Sentiment Analysis & Book Publishing

A few weeks ago, I talked to our developers about a phrase I heard them throwing around a lot: Sentiment Analysis. Once they finished their explanation, I immediately asked them to do a write up for the blog. This is fascinating! The people must know!

And…they gave me a blank stare, a kind smile and then promptly went back to work (as they should). So, with their guidance and fact checking, I’ve tried to translate their detailed, data-rich reports and updates for your reading pleasure.

So, to start off, what exactly is Sentiment Analysis and why are we talking about it? Simply put, sentiment analysis is one way of looking at books and is one of the analytic methods we use to analyze manuscripts. Technology can actually interpret the very life and breath within a manuscript.

How does that work?  

Sentiment Analysis 101

At a glance, sentiment analysis is fairly straightforward: text is analyzed and, using natural language processing, each part of the text is categorized positive–happy statements–or negative–sad/angry statements. Within each language, words can be determined positive (elated, kiss, jump), negative (smash, kill, cry), or neutral (the, a, road). Take these altogether and graph the results, and you can see the emotional arc of a text mapped out in a physical form, called a sentiment map.

Recent Sentiment Analysis Study —  Best Sellers

If you’re still with me, maybe you’re thinking: what can the sentiment map tell us about plot? We mapped out three extremely popular best sellers — Fifty Shades of Grey, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl–to illustrate how these novels are constructed and why some books are said to be more surprising than others.

All three of these books buck the conventional trend of a high, happy opening and a high, happy, neatly wrapped up ending: they all have endings that are dramatically lower in sentiment than the highest point of the book or even the beginning. And, looking at the plot points for each, the graphs make sense.

*Spoiler Alert for all three novels*

1. 50 Shades of Grey  by E.L. James

Sentiment Analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey


Unlike most romances, the end of Fifty Shades is not happy.  You can see the sentiment taking a sharp decline in the last few pages as the book ends with the main character crying, swearing she never wants to see her lover again.

2. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson

sentiment analysis of Girl with the Dragon TattooThe major dip around 3/4th of the way through the
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is when Mikael is trapped by Martin Vanger and almost dies. The sentiment rises as Lisbeth frees him, and continues to rise as Mikael publishes the expose on Wennerstrom. The sentiment heads back downward through the end of the book as  Lisbeth goes to tell Mikael she loves him, only to find him with Erika Berger (Poor Lisbeth 🙁 hasn’t she been through enough?!)

3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Sentiment Analysis of Gone GirlArguably the progenitor of a recent trend in unreliable, potentially psychotic female central characters, Gone Girl’s graph is easy to follow. Consider: in the first half, Nick is looking for his missing/possibly dead wife Amy, during which time it’s revealed how much Nick cheated on her (a LOT) the seriously fatal state of their marriage, meanwhile Nick is named the number one suspect in her disappearance. So, the general downward spiral, errr slope, of the graph makes sense. The brief, sharp climb around point 60 is when Amy comes back and it turns out Nick won’t be going to jail, but the sentiment just plummets right on down because Nick is still unhappy, Amy is still terrifying and dangerous, and life does not seem to actually be getting better.

The final, brief peak at the end is when Amy tells Nick she’s pregnant, but even that is barely above neutral. In this world, news of Amy and Nick spawning is not really good news, and the sentiment analysis confirms that. And, additionally, this bit of information may give us insight to why so many people read this book and thought “WTF IS UP WITH THAT ENDING?!” It’s because most novels don’t end with a fairly neutral ending; so the reader is left feeling unsettled, as if  there is something missing that they can never recoup.


Had I convinced my technology-minded colleagues to write this blog, it may have ended with a discussion of linear regression, decision boundary, sentiment vectors. and macro-arcs. But since my background is in publishing,  I will end more philosophically. Thinking about editing and reviewing, this kind of technology is so exciting. It gives an editor another way to explain the pacing of a book to their writer. It gives a publisher the ability to look at the breadth of their work to see what kind of brand and niche they are establishing and where the holes may be that they could fill. It gives writers an ability to objectively see if the impact they are trying to achieve is actually coming across. And these are just a few of the possibilities. Sentiment Analysis and other machine learning actions are just additional tools in the hands of smart literary professionals. It’s a way to analyze across books and within books. And a way to look at thousands of books in the same time you or I can review one or two.


