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"When a story captures the imagination of millions, that's magic. Can you qualify magic? Archer and Jockers just may have done so."—Sylvia Day, New York Times bestselling author
Ask most book people about massive success in the world of fiction, and you’ll typically hear that it’s a game of hazy crystal balls. The sales figures of E. L. James or Dan Brown, they’ll say, are freakish—random occurrences in an unpredictable market. But what if there were an algorithm that could predict mega-bestsellers with stunning accuracy? What if it knew, just from reading an unpublished manuscript, not just that genre writers like John Grisham and Danielle Steel would sell in huge numbers, but also that authors such as Junot Diaz, Jodi Picoult, and Donna Tartt had signs of New York Times bestselling all over their pages?
Thanks to Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers, the algorithm exists, the code has been cracked, and the results are stunning. Fine-tuned on over 20,000 contemporary novels, the system analyzes themes, plot, character, setting, and also the frequencies of tiny but amazingly significant markers of style. The “bestseller-ometer” then makes predictions, with fascinating detail, about which specific combinations of these features will resonate with readers. Somehow, in all genres, it is right over eighty percent of the time.
This book explains groundbreaking text mining research in accessible terms, but its real story is in what the algorithm reveals about reading and writing and how successful authorship works. It offers a new theory on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. It explains why Gone Girl sold millions of copies. It reveals the most important theme in bestselling fiction and which topics just won’t sell. And then there’s “The One,” the single most paradigmatic bestseller of the past thirty years that a computer picked from among thousands. The result is surprising, a bit ironic, and delightfully unorthodox.
The project will be compelling and provocative for all book lovers and writers. It is an investigation into our intellectual and emotional responses to stories, as well as a big idea book about the relationship between creativity and technology. It turns conventional wisdom about book publishing on its head. The Bestseller Code will appeal to fiction lovers and data nerds.
Jodie Archer bought and edited books for Penguin UK before she decamped for the doctoral program in English at Stanford University. After her PhD, she worked at Apple as their research lead on literature. She is now a full time writer.
Matthew L. Jockers was the co-founder of Stanford University’s Literary Lab in Silicon Valley. His digital humanities work has been profiled in the New York Times, The LA Review of Books, and more. He is Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.