I’ve been tracking my feeble attempts to get Beasts of Sonara published for the better part of a year. I’ve learned a lot in that time, some good, some bad, and a lot of it painful. We have this mythology in our society that failure makes you stronger or wiser, but I think that’s only true if you have the time, resources and ability to react positively to that failure. These are things I need to work on.
That said, and while I’ve come to realize that Beasts is not the work of staggering genius that I might have hoped, I remain confident that it’s better than a lot of what’s published even if it’s not perfect. To learn more about how it might be adjusted / improved, I submitted the latest draft of the manuscript to ArcherJockers, the company founded by the authors of The Bestseller Code. They have a service that analyzes novels compared to bestsellers using what they learned in researching and writing their (non-bestselling) analytical book. The results were interesting, and shared here in brief for reference only.
Quick summary: Beasts might not going to be a bestseller in its current form, if their analysis holds true. Beyond that, the results are bit ambiguous. I’ll use their structure to provide the highlights, using italics to indicate Archer Jockers text:
The Seven Areas of a Novel
The report about your manuscript that follows is divided into the following overarching sections:
- Plot & Emotional Development of Story
- Overarching Theme & Focus of Topical Detail
- In Depth Character Personality Analysis
- Likelihood of Character Success with Readers
- Personal Writing Style compared to Bestselling Style
- The Settings of Your Novel
- Star Ratings & Likely Market Success
1 / Plot and Story
1a / Plot Shape
We create a visualization of your plot shape in two ways. First we look at the traditional three act structure that all writing teachers address. In the image below we are seeing the shape of Beasts of Sonara.
Act One takes us to the first dotted vertical line. Act Two takes us to the second dotted vertical line. Act Three takes us to the novel’s close… We like to see a “peak” or “valley” in the line at the 50% mark, to show a well-structured half way point. We also like to see some symmetry or considered relationship between the shapes of Act One and Act Three…
Conclusion / Beasts seems pretty spot-on in this context.
Improvement / The first act could be shortened and the second lengthened. There could be more emotional variance in third act.
1b / Rhythm
Novels have a natural rhythm: chapter breaks, paragraph breaks and changes in narrative focus create them… The next graph is all about helping a writer get the pages turning, and keep them turning at an even pace. If a writer achieves the best of the three act graph, and the best of the rhythm graph, he or she has the perfect skeleton of a novel. These books are rare and always do well, typically instantly and enduringly…
Below is a more detailed picture of the plot in Beasts of Sonara. The vertical dotted black lines show your novel’s beat. Obviously, the more evenly spaced they are from 0 to 100 percent of narrative time (or page count), the more balanced and satisfying the story and reading experience…
Which lacks a visually pleasing shape. What’s with all the happiness half-way through? And why all the emotional ambivalence later on? Hmm. Here are comparable graphics from The Da Vinci Code and 50 Shades of Gray:
Conclusion / Not entirely sure, but certainly there can be more emotional variance and improved timing / consistency in scene length.
Improvement / Beasts could probably have a shorter high-point emotionally, and some greater variance in later scenes.
2 / Theme & Focus
2a / Focus
This is where I thought I’d have the most trouble. I knew going in that Beasts was going to be a bit stream-of-consciousness and thematically…odd. But was still worried that some sub-elements were a bit distracting. My instincts here were apparently correct.
Our research for The Bestseller Code revealed the importance of thematic focus. Top selling novels achieve the focus and clarity that prevent unwieldy narrative that never wants to end. This is achieved by topical focus, which in turn is achieved when an author chooses the prevalent topics of his or her novel very consciously, and limits them. It is surprising to new writers that most top sellers have only three or four focalizing topics that claim 30% of all the pages of the manuscript. New writers tend to introduce too many topics, and thus the plot line becomes hard to control, or else the characters appear weak or the book “ends too soon” or “just won’t end!”
The next graph shows how Beasts of Sonara compares to the market in terms of
thematic focus… Your book is shown in green. Notice that bestsellers achieve the goal of 30% with three to four topics. This goal means the reader will know clearly “what the book is about.”… Regardless of what your topics are, if it takes you many topics to get past 30%, we suggest some editing for focus…
Conclusion / I thought this was the most useful part of the whole analysis; clearly, I have too many themes and they distract from the focus of the novel.
Improvement / I probably need to pare themes down a bit, and get rid of sub-themes that while funny or entertaining as vignettes, interrupt the narrative flow.
Discussion / I went into writing Beasts knowing that I wanted it to be positive and humorous but with deep / thoughtful concepts and three-dimensional characters. I hadn’t written that much in a while, and was worried that I didn’t have enough for a full novel, but this turned out to be wrong; I struggled to keep the word count under 140K and then had to edit substantially to cut down to 107K for marketability. I need to have more confidence in the core story of my books going forward, and in my ability to tell a compelling story without sideshow distractions.
For Beasts, I’m going to look at some areas where I can improve focus before I continue trying to find an agent…but this may be after I finish my next novel.
2b / Top Themes
This part of the analysis seemed more observational than insightful, but it was useful to see what an objective / automated system thought Beasts was about.
When we look at a novel’s themes we like to see topics that group together to make genre or direction. In addition, the icing on the cake is to identify a pair of contrast, or high tension, themes within the top six. Examples include “children and guns,” or “sex and church.” … The labels we use are approximations based on your word choices.
Conclusion / Just laughing, really. Not one of those things would appear in my synopsis of what Beasts is “about.”
