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What does it take?

Writer unlocks mystery of best-sellers

By Kurt Rabin

The Free Lance-Star

IT TOOK  AN Edgar-Award-winning mystery writer to finally unlock the secret of turning a book, any book, into a best-seller.

Even publishers have never understood exactly why a particular book rockets to the top of the charts,  including the 12—from “Gone With the Wind” to “The Godfather” to “The Da Vinci Code”—that James Hall selects for his insightful “Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the 20th Century’s Biggest Bestsellers.”

About the only thing that  guarantees an author a best-seller is having the surname “Grisham.” Short of that, a blurb from Stephen King can work wonders, as can  giving the words “Chicken” and “Soup”  prominent placement on a  book’s cover.

But nothing works so well as “generating controversy,” one of the 12 features that  Hall’s best-sellers  all have in common, along with things like “colossal characters doing magnificent things on a sweeping stage” and having a hero who is a rebel, loner or maverick.

Of course, Hall  is quick to credit the book-selling acumen and influence of former TV host Oprah Winfrey, whose book club was able to turn dusty backlist titles from such dinosaurs as  Dickens, Faulkner and Garcia–Marquez  into  born-again best-sellers.

Or, best-case scenario, have Oprah trash you, as she did  James Frey and his  “memoir” of drug abuse, “A Million Little Pieces.”

Ah, Oprah and controversy, there’s the  magic elixir!

Kurt Rabin is a copy editor  for The Free Lance–Star.

IT TOOK  AN Edgar-Award-winning mystery writer to finally unlock the secret of turning a book, any book, into a best-seller.

Even publishers have never understood exactly why a particular book rockets to the top of the charts,  including the 12—from “Gone With the Wind” to “The Godfather” to “The Da Vinci Code”—that James Hall selects for his insightful “Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the 20th Century’s Biggest Bestsellers.”

About the only thing that  guarantees an author a best-seller is having the surname “Grisham.” Short of that, a blurb from Stephen King can work wonders, as can  giving the words “Chicken” and “Soup”  prominent placement on a  book’s cover.

But nothing works so well as “generating controversy,” one of the 12 features that  Hall’s best-sellers  all have in common, along with things like “colossal characters doing magnificent things on a sweeping stage” and having a hero who is a rebel, loner or maverick.

Of course, Hall  is quick to credit the book-selling acumen and influence of former TV host Oprah Winfrey, whose book club was able to turn dusty backlist titles from such dinosaurs as  Dickens, Faulkner and Garcia–Marquez  into  born-again best-sellers.

Or, best-case scenario, have Oprah trash you, as she did  James Frey and his  “memoir” of drug abuse, “A Million Little Pieces.”

Ah, Oprah and controversy, there’s the  magic elixir!

Kurt Rabin is a copy editor  for The Free Lance–Star.

HIT LIT: CRACKING THE CODE OF THE 20TH CENTURY’S BIGGEST BESTSELLERS

by James W. Hall

(Random House, $16,  336 pp.)

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/books/2012/09/17/what-does-it-take/

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