Best Second Act Reinvention 2011: E-book Author John Locke
Bio: Door-to-door insurance salesman who transformed himself into one of America's top-selling authors
Attitude: "Every 7 seconds, 24 hours a day, a John Locke novel is downloaded somewhere in the world," Locke boasts in his nonfiction book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months. "All this was achieved part time, without an agent [or] publicist, and at virtually no marketing expense."
How did Locke, with virtually no literary credentials or experience, join the ranks of bestselling luminaries such as Stephen King, Michael Connelly and Stieg Larsson? By writing like a madman and shrewdly exploiting social media, including Twitter and Facebook, to build a market for his racy, fast-paced action novels and westerns. The 61-year-old writer, who resides in Louisville, Ky., was a complete unknown when he unveiled his ex-CIA assassin character Donovan Creed in 2009. Rather than search for an agent, Locke self-published his novels and undercut big-name authors by selling downloads on Amazon for 99 cents. He became a sensation, partly because he is prolific enough to complete a full-length manuscript in two months. "I've operated on four to five hours' sleep for more than 40 years," Locke says. To date, he has authored 13 fiction titles, plus his how-to book. This year, Simon & Schuster announced it would release mass-market paperbacks of the entire Donovan Creed line, beginning with Wish List in February. The book is expected to have a press run of 750,000 copies.
Honorable Mention: Judi Henderson-Town, eco-minded entrepreneur
Henderson-Town's original goal was to do an art project several years ago when she searched Craigslist to buy a used department-store mannequin. The seller suggested there would soon be a local shortage -- he was moving away -- and, no dummy herself, Henderson-Town seized the opportunity. Rather than buying one mannequin, she plunked down $2,500 for 50 of them, and her business, Mannequin Madness, was born. "I had never touched a mannequin," says the 53-year-old Oakland, Calif., entrepreneur, who had been unhappy as an account executive for big corporate firms such as Johnson & Johnson and United Airlines. She easily persuaded stores to sell their used mannequins to her instead of throwing them away and soon had more than 500 life-size figures -- "in the basement, in tents in the backyard, in the garage, in boxes in the driveway . . . everywhere." She finds a market for them -- and, because they do not go to landfills, she has earned special recognition from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. "The retailer saves on the disposal fee, and we gain inventory," Henderson-Town says. "It's a win-win."
Honorable Mention: Camilla Olson, fashion designer
If the red silk gown you created is being seen by millions at the Oscars, you know you made the right move enrolling in design school. Olson experienced that thrill last February, when actor James Franco's mother, Betsy, wore one of her dresses (with a gold scarf) to the Academy Awards ceremony. The triumph owed to a bit of chance: Olson, a 57-year-old former marketing executive who spent 30 years in the health-care industry, stumbled upon design after she accompanied her teenage daughter to an open house at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Her daughter didn't enroll, choosing instead to go into finance, but Olson did and later invested $200,000 to start her design company, Camilla Olson LLC, in Palo Alto, Calif. Her clients include Silicon Valley's Four Seasons Hotel and a number of classy boutiques. Olson donates a portion of each sale to the Women's Health at Stanford research program.
Honorable Mention: Dave Wilkinson, railroad owner
When he unpacked a childhood train set to put around the Christmas tree, Wilkinson re-awakened a passion that would send his life roaring down a whole different track. The train set inspired a seemingly rash act -- the purchase of a full-size, surplus caboose as a guest room in his backyard. It attracted such attention that Wilkinson, who spent 27 years as a movie theater projectionist, soon began an unlikely sideline business buying and selling cabooses. The native of Ojai, Calif., eventually quit his theater job and parlayed his wheeling-and-dealing into ownership of the tiny Fillmore & Western Railway Co., which controls 31 miles of track between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Wilkinson, 63, and his wife, Tresa, gradually expanded the operation to more than 70 train cars, which they rent out for use in Hollywood movies -- among them Inception and Water for Elephants. Wilkinson credits his success to his wife and his work ethic. "I'm still a seven-day-a-week person," he says. "I just don't sit around too much."
Keep reading: The Best Second Acts Awards 2011
Day 1: Best Second Act in Sports 2011: Swimmer Diana Nyad
Day 2: Best Celebrity Second Act 2011: Jon Bon Jovi's Soul Kitchen
Day 3: Best Creative Second Act 2011: Poet Kay Ryan
Day 4: Best Second Act Comeback 2011: Entrepreneur Brad Gruno
Day 5: Most Inspirational Second Act 2011: Grad Student Allyson Reneau
Day 6: Best Second Act Making A Difference 2011: Judith Broder
Day 7: Best Second Act Reinvention 2011: E-book Author John Locke
Day 8: Best Second Act Game-Changer 2011: Room to Read's John Wood