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Algorithm Aims To Predict Fiction Bestsellers

samzenpus posted about 3 months ago | from the what-do-the-numbers-say? dept.

Books 146

benonemusic writes "Three computer scientists at Stony Brook University in New York believe they have found some rules through a computer program that might predict which fiction books will be successful. Their algorithm had as much as an 84 percent accuracy rate when applied to already published manuscripts in Project Gutenberg and other sources. Among their findings was that more successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. However, some disagree with the findings. Author Ron Hansen said style is not the key, but instead readers' interest in the topics in the book." There has been work done already on finding the formula for a hit song, and using analytics to craft a blockbuster movie.

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And modern life ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904259)

... becomes more cold.

Re:And modern life ... (1)

Garridan (597129) | about 3 months ago | (#45904503)

Next, in finance: Local main aims to make millions by purchasing a lottery ticket!

Seriously. This is news if they succeed. Chumps.

Re:And modern life ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904689)

Sadly, maybe triumphantly, many successful movies are created with formulas. The only real problem is when they try to make a dozen blockbusters in one summer. Transformers was all formula. - Girl should show off navel here. Next. - It was successful as far as producers were concerned.

Seriously, this will be new if they don't succeed. For various definitions of succeed.

Re:And modern life ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45905499)

That reminds me of a lottery TV ad quite some time ago in Germany.

They (humorously) interviewed a "luck researcher" about his great discovery. The interview was roughly as follows:

Interviewer: So you've researched luck and came to a stunning result.
Researcher: Yes. My research indicates that there are two types of people. There are people who never win anything. Never. They just don't win. Not a single time. And there are other people, who do sometimes win. One can say, they have a real chance.
Interviewer: That's indeed an interesting result.
Researcher: Indeed, but most importantly, I've found that you can influence to which group you belong.
Interviewer: Really?
Researcher: Yes. My research clearly indicates that all people who won had a lottery ticket!

If I had a penny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904299)

Oh, if I had a penny for every time an algorithm aimed to do something...

Re:If I had a penny (4, Funny)

Chrisq (894406) | about 3 months ago | (#45905027)

Oh, if I had a penny for every time an algorithm aimed to do something...

on (anyAlgorithmProposed) {
give yourself a penny
}

Re:If I had a penny (3, Funny)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 3 months ago | (#45905623)

Add friendly vampires. If that doesn't work, add werewolves. Alternate version: zombies.

Re:If I had a penny (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45906217)

So, a love triangle with a vampire, a werewolf, and a girl with the emotional depth of a zombie?

Re:If I had a penny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45906303)

If all else fails, add more sex.

There is so much money (1)

LookIntoTheFuture (3480731) | about 3 months ago | (#45904303)

to be made from suckers. No fancy computer program is going to replace actual talent.

Re:There is so much money (3, Interesting)

symbolset (646467) | about 3 months ago | (#45904697)

So you haven't been to the movies or read a bestselling book lately? There is no talent to replace.

Re:There is so much money (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 3 months ago | (#45905631)

So you haven't been to the movies or read a bestselling book lately? There is no talent to replace.

Lately? Sturgeon's Law is 50 years old or more.

Re:There is so much money (2)

mcgrew (92797) | about 3 months ago | (#45905601)

No fancy computer program is going to replace actual talent.

I don't think there's any correlation between talent and success whatever. Wikipedia quotes Stephen King as saying that James Patterson "is a terrible writer, but very successful." I read Patterson's "When the Wind Blows" and wasn't very impressed with his writing, either, especially the switching back and forth between 1st and 3rd person. But almost every time I see a woman with a book it's one of his.

Asimov's Hugo-winning Foundation trilogy didn't earn him a dime for ten years, until Doubleday bought the rights from the original publisher.

Meanwhile I know a lot of incredibly talented musicians who play in bars because the labels offered them ridiculous contracts.

Anyone remember Milli Vanilli?

Marketing is king, talent is a dime a dozen.

Re:There is so much money (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 3 months ago | (#45905649)

Funny, I have the same opinion of Steven King.

Well, maybe not "terrible", but there have been some pretty bad moments. And not enough good ones.

Re:There is so much money (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 3 months ago | (#45906427)

I forget which King story I read, it involved a woman going to a cabin and being tied to a bed by her lover who dies on top of her. While she's there she starts to have images of things that might happen to her.

