Conventional wisdom is not wise at all, especially in writing.
Think of every success you know, and think of how many of them are conventional. Any? If they are conventional, I can assure you that any success they have is fleeting, because the success came in a crowd (how many superstar horror writers emerged from the 1980s horror boom? Not many. Most of the stars were the ones who started it, and who were widely imitated, and they survived into the 1990s. The crowd of imitators didn't).
I see the same thing happening in indie publishing. A lot of writers saw "indie publishing" as one thing, a fixed process, a system that a couple of people made look easy. Well, maybe it was easy for them. That doesn't mean it would be easy for others.
There's a lot of indie panic right now because Amazon changed algorithms, or Amazon opened to the libraries, or the Kindle store now has one million titles, or...or whatever. If you expected everything to stay the same, and if you believed there was a "convention," and if you followed what seemed like conventional wisdom in a series of rapidly changing eras that were never fixed long enough to develop a convention, you lose. Simple as that.
In any mass extinction, the ones following the herd are the last to the dwindling resources. I don't say that because I see writing as a competitive blood sport. I am just saddened to see disillusionment built on unrealistic expectations. Writers are getting distressed and angry because they felt entitled to the pie, when three years ago they didn't even know a pie could be baked, much less what ingredients were required.
While some gurus preach ever-expanding markets and untold wealth in indie publishing, the reality is those days are probably already over. The easy money has been made. And the historic lesson of gurus is that they tend to go off with their Cadillacs and groupies to their luxury deserted island while the followers end up broke and feeling stupid.
I started moving away from the indie thing when I realized that indie is not a tribe. I thought it was, in the early days. While running Indie Books Blog, I featured hundreds of new books and new authors because of the energetic and exciting groundswell, as if we all were suddenly changing the world with our fresh voices. But there was no tribe at all, just tens of thousands of writers doing the best they could, often shouting over one another instead of combining into one voice. The outside world didn't really notice that much--readers were reading, traditional publishers went about their business, and the indie era keep slipping away beneath our feet.
Even a year ago, I realized that there was no way 300,000 writers could all earn a living, much less a fortune. I saw people projecting income over five years based on last month's sales. Yeah, okay... And I say that fully believing writers are not in competition--I believe we each must build our own ladders out of dreamstuff, and no one can knock us off our ladder but ourselves. And more good books create more prolific readers. Big wins.
But I quickly realized indie publishing was not one set thing, that it was going to spiral rapidly into unrecognizable shapes and detours and pitfalls. Indie publishing is like the Bog of Eternal Stench in the 80s fantasy movie The Labyrinth. Bluto has to call up the rocks to walk across the bog. Every step requires a new rock. With luck, you pass into the mysterious wilds on the other side, where other challenges will await. But some are going to step in it.
Because I saw my "advice" was unconventional, I quit giving advice. Nobody wanted to hear that we wouldn't all be rich and that the Golden Era of Indie Publishing could already be over. And, heck, I wouldn't have listened to my own advice, anyway. It's actually easier to do it than explain it. Far easier, and far more fun. I peddle dreams, and you should celebrate and pursue your own dreams.
I do believe, and have always said, that just as many writers would make a living as before the Indie Boom. And I believe half of those writers will be "new." In other words, traditional publishing stars would lose half their slots as readers select new favorites. There's a lot of luck involved in success, and we each have different measures of it. For me, it's to earn enough to sit here and type, with the occasional visit to the garden. For others, it's a yacht, or a traditional deal, or a position as a guru.
If indie publishing has truly peaked, I'd still say "Wow, I am so grateful I got to be there. That was one hell of a wild ride!" And you know what? We have just as many blank pages before us as we had before, waiting for us to fill them. Just don't step in the stench on the way.