Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Right on the heels of my introduction of Yesterday Road to the WordPress universe comes this item, via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing. (I love Boing Boing, btw): “Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now.”
I admire the writer’s bluntness.
Tobias Buckell is an “author – blogger – futurist,” according to his web site, who has been selling his work as ebooks for a long time now, and with the help of data from Smashwords walks us through the reality of self-publishing risks and rewards. The heart of the matter is that, because we hear much more about success stories than about the complete failures, we tend to ignore the bad news and believe we can succeed like the best of the bunch. What we’re overlooking is the enormous swamp of disappointment that, statistically, our work is likely to get mired in. Instead we see only the mountaintop.
When you look at the charts Bucknell provides, you can see that the median book on Smashwords falls way way down on the far right of the x/y chart, which represents, let’s say, negligible sales. The “average,” on the other hand, is skewed to the left by the relatively small number of books that sell a lot of copies. An eager beaver is probably going to assume that his/her brilliant opus is at least going to be “average,” right? So — what the hell! Might as well take the plunge.
Bucknell quotes from David McRaney’s article on the subject of “survivorship bias” in his blog, You Are Not So Smart:
Survivorship bias also flash-freezes your brain into a state of ignorance from which you believe success is more common than it truly is and therefore you leap to the conclusion that it also must be easier to obtain. You develop a completely inaccurate assessment of reality thanks to a prejudice that grants the tiny number of survivors the privilege of representing the much larger group to which they originally belonged.
All of this is just a way of staying in close touch with my skeptical side as I tiptoe into that big swamp. I’d rather go in with some idea of the real danger instead of thinking some yellow brick road will get me to the other side. Yet, by the same token, if we don’t believe in ourselves to a possibly unreasonable degree, we’re better off making birdhouses in the basement than writing and trying to sell novels.
Of course, then we’d have the problem of where to sell all those goddamn birdhouses.
(Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli.)