Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Secret to Writing a Best-selling Novel

Computer scientists have developed an algorithm which can predict with 84 per cent accuracy whether a book will be a commercial success - and the secret is to avoid cliches and excessive use of verbs.

Successful books also avoided words that explicitly described actions and emotions such as “wanted,” “took,” or “promised.” Successful books used verbs that described thought processes such as “recognized” or “remembered.”

From a linguistic perspective, this means that as a writer you are better off creating an impression that allows the reader to fill in the blanks, rather than filling them in yourself.

The bottom line for successful books, at least in the US, is a style that is closer to journalism - something that conveys information rather than emotion.

While there is a correlation between books pitched to a fourth-grade reading level and their financial success, other kinds of success should be kept in mind. As Dr. Choi, one of the researchers, points out, "We conjecture that the conceptual complexity of highly successful literary work might require syntactic complexity that goes against readability." Literary merit, while it doesn't necessarily win authors the big bucks, is a form a success that serious writers strive for.

If you want more details about how the authors arrived at these conclusions, as well as how they defined "success," you can read the full study, "Success with Style: Using Writing Style to Predict the Success of Novels," HERE.

Scientists find secret to writing a best-selling novel

By Matthew Sparkes, The Telegraph, Jan 9, 2014

Scientists have developed an algorithm which can analyse a book and predict with 84 per cent accuracy whether or not it will be a commercial success.

A technique called statistical stylometry, which mathematically examines the use of words and grammar, was found to be “surprisingly effective” in determining how popular a book would be.

The group of computer scientists from Stony Brook University in New York said that a range of factors determine whether or not a book will enjoy success, including “interestingness”, novelty, style of writing, and how engaging the storyline is, but admit that external factors such as luck can also play a role.

 By downloading classic books from the Project Gutenberg archive they were able to analyse texts with their algorithm and compare its predictions to historical information on the success of the work. Everything from science fiction to classic literature and poetry was included.

It was found that the predictions matched the actual popularity of the book 84 per cent of the time.

Find out what else these computer geeks discovered HERE.


  1. This was quite helpful. Thank you so much!

  2. I enjoy your blogs very much. I am undecided about the advice in this article because to date I have only begun work on a short/micro anthology.


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