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The Bestseller Code

Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel

By Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers
15-minute read
Audio available
The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers

The Bestseller Code (2016) reveals the remarkable story behind a newly developed computer algorithm with the power to unlock the secrets behind the most popular best-selling books. By analyzing over a thousand bestsellers, patterns have emerged that show us which themes, plots, styles and characters contribute to earning a book a spot at the top of the charts.

  • Readers wondering what makes a book popular
  • Writers and authors looking for widespread success
  • Computer geeks who love a good algorithm

Jodie Archer is an author and former editor at Penguin Publishing in the United Kingdom. She has a PhD from Stanford University and has acted as a consultant for various writers and literary businesses.

Matthew L. Jockers is an English professor at the University of Nebraska as well as the director of the school’s Nebraska Literary Lab. His previous academic writing explores the field of text mining and the digital analysis of writing.

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The Bestseller Code

Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel

By Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers
Synopsis

The Bestseller Code (2016) reveals the remarkable story behind a newly developed computer algorithm with the power to unlock the secrets behind the most popular best-selling books. By analyzing over a thousand bestsellers, patterns have emerged that show us which themes, plots, styles and characters contribute to earning a book a spot at the top of the charts.

Key idea 1 of 9

Publishers find it difficult to predict a bestseller, as literary quality doesn’t seem to be the defining factor.

These days, the internet is chock-full of lists that rank the best and worst of just about anything you can imagine. Most of these lists tend to be rather arbitrary, but there are still a few reliable popularity rankings that continue to be checked on a regular basis.

Among these more reliable lists are those that record the best-selling books in the United States. And, for as long as such lists have been around, they’ve made clear that what’s popular isn’t the same as what’s critically acclaimed.

The first list of best-selling books was published in 1891 by The Bookman, a London literary magazine.

It didn’t take long for critics to point out that popularity had nothing to do with quality. In fact, good sales and bad writing seemed to go hand in hand.

This hasn’t changed at all. Critics continue to scratch their heads over the success of E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Stieg Larsson’s “girl trilogy,” which began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Remarkably, Larsson wasn’t even around to help publicize his books, as he’d passed away before their publication. But that hindered their ascent to best-sellerdom as little as the critical assaults which pointed out their jumbled plots, limp characters and boring endings.

So it’s easy to predict that the best-seller list will be filled with poorly-written books. But since so many books are published each year, it becomes difficult to predict which ones will end up on that list.

According to Bowker, the US company that issues the ISBN identification numbers for books, around 50 thousand books of fiction are published every year – and this doesn’t include e-books, which don’t receive an ISBN.

From that amount, around 200 novels will make the New York Times (NYT) best-seller list each year, which is less than half of one percent of all the published books. And the percentage that manages to stay on the list for more than a week is even more miniscule.

This tiny percentage makes the job of predicting bestsellers a bit like guessing which numbers will win the lottery.

But that doesn’t mean these books don’t share similarities, which is what we’ll take a look at in the blinks ahead.

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