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Moneyball by Michael Lewis is a fascinating look at market inefficiencies in professional baseball. Analytics, at its most basic, is the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data. Using a host of readability metrics, Abercrombie’s short story is written at an 11.2 grade level. Flesch–Kincaid is a measure of readability that was developed under contract to the United States Navy in 1975 by J. I wonder if there isn’t a mathematician out there that, with a little algorithmic grease, could change the face of publishing as we know it.
When I began this, I was hoping to find that Brandon Sanderson and Robin Hobb wrote at a 6th grade reading level and Kameron Hurley and Robert Jackson Bennett wrote at a 10th grade level, thus accounting for their more modest success relative to their simpler colleagues.
Flesch-Kincaid isn’t a good enough measure to provide insight into how fiction resonates within the marketplace. I suspect the general reaction to something like this would be–fiction is subjective. I’m presenting an answer in this piece, calling for the use of statistical analysis to improve how we buy novels.
Unlike professional sports, where a large amount of data is in the public, many of the metrics needed to create these kinds of analyses are held tightly by publishers. Staffer's Book Review is a weblog by me, Justin, about science fiction, fantasy, and related things that inspire. Lewis relates how one team, the Oakland Athletics, used those inefficiencies to find great success. A score of 5.4 would indicate that the text is expected to be understandable by an average student in the fifth grade.



The movement began with a simple recognition that certain statistics revealed more than we thought they did.
Dialogue messes up any attempts to isolate whether someone is writing clearly or not with a single number.
Of course that makes my work perfectly readable, but altogether more difficult to read and thus likely, for lack of a better term, unsalable.
They discovered that men on base are the most statistically relevant factor in whether or not a team will score. The stat was first used in 1978 by the United States Army for assessing the comprehension difficulty of technical manuals. If I take the first chapter from Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere and score only the descriptive bits, I get a score of 80 (or a 6th grade reading level).
You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life. Following that train of thought to its logical conclusion, a player who gets on base 40% of the time is a more valuable commodity than someone who just hits home runs. If I do the entire chapter, including the dialogue and its beats, I get a score of 85.4 (or a 4th grade reading level).
For me, that implies there must be certain measures that we can associate with fiction that isn’t merely subjectively good, but that a publisher can sell.
Why did Mark Lawrence’s The Prince of Thorns sell better than Jeff Salyards Scourge of the Betrayer?
This statistical evidence flies in the face of one hundred and fifty years of anecdotal experience, but the Athletics were right and management in professional sports has fundamentally changed as a result. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was the first state in the United States to require that automobile insurance policies be written at no higher than a ninth grade level (14 to 15 years of age) of reading difficulty, as measured by the Flesch-Kincaid.


Putting that trouble aside, most non-dialogue work from authors with editors and publishers behind them (both short and long) have scores between 75 and 85.
But, that doesn’t really tell the whole story as we realized that a walk was equal to hit.
In other words, most professional genre authors write around an early middle-school reading level.
How the market responds to the text is entirely objective when there’s enough data to draw statistically significant conclusions. Or, it might be that Lawrence’s advertising budget from his publisher was much larger. Furthermore, is it possible that the difference in sales between a Sanderson novel and a Mamatas novel is linked to that measure? Authors like Elizabeth Bear find themselves more in the 7-8th grade region and authors like Brandon Sanderson more at the 4-5th grade level. And now we have statistics like Wins Above Replacement or Value Over Replacement Player or Fielding Independent Earned Run Average. Even Abercrombie, who I mention at the outset, sits in this range despite the outlier of Freedom! I don’t expect anyone reading this article to care about that, but my argument is, while we have things like Flesch-Kincaid, existing analytic tools for writing are in a fledgling stage and have been for decades. We’re only looking at on base percentage, but ignoring defense, base running, and line drive percentage.



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