The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel

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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 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 seem to be freakish―random occurrences in an unknowable market. But what if there were an algorithm that could reveal a secret DNA of bestsellers, regardless of their genre? What if it knew, just from analyzing the words alone, not just why genre writers like John Grisham and Danielle Steel belong on the lists, but also that authors such as Junot Diaz, Jodi Picoult, and Donna Tartt had telltale signs of success all over their pages?

Thanks to Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers, the algorithm exists, the code has been cracked, and the results bring fresh new insights into how fiction works and why we read. The Bestseller Code offers a new theory for why Fifty Shades of Grey sold so well. It sheds light on the current craze for dark heroines. It reveals which themes tend to sell best. And all with fascinating supporting data taken from a five-year study of twenty thousand novels. Then there is the hunt for "the one"―the paradigmatic example of bestselling writing according to a computer's analysis of thousands of points of data. The result is surprising, a bit ironic, and delightfully unorthodox.

This book explains groundbreaking text-mining research in accessible terms and offers a new perspective on the New York Times bestseller list. It's a big-idea book about the relationship between creativity and technology that will be provocative to anyone interested in how analytics have already transformed the worlds of finance, medicine, and sports. But at heart it is a celebration of books for readers and writers―a compelling investigation into how successful writing works, and a fresh take on our intellectual and emotional response to stories.