I don't think I finished it, the writing and droning was so bad. I only read it because I had never read King before and someone handed it to me.

Reminds me of the Family Guy scene where King is in front of his publisher who is asking what book King is working on. King grabs the lamp and says it's about a lamp which comes to life and attacks people, to which the publisher remarks, "You're not even trying any more."

Re:There is so much money (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 3 months ago | (#45905915)

I don't think there's any correlation between talent and success whatever. Wikipedia quotes Stephen King as saying that James Patterson "is a terrible writer, but very successful."

"Terrible writer" is subjective. While I'm sure that initial luck and subsequent promotion have something to do with it, he obviously writes stories that a lot of people like. I think Harry Turtledove is a complete hack of a writer, but I read his alternative history stuff because I like the subject so much.

wasn't very impressed with his writing, either, especially the switching back and forth between 1st and 3rd person

You may not like switching back and forth between 1st and 3rd person, but it's not an unusual technique. I like it when it's done well (never read Patterson so I couldn't say if he does it well).

Re:There is so much money (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 3 months ago | (#45906039)

The Black Swan will explain why this research is so ludicrously stupid.

Re:There is so much money (1)

smallfries (601545) | about 3 months ago | (#45906411)

Unlikely. Their comparison is the outcome of a popularity contest, which in the terminology that Taleb used is an inhabitant of Mediocrastan. The distribution is relatively smooth as it involves the average opinion of a large population.

New Coke/New Waists/New Privacy Invastions/New ETC (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904311)

Bias and other flaws in the design and statistical analysis.

Suffering increases every day from the ever increasing Marketing Research and its derivations and accompanying costs. Keep in mind, there are more to costs then just money.

Re:New Coke/New Waists/New Privacy Invastions/New (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904589)

Keep in mind, there are more to costs then just money.

Yeah. Just to bone your mom I had to wine her and dine her and listen to her talk. Only then could I slip her the wang.

It was worth it though.

Re:New Coke/New Waists/New Privacy Invastions/New (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904657)

Keep in mind, there are more to costs then just money.

Well, if you get "just money" after the costs it shouldn't be too hard to deal with them.

Automated response (5, Funny)

ackthpt (218170) | about 3 months ago | (#45904315)

Is for the enjoyment like article much very.

Posted by Comment Bot v1.0, Universe Algorithms, division 9 Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

So does this explain... (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 3 months ago | (#45904319)

How Jackie Collins sells so many books [wikipedia.org]? She uses too many verbs? I thought it was about the overly dripping romance themes that women seem to like?!?!

Re:So does this explain... (1)

icebike (68054) | about 3 months ago | (#45904495)

Don't forget: Successful books relied on:
   

verbs describing

.

All this time I thought adjectives described. Silly me. No wonder my great novel failed.

Re:So does this explain... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904531)

Don't forget: Successful books relied on:
   

verbs describing

.

All this time I thought adjectives described. Silly me. No wonder my great novel failed.

If that's what you thought then yes, that's probably one of your problems. Compare the following sentences:
"He pitched the ball."
"He hurled the ball."
"He tossed the ball."
"He lobbed the ball."
"He chucked the ball."

Where's the adjective to describe the manner in which the ball moved? There isn't one. The verb gives you the description of HOW the ball moved.
In direct contradiction to this "algorithm", stronger writers tend to rely more on descriptive verbs, weaker writers tend to rely on less descriptive words which need to be padded with adjectives or adverbs.

Re:So does this explain... (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 3 months ago | (#45905937)

All this time I thought adjectives described.

Never mention grammar on Slashdot. It'll bring out more responses than a programming language flame war.

P.S. That's why I always got a laugh out of the stereotype that engineers and programmers are semi-literate. My experience is that many are sticklers for the language, and that's not just limited to grammar.

Re:So does this explain... (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 3 months ago | (#45905955)

My experience is that many are sticklers for the language, and that's not just limited to grammar.

Many are.

And others can't tell the difference between "lose" and "loose", or "they're" and "their" and "there", or "where" and "wear", or "your" and "you're".

Those aren't exactly uncommon mistakes on /.