More on Sentiment Analysis:

 ACM Digital Library


First get good, then get lucky: One writer’s advice on getting published


If you’ve been a writer for any length of time you’ve no doubt read many books that tell you how to write bestselling fiction. You’ve also no doubt been assailed with at least as many marketing experts telling you the best way to market your novel so it will become a bestseller.

I’ve been writing all my life. My first attempt at fiction was e-published in 2010. For five years now I’ve been actively honing my fiction writing and marketing skills in pursuit of ever-elusive success. I’ve read a lot of books and investigated a lot of book marketing programs.

Here’s what I know for sure – nothing.

Most what I’ve learned is what doesn’t work. Here’s a few of them:

  • social media
  • giveaways
  • blogs
  • free books – as in zero price point
  • contests
  • email lists
  • social media – yes, I know I’ve already mentioned it, but social media deserves to be reinforced because not only does it not sell books, but for the delusional among us (myself included) it’s seductive, addictive, and a huge time waster – time that could be better spent actually writing something worthwhile instead of responding to virtual fans in the internet void.

So how do you become a bestselling author?

You get lucky.

According to Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, The Story of Success, success follows a predictable pattern. It’s not the brightest who succeed, nor is it the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf.

Success is bestowed upon those who have been given opportunities – and have the strength and the presence of mind to seize them – plus accidents of time, birth and place matter greatly.

Let me repeat that; success is less about talent and more about opportunity plus it’s greatly influenced by accidents of time, birth and place.

In a word, luck.

There’s no master plan, no formula, it’s all a fluke, pure and simple serendipity.

So, is luck all it takes to be a success?

No, you also have to be prepared so if you do get lucky and get invited to the ball you actually know how to dance.

There’s this little thing about having to do 10,000 hours (ten years) of practice to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything. According to neurologist Daniel Levitin,  “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, etc., this number comes up again and again.”

Excellence at performing a complex task, like writing a good novel, requires a critical minimum level of practice and that’s all there is to it.

You first must get good, then get lucky.

So if you’re an indie author about to self-publish your first novel and you haven’t logged 10,000 hours of practice your chance at success is negligible, nil, nada.

Worse yet, if by a fluke you do get lucky without being good you’ve likely blown your big chance.

Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs

ROD RAGLIN is a writer and user. He can be found on twitter at @rodraglin. Check out his blog and his website for more ruminations and insights on writing and publishing.

Beyond the First Draft: The Dangers of Rushing to Publication

AUTHORS user and contributor Rod Raglin discusses the dangers rushing to seek publication upon finishing a first draft can pose to writers and the importance of editing, insight and patience.

by Rod Raglin, AUTHORS user, and contributor

So you’ve finally finished your novel.


What you’ve accomplished is significant and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. How many people do you know who have spent countless hours by themselves sitting in front of a keyboard creating an imaginary world?

It’s only a matter of time before your creation changes your life, and that can’t happen too soon. What are you waiting for? It’s time to start submitting it to all those fortunate agents and publishers you’ve selected, right?


I was once like you, full of enthusiasm and hubris upon completing my first novel. To get my masterpiece published I pulled in all my favors, two actually. I had an acquaintance who knew Jeffery Archer personally (yes, that Jeffery Archer), and I had a business associate who was an editor in a well-respected publishing firm.

The first response came from Archer’s agent. She suggested I take some writing courses. A little while later the editor returned my that first draft. She’d taken the time to line-edit the first chapter complete with margin notes. Suffice to say the editing notes all but obscured the original text.

At the time I didn’t realize it, but I had just blown two really good opportunities in my rush to get published.  That manuscript is still buried somewhere in my filing cabinet. I’m too embarrassed to look at it.

Most recently I’ve taken on writing and doing video book reviews of the work of new, self-published authors. I’ve written a lot of book reviews, but in this category–new, self-published authors–the average star rating is 2.8, which is a bit better than “I didn’t like it,” but not quite as good as “I liked it.”

A few of these authors are brilliant, but most–though they have potential–are hampered by a lack of craft. If they continue writing and reading I know they’ll improve. Writing is like most things – the more you do it the better you get.

I have to add a caveat to that statement. Your writing will improve if you continue to do it while seeking out constructive criticism and taking it to heart.

Most of the novels I’m giving two stars to have been rushed into publication. They’re obvious first drafts. I know you’re excited, but remember – it’s never as good as you think it is, and it can always be better. Yes, always.

Here are some suggestions you might want to consider when you’ve completed your first draft. It’s what I do and though it hasn’t garnered me success, it’s at least saved me further embarrassment.

