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
Thanks Scientists. We’re not sure you’ve read any books recently, and understand what commercial success might mean, but there may be some flaws in your calculations (or rather the newspaper spin on your research). Particularly in using the Project Gutenberg archive, which is quite a limited dataset, in trying to predict commercial success.
They found several trends that were often found in successful books, including heavy use of conjunctions such as “and” and “but” and large numbers of nouns and adjectives.
Less successful work tended to include more verbs and adverbs and relied on words that explicitly describe actions and emotions such as “wanted”, “took” or “promised”
This article gives a less sensationalist spin on the research with an American literary agent, whose job it is to find bestselling books among thousands of manuscripts, saying:
“While it presents very interesting ideas, I don’t yet see the real-world applications that would be beneficial to my day-to-day work or final choices,”
Exactly. So, aspiring authors, don’t worry about us running your submissions to our Friday Pitch through a computer program – we’ll still be reading through them all, as we think we have a better idea than scientists as to which books will sell! And if you want some useful advice on your writing, see our Faber Academy posts for tips.
Although, the scientists did admit that elusive beast, pure luck, is also important:
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, but admit that external factors such as luck can also play a role.
And we leave you with this gem from the comments section for guaranteeing booksales – if you’ve got any other ideas let us know:
One sure-fire method is to write ‘Hilary Mantel’ on the cover.
I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it.
*Heads off to redo some covers*
(PS: while we’re talking booksales, look at the rather wonderful top 100 list from 2013 at Readings Books, the top 10 in particular is an Australian heavy list which is a delight to see, and it has been great to see Barracuda and The Luminaries top their bestselling lists for the last couple of months).