There are so many reasons why people write, mostly it’s a sort of compulsion, but also I guess most writers want their words to be read, and possibly receive some sort of success… and maybe, for a few… fame? To write a best-seller, is that what most writers want? I suppose it’s a balance between writing what is thought of as a “good” book and something which is popular. There’s a whole argument about compromise in there, but looking at it from the other way round, taking successful fiction (as only one form of writing among many others) and trying to analyse and draw some conclusions about what makes a best-seller, is interesting.
There was an article in the Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago about just that, what makes a successful and best-selling book. The article was by Dalya Alberg, and she was looking at a study by Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers who used technology to analyse 20,000 randomly selected novels which have been published in the last thirty years. They didn’t pick just any book within that criteria, but those which had appeared on the New York Times best seller list.
We might imagine that certain themes or styles or subjects would guarantee a place up there on those golden lists, but apparently that isn’t particularly or always so. The computers analysed such things as theme, plot and words used, as well aspects of the characters in the novels, and plot! Well, even without a computer, I guess we all might think that! There has to be, apparently, the perfect curve of fiction… Even the vocabulary chosen makes a difference and the analysis was able to pull out the most common verbs used for example. Settings, sex, types of character… as writers we choose where our stories take place, who our characters are and what their names are, how much or how little sex they have and it all impacts on why people do like to read our work – or don’t!
However, it’s made clear, that even bearing these things in mind, sometimes a book can come from nowhere and against the odds and against all expectations, can be a wonderful success…
So should I read the book that Archer and Jockers have written? Will it help my novels to go running up the best-seller lists? Or am I, as the article concludes a ‘maverick who wants to do something new’…
In truth, I don’t think I am, but here’s a different sort of Maverick who is always top of my list:
If you want to see if my books should become bestsellers, here is a link:
if you want to read Archer and Jockers book, The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, here’s a link: