Reading Notebook #17: Technology Brings Author Empowerment—Yet A New Struggle to Surpass Average

Here Comes Everybody

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

As I was reading Chapter 4 of Here Comes Everybody, I was struck at how Shirky’s description of the power law applies to authors who self-publish—since there is NO barrier now to do so:

Any system described by a power law, where mean, median, and mode are so different, has several curious effects. The first is that, by definition, most participants are below average. … The other surprise of such systems is that as they get larger, the imbalance between few and the many gets larger, not smaller. As we get more weblogs, or more MySpace pages, or more YouTube videos, the gap between the material that gets the most attention and merely average attention will grow, as will the gap between average and median. … You cannot understand Wikipedia (or indeed any large social system) by looking at any one user or even a small group and assuming they are representative of the whole. … We’re used to being able to extract useful averages from small samples and to reason about the whole system based on those averages. … Instead, you have to change your focus, to concentrate not on the individual users but on the behavior of the collective. … The power law helps explain the difference between the many small but tightly integrated clusters of friends using weblogs and the handful of the most famous and best-trafficked weblogs.

And—I’d say—the most famous and best-selling independently published books (think: J.A. Konrath).

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Posted in Getting Published, Reading.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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