Computer program predicts best sellers

Three computer scientists at Stony Brook University in New York believe that they have found some rules which might predict when a book will be a best seller.

By putting already published manuscripts through the machine, they have managed to get a more than 84 percent accuracy.

They claim it will be brilliant for publishes who often kick themselves for failing to spot that books like Harry Potter or Watership Down will do well.

They claim it is the first study to correlate between a book’s stylistic elements and its popularity and critical acclaim.

In a paper published by the Association of Computational Linguistics, Vikas Ganjigunte Ashok, Song Feng, and Yejin Choi said the writing style of books was correlated with its success.

They used a method called statistical stylometry, which is a statistical analysis of literary styles in several genres of books and identified characteristic stylistic elements more common in successful tomes than unsuccessful ones.

They used Project Gutenberg’s database of 44,500 books in the public domain. A book was considered successful when it was critically acclaimed and had a high download count. The books chosen for analysis represented all genres of literature, from science fiction to poetry.

The software took the first 1,000 sentences of 4,129 books of poetry and 1,117 short stories and then analysed them for various factors. They looked at parts of speech, use of grammar rules, the use of phrases, and “distribution of sentiment” – a way of measuring the use of words.

More successful books made a greater use of conjunctions to join sentences (“and” or “but”) and prepositions than less successful books. There were also a high percentage of nouns and adjectives in the successful books. Less successful books relied on more verbs and adverbs to describe what was happening.

This proves to me that John Steinbeck’s Pearl, which I had to study in English, really was the pile of dog poo I said it was – or at least was never going to be a best seller.

More successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. If you use words like “wanted,” “took” or “promised” you were doomed. Successful authors employed “recognised” or “remembered”.

Choi claimed that in order to resonate with readers, instead of saying ‘she was really sad,’ it might be better to describe her physical state, to give a literal description. In other words, write more like a journalist.

Hacks believe journalists use more nouns, pronouns, and prepositions than other writers because those word forms give more information. So novelists who write more like journalists have literary success, she said.