Flashback post: Playing the odds

If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you! This post originally appeared October 1st, 2012.


My theory applies to everyone and everything, really. But it’s particularly relevant to writers. One of the first things everyone is told about the publishing business is that it’s hard, and that writing shouldn’t be something you do because you want fame or money.

Writers are also told that it’s unlikely they’ll make it big. Likelihood is a big factor. Publishing is an odds game of writers producing, publishing houses buying, number of readers in a given genre, marketing reach, and many more possible factors. But this isn’t even an known odds game with clearly defined Vegas stakes. No one can tell a fledgling writer that their first novel has, say, 400:1 odds. Even veteran New York publishers don’t know for sure whether a given book will break out or flop. No one can see the future.

This is why I believe that every social change is possible. Some changes are incredibly, astronomically unlikely. Some will require a lot of work, so they probably won’t happen in our lifetimes. But change is never truly impossible.

Because, I mean, “impossible” is something you say when you want history to remember you as a short-sighted idiot. Plenty of people thought it was impossible for humans to achieve flight because we aren’t born with wings. Flying wasn’t simple or likely for a terrestrial great ape, so there wasn’t an immediate path for us to follow. Imagine if no one had tried to prove that powered flight was possible? If the Wright brothers had decided not to bother with their crazy idea?


We make advances when we take chances. To create something new, someone has to look at the unknown-but-not-favourable odds and say, “You know what? I’m going to try it anyway.” Like buying a lottery ticket, you can’t win if you don’t try. But unlike lottery tickets, every time we change our methods we can also improve the odds. Writers can take a writing course, hire an editor, change their cover art, try out a new social media site — all of these things might make their book easier to sell. Our efforts can give luck the foothold it needs.

This is why I self-publish. Traditional publishing wisdom says that my non-human stories don’t fit easily into existing categories of mainstream fantasy, so they Will Not Sell. People have told me, in tones of authority, that no adult would ever read my work. What they’re saying is that no one has built it yet, therefore no one will ever build it. Sounds like faulty logic to me. We’re talking about writing and marketing, here, not magically turning lead into gold. Someone just needs to try.

To all you who work at a strange art project or a risky business venture, I say more power to you. Do your research, build your skills, and check the wind before you make any big leaps. Your efforts can open up new possibilities — and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably just scared of change (or failure, or both). Nothing is guaranteed in our world and that’s why everything is worth a shot.

For more inspiration, check out the Bad Opinion Generator. It’s full of quotes from negative Nancys who thought nothing would ever catch on.

Are you currently flying against convention, or thinking of trying a crazy idea? Share in the comments!

3 Comments on “Flashback post: Playing the odds”

  1. I’m always amused by those in “authority” in the publishing industry, given 90% of their products lose money. They haven’t a clue what people will read, and yet still filter out anything that doesn’t fit their models. After almost 3 decades as business manager and analyst, I can tell you unequivocally that makes no sense.

    It’s just a fun club that they want to keep others out of. Sadly, it’s working – readers are keeping out of their club too.

    • Yeah, I’ve never found the logic to make much sense, either. But it seems to be a common downfall of large companies, in publishing or otherwise. They forget that they became a large, successful company because of innovation and risk-taking, and they somehow think stagnating is a solid business plan. I guess when a lot of people and money are involved, the collective desire for stability drowns out any individual ambitions.

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