What are the components a manuscript needs to become bestseller? According to two St. Martin's authors, Dave Eggers knows.
In the forthcoming The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel (St. Martin's Press, Sept. 20), authors Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers claim they created an algorithm that identifies the literary elements that guarantee a book a spot on the besteller lists. They even identified the perfect manuscript which is...Eggers' 2013 novel, The Circle.
When Archer and Jockers put their formula to use, they found that The Circle had a 100% chance of hitting the New York Times bestseller list. The book did, in fact, go on to hit a number of bestseller lists. And, according to Nielsen BookScan, the novel has sold over 80,000 copies in hardcover and over 140,000 copies in trade paperback. (Nielsen BookScan measures about 85% of all print sales.)
Archer and Jockers' algorithm analyzes theme, plot, character and setting to determine what combinations appeal most to readers. They dubbed their litmus test for literary success the “bestseller-ometer."
Among the features the algorithm touted as being most essential to the success of a novel is that its three-to-four central themes occupy about 30% of its entirety. The authors also found that a significant number of the biggest bestsellers in the last 30 years “share a plot shape with a regular beating rhythm." They said that their data shows popular books have "symmetry in [their] plotline, and a clear three-act structure."
A third ingredient to success on the charts, Archer and Jockers write, is that a book being written in “everyday language.” The authors found that bestselling books tend to have a “close relationship between bestselling characters and the verbs used to describe their actions.”
The authors analyzed about 20,000 novels in their work to zero in on The Circle as the perfect example of a book written to please...and succeed. Whether Eggers knew it or not, the authors write, he “tweaked the hidden formulas of fiction, even down to the use of commas and conjunctions and everyday nouns." They added that, according to their algorithm, Eggers is "the paradigmatic writer of the past thirty years.”