Hit Lit: An Author Deconstructs Best Sellers

A new and unusual book caught my eye. It's called HIT LIT by James W. Hall, and it is an attempt to deconstruct the components of 12 runaway bestselling novels, in an attempt to discover what elements they share.

Now, not every book is supposed to be a bestseller, of course. Here at Blurb is a Verb we are mainly concerned with finding each book's most appropriate readers. Often, we do better marketing work when we acknowledge a book's unique audience, instead of swinging for the mass market fences. But I did enjoy my stroll through Hit Lit's logic. The author teases the plot and characterization elements for twelve super-successful titles, from To Kill a Mockingbird to The DaVinci Code, and comes up with twelve common themes. (Hot Button Issues, Sex, and Secret Societies are three of them.) It's a fun read.

But here's a soul searching question, then: if best sellerdom is entirely built upon twelve literary factors, does that mean that marketing cannot possibly matter? So I went straight to the source, and asked the author. 

SarahYour book, in the Foreward, quite forcibly separates marketing from success. Does that mean you don't think marketing matters at all? I don't want to put you on the spot. But it's useful to consider how the two ideas are intertwined.

James W. HallNo, you're not putting me on the spot.  I think marketing is hugely important, and in some cases can obviously make a book succeed.  Some of my own books, including Hit Lit, have certainly benefited from smart and effective marketing.  I simply meant that for the purposes of my study, I was leaving marketing out of the equation and considering only the books as books.  To do otherwise would have meant I would have had to study the marketing strategies of lots of books from long ago, and just finding out what those strategies were would have been nearly impossible.  So my focus was purely on the ingredients within the books.

Sarah: But naturally a book like Hit Lit, poses its own marketing challenges. Is Hit Lit being marketed mostly to writers? If so, how?

James W. HallAfter 17 novels, this is my first non-fiction work, so maybe that's why the marketing is so much different from my past experiences over the last 25 years.  Then again, perhaps it's just that the times have changed since my last novel promotion (which was only a few months ago).  My campaign this time was "media driven" not "event driven."  Which means mainly that I didn't go on the usual book tour, but instead wrote blog posts for various outlets, Wall Street Journal, Daily Beast, etc. and did interviews online or over the phone.  It appears that the Internet marketing approach has taken over.  I know that the face-to-face events are expensive and time-consuming, but to do away with them entirely will certainly hurt indie bookstores which depend on author events for a large share of their sales.  I worry that this shift is going to cause even more bookstores to fail.

However, book tours are exhausting for authors, and sometimes you feel like you're speaking to the choir.  The people who show up are often the people who would buy the book anyway.  The one powerful aspect of bookstore signings is that a bond is made with the local booksellers which, if it is positive, can result in handselling the author's book for a long time after his visit. 

You can visit James W. Hall on his website, or follow him @jameswhall.



  1. Fascinating. You got me--it's on my "must read" list!

  2. I'm kind of intrigued! I think smart marketing definitely has a place in how successful a book is.

  3. Interesting questions! I'll have to pick it up.

  4. I loved this book. It's a very interesting study, and a new perspective on my own writing.