Posted by: Schuyler R. Thorpe | January 13, 2014

The Anatomy Of A Best Seller–As Told By Science

Making_bestseller_by_Miss_Freak_of_NatureComing across an article today where scientists have used an algorithm to accurately “predict” bestsellers had me scratching my head: Do people really think that a scientific analysis is going to pave the way to a future bestseller for everyone involved?

The article in question highlighted the heavy use of nouns and pronouns (whatever they are–as I don’t pay that much attention to words when I write anyways) and the lack of emotions, body parts, and negatively as a key ingredient to a highly successful novel–also included was the use of quotes within the book which guaranteed that the book would be a bestseller in no time.

But I have to wonder: With so many people obsessed with body parts, sex, and negativity these days, how can these same scientists say that these books scored poorly in their study when in fact they’ve gone on to do very well?

Naturally, the study was more focused on classic novels from the past century or more, while ignoring the more modern recipe of books that use more adverbs and adjectives than nouns and pronouns? Because….hey! You know what? I love sex! I love books talking about body parts! I love, love, love emotions, and I’m a sucker for negativity.

These books represent a departure from all the crap that’s been saturating the market these many years and gives me some hope and idea on what to do next in regards to my own writing. I write mostly for the emotional appeal of the book. I’m stuck in the psychological mindset of both the observer and the character. I want to find out what makes my creations tick.

But I also want to see what will make them feel pain, anger, hurt, rage, love, the whole nine yards. So I am exploring all these aspects within my novels and coming away with a pretty powerful representation of the human spirit. Even if it is a work of fiction.

But a bestseller? Even science can’t accurately “predict” what that will be. As the article in question pointed out, best sellers are a bit of a mystery and nobody knows when and if that will happen to any writer out there. There is no guaranteed success story whenever we sit down and write our books–because nine times out of ten, what we write is mostly missing the mark.

Some good writers out there will be churning out bestsellers, but that’s because they’ve been in business far longer than any of us have been alive combined. So they know what will sell because of their broadened fan base.

But people like me who don’t have that reach and probably never will, our books coming out will mostly be small and insignificant. We’ll be this little dot on the page of someone’s paper while the guy in front of us will be commanding center stage.

Bestsellers aren’t easy to predict and they are much harder to write than something in my neck of the woods. A bestseller requires that every word come out with absolute perfection and that these words hold court with both power and presence. A backwater novel like mine wouldn’t have those qualities, so it would be much harder to sell to the masses because they contain words that aren’t common in a best seller.

But if we left it to science to determine what would sell and what wouldn’t, I would be out of business as a writer. I would have no reason to write.

Fortunately–in this case–I usually leave the science out of equation and focus squarely on gut instinct. Because in the end, my gut is telling me something more than what one silly study or analysis would tell me about writing books.

And that’s the way it should be.



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