Re:So does this explain... (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 3 months ago | (#45906305)

I always try to be careful about such things, but those differences are strictly about the stupidity of spelling in the English language. I think bad spellers are mostly people who believed their teacher's claims that English is more than vaguely phonetic. I also think some "rebels" should get together, decide on a single spelling for each set of homophones, and tell everybody else to go screw themselves. No, I haven't had the guts to do it myself yet.

Re:So does this explain... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45906465)

I always try to be careful about such things, but those differences are strictly about the stupidity of spelling in the English language.

Bah. "Then" and "than" aren't homophones; people can't get those right, either.

Re:So does this explain... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45906575)

And others can't tell the difference between "lose" and "loose", or "they're" and "their" and "there", or "where" and "wear", or "your" and "you're".

Indeed, when I see those my reaction is usually "syntax error: I hope you're not a programmer."

Re:So does this explain... (1)

fazig (2909523) | about 3 months ago | (#45906167)

Most creative writing classes on descriptive writing will tell you that adjectives and adverbs very often are lazy and sloppy descriptions. They teach to use strong verbs and nouns, and not to rely on adjectives. It is taught that a good writer uses adjectives and adverbs to support verbs and nouns, but never as a description.

Reading Level (4, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 3 months ago | (#45904325)

They began their research with Project Gutenberg, a 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.

Then, they added some books not in the Gutenberg database, including Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities," and Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." They also added Dan Brown's latest novel, "The Lost Symbol," and books that have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and other awards.

Nowadays, marketing and signalling has as much to do with sales as anything else.
I imagine that if some publisher could make the kind of advertising push that Bill O'Reilley does,
they could put anything onto the NYTimes best seller list too.

Re:Reading Level (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 3 months ago | (#45904439)

All books written by politically active people like O'Reilley are nothing more than slush funds to funnel money towards a particular party or candidate. The Clintons have done it, Sarah Palins a master of it... Your donors buy up your books, giving you fame, getting the press to talk about you... and then "donate" them to fund-raisers who "Give" them away to donors. It looks like you sold lots of books, your all over the news because of it but no-ones reading the book, not even the anchors claiming to interview you about it. God I hate marketing.

Re:Reading Level (3, Interesting)

retchdog (1319261) | about 3 months ago | (#45904629)

It's not just legit donors, either. One of the games these people play is to charge institutions speaking fees for a public appearance, part of which charge is the required purchase of, say, 5,000 books for their library or for "promotional purposes". The institution plays along, sending 90%+ of the books to be pulped the next day, and the speaker's sales stats get bumped. Ridiculous.

Re:Reading Level (1)

aslashdotaccount (539214) | about 3 months ago | (#45905029)

And don't you hate it when you're berated for not having read the crud that everyone's talking about in the office cafeteria? I've succumbed to this peer pressure a number of times and read these so-called masterpieces and wondered at the end just what insights the authors had that I didn't.

Re:Reading Level (1)

cffrost (885375) | about 3 months ago | (#45905443)

[...] Sarah Palins a master of it...

Sarah Palin's handler(s)/management (team), more likely. We're talking about a person who thought the 2003 invasion of Iraq was (to paraphrase) "revenge for 9/11," or some such nonsense. In other words, I "betcha" there's little acumen of any utility rattling around in that skull of hers.

God I hate marketing.

I hope for all exposed beings to possess the wherewithal to resist for-profit and political propaganda in all of its forms, and manipulation therefrom, particularly anything shat out by the United States' six-headed corporate "news" media (i.e., corporate and government press releases, backed by unchallenging commentary).

I find it interesting that amongst our nation-wide, free-press establishment, PBS (a government- and corporate-backed entity) seems to be the only major source for investigative journalism (particularly via Frontline). Fortunately, contributions from the David H. Koch Foundation seem to have been used only to suppress broadcasting of investigation into the Koch brothers, rather than to steer PBS's agenda.

Re:Reading Level (1)

westlake (615356) | about 3 months ago | (#45904809)

They began their research with Project Gutenberg, a database of 44,500 books in the public domain.
Then, they added some books not in the Gutenberg database, including Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities," and Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." They also added...books that have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and other awards.

How does Project Gutenberg select its texts?

A book was considered successful when it was critically acclaimed and had a high download count.

"Critically acclaimed" by who and when?

How many of the most downloaded titles are on academically "required" or "recommended" reading lists?

The prize-winner can sometimes tell you more about the internal and external dynamics of the judging than the quality of the book,

Re:Reading Level (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 3 months ago | (#45905673)

Tale of Two Cities is in Gutenberg. That's where I read it from.

