The Bestseller Code | Jodie Archer

Summary of: The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of a Blockbuster Novel
By: Jodie Archer


Delve into the realm of best-selling novels with ‘The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of a Blockbuster Novel’ by Jodie Archer. This captivating book breakdown offers an in-depth exploration into what makes a bestseller by uncovering the patterns and characteristics that these novels share. Learn about a computer algorithm called the ‘bestseller-ometer’ that can accurately predict a book’s chances of landing on the New York Times best-seller list, and discover insights on various factors such as topics, emotional arcs, writing style, and title trends that contribute to a book’s success. Brace yourself for a fascinating journey into the core of popular literature, unveiling the secrets behind the blockbuster status of your favorite reads.

Best-sellers vs. Critics

Best-selling books do not always live up to the standards of literary critics. The first list of best-selling books was published in 1891 by The Bookman, a London literary magazine. Since then, the best-seller list has been filled with poorly-written books such as E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and Stieg Larsson’s “girl trilogy”. Despite critical assaults pointing out their jumbled plots, limp characters, and boring endings, these books have dominated the best-seller list. This list is hard to predict, since less than half a percent of published fiction books make it to the New York Times best-seller list each year. Nonetheless, there are similarities amongst the best-sellers that continue to attract readers.

The Secret Science Of Bestsellers

The book sheds light on a scientific method of predicting bestsellers. The authors studied the components of best-selling novels for five years and found remarkable patterns. They developed a computer algorithm called the “bestseller-ometer” which proved to be highly accurate in predicting 80 to 90 percent of books that ended up on the New York Times bestsellers list. The authors fed previously published bestsellers into the computer anonymously, and the algorithm accurately predicted their success. The algorithm could be a huge asset to the publishing industry as it can predict future hits and identify talented writers that may have been rejected previously.

Predicting Bestsellers

In this book, topics, not genres, determine the success of a novel. The algorithm analyzes every word of the book to determine its context through a process called topic modeling. The algorithm breaks down Jodi Picoult’s House Rules and determines that the most successful topic for a book is crime, while sex is an unsuccessful topic. The more nouns that reference crime in a book, the greater its chance of success. The combined presence of dominant topics such as crime and relationships is much more important than the book’s genre, proving that topics matter more in predicting bestsellers.

Emotional Arcs and Bestsellers

Why books that deliver emotional roller coasters are more likely to succeed, according to an algorithm that measures the ups and downs of their stories, as exemplified by Fifty Shades of Grey and The Da Vinci Code.

Why do some books become bestsellers despite negative reviews and other factors that suggest they should fail? According to an algorithm developed by literary agent Andrew Wylie, the key lies in what readers really want: “an exciting emotional roller coaster.” When Wylie applied his algorithm to Fifty Shades of Grey, a book about kinky sex that was widely panned by critics, he found that it had a 90-percent chance of success based on its ability to deliver big emotions.

Interestingly, the algorithm did not consider the quality of the prose or the level of conflict in the story, but rather the emotional arc of the novel – the pattern of emotional highs and lows that mimics the experience of a roller coaster. The more ups and downs a story has, the more likely it is to succeed, as demonstrated by Fifty Shades of Grey and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the only other novel that achieved the same rhythmic pattern of emotional beats.

But what exactly is it that readers crave when they buy a book? According to Wylie, it’s an intimate human relationship with little conflict, not necessarily kinky sex or high-stakes action. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, is not primarily about sex, but about a romantic relationship that is emotionally charged yet fairly uncomplicated.

In short, the success of a book depends not on its literary merits or its genre, but on its ability to take readers on a thrilling emotional ride. With Wylie’s algorithm, publishers and authors can now chart the emotional beats of a story and predict its potential popularity, at least to some extent. In the end, it seems that the most successful books are those that make readers feel something powerful and memorable.

The Science of Bestsellers

Crafting a successful writing style requires more than clever phrasing. Measured by syntax, sentence length, and word choice, bestsellers depend on simple and common phrasing. In comparing book characteristics, algorithms help writers achieve a winning style for a smoother reading experience.

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