To the horror of readers everywhere, computer scientists have developed an algorithm they say can predict the commercial viability of a book, with an 84 percent success rate, based solely on the style in which the book is written.
According to the study, "Success with Style: Using Writing Style to Predict the Success of Novels," by Stony Brook University's Vikas Gajingunte Ashok, Song Feng and Yejin Choi, whether or not a book will sell can be determined by several quantifiable factors that do not include the actual quality of the work. They write:
Based on novels over several different genres, we probe the predictive power of statistical stylometry in discriminating successful literary works, and identify characteristic stylistic elements that are more prominent in successful writings. Our study reports for the first time that statistical stylometry can be surprisingly effective in discriminating highly successful literature from less successful counterpart[s], achieving accuracy up to 84%.
To measure success, the researchers relied heavily on how often a book is downloaded from Project Gutenberg, which offers tens of thousands of free eBooks. Looking only at how each work's linguistic style was correlated to its level of success, the researchers reached a number of conclusions about which types of words boost — or hinder — book sales.
They looked at books in several genres including adventure, detective/mystery, fiction, historical fiction, romance and science fiction, and found that, generally, novels rich in prepositions, nouns, pronouns and adjectives sell better than tomes full of adverbs, verbs and interjections. So you'd be more likely to pay for this sentence: