The Simple Answer to the Eternal Question

I keep seeing some form of the same question on writing forums: How can I be successful as an independent author?
The answer is the same, no matter how much people wish it wasn’t. It’s the same if you are any form of artist or entertainer.
1. Keep writing, and keep improving your writing
2. Make your work easily available at a good price.
3. Promote your work, and keep learning how to promote better
4. Repeat the above ad infinitum, while improving some more
1-4 above are necessary, but not sufficient. The last piece is:
5. Get lucky
But you will make some of your own luck by doing 1-4 the best you can. In poker terms, you must put yourself in a position to get lucky.
Some folks will never get lucky and break out and catch on, and that’s sad. Some classic writers or artists never had much success in their own lifetimes. That’s how it goes. Life ain’t fair. But if you keep at it, the chances of your work catching on, at least enough to make a living, keeps growing.
It’s also very easy to sabotage yourself. Let me give you an example. I recently looked at a writer’s blog post. It essentially bemoaned the fact that the author had written about ten books and was still only making 5-600 dollars a year. You know what? I immediately looked at the books and diagnosed the problem. Unfortunately I was not able to get ahold of the author – no e-mail or contact widget, and posting on the blog comments go no response.
But what was the author’s problem? Let’s compare to the list above.
1. Keep writing, and keep improving your writing
The books all seem to be well written from my look at the samples, with just a few formatting issues, but not enough to kill sales. Good covers, good titles, a good name or pen name.
Okay, #1, check.
2. Make your work easily available at a good price.
5 of 9 books are listed for $9.99 ebook price.
One is 5.95, two are 2.99, and one is free.
Whoah. Anyone see a problem here?
If I could give advice I would say, drop all ebook prices to 2.99, which would likely triple sales right off, and the author her up for future success. I bet there would be ten times the number sales within a year, and more money. 100 copies a month with a ten book backlist is not difficult.
All the promotion in the world won’t overcome something being overpriced. I bet there are people that read the free book or the $2.99 books and then see the price of the others and say, “well, those books were good but I’m not paying that much.” And those people that stop at the cheap books are not going to recommend to friends, or at least, not beyond the cheaper books.
To reiterate, the dichotomy between giving away one book and overcharging for others is killing sales. It’s like MacDonald’s giving away free burgers but charging $10 for a shake. You ain’t gonna sell many shakes. People will walk in, buy the cheap thing, and ignore the expensive thing.
3. Promote your work, and keep learning how to promote better
It appears from what I can tell that the author is promoting quite a lot. This person claims 20,000 twitter followers. If one in 100 bought one book per month at $2.99, sales would pick up. So promotion is not the problem. I refer back to #2. The author has to compete on price. With established authors and tradpubs slashing prices on all but the hottest bestsellers, who is going to buy these books over one of the other thousand writers of the same genre out there who write equivalently good books?
4. Repeat the above ad infinitum, while improving some more
There’s nothing quite like persistence. I know a guy who’s making a living selling ebooks. He wrote and stored novels for over twenty years, piling up rejections from tradpubs. Then he went the self-pub independent route and now he sells thousands of copies a month. It took over twenty years to reach his dream, which was to quit his day job and write for a living.
He didn’t give up. I’m not either. Will you?
David VanDyke is a former US Army Airborne enlisted soldier and, later in life, a US Air Force officer. He served in and out of combat zones all over the world in the 1980s through the 2000s. He lives on the East Coast with his wife and three dogs.
If you are an established reader/reviewer, please contact the author at one of the places below to obtain a free review copy of any of his works.
David VanDyke is also a technical writer and freelance proofreader, copy and content editor. 
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