Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Are The Odds?

What I'm reading: French Silk, by Sandra Brown

Thanks again to Maria Hudgins for sharing her travels with us yesterday. Anyone else ready to buy a ticket to anywhere?

Yesterday I had the radio on, and the DJs were filling air time by reading a list of odds that something will happen. I think it was triggered by the current lottery. I really don't pay a whole lot of attention to the chatter when I drive, plus I wasn't going very far. But my ears pricked up when I heard them talking about the odds of making the New York Times Best Seller list.

One can manipulate statistics just about any way one likes, depending on how you gather the data. I remember studying that in a college Psych class. For example, if you wanted to determine the average height of the American male college student, and you decided to pull every third male you encountered and average the results, that should give you a general idea, right? Well, not if you're standing outside the gym after basketball practice.

I've used the data manipulation premise in my current manuscript, so the topic piqued my interest. One has to wonder where these folks got their data. These are some of the statistics:

Odds that a person between the age of 18 and 29 does NOT read a newspaper regularly: 3 to 1
Odds of injury from fireworks: 19,556 to 1
Odds of injury from shaving: 6,585 to 1
Odds of injury from using a chain saw: 4,464 to 1
Odds of injury from mowing the lawn: 3,623 to 1
Odds of fatally slipping in bath or shower: 2,232 to 1
Odds of drowning in a bathtub: 685,000 to 1
Odds of being struck by lightning: 576,000 to 1
Odds of being killed by lightning: 2,320,000 to 1
Odds of being murdered: 18,000 to 1
Odds of getting away with murder: 2 to 1
Odds of being the victim of serious crime in your lifetime: 20 to 1
Odds of dating a supermodel: 88,000 to 1
Odds that a first marriage will survive without separation or divorce for 15 years: 1.3 to 1
Odds of writing a New York Times best seller: 220 to 1
Odds of getting a royal flush in poker on first five cards dealt: 649,740 to 1
Odds of spotting a UFO today: 3,000,000 to 1
Odds of becoming president: 10,000,000 to 1
Odds of winning the California lottery: 13,000,000 to 1
Odds of a meteor landing on your house: 182,138,880,000,000 to 1
Chance of dying from a mountain lion attack in California: 1 in 32,000,000
Chance of dying from a shark attack: 1 in 300,000,000
Chance of having a stroke: 1 in 6
Chance of dying from heart disease: 1 in 3

OK – let's back up to that NYT Best Seller. 220 to 1? What does that mean? What's the data set? Do I take 220 people off the street and tell them to write a book? What are the odds that it'll even be published, much less make the NYT list? Or, if I can crank out 220 books, one will hit the list? Or that if I gather 220 writers, one will be on the list?

In my case, I think the odds of my books hitting the list are closer to the odds of that meteor hitting my house. Then again, I've already beating the odds on the first marriage thing. One never knows.

And, today I'm the guest at author Liana Lavarentz's blog. She posed some interview questions on the writing process. Take a look.


Ray said...

I imagine whoever gathered these statistics has already been hit by lightning. I love reading statistics even though I know they are often suspect. I love to read Harpers Index.

I think your books should make the best seller lists. Many of the books I read end up on or are on the best seller lists, but I never read them because they are, I'm just glad others like what I like.


Anonymous said...

Statistics are like women; mirrors of purest virtue and truth, or like whores to use as one pleases. ~Theodor Billroth

Lots of interesting statistics quotes on the 'net. The well-known "lies,damned lies & statistics" (Disraeli/Twain)

Terry Odell said...

Great quotes, V!