The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer & Matthew L Jockers
If you’re someone who dreams of penning a bestseller, read this book, said David Bond in the Financial Times. Ex-publisher Jodie Archer and Stanford academic Matthew L. Jockers have built a computer algorithm to “unpick the ingredients” a novel needs to top The New York Times bestseller list; they claim it can predict a hit 80% of the time. “Violence and fear” are, unsurprisingly, the most reliable attributes. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, on the other hand, are a turn-off, much less appealing than such “seemingly boring” themes as home, work and emotional “closeness”. Even E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Greysucceeded “in spite of” its erotic content; what made it popular, the authors argue, was that its plot was so gripping.
When it comes to character, verb choices matter, said Christopher Hart in the Literary Review. Characters in bestsellers “do” more than their literary counterparts. “Men fly, drive and kill. Women hug, talk and believe.” No one is ever paralysed by indecision. But “intriguing” though such findings are, it would be terrible if publishers relied on this kind of technology to make buying decisions. They may miss the odd bestseller, “but the computer would surely say no to Ulysses or Under the Volcano”.