Thursday, July 07, 2016

Best-sellers: A Formula?

From the just-when-you-think-you've-seen-it-all corner . . .

I stumbled across an article in the June 27 issue of Publisher's Weekly titled "What Makes a Bestseller? Two SMP Authors Say They Know the Formula." The story discusses a forthcoming book titled The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel (St. Martin's Press, Sept. 20) in which co-authors offer an algorithm based on themes, plots, characters, and setting used in 20,000 bestselling novels.

Dave Eggers's novel The Circle, according to The Bestseller Code authors Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers, "had a 100% chance of hitting the New York Times bestseller list." And it did.

I have not read Eggers's novel, but I liked Zeitoun, his nonfiction work, and now I'm curious as hell, so I'll pick it up. However, I don't plan to read The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel. For a guy who hasn't sniffed the New York Times bestseller list, maybe that's crazy; maybe I ought to be running out, getting the book, and asking someone to quiz me on its content. Logic would dictate that I should absorb every last syllable of The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel. But I have no interest. And I'd be very surprised if Dave Eggers does either.

It brings me back to the central question: Can you sit down with the intention of writing a bestseller and produce one? I've heard it said that bestsellers aren't written at all; they are marketed. After the Harry Potter phenomenon, though, I no longer believe that, not entirely anyway.

I have no doubt Archer and Jockers will sell a lot of copies. After all, what better way to write a bestseller than promising to unlock the secret to that holiest of grails? (Somewhere James Patterson is quaking.)

But I will say this: I have read many novels over the years that hooked me, novels I enjoyed and couldn't put down. In fact, I just finished one, stayed up late Saturday night to see how it would end. However, my basis for judging a book successful is determining if I'll go back to the well again.

The book I loved -- "King of the one-night reads" one critic calls the author -- stars an African-American hero. Yet I didn't realize (or had forgotten) the protagonist was African-American until it was mentioned in the final 10 pages. Should I pay better attention? Okay, sure. But my litmus test is will I buy another book by that author (or buy another in the series). So if I'm reading about a protagonist with a backstory, especially one involving a racial identity, I want to experience the world through that character's viewpoint, something I obviously didn't get to do with this current read.

So is there a formula to writing best-sellers? Who knows?

Am I looking for one?

Hell, no.

1 comment:

Danny Goren said...

All I can say is "if only, if only"