Can We Use Communication Analytics to Predict a Best Seller? An analysis of Michael Lewis’ new book, Flash Boys

flash boys

Flash Boys

By Noah Zandan and Hilary Schlimbach

April 13, 2014

If you read all ten of the New York Times’ bestselling books this month, you would cover material ranging from biographies to self-help to history to popular culture to career advice, and that is just the non-fiction list. With this much variety, it seems unlikely the writing styles would overlap enough for us to accurately predict sales success, but we decided to try anyway.

We used our communication analytics platform to analyze the publicly available text from past general bestsellers on Amazon and the New York Times’ business bestsellers, and we discovered that:

There are no common language characteristics for a general bestseller, but when it comes to bestselling business books we can use language analytics to predict sales success.

Let’s take a look at Michael Lewis’ new business book, Flash Boys, to demonstrate our findings.

Flash Boys sits on the top of the Amazon and New York Times Business best seller lists. The book follows a group of Wall Street professionals who discover that Wall Street banks are now more in control of post-financial crisis stock market which benefits high frequency traders and insiders. The characters then work together to reform the financial markets. Flash Boys has all the makings of a great story: money, corruption, power, triumph, but not every great story becomes a bestseller. More important for our research, the publicly available text from Flash Boysalso contains the linguistic characteristics that based on our analysis, are the best predictors for whether a book is going to be a business bestseller:

Bestselling business books exhibit significantly more clarity, statistics, proactive language, and thought leadership language than non-bestsellers.

Best Sellers v3

  • Clarity: The purpose of any shared text is to convey information; if that information is confusing the text serves no purpose and is not likely to become a best seller.
  • Statistics: Especially in business, readers want to feel informed and confident about their understanding of the material. Research suggests that using precise information helps foster reader confidence. Statistics are the most technical form of precise information and Flash Boys is full of this quantitative supporting material.
  • Proactive language: Proactive language emphasizes future actions, events, and strategies. For business, strategic thinking and planning are consistently linked to business success. Emphasizing foresight as an author inspires confidence that the business information will lead to success.
  • Thought leadership: Thought leadership is language that demonstrates expertise, insight and confidence. Business books, especially, are written for the purpose of providing insight into business practices.

Of course the success of best business sellers may also depend on the author’s fame, or timely subject matter. But if you are setting out to write the next great business book, try mixing in thought leadership with some statistics, write about the future, and most of all, write clearly. A good story doesn’t hurt either.