  • I revise the manuscript a minimum three times or until I feel it’s finished.
  • I read it out loud (it drives my cat crazy).
  • Then I put it away for at least three months or however long it takes to get it out of my system.
  • While I’m waiting to be purged, I work on something completely different.
  • Once I’ve put some distance between my ego and the book, I’m ready. I take out the manuscript and send it to as many beta readers for comment as I can. If you don’t have a stable of readers who are free from conflict of interest – that means no family and no friends, join a writing group, online or otherwise, and workshop the novel.

Once I’ve decided it’s time for the final rewrite I gather all the comments and criticisms together and begin.

When I’m finished I have another decision to make. Do I begin the traditional submission process or save myself a lot of time and frustration and go directly to self-publishing?

If you follow this method I guarantee your final version will be different and better than your first draft. And if by some small miracle The New York Times decides to review it, it will be perfect – or as perfect as you could make it.

Keep writing and remember what Nietzsche said:

The doer alone learneth.

ROD RAGLIN is a writer and user. He can be found on twitter at @rodraglin. Check out his blog and his website for more ruminations and insights on writing and publishing.

AUTHORS Book Club: This is the Year You Write Your Novel

AUTHORS user and contributor Bill Oskinski gives a review of Walter Mosley’s craft writing book, This is the Year You Write Your Novel and a story about how it helped him finish his first nonfiction book, Ungodly, A True Story Of Unprecedented Evil.


For anyone who might feel overwhelmed starting their magnum opus, I most strongly recommend renowned author Walter Mosley’s insightful book, This Is Year You Write Your Novel. One of President Bill Clinton’s favorite authors, Mosley created the singular character Easy Rawlins in a thrilling and knowing series. Before attaining such success, Mosley, too, had to overcome the near-universal writer’s fear of the blank page. In a concise and highly practical guide, Mosley expounds on how to break through whatever mental or emotional inertia is blocking you from producing your book.

I will take the liberty of summing up Mosley’s message in one word: DISCIPLINE. He advocates writing every day for a set, manageable period of time. If you don’t waste your energy thinking about how much further you have to go, you’ll have a day’s (or an hour’s, or two hours’) work done. If you do that every day, you’ll be amazed at your progress. A page a day turns into 30 in a month and 360 in a year. Voila! You’ve got a first draft.

I can personally vouch for Mosley’s philosophy. I was a journalist for many years and I always wanted to write a book; but I thought the process would be too daunting. Several years ago, a university press asked me to write a non-fiction book on a story I’d covered for about five years: the bizarre and tragic saga of an African-American cult that transplanted itself from urban New York City to rural Georgia. The leader of the faction, a Brooklyn street kid named Dwight York, declared himself a god and for 35 years ran his cult under the noses of politicians, police, and educators. In Brooklyn, York was a phony Imam leading the Ansaru Allah Community; in Putnam County, he morphed into Dr. Malachi Z. York, Master Teacher of Tama-Re, a roadside Egyptian-flavored theme park and cult headquarters.

I was certain I needed a leave of absence to have the time to write the book, but my boss refused my leave request. Once my anger subsided, I decided to write the book no matter what. I started rising early enough to spend an hour or so writing before I went to work. On pleasant mornings—of which there are many in Atlanta—I wrote on my front porch, where I could savor the quiet and the scent of my camellias. I used my vacation time for research trips and interviews. Within a year, Ungodly, A True Story Of Unprecedented Evil was done. My editor was elated by the manuscript.

However, I was still far from home base. One of the central figures in the book is a former Governor of Georgia who actually took the cult leader’s side and actively tried to inhibit the local sheriff’s investigation. Racial politics at their worst. I did not realize that the politician was also a member of the university’s fundraising board. When he objected to the manuscript, the university press folks caved and I pulled the manuscript despite having no other publisher at the time. Fortunately, I found a small, regional press that was not beholden to the Governor, and Ungodly became a Barnes & Noble featured regional title.

The marketplace will tell you if you have the talent to become an author, but you must supply your own determination and discipline. When I was an engineering and physics major at Florida State University, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Shaara’s creative writing classes. I’ll never forget his comment on the primary importance of writer’s discipline. He said he could not and would not teach us how to write, nor would he critique our writing. “All I can do,” he said, “is encourage you to sit down and write.”

Bill Osinski is a writer using the platform and a veteran journalist. He can be reached at