In his book Hit Lit: Cracking The Code Of The Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers James W. Hall breaks down the magic formula for best selling books (novels that is) into twelve key ingredients as follows.
Ingredient 1: Best selling Novels Are “Movie Friendly”
Best sellers have a dramatic question that can be captured in a single catchy phrase.
“Childhood innocence is destroyed when a young girl’s family is thrust into racial turmoil that threatens her small southern town.” – To Kill a Mockingbird
Ingredient 2: Keep Things Controversial
Best selling books focus on social hot buttons that have “some larger, deep seated, and unresolved conflict in the natural consciousness”, such a sex, racism, religion, the dark side of society etc.
In other words they are controversial, they create their own buzz.
Ingredient 3: A Sweeping Backdrop
The characters in best selling novels are embodiments of their age. They depict the same issues of the day that we are all struggling with and concerned about. Their stories are told against the sweeping backdrop events of larger proportions.
Ingredient 4: Paradise Lost And Found
Best selling novelists portray a golden country of bliss and innocence in the main character’s past from which the main character draws strength and/or has been alienated from and is trying to return to such as Tara was for Scarlet O’Hara.
But, the golden country can be a period of youthful innocence which is fondly remembered before it is lost forever as it is for Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Ingredient 5: Readers Want To Learn Something New
Learning something new has always been important to readers of novels and best sellers are loaded with an abundance of facts and information from etiquette to the layout of a submarine.
“Few (if any) bestsellers fail to supply this service”, says Hall. Readers “read in order to peer inside places not open to them otherwise”.
Ingredient 6: Secret Societies
Best sellers expose the inner workings of secret societies and expose conspiracy theories to the light of day. Readers long for what Hall refers to as “privileged glimpses” into worlds such as La Cosa Nostra in The Godfather or Opus Dei in The DaVinci Code.