How well do most published authors write? Would you be surprised to hear that Jane Austen wrote at just above a 5th grade level, Stephen King writes at about a 6th grade level, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote at slightly more than a 6th grade level, and Leo Tolstoy wrote at about an 8th grade level?
To find out all of this information, Shane Snow did a readability analysis of the works of different bestselling authors. He based his exploration off of their scores for the Flesch-Kincaid tests, which were developed in 1975 on behalf of the US Navy to assess the difficulty of technical manuals. These tests take into account total words, sentences, and syllables in order to assess a written work’s grade level.
Snow’s analysis found that higher level writing did not necessarily result in successful sales. In fact, the bestselling fiction books that he looked at all fell between 4th and 9th grade readability levels. (Nonfiction books came out a little differently; they fell between 6th and 11th grade readability levels.) When you consider the fact that most people comfortably read at around an 8th grade level, these readability scores make sense. As I mentioned when talking about how different types of reading influence authors, simple writing really can be the best writing.
If this all has piqued your interest, there are several different online tools that allow you to test a written work’s readability levels…