Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

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ThomasKCarpenter
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Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby ThomasKCarpenter » Mon May 27, 2013 6:29 pm

Rational advice from Tobias Buckell on the business of writing. Or I like the way he puts it in his title: "Survivorship Bias: Why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now."

http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2013/05/27/survivorship-bias-why-90-of-the-advice-about-writing-is-bullshit-right-now/

Lot of great quotes throughout, but he saves the best for last.

Making a living off art is hard.

But that isn’t a sexy sell.

That isn’t to say you should give up. Fuck that. But I am going to say: get ready to work, don’t expect riches. Focus hard on the art.

And pay 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…

PS: this survivorship bias also works for writing advice about ‘how to write’ if you think about it…


Work hard and focus on the art. I can deal with that. wotf007
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ggeezz
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Re: Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby ggeezz » Tue May 28, 2013 5:18 am

There's certainly a survivorship bias in people's analysis. And it's worse than what Tobias details. The results he posts are for works rather than authors. Authors who are successful have the opportunity to produce more works. Some authors will start a book (or many books) and never publish.

However, there's a greater statistical fallacy on the other side. The "real odds" of an event occurring are not the same as the raw odds we might assign if we have no information to go on.

For example, suppose there are 5 million kids every year that want to start in the NBA and only 5 rookies accomplish that each year. The odds for each child are 1 in a million, right? Sure, if you don't know anything about the person in question. By the time Lebron James was in high school many people were saying he was the next Kobe Bryant. Were his odds 1 in a million? No, it was more like 1 in 3. Even when he was 5 years old his odds were much better than average. When I was in high school my odds were worse than 1 in a billion. The average kids who's 6'10" with a certain agility: their odds might be 1 in 100.

The relevant question for any given author is what their odds are to reach $x of sales. If you can get 10 people in your target audience to objectively judge your work, then you'll have much more information on which to judge it's success. Get a professional cover and editing and you can increase your chances immensely.

So, what are your odds if a sample of your audience really likes your work and you have a good cover and good editing? I don't know. That's a good question. I'd like to know the answer, but unfortunately the relevant data is not readily available.

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Re: Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby gower21 » Tue May 28, 2013 7:09 am

ggeezz wrote:There's certainly a survivorship bias in people's analysis. And it's worse than what Tobias details. The results he posts are for works rather than authors. Authors who are successful have the opportunity to produce more works. Some authors will start a book (or many books) and never publish.

However, there's a greater statistical fallacy on the other side. The "real odds" of an event occurring are not the same as the raw odds we might assign if we have no information to go on.

For example, suppose there are 5 million kids every year that want to start in the NBA and only 5 rookies accomplish that each year. The odds for each child are 1 in a million, right? Sure, if you don't know anything about the person in question. By the time Lebron James was in high school many people were saying he was the next Kobe Bryant. Were his odds 1 in a million? No, it was more like 1 in 3. Even when he was 5 years old his odds were much better than average. When I was in high school my odds were worse than 1 in a billion. The average kids who's 6'10" with a certain agility: their odds might be 1 in 100.

The relevant question for any given author is what their odds are to reach $x of sales. If you can get 10 people in your target audience to objectively judge your work, then you'll have much more information on which to judge it's success. Get a professional cover and editing and you can increase your chances immensely.

So, what are your odds if a sample of your audience really likes your work and you have a good cover and good editing? I don't know. That's a good question. I'd like to know the answer, but unfortunately the relevant data is not readily available.


I love you--this is a perfect explanation. It really echoes the book "Outlier" where it talks about success being not just ability but also timing, luck, and other factors.

I really enjoyed Tobias's analysis. For writing I'd say (just like athletics, but with different focus) it takes several aspects to increase someone's odds. A. Writing ability B. Motivation/Ability to self-start C. Aptitude for business D. Ability to adapt....and I'm sure there is more to the list.

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Re: Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby s_c_baker » Tue May 28, 2013 8:16 am

gower21 wrote:I really enjoyed Tobias's analysis. For writing I'd say (just like athletics, but with different focus) it takes several aspects to increase someone's odds. A. Writing ability B. Motivation/Ability to self-start C. Aptitude for business D. Ability to adapt....and I'm sure there is more to the list.

persistence, thick skin, sense of perspective...
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Brad R. Torgersen
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Re: Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Tue May 28, 2013 7:52 pm

A few thoughts:

1) Toby's been at this long enough that I think he's been humbled; especially by the performance of his RAGAMUFFIN universe books.

2) Perhaps the best example of sheer willpower overcoming the odds, is Kevin J. Anderson.

3) Writing good stories is the best "solution" to almost any fiction publishing problem, but as Eric Flint notes, good writing just isn't that common.

4) What constitutes "good" versus" not good" is almost entirely subjective.

5) Keeping your day job dramatically simplifies most of this.

6) I say again, keeping your day job dramatically simplifies most of this.

7) No matter how you slice it, hard work is still hard work. For every writer seemingly gifted with success, by fate, or the fortunes, or what have you, there is usually a hidden story of years or even decades of toil. It's the iceberg: most of that lies under the surface, where it's seldom seen.

8) There are never any guarantees.

9) Sometimes people who desperately want to be authors, don't have what it takes to be writers.

10) Take a large grain of salt with advice from anyone who speaks on the biz with an attitude of, "I never made mine, so it's obviously impossible for anyone else to make theirs!"
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Re: Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby bobsandiego » Tue May 28, 2013 8:03 pm

I read a length article on Surviorship Bias. It's a fascinating topic and a take away I have for writing is listen less to pro-writers and more to pro-editors. (That does not mean ignore pro-writers.) It is it the ewditors that see and can report on the failures. They see what doesn't survive.
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Re: Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby ThomasKCarpenter » Wed May 29, 2013 3:28 am

Another cool article on Surviorship Bias, thought not about writers, but I think it dovetails with what Tobias talks about (but mostly it talks about math and WWII and apple orchards).

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/
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Strycher
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Re: Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby Strycher » Wed May 29, 2013 4:40 am

ThomasKCarpenter wrote:Another cool article on Surviorship Bias, thought not about writers, but I think it dovetails with what Tobias talks about (but mostly it talks about math and WWII and apple orchards).

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/


I loved this article. The WW2 anecdote. The study on luck. Really good stuff.

. . . success boils down to serially avoiding catastrophic failure while routinely absorbing manageable damage.

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Re: Tobias Buckell: Surivorship Bias

Postby Ishmael » Wed May 29, 2013 5:32 am

It may be worth adding that failures include not only those who attempt to emulate role models but also the role models themselves when they attempt to replicate their success. What gets you to the top may not keep you there. Good ideas tend to have a life cycle.

To continue the sporting analogies, by the time that the hitters have figured out how to hit the latest young tyro's wonder pitch it is a good idea for the LYT to have developed another wonder pitch.

None of this means that it is impossible to lay down or to learn general ground rules. Before pitching brilliantly you must first learn to pitch at all.
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