Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Are the Chances, Part 2

What’s more likely to kill you, your hot water faucet or an airplane?  I’ll let you think about that for a moment.

Previously, I have mentioned that I started writing for the experience of it.  It was something that many people talked about, but few did.  Or so it seemed to me.  And then, I wrote my first book, dropped it on online, and saw my Kindle sales rank on Amazon standing near 1.5 million.  What the…

It appeared, I had deceived myself.  I knew, of course, that self-publishing had exploded in recent years.  But just how many people must be writing to have produced more than 4% of the total of all the books in the Library of Congress in just a few years?!

Now it seemed that eBook writers were everywhere.  I was sure there were dozens of authors hidden behind closed doors on my block alone.  I probably said “Hi” to 2 or 3 people writing techno-thrillers at the grocery store this morning.  And I was positive my mailman was hurrying home to work on his novel; who else would know more about going postal?

So, what does my out-of-control imagination have to do with hot water and airplanes?  Actually, more than you might think.

Our estimates of the likelihood of events, ranging from the chance of bumping into an author to dying in a plane crash, are influenced by a number of factors that have nothing to do with how often they occur.  Among these factors are the personal importance of the event, how dramatic it is, and the media coverage it gets – the latter two obviously being related.  The effect these factors have on how we estimate chance is called the availability heuristic.  Events that are more available, or in other words, are more easily recalled due to their importance, their drama, or their newsworthiness, are considered more likely, even if they are not.

So, of course, as more of my days were spent on blogs and promotion sites about writing, authors seemed more prevalent.  And for the rest of you hot water using, flying public, what do you read about in the papers and see on TV – the tragic story of the old man dying from shock from being scalded by hot water, or sensational photos from an airplane crash?  In fact, the odds of the average person in the United States dying from hot water is about 1 in 3.2 million; the odds of dying in a plane crash, on the other hand, are only about 1 in 11 million.

So, before you decide to relax in a hot tub before bed, just remember, you might be better off flying.

Happy Writing,

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