14 October 2019

Book review: The Bestseller Code, by Matthew Jockers and Jodie Archer #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Imagine, for a moment, if you had a way to analyse the top ten bestsellers in any genre, and gain insights into what makes them sell so well. That idea intrigued Matthew Jockers and Jodie Archer - and this little book was the result.

In turns witty and thought provoking, The Bestseller Code is packed with counter-intuitive discoveries. Sexual themes are not a predictor of success - but books with 'Girl' in the title do surprisingly well. Characters in bestsellers ask more questions, and the word 'thing' occurs six times more often than in non-bestsellers. 

Pseudo science? Maybe, but still fun. They don't claim to be able to make anyone into a bestselling author, but do reveal something they call the 'DNA of good writing.' In their analysis of over 20,000 bestselling novels, they looked at theme, plot, style and character, and began to find some interesting trends. As my last book had a female protagonist, I was particularly interested in what they had to say about style differences between male and female authors.

It's also intriguing to consider what the implicit contract might be between an author and their readers. What did they conclude? There are no magic short cuts, and the bestselling authors don't really understand how they do it.

So how is it that, for example, there is such a close correlation between the analysed 'profile' of The Da Vinci Code and 50 Shades of Grey?  Are either of them examples of truly great writing, or is there something else going on behind their stratospheric success?

The key to it all seems to be writing style, which is how plot, theme and character are delivered to readers. There is now even a branch of applied linguistics called 'stylometrics.'  It seems there are no new stories - only different ways of telling them, so if you can discover the right style, you too can become an international bestselling author.

Tony Riches

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About the Authors

Jodie Archer was born in Yorkshire, England and holds BA and MA degrees in English from the University of Cambridge. She bought and edited books for Penguin UK before she decamped for the USA and the doctoral program in English at Stanford University, California. After her PhD, she worked at Apple as their research lead on literature. She is now a full time writer in the areas of romance and metaphysics. Matthew L. Jockers is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English and Data Analytics at Washington State University. His research is focused on computational approaches to the study of literature. Find out more at www.archerjockers.com. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mljockers


Do you have tips and suggestions for books about the craft of writing you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below


The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in. 

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