Marketing never hurts, but the advent of minimal-cost publishing via ebooks also has helped some authors. There are several best-selling authors who started out as "dollar discounts" from one of the e-publishers.

Re:Reading Level (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 3 months ago | (#45905997)

Tale of Two Cities is in Gutenberg. That's where I read it from.

Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and others were heavily marketed in the 19th century. It's not a 20th century invention. Speaking of Mark Twain, you'll find satire about advertising in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". Thanks to the protagonist, there were knights running around with advertisements for toothpaste on their suits of armor.

Stagnation (2)

aslashdotaccount (539214) | about 3 months ago | (#45904331)

I was about to say that this speaks poorly of the breadth of the current generation's literary interests, and then I recalled books like Little Women and Lord of the Files, or even Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (although the Rama series might be more about descriptions than emotional exposes). Still, it's a little disheartening that technical manuals don't hit the bestseller lists. On the upside, Noam Chomsky will be overjoyed by this development; soon software systems will be developed to 'generate' hit books. Someone get Angelina (Mike Cook's, not Pitt's).

Re:Stagnation (4, Insightful)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 3 months ago | (#45904387)

On the upside, Noam Chomsky will be overjoyed by this development; soon software systems will be developed to 'generate' hit books. Someone get Angelina (Mike Cook's, not Pitt's).

I see, so Angelina Jolie used to be an academy-award-winning actress, but now she's just Mrs. Pitt?

Re:Stagnation (1)

aslashdotaccount (539214) | about 3 months ago | (#45904425)

Had Mike Cook named the program 'Pitt' I'd have said "Jolie's"

Re:Stagnation (0)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 3 months ago | (#45904479)

oh, i see. now academy-award-nominated brad pitt is just Mr. Jolie? Protip - one human being can never own another human being.

Re:Stagnation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904519)

Protip for your algorithm:
Human beings often identify other human beings by their association with yet other human beings.

Re:Stagnation (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 3 months ago | (#45906391)

Protip for your algorithm:

Human beings often identify other human beings by their association with yet other human beings.

You mean tip for nerds.

Re:Stagnation (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904613)

oh, i see. now academy-award-nominated brad pitt is just Mr. Jolie? Protip - one human being can never own another human being.

Unless that other human being is actually a nigger.

Re:Stagnation (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | about 3 months ago | (#45906195)

I see, so Angelina Jolie used to be an academy-award-winning actress, but now she's just Mrs. Pitt?

She's an aging sack of bad plastic surgery who's been in too many terrible movies. A pretty good match for her hubby at that.

What about marketing? (1)

sd4f (1891894) | about 3 months ago | (#45904355)

We all know advertising and product placement can make a big difference and return on investment, so what about including paid for marketing and tv show plugs into the modelling? Nothing can be successful if no one has heard of it.

Authors fail to understand ... (2)

MacTO (1161105) | about 3 months ago | (#45904369)

Two quotes stand out for me:

"It's very difficult to quantify decisions that are often made by intuition and relationships."

The study claims that at least some of those decisions are quantifiable, which pretty much contradicts Hamilburg's point.

"Of stylistic characteristics, the scientists are flying in the face of most teaching of creative writing when they emphasize nouns over verbs. Verbs are the engine of fiction and quality writing is often measured by their variety, precision, and force,"

Hansen appears to have missed the point of the study: it is about what sells, rather than what's taught or what makes quality writing.

Re:Authors fail to understand ... (4, Interesting)

plover (150551) | about 3 months ago | (#45904513)

However, the sample's study makes exactly the same mistake. They used Project Gutenberg as the source, and download counts as a substitute for sales. Sales has one measure: the number of dollars in the cash box at the end of the day. They should be measuring books on the NY Times bestseller list, or the Amazon Top 10 list, which have actually sold for money and are actually popular (fraudulently placed books aside.) And they should be comparing them against books from their own genres, or at least books that had similar attributes.

I think what they'd really find is that "books that sell well are those that are marketed well", regardless of the words they contain.

Maybe they could focus on a specific key reviewer: what does Oprah like and not like? Maybe when they cross compile the data from all the books, they will find they've only discovered Oprah's tastes. Which isn't a bad outcome, if they are ultimately trying to discover what kinds of books will be better positioned to make the author money. But I don't think they've come close to predicting fiction "best-sellers" yet.

