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100% Chance of Best Seller

June 30, 2016
This novel had a 100% chance of becoming a best seller. Or is it bestseller?

This novel had a 100% chance of becoming a best seller. Or is it “bestseller”?

Every author would like to write a best seller, except maybe those who would rather write an award-winner instead.  If you’re an author who doesn’t want to write a best seller or an award-winner, I apologize for making a blanket statement.  Anyway, two authors claim to have discovered the formula for writing a best selling novel, and they… you won’t believe this… have written a book about it.

The upcoming book is The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers.  These authors suggest that they have cracked the code on how to write a bestseller.  They’ve broken it down to plot and theme and characterization and language.

According to this book, the novel that scored highest on their algorithm was The Circle by Dave Eggers.   The authors claim to have analyzed 20,000 novels which probably means The Circle beat out books by Stephen King, James Patterson, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, and everybody who wasn’t them.  Dave Eggers has had a lot of success as an author, but to write a novel that has a greater chance of being a best seller than a book written by Stephen King?

Stephen King could rewrite the phone book, and it would be a best seller.

Dave Eggers could rewrite the phone book, and it probably would not become a best seller.  That’s not an insult.  I mean, he’s a good author, but his books don’t automatically become best sellers.

How does a researcher analyze 20,000 books anyway?  I don’t think I could even read 20,000 Wikipedia entries about books.  I’m sure the The Bestseller Code will explain how the research was done, but research practices are like the fine print on contracts.  As soon as I start reading about the research process, I’ll probably lose interest in it.  Maybe that’s what researchers count on.

I’m surprised The Circle was deemed the perfect best seller.  First of all, it doesn’t take place during World War II.  When I do my monthly best seller reviews, at least one novel (and sometimes two or three) take place during World War II.  If I wanted to write a best seller, I’d think about setting it during World War II.

If there is an algorithm for a best seller, maybe writers shouldn’t know it, especially the desperate ones.  There’s a risk that all novels will start to look the same.  We see some of that anyway, with a bunch of best selling authors who kind of write the same books over and over, and the similar books keep selling.  Dave Eggers doesn’t write the same book over and over, but he nailed the algorithm for The Circle.  As a reader, I wouldn’t want every novel to sound the same.  If everybody writes a best seller, then nobody writes a best seller.

A book about how to write a best seller isn’t guaranteed to become a best seller either.  I don’t know how many authors are trying to write best selling novels.  Out of those authors, how many can fork out money on a hard cover nonfiction book?  Then again, I’d rather pay $20-25 for this book than a few hundred dollars for a James Patterson course.

Maybe the authors of The Bestseller Code are making up the entire algorithm.  Scientists manipulate data to fit their agendas, including information that strengthens their case and ignoring stuff that undermines their theories.  Lawyers do the same thing.  Maybe these authors have left out crucial information too.

I don’t trust algorithms anyway.  The algorithm Amazon uses to recommend books to me is wrong most of the time because it always suggests books by authors I’ve read or topics I’ve read about.  Once I’ve read a book or two by an author, I’m ready to move on.  Maybe I’m the opposite of most readers, but the algorithm should have figured that out by now, which means the algorithm is inflexible and therefore inherently inaccurate.  Then again, maybe the algorithm is right, and I’m wrong about the books I’ll enjoy.

Trying to figure out what makes a best seller isn’t a new idea.  A few years ago I wrote a blog post called  How to Write a Best Seller with… Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn .  At the time, I believed Gone Girl was the perfect best seller.  I didn’t think it was a perfect book, but it had the perfect blend of elements for a best seller.  I didn’t have an algorithm, though.  I just had book-reading experience.  If you want to save yourself $25, you can read my old blog post.

Or better yet, you can…


Read one of the ebooks below, and you can help create the unforeseen bestseller!!

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  1. Great post! I have the same feeling about James Patteron novels. Same with Nicholas Sparks stories. Just get that formula that works and it will all end up great in the end, am I right?

  2. um, I wrote a book about WWII, not a best seller.

  3. Bestseller maybe but a pretty poor book. And I’m an Eggers fan. Still, I read it so, yes, something worked.

  4. 1. I beg to differ; Gone Girl is amazing.
    2. Following an algorithm takes all the creativity out of things.

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  1. Why did I buy those books? – Jeremy J. Peters

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