No one knows anything. William Goldman’s aphorism concerns Hollywood, but it’s also true of book publishing. Who would have guessed that 50 Shades would become a publishing phenomenon? Or Dan Brown’s The Da Vince Code?
As an article on Wired explains, it was the latter’s success that prompted Jodie Archer, a Penguin UK employee, to wonder what made a successful book. She was still pondering that very question when she met Matthew L. Jockers, a cofounder of the Stanford Literary Lab, whose work in text analysis had convinced him that computers could peer into books in a way that people never could.
Soon the two of them went to work on the “bestseller” problem: How could you know which books would be blockbusters and which would flop, and why?
The result of their work—detailed in The Bestseller Code, out this month—is an algorithm built to predict, with…
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