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Writing Excuses: Survivorship Bias

26 August 2013

From Writing Excuses:

When people who have succeeded at a given endeavor speak about their success, we are inclined to listen because hey, we’d like to succeed there as well. It’s critical to recognize the bias here. Survivorship bias is the skewing of the data that occurs when you examine and seek to emulate successes without considering failures in that same space.

Here at Writing Excuses we suffer from it. So in this podcast we’ll talk about the places in which our experiences may just not apply to you because we got lucky. Sure, there are things we’ve done right, and clearly in some cases we’ve been able to exploit good fortune to our advantage, but in this episode we’ll focus on the non-reproducible aspects of our own success with an eye toward helping you to focus your own efforts on the things that actually matter.

Link to the rest at Writing Excuses and thanks to Joe for the tip.

Writing Excuses is a popular podcast featuring authors Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells and cartoonist Howard Tayler

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8 Comments to “Writing Excuses: Survivorship Bias”

  1. I’ve been listening to this podcast for years. I consider it an invaluable resource for any writer, and can’t recommend it enough. I actually had one of my questions read on one of the podcasts, which was nice (it had to do with the effectiveness of book trailers).

    All four of the authors are pretty good on Twitter, too.

  2. It’s funny to see corporate authors claim that indie authors who have succeeded have survivorship bias that prevents them from seeing they’re exceptions to a rule. Tobias Buckell levied the same criticism against Hugh Howey.

    Given that agents and publishers reject greater than 99% of the manuscripts they receive, I think corporate authors likely have the greatest survivorship bias of all.

    The top-as-of-this-writing comment on that post is wonderful. It’s the one that notes:

    The publishing industry is changing so rapidly that anyone who broke in before 2011 is not qualified to tell beginning writers what they should and shouldn’t be doing to get published.

    • Great quote. I completely agree.

    • @ Will – I saw that comment too. Although I think what these writers are doing is generous, and I respect all of them, I think there is a lot of truth to that.

      If these authors are talking about getting published. Hopefully the podcasts are more about writing works that will find a readership. That’s relevant to any age.

    • “corporate authors?”

      Howard Tayler is a self-published web cartoonist.

      • The main problem with the discourse is that Howard Tayler is a web cartoonist. Just like Roger Clyne is an independent musician, and directors are independent filmmakers, and etc. (Also, I notice that Tayler founded his own independent record label.)

        It’s only when you get to Hugh Howey et al. and writing that people revert to the “self-published” label.

        And definitely, Mira. I know their hearts are in the right place. The mean well. But hey road to Hell.

  3. This is valuable if only because it tells us non-millionaire-self-publishers that we’re actually in the majority. It takes the pressure off. I’ll keep writing and trying things, but I’m at least making as much as I did with traditional publishers, which wasn’t a living either.

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