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The ‘science’ of novel success

Call me naive.  Call me ill-considered.  Remark that I am not a professional author, nor a professional editor, reviewer, or bookseller.  Go ahead.  I accept all accusations. I am not a professional.  But I am a reader.  I read at a rate of more than a book a week, which I think by anyone’s standards means I am allowed to comment on books…. I think.

And, as a reader, I don’t like to feel I am being ‘tricked’, or like there is some magical mathematical algorithm that can predict what I will buy, read an enjoy.  I know the whole aim of the publishing industry is to find great books, edit them to make them better and then sell them to me.  But I like to think it is the variety in these wonderfully written and edited books which keeps me going.  Sometimes a little fiction, sometimes non fiction, modern, historical, Asian, British etc.  And I like to think that on other days, or the same day, for other reasons, or the same reasons, other readers make similar, individual choices.

So the idea that there is some kind of formula to attract both me and other readers disturbs me, a lot.  So, The Telegraph has not really made my day (then again – an aside -when has the Telegraph ever made my day?)

Scientists find secret to writing a best-selling novel


Apparently we like books with lots of conjunctions and lots of adjectives and nouns.   The researchers at Stony Brook University basically tell us that people like books which:

  • include full sentences (hard without conjunctions)
  • include a lot of nouns (so we know what the thing we are reading about is)
  • include a lot of adjectives (so we can develop a mental picture of the noun we are reading about)
  • don’t have as many verbs and adverbs (literate creatures like  emotions more implicit, delivered by the nuanced – thanks to all the adjectives – characters)

I am tempted to write ‘duh’. (Ok, I just did).  Also, phew.  I feel my individuality has been preserved.  I am also a little confused about the 16% of books to which this algorithm did not apply.  But then again, I think of Kerouac and Joyce (though the researchers didn’t stress the need for punctuation, I note) and I start to understand….


About bloggingthelonglist

An avid reader, but I tend to stick to what I know I am comfortable with. Trying to break out of the comfort zone...

One response »

  1. Algorithms do not destroy individuality. They deepen our understanding. Science does not threaten literature.


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