Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

I’d Say 100% Solid Grey For Me

STATUS: Just finished our first Pub Rants Video Webinar. I had a blast. We definitely need to tweak some things for next one though. If you were there, thank you for being our first guinea pigs!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SHOW ME THE MEANING OF BEING LONELY by Backstreet Boys

While on the train to Venice (and boy do I like saying a statement like that–makes me sound so cosmopolitan) Simone Elkeles’s friend Nanci had a copy of 50 Shades of Grey.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about this title. But just in case you have been, here is a link to get you up to speed. It’s been in all the publishing news as of late. It’s an erotica novel that started life as Twilight fan fiction and then went viral a couple of weeks ago. So there was a big publishing deal and then the movie rights sold just this week.

If something is getting that much attention, it’s probably worth an hour of my time to give it a look so I asked Nanci if I could borrow her copy. I read several chapters and I have to admit, I’m not getting it. To be honest, if it had come in via our slush pile, I would have passed on it without requesting a full. I didn’t connect with the characters or find myself enmeshed in the writing. Now granted, this genre is not my bailiwick so that’s going to be a factor.

Still, it’s obviously tapping into some cultural zeitgeist and on that point, I’m curious. It obviously works for a lot of other people so I’d like to know why.

So blog readers, if you read and liked it, share with me because I’m genuinely curious to know.

29 Responses

  1. Frank said:

    I haven’t read it — not a fan of Twilight or erotica — but I must say, I love that Backstreet Boys song you’re listening to.

  2. Toni Adwell said:

    From the couple of excerpts I could read, I agree with a few of the reviews that seem to be in the minority; it is not engaging, and it kind of falls flat in storytelling. Like it’s a tennis match between the characters’ actions.

    I was also not a fan of the Twilight series, movies or books.

    In my opinion M.R. Merrick got it in one with the dominating angle.

  3. Natalie Aguirre said:

    I haven’t read it either. I’m not into Twilight and haven’t read that series either. It just didn’t appeal to me and I don’t have time to read books I don’t like.

  4. Rachel Schieffelbein said:

    I started it for the same reason you did, and had about the same reaction. I’m guessing a lot of the hype is due to it’s Twilight connection? I don’t know. I don’t read this genre normally, so I’m waiting to hear a friend of mine’s opinion because she’s more familiar with erotica.

  5. Bonnee Crawford said:

    I haven’t heard of it myself, but if it started as a Twilight fanfic gone viral, then you’ll probably find it’s all of the Twi-hards that are going for it. If it’s anything like Twilight in it’s current form, I’ll probably be among those saying ‘meh’ to it. But I guess I can’t judge for myself until I read it.

  6. Elizabeth said:

    I’ll man up. I read the hell out of it. All three installments in two and a half days. 800,000 words. BOOM. Just like that. I think I gave it four stars on Goodreads or something.

    And here’s why:

    I couldn’t put it down.

    True, it’s technically a mess. It’s randomly punctuated. The dialogue is all over the place. The characters are bipolar. The sex is vanilla. Typos abound (at one point Christian stared at Ana like “a bacon in the night” which a weird sort of sense, actually). Ana has this really weird habit of doing figure skating jumps off gymnastics apparatuses. And it started out as fanfic, which I get the impression I’m supposed to be all up in arms about. But holy cow. Do you know the last time I read that many words in such a short period of time? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

    Here’s what I think people don’t understand: Good hardly ever factors into popular or entertaining. People aren’t going to youtube, for example, to watch someone do something meaningful or profound. They’re going to watch some guy stick a lit firecracker up his bum. I would rather see Sharktopus than The English Patient. That’s just how I roll.

    So there’s something to be said for things that are a little bit campy. I’m a little bit campy. So are my friends. When I got to the point in the book where I realized it was going to be one THOSE stories (I didn’t see a lot of Twilight in 50 Shades, but it totally read like “crack-fic” fan-fiction), the first thing I did was go on Facebook and tell two of my friends, “Hey, you have to read this.” Because it was absolutely the kind of book they would love. And they did love it.

    Nine copies sold between the three of us. We all felt like we got our money’s worth. Not because it was good, remember, but because it spoke that little spot in our hearts that loves those kinds of stories. The fact that it was kind of poorly written just made it that much better.

    And I can’t explain why that is. I don’t know why this book, with its myriad of flaws, the least of which being its word count, held me captive in a way that other, arguably “better” books didn’t.

  7. Tori said:

    Kristin, I’m one of the guinea pigs who registered/paid but somehow did not receive the log-in info. Suggestions for how I check the program out later? Thanks!

  8. Mellanie Szereto said:

    I have to agree with Natalie–I don’t have time to read what doesn’t appeal to me. Nor am I someone who jumps on the bandwagon because “everyone” is raving about a book. I haven’t read Twilight or Hunger Games. When I started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for my book group, I got so bogged down in backstory that I stopped reading after about 50 pages. I didn’t get the draw…

    I write erotic romance (along with mainstream romance) so the subject matter doesn’t phase me, but 50 Shades of Grey is all about hype from what I can tell.