Improvement / No idea; still processing. Part of me feels like Beasts just doesn’t fit the allotted categories very well. How the heck is surfing equated to “swimming and bathing”? And “work life balance”? WTF. Not sure. Maybe the lesson here is that bestsellers fit into more obvious categories. I think the focus part is more important than the themes themselves, but I do notice there is a lack of desirable contrast in these thematic categories, which is worth thinking about.
2bi / Themes in Market
The table below shows which of the themes in Beasts of Sonara are positive or negative indicators of big success in the adult fiction market.
3 / Character Personalities
Since publishing The Bestseller Code, we have continued to research character, and now show your character’s agency within the plot and their temperaments. Authors are well advised to create some contrast in temperaments in order to develop a gripping story…
A good tactic is to look at the personality graphs below alongside the topic graphs we have just discussed. Can you develop areas of a key character with some further description, or perhaps dialogue, which centers around key theme? Can you position those themes in the places along your plot line that our graphs have shown to be a bit too steep or a bit too flat?…
Here is an example of what’s provided for each major named character. I’ve picked Isabella (Izzy) because I’ve always considered her to be a strangely week character despite her important role:
Conclusion / Not sure. I’d have to analyze in far more detail, but an initial skim shows character contrast in style and approach…which I assume is good.
Improvement / Not sure yet. Nothing that’s different from early reader feedback and my initial thoughts.
4 / Character Agency
4b / Character Verb or Action Association
Readers and editors prefer characters who can drive a plot, appeal to our hearts and minds, and can make something happen within their genre scenario. The word for this is “agency,” and we read it for your major characters based on their actions… Our data shows that characters associated with strong decisive verbs—such as want, need, and feel—have a mission in their world that will create a plot line of learning and growth for them. Weaker characters are more passive, more likely to respond rather than initiate…
The table below shows your most active characters and the verbs they perform in Beasts of Sonara. Do they represent the character you want to create?…
Karla has been everyone’s favorite character, so here’s here verb chart:
Conclusion / Yeah, no idea. Almost all of the characters in Beasts have strong agency, in my opinion, and those that do not (e.g., Jon, the Bryants, etc.) are minor. Karla is one of the strongest characters, but there’s not one verb in this chart that would tell you that.
Improvement / Not sure yet. Also not sure hot analysis is valid with non-human characters such as Chandu and Alejandro.
4b / Character Gender
There is no right or wrong here, and there is no evidence that more of one character gender and less of another leads to a successful book. Instead, consider this just one more piece of information about your book. If you are marketing your novel to one particular gender demographic, this data can help you think about the impression your story will have…
This section was odd and surprising. I’ve always thought my style was my strongest point, and narrative thread was my weakest. This analysis says “style” is my weakest point, but the reasons are somewhat arcane. How many periods do I use? I get it, but there wasn’t much here I found useful…
We measure several hundred elements that are important to bestselling style. These include everything from the frequency of function words to sentence length and adjective to noun ratios. Style is of course about narration, description, frequency of dialogue, sentence length, complexity of prose, voice, tone and much more. We go granular with style analysis because the secret sauce of style is hidden in the fingerprints…
…Some might even go so far as to say that bestsellers have a style all their own. Many of these stylistic “habits” are difficult to discuss because they are “microscopic,” which is to say they are things that we are not likely to notice as we read. Things like how often an author uses the word “the” for example. But these features of style are incredibly important to the overall experience of reading a book, and winning writers seem to know instinctively just how often to use the word “very” or “really.”..
5a / Style of Beasts vs. Market
The first chart is based on sentence length. Apparently, my sentences are too short and simplistic. Not a single “+” sign to be found:
5b / Word Frequency
And I use all the wrong words:
5c / Adjective Frequency
But a few of the right adjectives:
5d / Adverb Frequency
And one or two adverbs are there:
5e / Punctuation Frequency
And my punctuation is on point-ish! More cowbell?
5f / Parts of Speech
And so on…
5g / Inappropriate Word Usage
Fuck, yeah. Honestly, I’m missing a few important words here.
6 / Setting
Though our research has suggested that geographical setting is only weakly correlated with success in the market, we find it useful when it comes to acquisition meetings to identify common places that an author references. These are the most common places detected in Beasts of Sonara.
Okay, so, Mina is a person, Everest is just the name of a book talked about in the book, and the novel takes place in Costa Rica. So…just a weakness of computer analysis.
7 / Overall Rating
The Bestseller-ometer assigned Beasts of Sonara an overall star rating of: 3 stars (★★★). Here is the breakdown of your composite score. Bestselling in a global way is all about hitting the sweet spot (5 stars) in most of these areas. However, we see good sales at three stars and above.
Conclusion / TWO STARS FOR STYLE? Shit. And when did we even talk about mood? I guess that was positive / negative emotion.
Improvement / Overall, I’d say the biggest issues are theme density and emotional variance. The other areas of concern seem to be secondary issues related to thematic drive and narrative force. Which is still a lot to work on. Two stars for style, though? That hurts ;).
Would I Use Archer Jockers Again?
Maybe. The thematic and plot analysis is useful. The style stuff is interesting. The setting area seems like they phoned it in, but overall it’s not that expensive. But there is little in the report that directly ties to scores given how much data is held back, so you can’t really make anything more than educated guesses with what thye give you. Could definitely be improved. I give them 3 stars (★★★).
Back to the (damn) word processor!