Re:Authors fail to understand ... (3, Interesting)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 3 months ago | (#45905689)

Success comes in two flavors.

Gutenberg is stacked with classics. Stuff that has been successful over a long period of time. Some classics were flops when they were first published and some go periodically in and out of favor.

The NYT bestseller list, Oprah, et. al. focus on what's popular today. Relatively few books that make those lists will be popular in a century just as many of the bestsellers from Dickens' day would only be known to literary historians. And missing from Gutenberg.

Re:Authors fail to understand ... (2)

plover (150551) | about 3 months ago | (#45905889)

I was commenting based on the title of the articles discussing the study: "Algorithm aims to predict fiction bestsellers"; and "Computer Algorithm Seeks to Crack Code of Fiction Bestsellers". The strong implications are that the algorithm is designed to unlock the secret of making money by writing books that contain certain words or linguistic structures. I'm arguing that a book's financial success has much less to do with any ephemeral "bestsellerness" quality, and has a much stronger association with "marketing campaigns".

Now, that may or may not be the basis for why the researchers performed their study, or even what they hoped to learn, but it's how their study is being perceived by the media. Which is ironically making my point: it isn't the facts or the content of the study that's important, it's the coverage of the story that's put the slant on what they found. If the [marketing|reporting] for this study had instead said "Researchers develop algorithmic approach to search for linguistic commonalities in Project Gutenberg texts", it probably wouldn't even have merited notice on Slashdot.

Tl;dr: marketing wins.

Re:Authors fail to understand ... (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 3 months ago | (#45906579)

Tl;dr: marketing wins.

Well, I think it would be more fair to say marketing and current fads win. A bestselling author may not need to do any marketing at all, other than mentioning, "By the way, I'm coming out with another book," and it will probably still sell well. Books about famous people or written by celebrities will also often sell, regardless of whether they are marketed heavily. Similarly, books about current fads (diets, financial advice, etc.) may also sell pretty well -- the first book regarding a fad may need some marketing to get going, but subsequent books often just follow on that.

On the other hand, there are PLENTY of examples of things that were marketed like crazy and still fail.

My general point is that marketing is most critical when something isn't yet well-known or associated with something well-known. Ultimately, fame wins... particularly when we're talking about bestsellers. That, and random fads.

Re:Authors fail to understand ... (2)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 3 months ago | (#45906215)

Gutenberg is stacked with classics. Stuff that has been successful over a long period of time. Some classics were flops when they were first published and some go periodically in and out of favor.

Or, in other words, what counts as a "classic" right now is simply what's popular today. I think the trends can be better seen in music history. Take, for example, Pachelbel's Canon in D [wikipedia.org], that piece which seemingly shows up everywhere as "classical music." Johann Pachelbel, however, was a master composer [wikipedia.org], well-known in his lifetime for all sorts of compositions. Today he has one stupid piece played at thousands of weddings and other occasions every year, just because of some whims of audiences in the late 1960s who got interested in it.

Take Antonio Vivaldi [wikipedia.org], who was hugely popular in his lifetime, then almost completely forgotten for centuries (he died a pauper, so his fame was as short-lived as many pop artists today), until some Italian archivists dug up his thousand-or-so compositions in the 1920s, and these pieces were then deliberately promoted as part of Italian cultural history beginning in the 1930s.

Or, heck, for a recent example, look at Thomas Tallis's Spem in alium, a Renaissance motet that was pretty obscure until the past couple of years after it appeared in the novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Suddenly, recordings of the piece bounded up to the top of the charts [npr.org], and it has led to a new interest in Renaissance music and certain early music performance groups.

I'm not saying that these pieces or composers don't have great value or that they shouldn't be "classics." But I do think that interest in particular "classics" is driven almost as much by current culture as actual current art/literature/music is. Measuring downloads from Project Gutenberg is giving us a particular snapshot into what is considered "classic" literature for the past few years. Fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago, I can guarantee you that the lists would be different -- and not just because of works written since then.

Hypnosis (1)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | about 3 months ago | (#45904371)

Hypnosis is nothing other than an elegant description of a process.

