What we can learn from James Patterson

James Patterson is one of the most popular crime writers in the world. His books rarely leave the top 10 mass market fiction charts and are sold across the globe. He is an expert in promotion and franchising and has launched a number of very successful joint ventures with other writers to fully exploit his story ideas.

The most successful at the moment is the ‘Women’s Murder Club’ Series.

A series of bestselling novels. A TV series. And now a game appealing to the demographic with the most cash – older women.

So what makes these books so popular?

I would suggest Readability.

James Patterson himself has said that he intended to create a fast paced, page turning fiction form devoid of exposition or lengthy internal angst.  And he succeeded.

What exactly IS Readability? Can it be measured? Yes. It can.

 

  

 Many writers are unaware that you can look at the text statistics for bestselling books using the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon.com. This is a very useful resource and gives real insight into the language and structure of these books.

 

The Readability calculations estimate how easy it is to read and understand the text of a book.

 The Text Stats feature calculates a variety of statistics for each book.

Text Statistics and Readability Indices from Amazon.Com. 

 

  • The Fog Index was developed by Robert Gunning. It indicates the number of years of formal education required to read and understand a passage of text.
  • The Flesch Index, developed in 1940 by Dr. Rudolph Flesch, is another indicator of reading ease. The score returned is based on a 100-point scale, with 100 being easiest to read. Scores between 90 and 100 are appropriate for 5th and 6th graders, while a college degree is considered necessary to understand text with a score between 0 and 30.
  • The Flesch-Kincaid Index is a refinement to the Flesch Index that tries to relate the score to a U.S. grade level. For example, text with a Flesch-Kincaid score of 10.1 would be considered suitable for someone with a 10th grade or higher reading level.
  • A word is considered “complex” if it has three or more syllables.

As I understand it, the US grade system is as follows begins with 1st grade at age 6. Then goes one grade for each year of age.

4th Grade would therefore correspond to a reading age of 9 years old, 5th Grade, 10, and 6th Grade, 11.

 A Flesch-Kincaid Index score of 4.8 to 5.7 therefore indicates that a person with a reading age above 11 years could read this book. This is consistent with about 6 years plus of formal school education from the Fog Index.

 So, how does it work for The Women’s Murder Club series?  Here are a few examples:

 http://www.amazon.com/1st-Die-Novel-James-Patterson/dp/sitb-next/0446610038/ref=sbx_txt#textstats 

 

 

Book

1st to Die

2nd Chance

3rd Degree

5th Horseman

Number of words

81,678

75,110

59,499

70,757

Number of characters

455,425

420,195

333,751

402,406

Number of Sentences

8,979

8,339

6,641

6,682

Words per Sentence

9.1

9.0

9.0

10.6

Complex words

7%

7%

8%

8%

Syllables per word

1.4

1.4

1.4

1.5

Fog Index

6.5

6.5

6.7

7.3

Flesch Index

76.9

76.4

75.7

73.1

Flesch Kincaid

4.8

4.8

4.9

5.7

 

First thing to notice?

 * these are short books. Most thrillers come in about 90 to 100K at least.

* the syllables per word is remarkably low.

* all of the Index markers would suggest that these books can be read by anyone with a reading age of 11 upwards.

 But this does not tell you about the Structure of the books. More detective work needed for that.

 

 Ray-Anne’s Text Summaries 

 

Book

1st to Die

2nd Chance

3rd Degree

5th Horseman

Number of words

81,678

75,110

59,499

70,757

Number of pages

343

[TradePB]

342

[BCHB]*

278

[BCHB]*

468 [PB]

Number of Chapters, including prologues

128

121

111

139

Pages per chapter

2.7

2.8

2.5

3.4

Words per chapter

638

621

536

510

* Book Club Hard Back

 

First thing to notice? 

 * the words per chapter is very low. Essentially he has written about 120 scenes and called them chapters. Eacg one is 500 to 650 words long. 2 to 3 pages of type.
* each of these scenes has a start, middle, end – and a great hook.
The Result? Fast paced, page turning chapters and sequences whih appeal to readers.
  

 How to get these Readability scores for your own work?

 Using Microsoft Word. Select the text you want to check.

Go to the Tools tab and select ‘Spelling and Grammar’.

Run the check and at the end, the system will give you an automatic Readability Statistics that includes the Flesch-Kincaid Grade test and Flesh Ease of Readability level.

 You can of course calculate the levels manually –the Net has lots of sites which tell you how to do this.

 Text Stats. Worth checking our for YOUR favourite book.

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