Hmmm, this is interesting. I was just thinking about this post the other day when so many people started complaining about their sales.
The other day, somebody in the local scene called me a "successful" self-publisher, and while my level of success is probably higher than that of a writer trying to sell through tradepub and snatching the odd short story sale (as there are a LOT of local SFF writers still doing), I figured that this person really doesn't know what "successful" looks like. Mwahaha!
That said, I don't think I can call myself a prawn anymore, and I've been reading the other threads but haven't commented for that reason. The prawn-struggle is no longer mine. Someone said that successful writers hijacked a thread, and I feel there was some truth in that. It's all very well to go heavy-handed on new writers and give them the laundry list of the things they are doing wrong, but that's not going to work if those writers are so new that they don't have the experience to understand what you're talking about. This is not meant in a derogatory way. Everyone starts somewhere and it truly does take a while to catch up on the "feel" of the market. Not saying I know everything (because I don't, not in the slightest), but I'm getting there. Last month, I broke a milestone: My sales are about $1000 a month all up. Because of my utter, utter failure to secure Bookbub ads (and my failure to seek other advertising), this number is fairly steady. But it's made up out of a lot of different retailers. Last month I broke the $1000 in a month for one single retailer. It wasn't Amazon.
If you're selling poorly, you can do two things:
1. Put a sock in the complaining about sales numbers, write whatever the hell you want and put whatever covers on it and enjoy yourself.
2. Whatever you're doing now is not working. Do something different. Repackage, re-brand, start a new series, a new subgenre, an new pen-name, new covers, advertise. If you're promoting the hell out of your stuff and it's not working, stop promoting and start writing. Make a plan. Ignore sales numbers for the time being.
That said, I'm going to say a few things about people who do want to sell better, because I've noticed some common themes:
1. Covers. Really. They're so important, you don't even know how important. Get a cover that people find pretty and that represents your genre. Don't have money? Learn how to do an acceptable job yourself. It's not rocket science.
2. Get out there and bat for your work. I don't mean tweet the hell out of it, but find those awesome lists C. Gockel puts out there and submit your work to promo sites. Just frakkin' do it. Got no money? Try the free sites. Made $10 last month? Spend it on two ads with bknights, or something. No one is going to care as much about your work as you do.
3. Formatting. A lot of books are just awfully, awfully formatted.
4. Please learn how to punctuate dialogue, and other versions of "edit your work".
For all the above: Learn how to do an acceptable job yourself or pay someone, I don't care. Just do it.
About having a plan: My plan was to write a couple of series at the same time to give readers multiple funnels. I write space opera, fantasy and hard SF.
People will tell you not to start multiple series, but in the long run, it pays off. It doesn't, however, lead to a great number of immediate sales. I've now completed one of those series, but I'm doing two more.
But don't be blind to opportunities: I'm enjoying KU because I've put up some of my short work. And hey! People actually borrow these stories (whereas previously no one was buying them). That's $100 a month for short fiction that was earning $0 per month before.