I think it's interesting that as you find yourself looking at this screen, and focusing in clearly to these words you are reading.... you remember a time when you felt very VERY tired... maybe after a long work meeting or after staying up late working on a paper.... What you become to notice is that you are slowly find your eyes relaxing deeply,..... and as you become aware that your mind is slowing down and your mouth widens and begins to yawn... you feel your eyes are closing as you drift off to sleep....

s.h1t? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904381)

The pRoject faces, 3orporations Declined in market

can it explain... (3, Interesting)

able1234au (995975) | about 3 months ago | (#45904457)

Perhaps they can explain why Fifty Shades did well despite being badly written.

There is a danger in this process that we end up with a "Save the cat" problem where everything has to follow a formula
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2013/07/hollywood_and_blake_snyder_s_screenwriting_book_save_the_cat.html [slate.com]

Re:can it explain... (5, Insightful)

bob_super (3391281) | about 3 months ago | (#45904543)

50 shades is a textbook example of a perfect marketing campaign. It cannot fit an algorithm, it's a total outlier.

They sent out press releases to all the agencies about the new phenomena of women using the wonderful anonymity of e-readers/tablets to read Mommy porn, like that "50 shades" thing.
Journalists just repeated the press releases, over and over again, almost exactly word for word, on various networks, because that's a topic that draws viewer attention.

And suddenly everyone knew that apparently a lot of people were reading that "50 shades" book, and that reading it was both cool and risqué. Jackpot.

I read one page of the book that was published on a website. It was worse than the transcript of a reality TV show. it wasn't just bad literature, it was barely passable English.
But the marketing was absolutely brilliant.

Re:can it explain... (1)

able1234au (995975) | about 3 months ago | (#45904557)

That's classic. I would prefer to read the book on the marketing campaign. It is original, brilliantly executed and delivered results. Forget the original book.

Re:can it explain... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904933)

Original? Faking success to acquire success and preying on humans' pack animal instincts are very old marketing techniques. Publishers will have authors buy large amounts of their own book to get on the bestseller list.

Re:can it explain... (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 3 months ago | (#45906357)

There was nothing original about that book. You can find 500,000 similar things on Fanfiction.net.

Re:can it explain... (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | about 3 months ago | (#45904889)

Or Harry Potter which as Rowling was constantly told, had none of the right tick boxes ticked and many of the 'avoid' ones ticked. Didn't end up doing too badly as I recall after the first few dozen rejections. To be fair, that probably falls into the ~15% 'got it wrong' region the story mentions.

Re:can it explain... (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 3 months ago | (#45905869)

I am really surprised at this. I really like the series, but I would never consider it anything other than a somewhat bland very easy read. I think they need to review their formula, because I think HP is a text book example of a mass marketable, guilty pleasure/easy read, that everyone can enjoy.

Re:can it explain... (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | about 3 months ago | (#45906425)

Reason's she had were it was far too long, kids books don't make money etc. It only got published as a favour after the publisher's 8yo daughter got sight of the manuscript and pestered him for more. The initial print run was 500 copies, they really weren't expecting it to sell.

Re:can it explain... (2)

martin-boundary (547041) | about 3 months ago | (#45905143)

Porn works like that. Have you ever landed on a porn video site? Most of the videos have no story, and show even less acting ability or camera skills.

But you know what? Nobody cares! It's the same with 50 shades, people don't read it because it's art. Women read it to get ideas and phantasies. And to be honest most porn sites don't cater to women, so they have a limited choice in the matter.

Re:can it explain... (1)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 3 months ago | (#45906173)

50 shades is a textbook example of a perfect marketing campaign. It cannot fit an algorithm, it's a total outlier.

I suspect that, almost by definition, many best-sellers are outliers. They owe their popularity to marketing, the whims of the book-buying public, what's currently trendy, etc. Like 50 shades of grey, they likely won't succumb to an algorithm.

Re:can it explain... (2)

hey! (33014) | about 3 months ago | (#45904955)

I read Snyder's book because he was a friend of a friend. First off, it's not about *everything*. It's about movie scripts. Secondly it's a bit naive to blame the lack of creativity of modern movies on his book; that's a trend that predates 2005.

