Okay, so it won’t exactly write the next 50 Shades of Grey or The Girl on the Train for you, but it may help you get on the right track.
Former acquisitions editor for Penguin UK, Jodie Archer, and associate professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Matthew Jockers, have been compiling data for the last five years, trying to find out what makes a bestseller.
After analysing 20,000 randomly selected novels from the past 30 years, the pair worked out what makes a book appear in The New York Times bestseller list.
The result is an algorithm – titled the ‘bestseller-ometer’ by its discoverers – which measures certain aspects of books such as theme, plot, style, character and vocabulary, and tells you whether it will be a bestseller; they claim it can pick out a future bestseller to an 80% degree of accuracy.
“Novels with high or low emotions tend to have a stronger chance of hitting the [bestseller] lists and staying on them, says Jodie about the findings published in their new book The Bestseller Code.
Other useful pointers include:
- Real people are more appealing to readers than fictional being, so stay away from Dwarves, unicorns, and elves as main protagonists.
- Those characters who appeal the most are also more likely to “grab”, “think” and “ask”
- The words “need”, “want” and “do” are twice as likely to appear in bestsellers, while the word “okay” appears three times as much.
- Words like “love” and “miss” appear more often in successful books, apparently appearing three times for every two in lesser selling books.
- For 50 Shades of Grey fans, having sex in every chapter in a book does not necessarily make it a bestseller. Readers are more interested in emotional and stylistic language.
So is there a book that encapsulates most of the best-selling elements?
According to the results, the bestseller The Circle, the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers, is the algorithm’s perfect book, about a fictional evil Internet firm.