Hit Lit: One Attempt to Define Bestsellerdom

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Laura Miller woke me up early this morning with her "Recipe for a bestselling book," over on Salon.com.  "One writer says he's figured out 12 basic ingredients for a blockbusting title," reads the article's subtitle. "Can the puzzle really be that easy?"

The book is by James Hall.  The title is Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the 20h Century's Biggest Bestsellers. The titillation potential is, well, Come on.  The bottom line (for Hall):  Megabestsellers are all "permutations of one book written again and again for each new generation of readers." The bottom line (for Miller):
True, I, too, would never call (Dan) Brown a “good writer” — yet many very successful novelists are not: Stieg Larsson, for example. A book doesn’t have to be especially well-written, plausible or original to be a bestseller (although it can be). The characters don’t have to be particularly interesting, as John Grisham proves again and again. In fact, if there is one trait that all of the bestsellers Hall considers absolutely share, it’s that a lot of people like them.
Miller isn't being tongue-in-cheek, or coy.  She's just being honest.  She's reflecting on the questions all of us ask—How did that book end up on the bestseller list? Why in the world did book clubs go crazy over that clunker? Doesn't anybody care about the integrity of a sentence?—and she's giving us the answer:  
Publishers can provide a book with the ideal conditions in which to catch on, but only the genuine enthusiasm of the reading public will make it an ongoing hit. Word of mouth — one reader raving to another about how much he or she enjoyed it — is the single determining factor. And you can’t buy that.
No. It is true. You cannot.


Serena said...

I agree with the final conclusion. I really love writing about books that are excellent and deserve recognition

Lilian Nattel said...

Word of mouth makes a blockbuster, and I think nobody can predict what will catch on. Nobody can guess it, and imitations don't work either. Sometimes it's a book that's radically different, and other times it's a book others have done just as well but they didn't catch on. It could be luck, timing, something ineffable. I don't know--maybe the luck gods fart and the wind carries the odour of success far and wide. Stink or perfume--you decide! :)

kelly said...

I have nothing to say that hasn't been said before. Which should make this a best-selling comment.

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