Recommended Resources: On Survivorship Bias

I know I’ve mentioned the Writing Excuses podcast here before, but I just had to highlight this weeks episode, which gives some very solid (if, somewhat disheartening) advice. Referencing an interesting article by Tobias Buckell, it points to the idea of Survivorship Bias. In our quest to find success, we often look to people who have already found success, and try to mimic their behavior, despite the fact that our attempts may yield very different results. Both the podcast and the article mention if you interview millionaires who have won the lottery, you’ll come out of the interviews feeling that all you need to do to be a millionaire in win the lottery, not recognizing the fact that their is as astronomical amount of luck in that claim (but hey, people must buy into it. Look at everyone that buys lottery tickets).

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a magic button to press to find success in writing. You can put all of your effort into creating an online platform, or writing whatever the popular genre of the moment is, but that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll see the same results. This isn’t the happiest message, because it implies something pretty scary. You might fail. Your book may fail to get picked up by a traditional publisher. Your short story rejected by every short fiction magazine in existence. Your self published ebook fail to pick up any kind of traction beyond your already emotionally invested family and friends. And that’s pretty darn scary. But hey, it’s a possibility that needs to be recognized. If it still seems worth it after all that, then keep writing.

And on that happy note, off to the laundry mat I go!

Previous Recommended Resources
Recommended Resource: Proper Manuscript Format
Recommended Resource: How to Approach a Literary Agent
Recommended Resource: SurLaLune Fairy Tales


6 thoughts on “Recommended Resources: On Survivorship Bias

  1. That Buckell article shook a lot of people up, myself included. I think it’s important to hear not just the success stories, but also how many writers are successful partly because of sheer determination. I was comforted to hear that Stephen King used to tack his rejection slips to a wall. Eventually he had to replace the tack with a heavy duty spike to support the weight of the rejections. His first published novel was the third or fourth one he had written.

    • Yes. King’s story can be a lot more comforting for those of us struggling then say, Ernest Cline’s rejection-less route to success. Nothing against Ernest Cline of course. Ready Player One is tons of fun to read and I will certainly be reading Armada. It’s just that his results are far from typical.

  2. Pingback: Recommended Resource: How to Find A (Real!) Literary Agent | Picking Up the Pen

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