On Cumulative Advantage and How to Think About Luck
In the late 1970s the view in the publishing world was that an author should never produce more than one book a year. The thinking was that publishing more than one book a year would dilute the brand name of the author. However, this was a bit of a problem for Stephen King, who was writing books at a rate of two per year.
Instead of slowing down, King decided to publish his additional works under the pen name of Richard Bachman. Over the next few years, every book King published sold millions, while Richard Bachman remained relatively unknown. King was a legend.
Bachman a nobody. However, this all changed when a book store clerk in Washington, D.C. named Steve Brown noticed the similarity of writing styles between King and Bachman. After being confronted with the evidence, King confessed and agreed to an interview with Brown a few weeks later.
The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World tells the story of what happened next: In 1986, once the secret was out, King re-released all of Bachman’s published works under his real name and they skyrocketed up bestseller lists. The first run of Thinner had sold 28,000 copies—the most of any Bachman book and above average for an author. The moment it became known that Richard Bachman was Stephen King, however, the Bachman books took off with sales quickly reaching 3 million copies.
The Matthew effect explains how two people can start in nearly the same place and end up worlds apart. In these kinds of systems, initial conditions matter. And as time goes on, they matter more and more.