There are many famous writers who were only recognised after death. They may have sold a few books while alive but never knew that they would become globally famous. See here for some examples. Every writer on that list is now seen as an icon in the history of literature. What can be safely said is that each of them wrote their best work because they had to. The works were the outcomes of who they were, their deepest motivations.
I think too of Gerard Manley Hopkins, unpublished in his lifetime, whose brilliant poetry became our gift, and whose writing can be said to have revolutionised poetry.
Having myself recently self-published a novel, I don’t expect or want it or me to become famous. Or rich. In fact, any paltry sales proceeds will go to charity. It was rewarding to write and will be reward enough if one reader finds pleasure in it.
In that way, I am freed from the ‘author as business’ industries. All the smart advice here, on how to make money from big sales, is based on underlying business practices. Give the customers what they want, what they know. Do thorough market research. Package the product well (e.g. book cover). Promote, promote promote. Advertise. Buy in expert work from formatters, designers, editors, marketers. Expect to ‘loss lead’ and pay a great deal to ensure the product is the best.
Since I have begun exploring the self-publishing world, I have come across much goodwill, sharing, pro bono advice and support, and encouragement. I have, sadly very frequently, encountered third rate ‘online courses’, ridiculous promises that such-and-such a method will bring in sales of 10,000 a day all for the bargain price of $49 reduced from $98 (but hurry! This offer is only for today).
For fun, my fun, soon I am going to write a cop book, a straight down the line genre book using every formula and trick that’s possible. With ‘a twist’, of course. It will have to be the first in a series which follows the deeply flawed cop and his or her sidekick through a dark social underbelly full of sickening violence, or serial killing, and corruption in high places and so on and so on.
If you want readers and money, follow the market genres, especially crime, romance, sci-fi and fantasy. If you write something outside these safe areas, there’s a chance that it may become another Harry Potter. But there are degrees of chance from zero to 100, and while you’re working on your book you’d best be doing it for its own sake, because you believe in it, because you love what you’re doing. Love is a great motivator and will get you through poverty, doubt, despair, exhaustion, isolation and maybe a journey to hell. In fact it’s often those conditions which have produced great literature.
Myself, I write because I have to, always have had to. The novel project was at someone else’s request – to explore the effects of addiction on an individual and his family.
So, I’ll have fun writing a cop book. If it makes any money, which I doubt, it will go to charity. Meanwhile, I live, I breathe, I write.