Friday, July 6, 2012

Hit Lit Misses the Mark

Hit Lit is a nonfiction book written by James W. Hall.  It claims to explain what makes a bestseller in American fiction, by analyzing twelve books that have made bestseller lists over the last 70 years. Listing twelve characteristics that they all supposedly have in common, Mr. Hall then concludes that these must be what makes an American novel a bestseller.

Some of  his points are obvious, such as a story that keeps people interested and  a controversial  topic that arouses a reader's emotions. But others, like the dream of an American golden age and  "God is Great", just don't make any sense at all.

Probably this is because most of his fiction examples are set in the Confederate  American South, or were novels that were popular in the Southeast United States. No comment, except for three words in passing, is mentioned about Mickey Spillane, nothing at all said about James Patterson, or, for that matter, the fact that Steinbeck's the Grapes of Wrath was a phenomenal best seller, as well as being a good piece of literature.

In short, Hit Lit is skewed toward one segment and milieu of  best sellers in the American fiction market, and only if that fiction is written by Americans. Books from foreign authors, such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities < which sold over 100 million copies > aren't even mentioned.


My guess is that Mr. Hall is a very selective connoisseur, one who thinks only what he likes is good writing, and  therefore only these books should be on  bestseller lists. No doubt his penchant for novels about the American South is in no small way due to the fact that he is a Southerner, with all the prejudices, biases, and morals that implies.

But if you're going to be objective about what in fiction becomes a bestseller, you have to choose other examples than books set in the South or liked by Southerners.

Besides, even if these shortcomings were rectified, how can you analyze what makes a bestseller. Anybody in the book business that knows what they're doing, will admit they have no idea what the public wants. The Harry Potter books needed all the magic they could get for someone to publish them. Then, the novel The Traveler, which I'm sure many in the publishing biz thought would take off  < including myself >, completely flopped.

What it really boils down to, is having a good story. And even then, like The Traveler, that might not be enough.

< About 1.5 million books of The Traveler were sold worldwide. But keep in mind the publisher was Doubleday, a  firm with a enough marketing clout that can, and has, made any piece of junk a bestseller. Therefore, considering the promotion, etc., at the time the book came to market, it really didn't do all that great. As I said, personally I liked the book and am still astounded why it hadn't made more sales. Oh well,  de gustibus non est disputandum. >

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