I have been reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen this past week, and it seems that perhaps the two books have a little something in common.

A Black Swan, according to Taleb, is an event that is an outlier because “nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.” It also has “an extreme impact” and after the impact is made, we contrive to explain that it was both explainable and predictable. His thesis, however, is that such predictability is only an illusion.

What does that have to do with book blurbs? Well, you might start with the notion of a “bestseller” as we’ve seen happen in the world of independent publishing. Every so often, an author throws up a book and it connects in a major way. Hugh Howie is a prime example, but one more recent, I suspect, is Wayne Stinnett’s wonderful Fallen series.

Both of these authors go to great trouble to write interesting, readable works. I don’t disparage that. However, we can point to a thousand other authors who give it their best as well with nothing approaching the success of these two authors.

And therein lies the black swan effect for the purposes of a book blurb. I’m sure a certain amount of planning went into the marketing of the first work that “hit” the audience, but the question becomes: If the success was so predictable for those two authors, how predictable is it for others?

Not at all.

Taleb cites a study by Art De Vany, an economist who studied the film industry extensively and concluded that every movie was a crapshoot when it came to success. The same holds true for books of all types, fiction and nonfiction alike.

But Bryan Cohen’s book is still a valuable addition to the indie author’s library. Even if you can’t predict the success of a book in quickly finding its audience, you still should definitely give it the best chance you can. That means a great cover. It means a blurb that grabs the reader’s attention by speaking to something in their emotional make up that inspires them to try the book out. Anything less is just not worth the trouble, especially if the author has given the writing of the book their best effort, and has taken some trouble to learn the expectations of the readers that he or she is trying to reach.

Still, the black swan effect can’t be ignored. The real question is how to temper the author’s expectation. We all hope to win the lottery if we buy a ticket. The same is true of writing: We hope to win the bestseller lottery, or at the least, a portion of it. But the reality is that most of us won’t. Is that a reason to give up hope?

Every day we see more and more independent authors who are wringing a living out of the oddly unbalanced world of self publishing. There are some marketing techniques—and good book blurbs are high on the list—that can help struggling authors find their way to a full-time living if that’s what they want. Patience is everything, so we’re told.

To my mind, the black swan effect verifies a positive outlook, even hope. You never know when fortune may smile on you.

Black Swans and Book Blurbs

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