Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Damned Statistics!

Mark Twain popularised the phrase: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

It’s never been truer than when referring to authors’ incomes. Some of you may have seen the doom & gloom report from the Authors Guild in America, which claims that author income fell 42% from 2009 to 2018.

One of the problems with this sort of report is that it’s seized on by the media and publicised without comment or appraisal. The veracity of any survey depends on who is asked for their opinion. Thankfully, Nate Hoffelder has got his head screwed on right, and in his excellent Digital Reader blog, points out the inaccuracies of the methodology used by the Authors Guild: read the Comments at the bottom, in which the AG’s Executive Director responds and Nate Hoffelder replies.

Image result for Nate Hoffelder

Nate Hoffelder

If a survey is biased towards a certain age group or publishing method, then the results will be skewed. To add to the problems of getting an idea of what the real picture is with digital publishing vs traditional publishing, publishing a book on Amazon doesn’t require an ISBN and as they don’t report their sales figures, there’s no way of accurately knowing how many books are sold via the biggest book dealer in the world!

The only thing that’s certain, is that relying on book writing as a sole source of income is foolish. Even well-known authors who’ve won literary prizes need to work other jobs, often teaching university students about how to become a writer. The success stories of debut authors that the media like to print are wildly misleading, with mention of sixfigure advances, film options and three book deals.

There are very few modernday authors who’ve become millionaires. Perhaps it’s not surprising, though I still find it disturbing, that the wealth of authors closely reflects a society where 1% own 82% of the world’s money. 

In the UK 1% of writers account for onethird of book sales.

My own approach to having a writing career was that I knew I was going to be in for a long slog, as I had much to learn, so I resigned myself to no income for several years. I’ve made less than $50 in ebook sales since 2013. I could make more money panning for gold in Cornwall’s streams…the county is riddled with old mines.

Long-term ambitions for any writer can only come to fruition with hard work, perseverance and a large amount of good luck. I recently saw a quote from W. Somerset Maugham which sums up my desire:

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.

Are women hardwired to love thrillers?

A report in the Telegraph newspaper last week, written by thriller author Rebecca Whitney highlights how it is women who predominantly read this genre of crime novels.



As Mark Twain observed – ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’

Some of the research findings quoted in this report, such as 68% of readers of thrillers are women, need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Any survey is dependent for its accuracy on many different factors. What’s produced from a poll taken at a conference of fans of crime fiction would produce different results to a street survey of passing shoppers.

This newspaper report makes a number of sweeping generalisations about how the sexes are hardwired differently, that had they been aimed at proving differences between the races, would have caused outrage. Nevertheless, the writer’s thoughts on how women relate to working out how to resolve an unhappy situation to restore order, is a precise way of summing up what happens in the story arc of a thriller.

Crime stories are one of the best-selling genres of fiction, with a figure of 25% commonly bandied about for online sales. This partly influenced me, when I was thinking about what to write about for my first novel as 2014 began. I’d already written fourteen short stories and novellas, as well as several hundred poems in the previous eighteen months. These tackled love and romance, science fiction, the paranormal, self-identity and thrillers with a twist to them.

I had a number of concerns that I wanted to address about the state of modern society. These included CCTV, the dehumanising effects of video-gaming, exposure to violent images and how demobbed soldiers remain traumatised by what they’ve seen and done in combat zones. Such themes suggested a psychological thriller to me, and as part of the overall atmosphere of paranoia that I intended to create, I would emphasize how the system, the establishment, protects itself with cover-ups when it makes mistakes.

I worked long and hard on ‘The Perfect Murderer’, which took some 4,000 hours to produce. I was pleased with the result while being unsure if it worked as a story that would grab a reader. Fortunately, a trusted friend volunteered to be my first reader. She has a fine mind and keen eyes, so is good at pointing out semantic mistakes and dodgy grammar. I was interested to know what she would make of the plot, as she doesn’t normally read thrillers or crime novels.

The Perfect Murderer - a novel about a serial killer who makes no mistakes.

Writing is a bit like being a magician, in that you know how the trick is done, but you’re not sure if your sleight of hand and misdirection has worked on the audience.
Whether ‘The Perfect Murderer’ will sell is another matter. Its success may be assisted by my bumbling attempts at self-promotion through the social media, and also by my free book giveaway on Smashwords.
I hope that what Rebecca Whitney says about women being the main readers of thrillers is true if the downloads of my erotic verse collection are any indicator of my potential reading public. 1,000 took a collection called What Do You Like? and I suspect that they are mainly female. I pray that they also like crime novels with a psychological twist, and that they remember my name when I publish the novel.
As a marketing strategy, giving away sexually suggestive poetry as a way of selling a novel featuring two sociopathic killers, sounds unlikely to me. But then who knows? As the old saying goes – ‘You have to go fishing where the fish are’, which is what I’m trying to do.
I wonder if my bait will work.