The Pareto Principle

20% of inputs generate 80% of results

I’ve heard the term “The Pareto Distribution” a few times but this week I finally looked it up. This is what Wikipedia says about it:

The Pareto distribution, named after the Italian civil engineereconomist, and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto,[1] is a power-law probability distribution that is used in description of socialquality controlscientificgeophysicalactuarial, and many other types of observable phenomena. Originally applied to describing the distribution of wealth in a society, fitting the trend that a large portion of wealth is held by a small fraction of the population.[3][4] The Pareto principle or “80-20 rule” stating that 80% of outcomes are due to 20% of causes was named in honour of Pareto… Empirical observation has shown that this 80-20 distribution fits a wide range of cases, including natural phenomena[5] and human activities.[6][7]

I don’t understand the maths terminology but we’ve all heard of the 80-20 rule. I’ve observed it in action in business, with staff, with committees, with classrooms and staffrooms.

Pareto had a theory that a large proportion of land was owned by a small group of wealthy individuals in Italy. He studied it and found that almost exactly 80% of the land was owned by around 20% of the population. His hypothesis proven correct, he took it further. Within the 80% of the population that owned 20% of the land, 20% of the wealthiest of that group owned, wait for it, 80% of the land. He broke these groups down a further two times and found the same was true.


What I found really interesting about the Pareto Distribution is the theory of momentum. Here is my understanding of it – once you shift into the 20% in any given area (book sales, wealth, cat ownership…) continued momentum will keep you moving in that direction. Consider the writing community. Stephen King, David Baldacci, Patricia Cornwell, Diana Gabaldon, Michael Connelly, Margaret Attwood – all writers who are firmly in that top 20% of sales. One of the things they have in common is that they have all written a LOT of books! They have tapped into a zeitgeist, they’ve written amazing books, but they just didn’t stop at one or two. They kept going through all kinds of struggles early in their careers. They kept up the pressure and gathered momentum over the years.

So many of us newbie writers spend time wondering if our first novel will be a worldwide break out bestseller instead of just strapping in and writing another book. And another…

Hard Truth Alert: The likelihood of your first ever novel being a blockbuster is pretty damn slim.

I have been assured by looking at the careers of the top 20% that the best way to write a bestseller is to write a lot of stories, perfect your craft, pitch your stories, get eyeballs on your stories, and write more stories.

Where am I spending my time?

Marketing is a problem for most indie authors and I am certainly in that category. One thing we all seem to do is waste an awful lot of time on social media. Easily 80% of my ‘marketing’ efforts are in the form of activity on social media, actually probably more like 90%. Is it working for me? I don’t really think so.

My newsletter has around 550 followers and sales are much more likely to come from my monthly email than my haphazard approach to social media marketing. So my socials have taken a back seat lately. I’d rather spend the time writing! I want to ensure that 100% of my efforts are working towards writing the best stories I can write.

Further to my ongoing interest in signs, last week I wrote this in my journal: “To butcher a lyric from a Gang of Youths song, I hate the attention but crave the applause. To be a writer – one who sells stories – I don’t want to be a ghost writer though!”

Now to be fair, my journaling is stream of consciousness so it doesn’t have to make any sense! This is the actual lyric…

I do crave the applause. I want to write great stories that people love. (I realise that for every person who loves something there is at least one who hates it or doesn’t care for it. That’s okay. Does Julia Quinn get upset that some people don’t like Bridgerton? I don’t think so…)

Right after I did my journaling on that morning, I set my timer to check my social media and there was a query from a man on the Gold Coast asking if I was interested in ghost writing his memoirs. I had an immediate and physical response to this query. I felt my whole body and soul say ‘NO!’

I get at least one email or DM a week asking if I will mentor, to which I respond with a copy/paste answer thanking them for their interest but it’s the first time someone has actually used those words, “ghost write.” Considering I had just written that in my journal gave me pause for thought. I responded and thanked him for his message and offered him some other options.

A sign? Just a random event? The universe telling me or testing me? Who knows? I knew in that moment, viscerally, that I most certainly do not want to ghost write proving once again that I don’t know what I think about something until I write it down or until I tune into my heart and listen.

amazing songs always have string sections and someone speaking French in the background…