Numbers for Word People

The clichĂŠ that word people are different from number people has a certain amount of truth. Yet I continue to see word people chasing numbers. Letâs talk about some of numbers.

1. The Number Of Reviews on Amazon

Yeah. Social proof. Sure, whatever.

Itâs a common misconception that if you have more reviews, youâll get more sales. I ran into it this week here in the community. The argument is demonstrably false because if it were true then old books with thousands of reviews would be selling better than newer books with maybe ten.

That doesnât happen. The issue is structural with a bit of superstition for icing.

In numbers terms, the relationship between reviews and sales is directly correlated, which is where the superstition comes in. Correlation only means that as one thing changes the other thing changes. Directly correlated means that they both change in the same direction.

That doesnât mean that one causes the other. That requires something else â unimaginatively named â causality.

The causal connection between reviews and sales is from sales to reviews. Restated: Sales drive reviews. Reviews do not drive sales. Think about it. If nobody has read the book, you canât get a review. Somebody can read the book without giving a review. (Giving it away is a zero-revenue sale.)

Chasing reviews is fun. It feels like it must be important because so many people do it. Ultimately itâs not worth the time because if you want more reviews, the answer is âsell more books.â To the degree that you spend time trying to sell the last book by trying to convince people to review it instead of actually doing the thing that matters, youâre working against the numbers.

The superstition comes in because a lot of new self published authors (and no small number of traditionally published) have a big push around the release. The big day comes and they get a couple of reviews and panic because somebody somewhere told them that you need 50. So they agitate. They angst. They work the crowd. The go on blog tours and buy advertising. When they check again, yes! They have more reviews. It worked! Because look! They have more sales.

Yeah. No. They have more reviews because all the effort they made talking up the book drove sales. Iâm not saying thatâs a bad thing, but numbers are funny. If youâre counting the wrong thing, you wind up going broke or drowning in a stream that's, on average, only two feet deep.

About one out of every hundred or so readers will leave a review. Maybe even one in two hundred. My average runs about one in a hundred over the 200k sales in the last decade.

Except for the book they hated. I got a lot of reviews on that one.

2. The Average Income

About every few months, somebody bemoans the current state of literature and how itâs impossible to make a living as a writer now. Most of them then point to a badly flawed statistic that trumpets the dire news that authorsâon averageâonly earn $3000 or maybe itâs $5000 or maybe itâs euros or pounds.

The problem with that number is that itâs based on a logical flawâassuming that the average (arithmetic mean) is valid when applied to a population set that is not normally distributed.

Remember the old âbell curveâ thing? Yeah. That. Thatâs a normal distribution. Itâs really useful in statistics (like arithmetic means). The difficulty arises when that statistic gets applied do a distribution that is not the âbell curve.â Itâs actually meaningless. Like asking âHow does oxygen breed?â

Because sales, and by extension earnings, are not normally distributed. They follow a different but well known and recognized curve. Some know it as âthe long tailâ but technically, itâs a âpower lawâ distribution. A few people at the very top earn the vast majority of the money.

Not just a lot. Most.

The statistic that makes sense in this instance is the âmedian.â Median marks the point where the number of people who earn more equals the number of people who earn less than that median value.

So the next time somebody mentions that the median income for authors is some pitifully small number, remember that for every person whoâs earned zero thereâs one whoâs earned more than that median. That those ten people at the top who earn 80% of the pie get balanced by just ten authors who havenât earned their first penny.

When you think of how many authors must be below the number, remember that thereâs the exact same number above.

Also remember that all those authors are sharing the 20% of the pie thatâs not being eaten by the few on the tall end of the scale.

But itâs a very, very large pie.

3. The Number of Books

Itâs five. Iâm sorry.

Itâs not cast in stone, but thatâs the number that seems to tip the balance between âhow do I sell a book?â and âoh, wow.â

Disclaimer: Fiction. Specifically genre fiction. Lightning has a better chance of striking non-fiction bottles but thatâs like a whole other universe where physics changed.

With that caveat, Iâm talking about revenue. How to get from side hustle to day job writing.

The general observation is: If you want to make money writing, write novels in a series in a recognized sub category of either Romance, Action/Thriller, or Science Fiction/Fantasy. Those are the top three. Romance is queen. Do not diss Romance. The other two major buckets trade places periodically. Theyâre both bigger than whatever is next this season. Among them they represent the majority of the trade fiction market. Anywhere from 60 to 80% of all trade fiction books sold in the US will fall into one of those three categories.

Thatâs not to say you canât make a killing in westerns or get warm and fuzzy in cozy mysteries or any of the other niches. If you know your audience, know the genre, and can fill in where others arenât already dominating, you can get very good results there, too.

But the number is still five and those five books have to be in the same niche.

Where Iâm seeing new authors flame out is failing to understand that a career in fiction is a way of life. Itâs not a sprint or a marathon. Itâs not a race. You donât get to win. You just get to publish the next book. And the next. And the next. Until you die or stop writing voluntarily.

New authors try to make the first book sing but get discouraged when the tune falls on deaf ears. They may try a second book but spent too much time, money, and energy on book one to pull it off. Or they try to shotgun it and throw a book into different categories, hoping that one of them will find a target.

Iâm not saying it canât work. It can. Somebody almost always wins the lottery, too. It could be you, but the odds arenât in your favor.

Iâm also not saying that when you publish five books, the heavens will open and mana from Bezos will fall like the rains in spring.

Iâm saying that over the years, the people who find the most success, who earn the most, and who continue to earn reliably didnât begin to find traction with readers until book five.

That's all the numbers for now.

Maybe next week I'll talk about risk.

In the meantime, write on.

