Successful Authors Are Outliers, Not Statistics

This post, by Bob Mayer, originally appeared on his Write on the River site on 12/10/13.

Digital Book World has put out another survey about authors, indie authors, hybrid authors*, hobbits, wizards and drones.

While I applaud the effort, I find a lot of the data about authors essentially skewed, especially when it comes to those of us who make our living writing. Especially for those of us who’ve made our living writing for more than a year or two, ie those who’ve made a career writing. Which is about as rare as a hobbit in an orc bar. Unless it’s being served for dinner.

While I’m not a fan of Malcom Gladwell’s public condemnation of Amazon while still selling his books there (also Scott Turow), I accept that they are both highly paid indentured servants to their publishers who have no control over whether their books are sold at Amazon. Gladwell wrote a book introducing a concept called Outliers, which looks at the factors that lead to high levels of success (see, I link to the book on Amazon—please donate all sales to charity, Mr. Gladwell). I submit that any person who can make a decent career as a writer of fiction (ie a professional bullshitter) has achieved a high level of success in the world of publishing. It’s something I learned in Special Forces, who are almost all outliers.

So how are successful authors outliers?

Gladwell: “the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work.”

I do think we need all four; and while I know writers who’ve come from nothing and pushed all four to the extreme and have become successful, there are certainly other factors that Mr. Gladwell explains.

At Cool Gus one of our mottoes is: the best promotion is a good book, better promotion is more good books. Gladwell has a term called “Accumulative advantage”. He uses the example that most elite Canadian hockey players were born earlier in the year. What’s the connection? Since leagues are done by year, a kid born in January has almost a year of experience and growth over a kid born in December. Thus the earlier birth players seem to be the best. Thus they are treated as better—it’s a case where the rich get richer.

In publishing this means those of us who came out of traditional publishing with rights to some or all of our backlist have had a huge advantage.


Read the rest of the post on Write on the River.