In any case screenwriters are nothing like the olympian figures playwrights are in theater. The main creative force in a movie is the director, and writers are relatively minor figures in the enterprise. In the theater the script is gospel. In the movies a director routinely adds to, deletes from or reorganizes a script as he sees fit. It's important to realize that screenwriters structure screenplays, but directors structure the movies. A screenplay isn't the movie story; it's a guideline that helps the director imagine the story HE will tell. Thus things like the page count for each story beat *are for the benefit of the director*, and don't have much if any relationship to the pace of the story as seen by the moviegoers.

What Snyder did for screenwriting was analogous to what agile programming advocates did for programming. He codified the practices from successful projects. What the linked article does is at best intellectually sloppy or at worst, disingenuous. Mr Suderman applies the 15 beat structure to recent movies, but fails to note that the same can be done for nearly every commercially successful movie in the last 80 years.

As for 50 SHADES, it's possible the formula *might* explain why it is more successful than other readily available erotica. And marketing helps too, but remember this was initially a self-published book that took off by word of mouth.

Ultimately, when you become a discerning reader, you realize that practically every novel is flawed in some way or another. And while all things being equal a better written novel is more likely to be successful, all things are most definitely NOT equal. You cannot craft your way to success with readers, you have to speak to something in them. It's more important that a story does something right, than it does everything, or even most things right.

Re:can it explain... (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 3 months ago | (#45905687)

Perhaps they can explain why Fifty Shades did well despite being badly written.

Because people like reading about sex. That's also why romance novels routinely feature good-looking half-naked people on the cover.

Think of it this way: If the movie is about sex, we'll put up with inane dialog, completely predictable plots, and wooden acting, just to watch a couple of people we'll never meet get it on. Why would you expect books to be much different?

Re:can it explain... (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 3 months ago | (#45905851)

The algorithm would be trying to guess how well the book would do on the market, not how well it was written.
How well a book is written has little to do with how many copies you can sell of it.

Quantum Literature (1)

edibobb (113989) | about 3 months ago | (#45904499)

Look for modern fiction to adjust to fit the parameters of the application, degrading to a common level and uniform format. The literature cannot be observed without being altered. It will be lot like the mandatory movie formula [slate.com]. The content itself is irrelevant.

What a stupid idea (2)

OhANameWhatName (2688401) | about 3 months ago | (#45904563)

1. Read the algorithm
2. Write a book
3. Profit!!!

I just wrote an algorithm that predicts that no book detailing the death of creativity at the hands of science will ever be written.

Uck (2)

speedplane (552872) | about 3 months ago | (#45904583)

Does this article make everyone else as sick as it makes me?

Re:Uck (4, Funny)

symbolset (646467) | about 3 months ago | (#45904711)

Nowhere does it mention the one weird trick that effortlessly melts away the pounds in six minutes while you sleep - that the government doesn't want you to know because it creates instant wealth for the few who know this secret.

Re:Uck (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904761)

Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

Re:Uck (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45905809)

Does this article make everyone else as sick as it makes me?

I don't know. Maybe I should write an algorithm that tells me.

while (!book.isBestSeller()) book.text = random(); (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904713)

If this is anything like the song version, expect the text equivalent of dubstep and oh-ahs.

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45904717)

Never heard of 'Fitcoin', is that a descendant/parent of 'Bitcoin'? Please advise :)

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45905825)

It's a new currency where you have to provide proof of physical work, so you work on your fitness while mining.

Waste of time (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#45904833)

These things don't actually work. They're curiosities and nothing more.

When they finally develop strong AI... then you might have something. But a non-intelligent system is not going to figure these things out.

Re:Waste of time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#45905901)

The real waste of time is all this "fiction" to begin with. If you really want something to read, why not start with Feynman. Or you could just go back to this [youtube.com]

The illusion of choice made real. (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 3 months ago | (#45905065)

Preceding any great scientific advancement or discovery it is no accident that you will find a surge in the fiction and cultural themes surrounding it.

The New World, Forensics, Avionics, Electronic Computing, Nuclear Reaction, Rocketry, Robotics.

The cultural mind thinks as you do. Its subconscious boils with the direction it will soon take. Ask yourself: What is seen much more now in your culture? What makes you think you have any choice but to latch onto any thoughts but those which come to mind from within? What makes you think society can choose from among the roiling themes anything other than what pattern is most apt? What makes you think?

Cybernetics.

here's the article (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | about 3 months ago | (#45905109)

http://bit.ly/1dgDo7d [bit.ly] . Come on slashdot editors, do the legwork and link the article directly! Otherwise people will post a link in the comments, and who's to say it's not a goatse?

