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Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers Paperback – April 10, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0812970951 ISBN-10: 0812970950 Edition: Original

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Original edition (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812970950
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970951
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Passionately and thoroughly entertaining....Hall examines 12 of the most successful novels of the 20th century and ‘reverse-engineer[s]’ them, mining their separate defining qualities and their comparative appeal to readers…Referential and cleverly elucidated, the book raises many good points about the precise methodology of bestselling novels.”
--Kirkus Reviews
“Fascinating. Every would-be writer, and every knowledgeable reader, should read this book. It brings a valid understanding to publishing phenomena that seemingly were unexplainable. With this book, you see the forest and the trees.”
“I learned more about fashioning a bestseller from Hit Lit than from any other book, or any experience, I’ve encountered in my thirty-five years as an editor and publisher. Even established and successful authors need this guide.”

About the Author

James W. Hall is the author of seventeen novels, four books of poetry, two short-story collections, and a book of essays. He’s also the winner of the Edgar and Shamus awards.

More About the Author

James W. Hall was born in Kentucky, and graduated from Florida Presbyterian College with a B.A. in literature, and a deep love of Florida. He went on to earn an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah, then returned to Florida to teach literature and creative writing at Florida International University for the next 36 years. During that time he published four books of poetry, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and seventeen novels--most of which feature an enigmatic loner named Thorn. Hall was a Fulbright professor in Spain and is the winner of both the Edgar Award and the Shamus.

His collection of stories, OVER EXPOSURE, is available as an ebook. HIT LIT is a non-fiction work that focuses on twelve of the biggest bestsellers of the 20th Century and examines why we love the books we love.

His most recent Thorn novel is GOING DARK.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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See all 23 customer reviews
This book was very well-written and entertaining as well as informative.
He's a clear, concise, and sparse writer who gets his point across without grandious language.
This is a great book to read if you are interested in writing novels and/or screen plays.
Cindy Behunin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
What if someone with years of experience analyzing literature took a dozen blockbuster bestsellers, broke the novels down to their component parts, and figured out what they had in common? Is it possible to reverse-engineer the stories to see what makes them popular? Can we predict what books will become bestsellers? Could you use the data to construct your own bestseller?

Hit Lit contains some of the very elements you'd expect to find in those blockbusters - a tantalizing premise, the promise of a secret revealed, some familiar stories, and the chance to learn something new.

James W. Hall, a university English professor, recruited a group of students to read (or re-read) twelve super-bestsellers, novels that sold millions even before movies were made of them (and movies were made of all twelve of these books). They analyzed the books the way they normally deconstruct Henry James or Jane Austen classics.

They found that the bestsellers were similar to each other in many ways. They were often small stories told against sweeping backgrounds (Gone with the Wind, The Hunt for Red October), and they featured heroes who acted without spending a lot of time thinking (Shakespeare's Hamlet could never be a bestseller, apparently).

Hall came up with a list of elements he says are common to all the books they studied, but it seemed to me that there were plenty of exceptions to the rule. (Aren't there always?
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By BLehner on April 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
Have you ever wondered why certain books make it onto bestseller lists, or even more so, why some books will rank high in sales for decades? In Hit Lit James W. Hall takes a closer look at twelve such novels from the last century, presenting the common features which propelled them into the realms of bestsellers.
Looking at the selection of American bestsellers of the 20th century, from "Gone with the Wind" to "The Da Vinci Code" the selected books seem to be a rather wild mix and I was curious to find out what they could possibly have in common and how these similarities make them some of the most read novels of our time. From the rather obvious such as being unputdownable fast paced tales with contentious topics and colossal characters doing great things, to the not quite as conspicuous such as the importance of geography, religion and sexual encounters this was a both surprising and insightful read.
Engrossing, informative, and accessible, which shouldn't be taken for granted when it comes to authors dissecting literature, this is a truly fascinating view on the bestseller-making parts bestsellers have in common - though ultimately a great book will always be more than its individual parts. Admittedly I would have loved a broader approach to the topic and not just the focus on American bestsellers, then again maybe such a book is already on the author's to-do list. I certainly wouldn't mind!
In short: Revelatory journey into the world of bestsellers!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Beth Quinn Barnard on July 10, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I looked forward to this book -- what novelist wouldn't want to learn the secrets of building a bestseller from a lit prof who doubles as a successful commercial novelist? But I found the book disappointing on a number of levels. The first disappointment was that I found very little new in this book -- no lightbulb over the head insights that prompted me to say, "Ah, hah! That's how it's done." Many good books have covered the same ground. The second disappointment was the selection of bestsellers reviewed -- the only 21st century novel included was published in 2003 and the rest -- with the exception of a 1991 title -- were published from the 1930s to the 1980s. All of those books were bonafide bestsellers in their day but taken as a whole bear very little resemblance to the current bestseller list. The third disappointment was Hall's failure to grapple with genre in any way. While bestsellers tend to transcend genre, most commercial novels fall into one of the standard genres -- romance, thriller, mystery, fantasy, horror, etc. -- and to ignore how they fit into the needs of their category leaves out a large part of the story of their success. Finally, the organization of the book is irritating -- twelve chapters based on the twelve key elements that all twelve bestsellers demonstrate, with each chapter broken into many smaller, subheaded parts. Hall adds in a short, summing up chapter -- a recap -- that is the most useful page in the book. But if this book is written for fiction writers, the structure makes it difficult to extract the significance for practical purposes. And if this book is written for readers, they're treated to a choppy structure which leaves them feeling that they've been exposed to lots of potentially interesting information but not the important thread that would tie all those insights together.
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