How Much Evidence Will Change Your Mind?

People will believe what they want to believe.

Even when presented with reasonable arguments and irrefutable facts, people can, and will, deny or sublimate things that are contrary to a closely held belief. We see it all the time in areas like politics and religion. But even scientists, who are trained to keep an open mind and examine all available data objectively, can be unreasonably stubborn in holding onto principles they thought were true, yet are proved false at a later point in time.

The Earth was flat. The sun revolved around the Earth. Mars had canals. Protons, neutrons, and electrons were fundamental particles and could never be broken apart. All these things and many more were pervasive, common ideas treated as fact at one time or another. Even Einstein was extremely reluctant to believe his colleagues’ work regarding Quantum theory. “… God doesn’t play dice with the world.”

How many times have you changed a strong opinion you had about something when presented with a contradictory argument? You have probably been swayed by a meaningful presentation on a few occasions, but I’d wager it only happened if you were on the fence about an issue or not really convicted in your belief.

Bill Nye’s debate/discussion with Ken Ham a couple of weeks ago regarding evolution vs. creationism may have been entertaining and informative, but how many people’s opinions on the matter were changed by one speaker or the other? I would guess the number is extremely close to zero.

The publishing world has been buzzing about what is now two reports from revealing data gleaned from Amazon’s best seller lists on a day in January and now another in February. These numbers support what many self-published authors, like Joe Konrath, David Gaughran, Barry Eisler, Dean Wesley Smith, and Hugh Howey (who helped spearhead the reports), among many others, have been saying for a while now, years in some cases. Self-publishing has come a long way from the days where an author paid a small fortune to a book printer for copies to sell from the trunk of his car, touring the country. It’s possible, and even the preferred method by many, these days to publish your own work and earn a living doing so.


The red portion of the fourth bar in the graph is the percentage of revenue traditional publishers receive from the sale of an ebook on Amazon. The blue portion is what goes to the author, typically minus their agent’s 15%.

This new path is, by and large, digital, spurred on by the Internet, cell phones, and tablets. Anyone can carry around a device that’s smaller and lighter than a hardback book, but holds hundreds — even thousands — of books. All available at the touch of a button or two. And new books can be purchased and downloaded instantly from anywhere you have cell service or wifi. Traditional publishers and agents have taken the position that this digital phenomenon is a fad, or a bubble, that won’t last, even while they’ve reaped record breaking profits because of it at the expense of their authors.

The numbers show that there are many authors out there doing quite well publishing their own books. In fact, these numbers illustrate that self-publishers are taking home a larger amount of money each day from Amazon sales than authors who have signed with traditional publishers. Many people have discounted the data gathered by AuthorEarnings, claiming the methods aren’t scientific or the sample wasn’t large enough or a single day’s snapshot isn’t enough to indicate any trends. The second report, showing similar percentages from another day with a much broader list of books, counters many of these arguments, but I’m sure the dissention will continue.

Big publishers won’t significantly change their ways, no matter how much data we throw at them. Neither will most agents or authors who are entrenched and happy with the system they grew up with. Their beliefs are too closely held and their livelihood depends on the verity of those beliefs. Changing their minds would be akin to Ken Ham throwing up his hands at the end of his debate with Bill Nye and saying, “You know what, Bill? You’re right. Let’s hug it out.”

The real hope with the AuthorEarnings reports is that fledgling authors will now have some hard facts to examine when it comes time for them to make a choice regarding what to do with their work. Before, all we really had was anecdotal evidence and rhetoric — from both sides of the equation. Now, there are real numbers, with more to come, for anyone to take and massage however they’d like. There is more than one path to success.

Do you have beliefs you stubbornly cling to in spite of contradictory evidence? What do you think of the data AuthorEarnings has presented? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whatever they may be.

The germ for this post and some of the text come from a comment I left on Jane Friedman’s blog post here.


About Alan Tucker

Writer, Dad, Graphic Designer, Soccer Coach … not necessarily in that order!

Posted on February 20, 2014, in Books/Writing, Random/Rants and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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