificial nudge to get it started, then the books themselves had to take care of the rest.

    We’ve all seen the Kindle books with the handful of glowing 5* reviews followed up with 1’s and 2’s from the real readers. But many genuine readers did love Locke’s novels. The sad thing is, he’s killed his career for the sake of being in a hurry and pushing what should have happened organically as his Right Reader found his books.

    I bought the Locke book on your recommendation too, buy the message I walked away from it with ultimately wasn’t the marketing crap. It was the same as your message – write the best damned books you can, and put the readers first.

    That’s why I’m doing HTTS, and getting so much out of it. You’re a fine teacher and I want to write books my readers will love.

    Your new novels will sell fabulously, never doubt that. Because you’ve put your heart and soul into them. Because you write bloody well. And because you’ve built up a community who will support you by buying your books and writing real reviews of them, as a way of paying forward all that you’ve given us.

    The books will be good enough to stand on their own feet, without lies to prop them up artificially. Locke’s gift to you was giving you the courage and commitment to focus on fiction again and believe you are a fabulous novelist as well as a fabulosu teacher.

    I hope you find that the work getting HTTS on Kindle isn’t wasted, too. Hopefully, you’ll optimise sales by offering it both ways, the old skool full course experience, and the dip in-dip out method.

    Locke’s fraud is disappointing and has left people feeling pissed off and cheated, but ultimately it doesn’t alter the facts – a good book will find its own readers and sell.

    • Autumn Macarthur Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:18

      Oh shoot, I should proof read before I hit Post! That must break the record for the most typos in a single comment. I really hate seeing you upset, Holly! None of us who bought his book based on your recommendation think any less of you, promise.

      • Roseanne Salyer Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:23

        And here I thought all of us writers were perfect the first time. Sorry, couldn’t resist. I loved your comment. I haven’t know Holly (through her courses and daily help) that long, but she has been amazingly helpful to me as a beginning writer.

  • David Masters Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:06

    Holly, you are a legend. Just sayin’. Thank you for your honesty. And thank you for writing fiction. That’s all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.