For today’s post, I set out to write a review of The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers. But I’m abbreviating that review because as both a writer and reader I don’t care much about bestseller lists.
Writers are bombarded by countless forces that influence what goes on the page–dreams, real-life experiences, snatches of conversations, cousin Fred–and it was merely a matter of time before it came to this: an algorithm purporting to tell us how books hit the top of the charts. Believing that books don’t just randomly make the New York Times bestseller lists, the authors set computers on a quest for patterns to explain how it happens. They (the computers) explored this frontier with a tool called text mining.
Topic, plot, characterization, style–the authors coded for all of these qualities and interpreted the findings. For example, in terms of topic, the top two authors were John Grisham and Danielle Steele. If putting those two authors in the same bucket seems odd, the book offers an explanation. Among the shared characteristics found in books by Grisham and Steele, the most striking is what the computer model found to be overwhelmingly present in bestselling books: human closeness and connection. “Scenes that display this most important indicator of bestselling are all about people communicating in moments of shared intimacy, shared chemistry, and shared bonds.”
I found The Bestseller Code to be of interest to writers and readers in terms of not just what qualities bestsellers share, but also in terms of the authors’ analysis. That said, bestseller lists don’t drive the choices of many of the writers and readers I know.
I wouldn’t object to seeing Compromise With Sin land on a bestseller list. But I’m happy that some people are reading and talking about it. If asked what audience I intended when I was writing it, I have to say, “I wrote a book I’d want to read.” Similarly, the books I choose to read are usually recommended to me by friends.
Many of the indie authors I know write books that appeal to a niche audience, a fact that almost guarantees they won’t have mass popularity. While the best of these writers strive to learn craft and meet professional standards, they don’t have to twist themselves and their work into virtual pretzels to satisfy agents and publishers.
And that’s the joy of going indie.
Your thoughts? Leave a comment.
Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.