The Bestseller Code

Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel

by Jodie Archer, Matthew L. Jockers

"When a story captures the imagination of millions, that's magic. Can you qualify magic? Archer and Jockers just may have done so."—Sylvia Day, New York Times bestselling author

Ask most people about massive success in the world of fiction, and you’ll typically hear that it’s a game of hazy crystal balls. The sales figures of E. L. James or Dan Brown seem to be freakish—random occurrences in an unknowable market. But what if there were an algorithm that could reveal a secret DNA of bestsellers, regardless of their genre? What if it knew, just from analyzing the words alone, not just why genre writers like John Grisham and Danielle Steel belong on the lists, but also that authors such as Junot Diaz, Jodi Picoult, and Donna Tartt had telltale signs of success all over their pages?

Thanks to Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers, the algorithm exists, the code has been cracked, and the results bring fresh new insights into how fiction works and why we read. The Bestseller Code offers a new theory for why Fifty Shades of Grey sold so well. It sheds light on the current craze for dark heroines. It reveals which themes tend to sell best. And all with fascinating supporting data taken from a five-year study of twenty thousand novels. Then there is the hunt for "the one"—the paradigmatic example of bestselling writing according to a computer's analysis of thousands of points of data. The result is surprising, a bit ironic, and delightfully unorthodox.

This book explains groundbreaking text-mining research in accessible terms and offers a new perspective on the New York Times bestseller list. It's a big-idea book about the relationship between creativity and technology that will be provocative to anyone interested in how analytics have already transformed the worlds of finance, medicine, and sports. But at heart it is a celebration of books for readers and writers—a compelling investigation into how successful writing works, and a fresh take on our intellectual and emotional response to stories.


  • St. Martin's Publishing Group; September 2016
  • ISBN: 9781250088284
  • Read online, or download in secure ePub format
  • Title: The Bestseller Code
  • Author: Jodie Archer; Matthew L. Jockers
  • Imprint: St. Martin's Press

In The Press

"When a story captures the imagination of millions, that's magic. Can you qualify magic? Archer and Jockers just may have done so." - Sylvia Day, New York Times bestselling author

The Bestseller Code excited me, scared me, and generally blew my mind. Archer and Jockers have built a reading robot that can teach readers, writers, and publishers a great deal about how popular fiction works. This is a pioneering work in a new science of storytelling.” — Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.

"Archer and Jockers take an astonishing insight into the DNA of bestsellers and turn it into a gripping page-turner about how we read. Truly remarkable!"—Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, co-author of Big Data and professor at Oxford


“May revolutionize the publishing industry.” —The Guardian


About The Author

JODIE ARCHER bought and edited books for Penguin UK before decamping for the doctoral program in English at Stanford University. After earning her Ph.D., she worked at Apple as their research lead on literature and has since consulted with many writers and businesses about literary success. She is now a full-time writer.

MATTHEW L. JOCKERS is the Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he teaches and directs the Nebraska Literary Lab. His text-mining research has been profiled in the New York Times, The LA Review of Books, The Sunday Times of London, and more.