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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
Top Customer Reviews
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?Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
from blogger Alex Kourvo on the Writing Slices blog
HIT LIT examines twelve mega-bestsellers of the twentieth century, showing what they have in common, and why they... Read more
What is the life blood of a story?
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... Read more
James W. Hall is an enjoyable writing professor and this particular work, a study by Hall and his students, deeply examines what makes a hit in the world of modern literature. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Hemlock
I liked it so much I gave it to my publisher to read. Then I realized I wanted to read it again, and so I bought another copy!Published 14 months ago by Neil E. Low
This book had great promise, but I found the content forced and overwritten rather than fluid and to the point. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Vincent Bataoel
Hall's book on best sellers broadened my understanding of what readers want, which is what we all want. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Betty Clark
An interesting deconstruction of popular lit over the 20th century. On the surface, these works seem to have little in common, but Hall peels the layers away revealing a whole lot... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Kim
A collection that reflects the author's teaching of the subject for a long time. Also a blueprint , if one is needed. Also an appreciation of books read, or to read. Interesting.Published 22 months ago by John Bowes
Book was suggested by my teacher at college.... I am so happy with the contents... All will find this book helpful in their literary pursuits... thanks and best wishes....Published on March 17, 2014 by Carlee Miller