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Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers Paperback – April 10, 2012
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“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.”
“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.
Top customer reviews
Some of the aspects I thought weren't very relevant, IMHO. (For instance, he mentions religion as being critical to the book - which I find kind of interesting as religion only played a very minimal role in, say, Gone with the Wind . And sex also was key, according to him, despite that I don't really remember it being all that important in, say, The Hunt for Red October. Plus, these two elements are so prevalent in novels that it would be hard to find one that didn't even have a hint of sex or religion, you know?) But I do think that he made a lot of really solid ones including:
1. To become a mega-bestseller (vs. just a decent seller), you need to appeal to people who don't read books on a regular basis. (Or at least don't buy books.) Even if every single person in the US who normally buys books bought a copy of your book, you wouldn't sell as well as any of these books did. So you need to appeal to a group beyond the regular book buying contingent. This means that your book can't have super fancy, hard to understand language, or elements that would mostly appeal to a serial reader. (For instance, a super unique plot is going to appeal more to someone who's read thousands of books than it would to someone who only reads once in a while. The same is true for vivid imagery, lovely writing, etc. None of these might hurt, but it's not going to make for a mega-seller either.)
2. The characters in these novels are rarely self-reflective. They act. They don't sit around and think and feel and discuss their place in the universe. They go out and do stuff.
3. Most of these novels are movie friendly (and were eventually made into movies). This may not be necessary for a mega seller (as most sold well prior to having movies based on them), but...if you want a bestseller, it may make sense to ask, "Is this the kind of thing that would make for a good movie?" If the answer is no, then you may not have a mega-seller.
4. It hits hot buttons. Virtually every novel covered hit some kind of hot button that was a big deal in the day. (And generally still important now. Valley of the Dolls is really the one exception to the "still relevant now" rule.) Essentially, a novel that doesn't cover any bigger themes isn't all that interesting to most readers. (Even if it covers them crudely, like The Da Vinci Code.)
5. There are almost always intricately described worlds which the viewer may not be familiar with. Whether this is a town, a secret society, or the ante belleum south, readers seem to like learning something new. (Or at least feeling like the author knows what they're talking about.) That world building and research matters!
Looking at books that are too new to be covered (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games) I think that most of these actually meet these criteria fairly well. So there may be something to these rules, such as they are. Not that I think that writers should write to them. (As there are a lot of books that ping all these boxes and yet still don't become best sellers. And there are a lot of good books that don't sell all that well and are still desirable.) But I think that it's definitely work a read for someone who is either trying to write popular literature or just wants to know what makes people read.
The only problem with this book is that you will find yourself searching out and reading, or rereading, the books presented here. It's a valuable exercise for any current or future author also looking to add the best-seller carteory to their resume.
To be fair some of the novels analyzed are much more relevant, like "The Godfather," "The Firm", and "Da Vinci Code." There is in-depth analysis, but the bottom line is, there are no major insights. I found the The Bestseller Code much more helpful and revelatory. Interestingly, the two novel mentioned in both books are "The Firm", and "Da Vinci Code."
This book does a great dissection of some ten famous, if not all literary, novels, pointing out the why and the how of
reaching the audience. What is indispensable,what makes the backbone of the story, why it matters,
The first part consists in an analysis of these 'nerves' and the seoond looks at whole passages of the same
The style is easy to follow, direct and fun. Any would-be novelist owes it to herself, or himself, to
acquire a copy, and to give one to another would-be, to cement or renew a friendship.
Please note: Don't contact me to ask for it. I won't lend my copy!
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HIT LIT examines twelve mega-bestsellers of the twentieth century, showing what they have in common, and why they...Read more