I often find these kinds of articles both enlightening and massively frustrating because for me they always leave out the one piece that I need the most, and that's how they got from completely unknown to starting to sell well. In this article, he talks about how in his first year with his one book he sold 27,222 copies of one of his books and then shows us the success from that point forward. I got the same thing when I used to read about Amanda Hockings and her successes. It was always along the lines of "get famous and then use this process to sell more books". It's like the old Steve Martin book where he tells you "How to become a millionaire and not pay taxes. First step, get a million dollars."
As one of those many struggling writers, I'd kill to sell 27,222 copies of one of my books in a year. And this isn't meant to be a complaint or even a criticis of the article because it's great information. It's just a frustration that I came away with having read a lot of articles like these that seem to hint at telling the inside story and it's still a story after the fact.
I'm afraid the truth is that most of us just don't know. We can tell you the sequence of events that took us from selling nothing to selling lots, but every sequence is unique, and it doesn't explain the fact that great books languish while some mediocre books go gangbusters.
If any of us had the secret, I can promise you this: we'd be falling over ourselves to spill it. I think we are just as curious and dumbfounded as anyone else. Except for the authors (and I'm not one of them) who chalk it up to how awesome their writing is and can't believe it took this long for the universe to bow down before their greatness. But surely those authors are rare. More common has to be the generally confused or those who post-hoc reason that what they did was the answer. But lots of people are doing those things. And if all it took was a great book, that doesn't explain the killer books I read all the time that never hit any lists.
Another theory is that it takes writing a lot of books, but THE MILL HOUSE RECLUSE and a few others did great as indie debuts. There's the theory of pricing, but then there's Joe Nobody, who sells for $9.99 and kicks butt doing it. Some say it's only the previously-trad-published who have success as indies (like Konrath, Eisler, and Bella Andre), but that argument is bunk for two reasons: Some of the previously-trad (not saying those mentioned above; I don't know) were dropped from their publishers for underperforming before doing great indie. And many indies like Hocking were straight-indie. Others like myself were with small presses that didn't provide any boost at all to our readership. No one set of answers works. Which leaves us wondering what in the world does.
I think Joe comes as close as anyone to sorting it all out. Like me, he includes luck in his secret recipe, and he qualifies that with the hard work that magnifies luck. Let's say luck, as an ingredient, accounts for 30% of the Breakout-Sauce. That's enough to explain how some authors go nuts with a single book, or expensive books, or books with crappy cover art (like mine), or books with technical faults. It would also explain how someone with a dozen excellent titles isn't taking off. How someone who does everything "right" doesn't have success.
Which leads to my point of this long-winded nonsense: Time has to be an ingredient. An important one. This revolution has barely gotten started. Good luck and bad luck require time to even them out. If you've done everything right, your works might take off in ten years. Who knows? We haven't been at this long enough. I think it's too early for any of us to say something isn't working or that it won't work. I just have to remember back to writing seven novels over three years and watching them sit between #335,204 and #1,302,490 in the Amazon store. I didn't care. I just kept writing. I read about Amanda Hocking, and I thought: "Hellz yeah!" And I kept writing. I gave myself until I was 40 and I had twenty titles published before I worried about whether I sold enough to pay a bill. And even if that never happened, it was an excuse to publish twenty titles. I could always say that. No one could take it away from me. And anyway, I'd sold a handful of books and heard from people that they loved them. I remembered when that was just an idle dream.