How to write a bestseller

“In January of this year, three computer scientists from New York’s Stony Brook University announced that they have developed an algorithm to predict (with 84 percent accuracy) whether a book will see commercial success. The study uses the “statistical stylometry method,” a technique that mathematically analyzes the texts’ words and grammar to determine which stylistic trends exist among widely-successful literary works. The idea is to figure out whether certain stylitic features may contribute to positive reader responses and, consequently, commercial success.”

“After analyzing 800 books, Stony Brook’s researchers found that their most successful writers used more nouns and pronouns, as well as conjunctions such as “and” and “but,” than unsuccessful ones. Successful authors also described their characters’ thought processes by using words such as “recognized” or “remembered” instead of explicitly stating their characters’ emotions. Ground-breaking? Not quite. The average reader understands that good writing hinges on more than frequent use of nouns, pronouns, conjunctions and common verbs—and that well-written books aren’t always more successful than poorly-written ones. Stony Brook’s research efforts reflect an industry’s desperation to put its finger on exactly what it is that readers enjoy, even if the results are arbitrary at best.”

“Although the study claims that statistical stylometry can be used to determine whether a text will see literary success, Evan Blumgart, a graduate student in the statistics department at Columbia, is skeptical. “Those studies can help in determining which writers will be successful, but they will never help us make successful writers,” he says. The researchers seem to forget that the reasons we love certain books are unquantifiable, complex, and different for each person.”



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