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ObDisclaimer: I self-publish fiction and plan to self-publish more fiction this year. I am not philosophically opposed to the Author Earnings Report that Hugh Howey has begun. I am seriously dubious about several of its conclusions and some of the ways they are presented. For example, I don’t like that his comparison of reader ratings runs only from 3.0 to 4.5 instead of from 0 to 5, which is the actual possible range. Anyone who has looked at graphs knows that “zooming in” is a way to make minor differences appear more important than they are.

Also, Howey is planning to do additional surveys to include vendors like B&N but he’s already rushing to judgement on the “best” path for authors after only looking at Amazon data.

To be clear, I would like it to be true that self-publishing will bring in a lot of money; I’m just skeptical of Howey’s report and waiting for some expert analysis. As I find that analysis, I plan to link to it.

That’s what this post will be. I don’t plan to link to praise or skepticism here unless it actually examines the methodology of the report. So:

Digital Book World points out that the AE report is heavily focused on successes. See also this unrelated post on Survivorship Bias which predates the AE report.

UK Crime Writer Steve Mosby points out an excluded middle in Howey’s conclusions, along with raising other questions.

On Absolute Write, author S.L. Huang points out problems with the statistics and what’s excluded, along with other issues.

Agent Joshua Bilmes points out this isn’t the first time someone has tried to calculate earnings based on a list of bestsellers and that Amazon’s rating system is hopelessly compromised.

In the comments of the AE report, author Ramez Naam points out some basic errors in assuming royalties (even if they could be accurately calculated by Amazon sales ranks) equal payments to writers going the traditional route. There are a great many comments on the report itself, but few are substantive.

A more in-depth comparison of pricing and rating.


Comparing self-publishing to being published is tricky and most of the data you need to do it right is not available by Mike Shatzkin


Porter Anderson talks about the cultural push behind the report and against it. However flawed it is, it’s seen as a powerful argument.

At Futurebook, Philip Jones lays out the contradictions between Howey’s admissions of his flawed data and his sweeping conclusions.

Digital Book World, which had criticized Howey’s report yesterday (see above) now claims it supports their own (much disputed by indie authors) findings.

I’d meant to include only analytical posts, but this is something I see quite a lot:

First let’s be clear. This data is pretty shonky. There’s no real way to tell how accurate it is. But, in the absence of transparency from the industry itself (either Amazon of the Big 5) it’s the best data we writers have access to. And the story it tells is shocking.

So the data is “shonky” but the narrative is too exciting not to buy in. So far, this is a very common reaction.

Jim Hanas calculates his “Hugh Howey Income.” Mine is zero dollars, which is, I promise you, wildly incorrect.


This post by a person who creates studies and databases will likely be the last one, because it’s just what I was looking for. The author of the critique has no bias one way or another in terms of how to publish fiction, and she has informed and detailed critiques of not only the way the data was put together but by the sweeping conclusions that Howey presents. h/t @mlvwrites on Twitter

I’ll add more of these as they cross my path. I think that last one does it. If there’s another critique as informed that touches other issues, I’ll add it but I won’t be actively looking any more. Also, I plan to write up a little something later on, summarizing what seems to be going on with this report and the furor around it.

Spoke too soon: This examination of Howey’s methods by Courtney Milan is really excellent.

Mirrored from Twenty Palaces. You can comment here but not there.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 14th, 2014 12:13 am (UTC)
My instincts are screaming at me that the people doing this survey are making some fundamental mistakes. Possibly a huge confirmation bias or similar problem. Though literally haven't had time to look into it since you posted the first link to their survey.

It is so easy to go wrong when collating numbers if you don't go about setting up your parameters correctly. Anyway I'm hoping to have a chance to dig into this in the next several days and see what others are saying as well.
Feb. 14th, 2014 03:47 am (UTC)
There is some very interesting stuff in those links you have there. Key things I got from it.

He proved that self publishing is now a viable path as half of the top 7000 books are self published.

Self publishing is bloody hard as .04% of the self published material on Amazon has made it to the top 7000 books. And drat I spotted a couple of other useful tidbits but didn't write them down.

Basically my instincts appear correct and while interesting it isn't quite the proof he makes it out to be or at least not proof of what he wants it to be. Ah well.
Feb. 14th, 2014 04:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Th
Even if you accept his extraordinary assumptions, which I simply can't, the fact that he rushes to his conclusions after the Amazon numbers only tips his hand to the conclusions he always wanted to reach.

The more he publishes, the less impressed I am.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )