Pareto’s Law: The 80/20 Rule

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people.  He furthered his observation in his garden by noting that 80% of the peas came from 20% of the pea pods.

Why the heck am I writing about an Italian economist who liked to garden a century ago?

It has since become a rule of thumb in business that 80% of sales will come from 20% of the clients. Are you getting the idea now?

As self-publishers have to do it all:  writing, production, marketing. Our time is limited so we have to use it wisely. If we accept that 80% of the results will come from 20% of the effort, we have to determine which 20% of the effort is bearing fruit. Or peas, as the case may be.

I’ve written about spending money instead of my time for a cover. I spent a small amount of time finding an artist: evaluating the portfolios of several artists, choosing one, contacting her, then evaluating the three iterations of the cover she produced, requesting revisions. All of that took far less time than learning to do it myself and produced a cover that was better than anything I could have come up with in far less time.  Twenty percent effort=80% result.

Likewise, there’s the question of how much time to spend on self-promotion. Social media is free and there are many, many venues to use to get your brand out to the public. But it can be a HUGE time-suck.  Many authors make the mistake of suspending writing in favor of spending their time promoting. This is a mistake, in my opinion. There are multiple surveys that show that the two most effective ways to influence people to buy your books is

  1. Have a good reputation for writing good stories, and
  2. Have people recommend your book to their friends. How do you make that happen? See number one.

It follows that the best use of your time is to

  1. Write good stories, (80% of your time) and
  2. Let people in your niche know about them in a friendly, not spammy, way (20% of your time).

If this sounds so simplistic as to be insulting, please forgive me. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself of.  And in fact, I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Okay, so what about writing that good story? I’m a believer in the idea that my self-published books should be as good as I can make them, right now. I owe that to myself and I owe that to my readers. I owe us both a nice cover, clean formatting, clean prose, and most importantly, a good story.

I don’t owe anyone perfection.

The question is, how do you know when the story is ready?  When do you stop revising and editing and say it’s good enough?  Can you say, “It’s good enough”?  I think the words “good enough” raise the hackles of many a writer. “Good enough” implies to them that there’s still room for improvement, and if you stop short, before a story is as good as it can possibly be, you’re a slacker, a hack, a lesser being undeserving of sales.

Arithmetically, it’s not possible to achieve 100% perfection. Two iterations of the 80/20 rule will get you 96% of the way to perfection. Three will get you 99.2% of the way, etc.

Of course, we’re not talking about arithmetic, we’re talking about writing, and writing doesn’t add up in neat little sums the way numbers do.  I can’t tell you when your story is good enough. I can tell you that it’s possible to revise your first chapter over and over and never finish the book. It’s possible to finish your book and revise the spark of life right out of it. It’s also possible to put a book away for a year, come back to it and make it stronger. There is no right answer that works in all cases.

The point of this rambling is: Use your time effectively. Where you’ll be tomorrow is the result of what you choose to do today. I know from experience that it’s incredibly easy to scatter one’s efforts and achieve very little. Spend less time on FaceBook and Twitter and reading blogs, (except this one, of course :-)). Instead, write, revise, then send it out the door.  Tell a few friends about it, then write another story.

10 Comments

Filed under writing

10 responses to “Pareto’s Law: The 80/20 Rule

  1. I remember you lecturing about this! I need to organize myself better.

    • Alica, I struggle with this myself. I just got the edits back on LIGHTBRINGER and now I have to prioritize what changes I can make will make the biggest impact (improvement) on the ms. in the limited amount of time I have until I have to send it back to the editors for round two. I’m clinging to Pareto’s Law like a life ring. If I choose wisely, those few changes will make a big difference.

      That’s the plan, anyway. 🙂

  2. Linda Regina

    Loved your blog about time management! 80/20. I will put it on the wall next to my computer, because the learning curve for social networking is immense, and I have stories to get out!

  3. We used to say that 20% gets you 80% and 100% gets you the other 20%. In other words it takes five times the effort to get to the other 20%, but of course you never actually get there.

  4. Maggie Jagger

    Good advice! I must use it!
    Thanks.

  5. I love this rule! I use it all the time for the “paying” job. It never occured to me to use it with writing. As always, thanks for the advice!

  6. Pingback: My Self-Publishing Journey: Pareto’s Law Revisited | Frankie's Soapbox

  7. Pingback: Synchronicity and Perfection | Frankie's Soapbox

  8. Pingback: My Self-Publishing Journey: 2012, Part Deux | Frankie's Soapbox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s