The Portuguese called it Volta Do Mar or turn of the sea. In the age of the sail, trade and discovery were dictated by the wind.
Columbus could never have returned to Europe unless he understood the shift of winds easterly in northern latitudes, allowing a sailing ship to sail east across the Atlantic.
This email will get very specific about the power-law distribution that sorts profitable authors from unprofitable—the publishing trade winds.
If you’ve read or listened to Advantage, this may be redundant, but if you’re serious about a career in publishing, then you must understand the powerful wind that propel ships across the publishing sea.
None of what I share is to discourage you. This is just how I see it. Some disagree with my viewpoint, but to date, I’ve seen nothing to dispute the data showing that the publishing market is driven by cumulative advantage.
Cumulative advantage exists in any market where the current output creates resources or advantages that will influence future rounds.
What does that mean to you as an author? This isn’t to discourage you, but to encourage you to learn how to harness the force to your advantage.
😭 Pouting that it’s not fair won’t change the facts.
Learning how to use these forces to propel your business will get you where you want to go faster. I write this for those of you prepared to turn your sails to catch the wind that cumulative advantage provides.
Here are some things to consider.
What is a winner take all market?
Publishing, the arts, finance, and other markets skew to a few winners. Sometimes, it will naturally play out to a monopoly. Publishing is one market where people don’t easily substitute one product for another. In the eyes of a reader, all books aren’t equal.
There is a lot to the why and the complexities of these markets, so much so I wrote an entire book on it. You can get a copy here.
If you don’t believe this is the case, let’s just look at book titles on Amazon—with over 8 million titles published. How many titles sell more than a book a day?
Less than 2%.
Of those titles selling more than a book a day, how many are written by the same author? Quite a few, leaving a small percentage of authors selling most of the books.
The spoils go to a favored few who have achieved a following of readers.
How does this happen?
Past wins feed future results
It’s more than just making money to invest in future rounds. The actual power is in the accumulated fanbase. Fans spread the word and buy future books.
As I show in Advantage, it’s your existing fans consuming your book in the first few months that drive rank—this is the signal that recommendation engines amplify.
Cumulative Advantage assures it’s never going to be a level playing field
This gets to the whole fairness thing. It’s going to be harder to break into markets and build an audience. It’s not impossible, but as readers find their tribe and those tribal leaders see them well fed with books they like, it will be harder to get them to join your tribe. Conversely, if you are a great tribal leader, then you’ll grow your tribe.
Where you’ll have an advantage is in building a system focused on creating experiences that fans want to have and a brand that they associate with their identity. Building an audience is getting those who associate with your brand to coalesce as a community—this is the common thread I’ve observed in successful authors.
Amazon amplifies market signals
Amazon doesn’t control cumulative advantage. It only amplifies the market force. The culmination of thousands of individual choices triggers further recommendations. The machine is trying to learn how to match products to people when those people are looking to purchase.
You stack the votes of popularity by bringing your block of voters to the polls. Others then vote in kind.
More millionaire authors than ever
How is it that there are more six and seven-figure-earning authors than ever before in this winner take all market?
There are indeed more authors than ever earning a living from writing. This is because the number of authors has increased. The percentages haven’t changed, just the population we multiply the percentages by has, resulting in more winners and more losers.
Be the author you want to be. This is the spot you are in the journey, and from here, with the resources you have, what should you do next? If you don’t know, ask yourself what an author you admire would do given the resources you have right now.
Stop sapping yourself of energy by comparing yourself to the author you’ll become in the future or some author you admire that’s been at the game longer than you.
Think about the resources at your disposal today. The learning you’ve gained from this newsletter and how fortunate that makes you. You understand that this powerful force drives the market, and if you build a publishing business that harnesses it, you’ll sail to the destinations you dream about.
Next week’s email will be different. It certainly won’t be as long, and it will require your participation.
Next week we begin a new chapter in your life as the captain of your publishing ship. Next week we start building your decision-making system.
See you then,