where the writers are
What Are The Odds?

Yesterday I had the radio on, and the DJs were filling air time by reading a list of odds that something will happen. I think it was triggered by the current lottery. I really don't pay a whole lot of attention to the chatter when I drive, plus I wasn't going very far.  But my ears pricked up when I heard them talking about the odds of making the New York Times Best Seller list.  

One can manipulate statistics just about any way one likes, depending on how you gather the data.  I remember studying that in a college Psych class.  For example, if you wanted to determine the average height of the American male college student, and you decided to pull every third male you encountered and average the results, that should give you a general idea, right?  Well, not if you're standing outside the gym after basketball practice.

So, one has to wonder where these folks got their data.  These are some of the statistics:

Odds that a person between the age of 18 and 29 does NOT read a newspaper regularly: 3 to 1
Odds of injury from fireworks: 19,556 to 1
Odds of injury from shaving: 6,585 to 1
Odds of injury from using a chain saw: 4,464 to 1
Odds of injury from mowing the lawn: 3,623 to 1
Odds of fatally slipping in bath or shower: 2,232 to 1
Odds of drowning in a bathtub: 685,000 to 1
Odds of being struck by lightning: 576,000 to 1
Odds of being killed by lightning: 2,320,000 to 1
Odds of being murdered: 18,000 to 1
Odds of getting away with murder: 2 to 1
Odds of being the victim of serious crime in your lifetime: 20 to 1
Odds of dating a supermodel: 88,000 to 1
Odds that a first marriage will survive without separation or divorce for 15 years: 1.3 to 1
Odds of writing a New York Times best seller: 220 to 1
Odds of getting a royal flush in poker on first five cards dealt: 649,740 to 1
Odds of spotting a UFO today: 3,000,000 to 1
Odds of becoming president: 10,000,000 to 1
Odds of winning the California lottery: 13,000,000 to 1
Odds of a meteor landing on your house: 182,138,880,000,000 to 1
Chance of dying from a mountain lion attack in California: 1 in 32,000,000
Chance of dying from a shark attack: 1 in 300,000,000
Chance of having a stroke: 1 in 6
Chance of dying from heart disease: 1 in 3


OK – let's back up to that NYT Best Seller.  220 to 1?  What does that mean? What's the data set?  Do I take 220 people off the street and tell them to write a book?  What are the odds that it'll even be published, much less make the NYT list?  Or, if I can crank out 220 books, one will hit the list?  Or that if I gather 220 writers, one will be on the list?
In my case, I think the odds of my books hitting The List are closer to the odds of that meteor hitting my house.

6 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Lies, damned lies, statistics and fiction lists

I reckon I've got more chance of getting centenarian congratulations from King Charles III or King William V than of finding an agent prepared to consider new work.

Comment Bubble Tip

Agents aren't Answers (but they help)

I found an agent, but that's not the end of the line. Right now, the best that's come out of that one is that the rejections are faster and friendlier (because they go to her, not me). Hang in. The secret's always been persistence. I don't think that's changed. BICHOK

Comment Bubble Tip

Thanks, Terry!

I do have very mixed feelings about the usefulness of agents in the current climate and really enjoy being responsible for every aspect of the finished product, even though I'm a pretty severe critic of my own work. Life's short and you can't put a price on knowing your next piece will see the light of day.  It's a tremendous boost to morale in the life as well as literature stakes. The feedback from readers has been great. But I'd like to think there might just be a chance that someone will alight on The Berkeley Trilogy and say: This would make a stunning period drama!

OK, I know, dream on!

Comment Bubble Tip

Hmmm ...

I see "odds of injury from shaving" and "odds of injury from using a chainsaw." But did they happen to mention odds of injury from shaving with a chainsaw? That's a stat I could really use. Yes, as you said, these numbers reek of the B.S. But they're fun. (And encouraging, since I only have to write 217 more books and I'm on easy street. So thanks for sharing! : ) Actually, here's a supposedly real stat. Sometime ago, the Los Angeles Times published their estimates on the murky bottom line of the book business. They estimated that seven out of ten books LOSES money for the publisher. Two out of ten break even. And one in ten turns a profit. Kooky business.

Comment Bubble Tip


The whole business, where bookstores get to rip the covers off of books, send the covers back, get a full refund, then put the rest of the books in a Dumpster is definitely a kooky business. And when it's taking a major downswing, as it is now, it's a scary, kooky business for those who are trying to get a toehold. I'm glad I've got a toenail in the door, but that's about it.

Comment Bubble Tip

What are the odds

My understanding has always been that the "bestseller" list was predetermined by the number of books printed and actually sent to certain bookstores- not necessarily sales. If so, that would make the odds of a small print book virtually zero for getting on the list. I did read that during the Presidential campaign, Conservative groups bought hundreds of thousands of copies of an anti-Obama book to boost its numbers and get it on the list.