About Writers, reading, writing technique

The bestseller recipe


If you want to write a bestseller, what will you choose as your main ingredient? Sex? Murder? Action? Suspense? They probably won’t do your chances any harm, but according to Jodie Archer, a former publisher, and Matthew Lockers of Stanford University, you’d be better off choosing ‘human closeness’. They stress that ‘this doesn’t mean romance – it could be talking with someone you are intimate with or shopping with a parent.’ In other words (as I see it) the depth and believability of relationships: antagonism mixing it with affection, tension alternating with tranquillity.

How do they know? They scanned 20,000 books, built an algorithm, and were able to predict with 80% accuracy those that made the bestseller lists. Of course, there’s a precondition, which their algorithm took for granted: the book first has to be published and noticed. But once that little obstacle is cleared, you’re all set.

Don’t overdo it, though. Human closeness for 30% of the book is enough. Then 30% on a different topic (technology, climate change, whatever) and the rest a sprinkling of miscellaneous details. There you go. Easy, eh?

That’s my simplified summary of an article in the Guardian, The secret DNA behind bestsellers. Hardly secret, I thought when I read it. Human closeness arouses our emotions. Aristotle wrote about that a while ago. But still, it’s worth thinking about when we create our characters. And getting it right, as always, is easier said than done.


11 thoughts on “The bestseller recipe

  1. GD Deckard says:

    You are exactly right. Beware of tech-speak. “Algorithms” that “pre”dict what books have already become best sellers can hardly tell us anything useful that Aristotle didn’t know. The article sounds good, but that’s half the definition of meretricious.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    I would guess that a good percentage of gone-nowhere books also have strong characterization and multi-faceted storylines, so this tells us nothing. This article is a duh! moment if I ever saw one.

    The recipe for success, like Colonel Sanders’ secret coating, is probably as much PR as extra-tasty crunch.

    Jane Friedman has a site that is full of tips for generating publicity: https://janefriedman.com/online-book-publicity/ She has tips and lists and links. Prepare to be overwhelmed.

    I have saved that article to my timeline on Facebook. That is where I am stashing things I don’t want to misplace. Between a convenient save-spot (everything goes on there, including an article on sixteenth century confessionals, useful for you-know-who) and the Wix advice groups, I have finally found out what FB is good for.

    Networking I’m not sure about. Many of the people who’ve wanted to connect with me, looks like they write stuff I have no interest in reading, namely, schlock. I admit I am judging their books by their covers. I’ll let you know.

    I just surfed my way to a discussion on Kindle Scout. Anybody know about Scout? I posted that on my FB page as well, to check out later.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You mean FB is good for something? Other than as a place to save stuff you don’t want to lose? Mimi, I wanna know!
      Networking is organic growth, pretty much, and from what I’ve read (and experienced) it’s time-consuming and not very effective. Fine for connecting with like-minded people but not for selling books. That’s where FB might just have its use, via the ads.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. atthysgage says:

    Yeah. In a lot of ways, that precondition is the hardest part. But hey, it’s probably my own fault. I’m pretty sure I only put in 28% human closeness, and I went WAY heavy on miscellaneous details. They were floating around in the soup like cracker crumbs.
    Alas. Next time, I’ll know better.

    Liked by 3 people

    • atthysgage says:

      Ditto that. Nabokov, teaching Anna Karenina, quizzed students on whether they remembered the wall paper in such-and-such a scene. Details matter. The devil lurks there in the bushes, tempting us to find our own ruinous greatness.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    OK, Atthys. I am starting to read Whisper. I wish it would start in a different spot. I would be more pulled in by a certain other opening paragraph. Is this the sort of comment what you want? Or something more general?

    Update: Oops. I see that what I thought was the beginning of the story is only an intro. So, never mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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