Combing through my RSS feed I came across this interesting article on Gizmodo. Will Your Novel be a Best Seller? Ask This Super Accurate Algorithm.
I have read the paper referenced in the article and suggest you do as well. To me the nature of this study is less a manual for success and more an inquiry into what do more successful books have in common. The best analogy would be to say more attractive paintings have a higher percentage of shades of blue. I Actually I am oversimplifying things but my point is that this study represents an interesting catalog of the components that make up a success book.
Writers are well aware of the do’s and don’t’s but some of those fall out of odds with the study. Especially interesting is the higher percentage of connectors indicating the use of more complex sentences. This also flies in the face of readability levels. Could people prefer their reading at a higher or presumed higher level of complexity. Naturally, as described in the paper, tossing in Hemingway’s work, The Old Man and the Sea, knocks this perception to the ground. Still the data suggests that works with a higher incidence of complex sentences find greater success.
Another finding that I felt was less of a revelation is that successful works tend to skew more towards informational, think journalism, writing rather than expressive writing. The success of crime and police procedurals and even the number of self help books on the NY Times bestseller lists bears witness to this trend. On a deeper level I wonder are people becoming more interested in being informed? Clearly any look on Facebook will show you that people do like informing others. The avenues that information takes is changing. I like to think that no one who has read a courtroom drama develops the notion that they now possess the knowledge of a lawyer, at the same time there must be some kind of pleasure in perceiving the transfer of that information.
So, where does this leave us? I for one have no intention of altering my writing style based on what I learned in this paper. Though it does reinforce some elements that I have cultivated and intend on making use of. Ultimately words are really just marks on the page that communicate to the reader and anything that can facilitate that communication should find a higher rate of success. Also since ours is a living language we should expect changes to come to our use of it. While we do not want to follow them like some hungry dog understanding that not any rule is set in stone can only make our writing stronger.