Author Wall of Shame: John Locke

“Many of the 300 reviews he bought through GettingBookReviews were highly favorable, although it’s impossible to say whether this was because the reviewers genuinely liked the books, or because of their well-developed tendency toward approval, or some combination of the two.”


Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”


There is a special place in Hell for John Locke. If you don’t know who John Locke is, last year Amazon.com announced that Locke was the first self-published author to hit the one million ebook sales mark. An impressive feat on the surface. Almost as soon as the press release was announced, Locke released his bestselling How I Sold a Million eBooks in Five Months. Apparently, he left out his biggest secret.


The New York Times ran an article regarding review mills, and in it we discovered that Mr. Locke spent thousands of dollars buying reviews. Not only did he buy reviews, but he actively sought to game the Amazon review system by asking the paid reviews to buy a copy of the book (for reimbursement) on Amazon so that the review would show up as a verified purchases to increase their perceived legitimacy.


I’ve talked extensively about the need for ethical standards in indie publishing. When news like this hits the NY Times, it makes all indie authors look bad. Every author who has been successful, honestly successful, will get tarred because of the greed of Locke. His pride and ego were too fragile to do the hard work of building an audience. He needed immediate satisfaction. So he reached into his pockets and bought over three hundred reviews. It is difficult to wrap my head around how someone could do this and then have the contempt for other writers to publish a fake “How-to” guide and sell it, knowing that you are selling a fabrication.


When something like this goes public, it shatters any faith readers have in the review system. Authors who bust their asses trying to get reviews legitimately suddenly find customers don’t trust their positive reviews. Authors who sold tons of copies honestly suddenly find naysayers questioning whether or not they “bought” their rank. It won’t hurt Locke: he’s still got too many defenders and cheerleaders who NEED him to be their hero. It will instead hurt the honest writers struggling to build a fanbase or to get a handful of reviews on Amazon.


What I would like to see is for Amazon.com to bring down the hammer of Locke. If Amazon.com actually removed his books from his site for TOS violations, it would send a huge message not only to other authors that try to game the system, but to all of the honest writers as well. It would be saying “We have too much respect for our hard-working indie authors to allow people like this to discredit you all.” If Amazon actually took action, it would tell authors and readers that they care about the integrity of their review system and help restore trust in it.


Because, ultimately, none of us can be successful in an environment where the consumers don’t trust us. If every review is suspect, if our sales ranks appear rigged, if the court of public opinion turns on us and decides we are not worth their respect, we will fail. Ethical behavior is not just a pretty thought or an inconvenience. It is an essential component for the health and long-term success of the independent movement. If we allow people like Locke to get away with gaming the system, we will be the ones that lose.

9 Replies to “Author Wall of Shame: John Locke”

  1. Pingback: Behind Reviews: Part 1 Ethical Issues | VH Folland's Blog

  2. I have read some of John Locke’s books. They are what he claims they are and they make me laugh. That, it appears, is his purpose for writing them. I am glad I came across them, however that may have happened.

  3. Pingback: Writer Wednesday: Buying Reviews « Bacon and Whiskey

  4. Pingback: Do I still recommend John Locke? No. | Holly Lisle: Official Author Homepage

  5. I bought Locke’s book on the recommendation of a known author.

    As a reviewer with 800+ reviews, I know well the reviewing side and scams indie authors have tried. You name it: I’ve been bribed, threatened, flattered and even sued (Google me and the word lawsuit — it was a big deal). But never have I sold my reviews on Amazon.

    In turn, now as an indie author selling short stories on Amazon, I know the struggle to make it more than a trickle.

    In buying Locke’s book I thought, “I have a decent Twitter/FB following, plus a website, blogs, etc. I’m in as good of position as anyone. All I need are a few smart tips. Locke’s made it, so why not me?”

    Why not me? Ethics. I got ’em, Locke doesn’t. Simple as that. I read the entire NYT piece and wanted to throw up. I hope Amazon holds him to their rules. I hope also they chase the slime selling reviews on Fivver and elsewhere.

  6. Amazon have used John Locke in their promotional efforts – they are hardly likely to dump him now. I wouldn’t worry too much – it is all swings and roundabouts – the fact that his books are now swamped with negative and rather scathing reviews and his sales have stalled tends to even it out. He had his fifteen minutes of purchased fame – now he can move on. Maybe his next venture will last a little longer.

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