Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now (via @tobiasbuckell)

Tobias Buckell raises some very important points about listening to successful self-published authors:

In an interview recently, David Kirtley pointed out that in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting.

He's pointing out, using some excellent stats from Smashwords, that the 'average' (mean) success rate of self-published work is cruelly skewed by disproportionate bestseller figures, and that the more useful figure to look at is the 'average' (median) which is of course much lower, due to the well-known long tail of publishing.

I am trying to say ‘please approach this with some rationality.’ I’m slowly building up a portfolio over time of work that I hope will offer me an additional income stream. There are some benefits to this form of publication that I like, but to be honest, in a direct apples to apples comparison, I’m making more off the much despised traditional publishing still. By a large margin. This piece of anecdotal data means that the formula for each writer is different, and the constant ‘us vs them’ battle going on is harming artists who are losing a chance to make more money, or get a larger audience, who are being led astray.

Worthwhile read, and certainly the graphs are a little eye-opening. I'm on Tobias's side when it comes to picking and choosing which publishing model works for which project.

[P]ay attention to those charts and adjust your expectations accordingly.

There’s a lot of snake oil sales going on. And a lot of well meaning people who won the lottery telling everyone to go buy lottery tickets while financial advisors shake their head.

Pretty much the same as its always been…

Tobias also helpfully links through to a more general article on survivor bias, which includes a great 'Department of War Math' propaganda poster. From that article:

The Misconception: You should study the successful if you wish to become successful.

The Truth: When failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible.

That link is here: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/

And check out Tobias's full (and comprehensive) post here: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2013/05/27/survivorship-bias-why-90-of-the-advice-about-writing-is-bullshit-right-now/