The Algorithm That Predicts Whether a Novel Will Be a Bestseller

Posted on July 11, 2016

The Bestseller Code

It's every publisher's dream: a formula for creating a sure fire bestseller. Now there's an algorithm to calculate a novel's chances of being a hit. The Independent spoke with author Jodie Archer about her new book, The Bestseller Code. Ms. Archer was an editor at Penguin UK before she returned to get her PhD in literature from Stanford. After working at Apple, she left to write full time. Now she and research partner Matt Jockers are the authors of The Bestseller Code, a buzzy new book that reveals the secrets of writing a bestseller.

Ms. Archer and Mr. Jockers spent five years compiling data to discover what makes a book a bestseller. They analyzed 20,000 novels written over the past 30 years. They then created an algorithm which they call the bestseller-ometer which takes a book and measures certain features of the book, such as the plot, the style, the characters and the vocabulary. They claim that the algorithm can predict with 80% accuracy if a book will hit the New York Times bestseller list.

So what are some bestselling elements of a novel? First off, the researchers say to use real people instead of fantasy character such as Elves, Dwarves and the like. Make the story either really emotional, or not very emotional. Books in the middle of those extremes don't sell as well.

Certain words, such as need, want and do are liberally sprinkled throughout bestsellers. Other appealing words are "okay," "love" and "miss." They are three times as likely to appear in bestselling novels. As for the perfect novel? The algorithm bestows that honor goes to Dave Eggers' The Circle which follows the life of a young woman who goes to work for the world's largest Internet company, which is like a combination of Twitter, Facebook and Google. The company is unspeakably evil and has terrible plans for humanity.

The Bestseller Code is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

Photo: St. Martin's Press