The Bestseller Code : Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel

Author(s): Matthew L. Jodie; Jockers Archer

Business & Economics | Social Sciences | Featured Titles

"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, butalso 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 whyFifty 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 theNew York Timesbestseller 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.


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Who knows what makes a bestseller? Can it be predicted? This fascinating book examines how we can attempt to find out what will sell and what won't. Is there a magic formula? Read it and find out.

Elisa, Book Grocer


“If it is your ambition to write a bestselling work of fiction, you would be well advised to focus on certain topics and to avoid others. Among the topics you should focus on are, for instance, marriage, funerals, guns, schools, children, mothers and vaguely threatening technologies. Among the topics you should avoid are sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. You should also under no circumstances subject your readers to the universally despised topics of seduction and lovemaking. You can, if you wish, describe human bodies, but if you want this book of yours to sell, you’d better make sure that those human bodies are not “described in any terms other than in pain or at a crime scene”.

These may seem like peculiar recommendations, but if you were to go against them, you’d be going against the numbers. You would, specifically, be going against the numbers generated by the text-mining algorithm created by two Stanford University scholars, Jodie Archer and Matthew L Jockers, in order to crunch the data on 20,000 New York Times bestselling novels.  The data has not just been crunched on bestselling themes; the algorithm also has wisdom to impart on the question of literary language and style, too. Certain words, we learn, tend to crop up with startling frequency in novels that hit the Times list. The word “thing”, for instance, can be read six times more often in bestsellers than non-bestsellers. Simple, straightforward language is, perhaps unsurprisingly, much favoured. A disproportionate number of bestseller writers, we are told, have backgrounds in fields like journalism and advertising. “Learning to write as a copywriter, as a print or web journalist, or in the world of advertising necessitates an awareness of accessible, colloquial language and style – not Henry James or Herman Melville so much.”

Mark O’Connell – The Observer (JC Bookgrocer)


This is a deeply researched and well put together book, which can simply be considered an essential reading for everyone involved in the making and selling of novels. These brilliant authors have spent five years examining bestsellers and designing the computer model “bestsellerometer” to pinpoint exactly what makes “blockbuster DNA” in manuscripts. This challenging study should definitely be on the reading list of every aspiring writer.


Asiya Ali, The Book Grocer.

General Fields

  • : 9781250088277
  • : 0.75
  • : September 2016
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Matthew L. Jodie; Jockers Archer
  • : Hardcover
  • : 256