Image credit: ianmacm., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4535430

The clichĂŠ that word people are different from number people has a certain amount of truth. Yet I continue to see word people chasing numbers. Letâs talk about some of numbers.

1. The Number Of Reviews on Amazon

Yeah. Social proof. Sure, whatever.

Itâs a common misconception that if you have more reviews, youâll get more sales. I ran into it this week here in the community. The argument is demonstrably false because if it were true then old books with thousands of reviews would be selling better than newer books with maybe ten.

That doesnât happen. The issue is structural with a bit of superstition for icing.

In numbers terms, the relationship between reviews and sales is directly correlated, which is where the superstition comes in. Correlation only means that as one thing changes the other thing changes. Directly correlated means that they both change in the same direction.

That doesnât mean that one causes the other. That requires something else â unimaginatively named â causality.

The causal connection between reviews and sales is from sales to reviews. Restated: Sales drive reviews. Reviews do not drive sales. Think about it. If nobody has read the book, you canât get a review. Somebody can read the book without giving a review. (Giving it away is a zero-revenue sale.)

Chasing reviews is fun. It feels like it must be important because so many people do it. Ultimately itâs not worth the time because if you want more reviews, the answer is âsell more books.â To the degree that you spend time trying to sell the last book by trying to convince people to review it instead of actually doing the thing that matters, youâre working against the numbers.

The superstition comes in because a lot of new self published authors (and no small number of traditionally published) have a big push around the release. The big day comes and they get a couple of reviews and panic because somebody somewhere told them that you need 50. So they agitate. They angst. They work the crowd. The go on blog tours and buy advertising. When they check again, yes! They have more reviews. It worked! Because look! They have more sales.

Yeah. No. They have more reviews because all the effort they made talking up the book drove sales. Iâm not saying thatâs a bad thing, but numbers are funny. If youâre counting the wrong thing, you wind up going broke or drowning in a stream that's, on average, only two feet deep.

About one out of every hundred or so readers will leave a review. Maybe even one in two hundred. My average runs about one in a hundred over the 200k sales in the last decade.

Except for the book they hated. I got a lot of reviews on that one.

2. The Average Income

About every few months, somebody bemoans the current state of literature and how itâs impossible to make a living as a writer now. Most of them then point to a badly flawed statistic that trumpets the dire news that authorsâon averageâonly earn $3000 or maybe itâs $5000 or maybe itâs euros or pounds.

The problem with that number is that itâs based on a logical flawâassuming that the average (arithmetic mean) is valid when applied to a population set that is not normally distributed.

Remember the old âbell curveâ thing? Yeah. That. Thatâs a normal distribution. Itâs really useful in statistics (like arithmetic means). The difficulty arises when that statistic gets applied do a distribution that is not the âbell curve.â Itâs actually meaningless. Like asking âHow does oxygen breed?â

Because sales, and by extension earnings, are not normally distributed. They follow a different but well known and recognized curve. Some know it as âthe long tailâ but technically, itâs a âpower lawâ distribution. A few people at the very top earn the vast majority of the money.

Not just a lot. Most.

The statistic that makes sense in this instance is the âmedian.â Median marks the point where the number of people who earn more equals the number of people who earn less than that median value.

So the next time somebody mentions that the median income for authors is some pitifully small number, remember that for every person whoâs earned zero thereâs one whoâs earned more than that median. That those ten people at the top who earn 80% of the pie get balanced by just ten authors who havenât earned their first penny.

When you think of how many authors must be below the number, remember that thereâs the exact same number above.

Also remember that all those authors are sharing the 20% of the pie thatâs not being eaten by the few on the tall end of the scale.

But itâs a very, very large pie.

3. The Number of Books

Itâs five. Iâm sorry.

Itâs not cast in stone, but thatâs the number that seems to tip the balance between âhow do I sell a book?â and âoh, wow.â

Disclaimer: Fiction. Specifically genre fiction. Lightning has a better chance of striking non-fiction bottles but thatâs like a whole other universe where physics changed.

With that caveat, Iâm talking about revenue. How to get from side hustle to day job writing.

The general observation is: If you want to make money writing, write novels in a series in a recognized sub category of either Romance, Action/Thriller, or Science Fiction/Fantasy. Those are the top three. Romance is queen. Do not diss Romance. The other two major buckets trade places periodically. Theyâre both bigger than whatever is next this season. Among them they represent the majority of the trade fiction market. Anywhere from 60 to 80% of all trade fiction books sold in the US will fall into one of those three categories.

Thatâs not to say you canât make a killing in westerns or get warm and fuzzy in cozy mysteries or any of the other niches. If you know your audience, know the genre, and can fill in where others arenât already dominating, you can get very good results there, too.

But the number is still five and those five books have to be in the same niche.

Where Iâm seeing new authors flame out is failing to understand that a career in fiction is a way of life. Itâs not a sprint or a marathon. Itâs not a race. You donât get to win. You just get to publish the next book. And the next. And the next. Until you die or stop writing voluntarily.

New authors try to make the first book sing but get discouraged when the tune falls on deaf ears. They may try a second book but spent too much time, money, and energy on book one to pull it off. Or they try to shotgun it and throw a book into different categories, hoping that one of them will find a target.

Iâm not saying it canât work. It can. Somebody almost always wins the lottery, too. It could be you, but the odds arenât in your favor.

Iâm also not saying that when you publish five books, the heavens will open and mana from Bezos will fall like the rains in spring.

Iâm saying that over the years, the people who find the most success, who earn the most, and who continue to earn reliably didnât begin to find traction with readers until book five.

That's all the numbers for now.

Maybe next week I'll talk about risk.

In the meantime, write on.

Image credit: ianmacm., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4535430