Saturday, April 7, 2012


I find myself spending more time posting on Facebook and Twitter these days than updating my blog.

So if you want a more up to the minute version of my writing life, thoughts, or a place to leave comments that are more likely to be replied to quickly, join my Facebook page here.

Or you can stop by the Hit Lit page on Facebook by going here. Lots of blog-like postings there and discussions and so on.

Or you can follow me on Twitter: @jameswhall

I'm not abandoning this blog thing because it still feels comfortable and unique. More like journal entries to myself than Facebook is. I know Facebook is public and get feedback pretty quick on postings there. But this format allows me a little more time to think aloud.

How Hit Lit is Different Than Anything I've Ever Done

1. It has an index. I know that may not sound like much. But for some reason I feel like I've written a grown-up book now.

2. Usually it takes me a year or a year and a half to write a novel. It took twenty years to research, five years to write Hit Lit. This one was a long and winding road. I taught the bestseller class to undergrads half a dozen times, and to grad students, both MFA writing creative majors and literature grad students working for their Ph.D. In all those classes, we looked at a lot of bestsellers. Frequently we began the course by choosing our reading list on the first night by picking books directly from the New York Times list.

Then came five years of trying to figure out how to create a book out of a carton full of notes. One of the hardest struggles during this phase was trying to find the right voice. I didn't want it to sound academic or stuffy. I hope I succeeded at that.

3. There is no story, no dialog, no sex or violence, no lyrical descriptions of nature.

4. Once I decided on the twelve novels I would analyze and the twelve recurring features I would discuss, I had to decide how to structure the book. Should each chapter be about a different bestseller, or should each chapter be about a feature? I chose the latter, but a good case can be made for either one.

5. I had to take a stand. In the novels, my characters are usually on all sides of the issues. I try to let characters make the best case for their viewpoint. My own viewpoint might leak through, but it's indirect in the fiction. In Hit Lit I decided (with some serious nudging from my editor) to celebrate these twelve novels rather than make fun of their weaknesses. It was the right decision, I think. I cut away about a hundred pages from an early version that was mostly devoted to making a case against "high culture snobbery." Those hundred pages were acid and biting and snarky. I was mocking the mockers of bestsellers. Most of that is gone. There are traces of my discomfort with certain novels on the list, but for the most part I tried to stay positive about the inherent value of these books. Maybe they're not literary masterpieces, but they're awfully damn good at doing several pretty important things. Like telling a rousing yarn with gripping and emotionally engaging characters.

6. I've always come up with my own titles. Not this time. Some genius (and I mean this honestly) came up with the idea of spelling out the title with the spines of the books themselves. Hit Lit was the result of a graphic decision. And it was brilliant.

7. I've never promoted a book this way before. In the past, with novels, I've gone on the road and given talks or readings at bookstores and libraries. Times are changing, so maybe this difference is strictly a function of a new marketing world, or maybe this book is the reason things are so different this time in the way publicity and marketing works. The campaign for Hit Lit is "media driven" not "event driven." Social media being one of the most prominent ways the word is spread. In the 30 years I've been in the book biz, this is the first time I haven't spent a few weeks on the road promoting it. Maybe it's because I'm getting grumpy in my old age, but I don't mind the change. Except I do miss seeing some of my favorite bookseller friends and the many fans who have become regulars at my events. But hotels, and travel. No, I don't miss that at all.

8. I've never had a trade paperback as the original release. That too might be a function of a changing marketplace. But it seems like the right way to have published this particular book.

9. This is my first time any of my books has had a bright red cover. And not a single dead body in sight.

10. Hit Lit is the first book I've written which I know will never be optioned for film.

1 comment:

California Stem Cell Report said...

So you left out the acid and biting bits. Someone once told me that it is not what you leave in but what you leave out that makes writing compelling. I still haven't decided, however, whether to pony up the $11.99 for the Kindle edition, which, interestingly, is more expensive than the hard copy.