Analysing Agatha - How to become the best-selling novelist of all time
Agatha Christie wrote 85 books that sold between two and four billion copies.
The Agatha Christie Code
According to UNESCO, she is the most translated author in the history of the world. The Guinness Book of World Records has recognized her as the Best Selling Author in any genre of all time. See the list of the Top 10 Best-Selling Authors here.
Note: Shakespeare was left out of this comparison, because he wrote plays and not novels. Even so, the best he can do is match Agatha Christie’s sales numbers.
What is Agatha Christie’s secret to success?
There is a link between the success of Agatha Christie and Plain Language.
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. ~Thomas Jefferson
Dame Agatha seems to have mastered that talent. In The Agatha Christie Code, a team of professional linguists in England analysed Dame Agatha’s way with words.
The experts agree that she has a hypnotic style, but it is her use of patterns and plain language that make her so readable.
In Plain Language
Dr Pernilla Danielsson explains her success by her use of Plain Language.
An excellent example is that Christie almost exclusively uses the word ‘said’. (Novice authors often try to use silly synonyms when said is the perfect choice.) She doesn’t introduce new words, but makes the reader comfortable with her use of everyday language. She doesn’t challenge the reader with big words, and long convoluted sentences. She doesn’t bore the reader with unnecessary descriptions. The reader is free to enjoy the story by focusing on the plot.
Her books also follow a formula
They are all similar in style, word length, and sentence length. Take Evil Under the Sun as an example. This novel follows her classic formula:
- There is a body, very early on
- There is a closed group of suspects, either because of setting or social group
- The detective arrives
- We are taken through a series of red herrings
- There is a solution, and closure
Excerpts from The Agatha Christie Code
But how many other best-selling authors use plain language?
Agatha Christie is not the only author to have realised the value of using Plain Language. In Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer, James V. Smith explains exactly how the best-selling authors succeed.
A Writing Standard
After studying authors like Stephen King, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, and Elmore Leonard, he came up with this as an ideal writing standard (if you want to sell your books).
You should have (on average):
- no more than four characters a word in any scene
- no more than 5% passive voice
- no less than 80% readability on the Flesch-Kincaid scale
- no higher than a 5th grade readability level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale
This is writing in plain language. If you want to communicate, I recommend you try it. If you want to sell lots of books, I recommend you apply this formula. On our creative course, Writers Write, we teach you exactly how to do this.
by Amanda Patterson from Writers Write