Anyway, I'm a little worried about the methodology. If you train on PG, and test on PG your generalization error will suffer. This is especially easy to get wrong when both the train and test set are constructed repeatedly with various thresholding rules, and the classifier features are (presumably) optimized during the research being conducted.

Re:here's the article (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 3 months ago | (#45905707)

http://bit.ly/1dgDo7d . Come on slashdot editors, do the legwork and link the article directly!

Come on, martin, do the legwork and link [aclweb.org] it directly. This isn't twitter and most folks are wary of shortened links; trolls love hiding their goatse and tubgirl links. I only clicked it because your UID is relatively low and you hadn't (yet) been modded down.

Already done - albeit in fiction (1)

jimicus (737525) | about 3 months ago | (#45905197)

It's already been done - though only in fiction.

Roald Dahl wrote about a machine called the Great Automatic Grammatizator. A machine that you plug in various parameters - such as type of book, characters, proportions of violence/sex/humour - and it churns out something that's pretty much guaranteed to be a bestseller according to those parameters in fifteen minutes flat. Being a writer himself - and a somewhat dark one at that - the end result was a dystopian universe in which writers were forced to give up writing and just license their name to the man with the machine, simply because the machine brought the cost of production down so much that this was the only way to earn a living as a writer.

algorithm (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 3 months ago | (#45905807)

Remember, there's a HUGE difference between successful and "good".

"Successful" means appealing to the dozen or so big publishers' editors, such that they are willing to pimp your book and market it. They can - and have, obviously - taken utter crapola to the top of the "bestseller" lists.

I entirely understand that the algorithm favors deep internal monologues, because those editors clearly love them.

Re:algorithm (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 3 months ago | (#45906075)

there's a HUGE difference between successful and "good"

"Good" is subjective. It's some sort of consensus amongst people who are, for whatever reason, considered literary experts. Consider the "classics". Some are good and some suck. I tried to read "Moby Dick" and found the perfect cure for insomnia. People said "just get past all the boring and extraneous stuff". Sorry, but if a book is full of boring and extraneous stuff, then it's not a good book. Maybe it would have been if Melville had had a good editor. OTOH some classics are great. I just read "All Quiet on the Western Front", and it's one of the best books I've ever read. It's not self-consciously literate, which is part of why it's good. It was also a best-seller in it's day.

BTW, a contemporary author who is "literate", but also thinks novels should have a plot and be enjoyable to read, is Michael Chabon. He even promotes and has written what's usually dismissed by literary types as genre fiction.

Hindsight is 20/20 (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 3 months ago | (#45905885)

Their algorithm had as much as an 84 percent accuracy rate when applied to already published manuscripts

I could write an algorithm that's 100% accurate selecting yesterday's lottery numbers.

Re:Hindsight is 20/20 (1)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 3 months ago | (#45906253)

I could write an algorithm that's 100% accurate selecting yesterday's lottery numbers.

That's why data analyst's cross-validate their models. Granted, cross-validation doesn't cure everything (e.g. If the question is already overly specific, or if the analyst double dips in some other way) but it will stop over-fitting and performing at 100%. I downloaded the paper and did a quick search: the authors used a support vector machine for the classification (which effectively allows for fitting of very non-linear boundaries) and they tested it with 5-fold cross-validation. So they given that they did the latter, they got the basics right.

A block buster? (2)

ai4px (1244212) | about 3 months ago | (#45906049)

A blockbuster movie? Space, cowboys, roughnecks, scenes of things blowing up, impending doom saved at the last minute and a guy who doesn't make it home and leaves behind a beautiful girl. Oh and crazy Russians. Perfect formula. A blockbuster song? repeating lyrics which drone on and a drum machine. The public just seems to love it this way!

This is nothing new - or troublesome. (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 3 months ago | (#45906231)

What the algorithm looked at was writing style. That's hardly new. Teachers have been recommending this or that writing style, probably since the preferred medium was stone tablets. Slavish devotion to such recommendations is obviously undesirable, and a few outliers and experiments are necessary if you don't want writing styles to become stultified. But taking some advice about it is nothing new or undesirable. This study said nothing about structure (for which there are also standard recommendations) or subject.

All creative endeavors require a certain amount of less creative craftsmanship to be done well.

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