Don’t Worry – You Can Still Get Paid To Write: How To Depress People With Bad Statistics

Short little article here for you that’s somewhat of a duplicate from my Facebook page, but I thought it could go as a blog article too.  I apologize if you’re afraid of re-used content.

My author friends are passing this link around today, and I immediately raised an eyebrow when I saw it. Something didn’t feel right, and I generally dislike doomsday articles. So I read the whole thing, and one line really slapped me in the face:

“Around one in six writers did not earn any money from their writing in 2013, it said – despite 98% saying their work had been published or used in other ways.”

Wait.

What?

One in six “professional” writers aren’t earning any money from their writing?   To me, this said that the net they cast must have been really wide. I mean…do you ask people who aren’t making any money as a plumber (but who occasionally fix their sinks) to report on the status of the profession of plumbing?  Seemed pretty wonky to me.

So I opened the actual PDF of the report.  I didn’t need to read very far to get my answer.

The Methodology section stated that the only way it selected participants was to send a SurveyMonkey link to about 35,000 members of two British writers’ associations called ALCS and the Society of Authors – this is how they qualified “professional” writer.

From the Methodology Section
From the Methodology Section

Hum.  Okay, well, maybe they’re like unions in the US, where you have to earn a minimum of $x.xx to be a part.   Let’s find out:  How do you get into these associations that qualify you as pro enough to be used in a BBC-reported statistical study?

The answer from the websites themselves:  You pay about $50. That’s it. They have even less requirements than America’s SFWA (which mandates certain publication credits in reputable markets). In these associations, you don’t even have to have published any work at all.  You don’t even need to have written a paragraph longer than your credit card number.

To me, that makes the data, and the article, pretty worthless.

I’m not one to be elitist and say that only traditionally published authors coming from respectable publishers can be considered professional, but I think the data would be far more useful if that is who it was confined to.  Or at least, you know, people that got paid.  In ten clicks or less, anyone can be a published author via Amazon and then sell absolutely nothing.  Does that make them a professional?  I would argue no.  So some hard criteria would have to be applied.  I would love to see this survey taken using just SFWA membership as a criteria.

Right now, this is a really long winded way of saying “Breaking into an art-driven business like writing or acting is hard.”  What a revelation!

The result, I think, is an article that is not statistically sound being used (probably inadvertently) to discourage writers everywhere. Don’t get me wrong – this business is hard. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I’ve been trying for four years. But I doubt the real numbers would paint this dour a picture.

So cheer up and get back to the keyboard.  You have a story to tell, and you’re not going to let anyone tell you it’s not worth telling.  Especially not tabulated SurveyMonkey results.

 

2 Comments

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  1. Thanks for posting this! This is just another example of how a “study” can report whatever findings they have as total fact, without explaining the criteria – and people who don’t do their research will fall for it. It’s very sad, and a somewhat unethical way of doing “research” and “marketing,” in my opinion.

    Also, I always assumed that the definition of “professional” was someone who made money doing it, even if it’s just a little. Like a professional athlete makes money for his ball games, even if he’s on the bench a lot of the time, whereas the star of the amateur team does not.

    • I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and feel free to share. Lots of people read the BBC article and got discouraged so I think it’s important to get the word out about the source.

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