  9. Elissa M said:

    A lot of people liked Eragon, too. The “public” isn’t as fussy about writing skills as most writers, editors, and agents are. I can’t get into a story when the writing is a mess, but that isn’t a problem for a lot of people.

    It happens in movies and television, too. Things that are critically acclaimed sometimes bomb in the ratings or box office, and sometimes complete trash becomes an overnight blockbuster.

    As they say, different strokes for different folks.

  10. Beth said:

    This is not a genre I would normally pick up, but I just had to see what all the fuss was about. I read the sample online at Amazon and I was hooked. I downloaded the book onto my Kindle and read it in one day. The next day I bought the 2nd book. Currently I’m reading the 3rd.

    Is this a well-written book by writerly standards? No. Is this great literature? Not a chance. BUT I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN. The last book I couldn’t put down was The Hunger Games. That, in my opinion, makes it a 5-star read.

    Why couldn’t I put it down? To be honest, I’m not really sure. I think it was a really compelling character (Christian Grey) I wanted to get to know better and an impossible f-ed up relationship. And like those relationships in real life, once you get caught up in one, it’s hard to get out.

  11. Anonymous said:

    I agree with @Elizabeth. I’ll own up. I think she made the argument very well. I couldn’t put it down, even if my teeth hurt a bit from the sweetness afterward. It’s fluff, so what? ANYTHING that keeps me reading is good for me. I can tell you that many a book haven’t. I liked Twilight. I LOVED Potter. I’ve read it all–nora, garwood, deveraux, kresley (and loved them!). I’ve also read a plethora of other writers that frankly I wondered if they wrote the book in a day.

    50 Shades was completely captivating and I ate up the back and forth between Christian and Ana. I read it too fast to notice/care about the typos. Not like I haven’t found typos in other books. I was surprised to find out it was Twilight fan-fic…sorry, but there are too many “Alpha” “Dominant” heroes running around in YA and adult romance to make that connection.

    To label this as erotica–I found funny. What erotica? I’ve read worse from mainstream romance. It’s the story that captured me. I read it one sitting. There was another book…oh yeah.. the Da Vinci Code…I read 30 pages of that standing in the aisle of a store before I knew it (yeah, bought that one too)

    You just don’t know what will connect. This one did. Best 7 bucks I’ve spent in awhile!

  12. Anonymous said:

    In the early 2000’s, there was a boom of fanfiction writing due to the wide availability of the internet. Back then I thought this heralded a coming glorious age in publishing, where people learned at a young age through fanfiction what it meant to write for wide audiences and then grew into becoming well rounded authors with new ideas.

    The first one to break out was Cassandra “Cassie Claire” Claire who got into a heap of trouble with fans when she wrote a Harry Potter fanfiction about Draco and Ginny getting together, except that most of the dialogue had been ripped from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and entire sections had been lifted off Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele. When her name became synonymous with plagarism, she disappeared for a bit. A few years later her name was on the shelves, the work itself being recognizable to many people as having simply been that same exact fanfiction except having been run through the Find and Replace function for the character’s names. It was a runaway success.

    The first Eragon book came under similar charges of plagarism, but luckily the author- still very young- grew up and pulled away from that habit.

    Now we have this Shades of Grey. What fanfiction ultimately did is it got fans used to a ‘fast food’ approach to writing- they want the payoff quick and easy, no mess, and absolutely no effort. They want the two characters to get together and they want the characters to bang, that’s it. They don’t like conflict, they don’t like build up, they simply don’t want to put in the effort, you can see examples of that mentality in this very conversation. Frankly, they don’t even want original characters, they want characters they can simply project themselves or their sexual fantasies into. Marketing wise, 50 Shades of Grey was a brilliant idea because it plays to that fanfiction mentality without being fanfiction. The pre existing characters may be gone but the ‘instant gratification’ approach to writing is basically the entire base for those books, and as such it already has a ‘built in’ audience of people who prefer fanfiction to actual literature (genre or otherwise.)

    It’s unfortunate. As much flack as Romance novels get, there’s usually a plot to them, somekind of conflict keeping the characters apart that they must overcome- but we’re seeing the rise of a generation that doesn’t even want that anymore. It’s that generation that’s going gaga over 50 shades of grey. It took the draw of internet fanfiction (again, quick and easy gratification with no thought,) something that had a wide fanbase and wide appeal within it, and made it publicly markettable.

    It’s sad, I think. The people going on about how ‘WELL NOT EVERY NOVEL SHOULD BE A HEMMINGWAY WHAT IF I JUST WANT TO READ SOMETHING FOR FUN?’ are basically feeding the mentality that intelligence or depth aren’t fun, and that to shun a fast food approach to writing is to shun them. I too read 800,000 words and more in just a few days, when I was in Disneyland at that, it was called the Song of Ice and Fire series. Will it change your life, is it a philosophical tome? No, but my god it’s fun, and it’s fun because it makes you think, it makes you wonder, and it surprises you. It involves you in its characters and its world. The fact that some people find something like that to be unaproachable in comparison to something like 50 Shades of Grey because 50 Shades of Grey is about two placeholder characters banging is just sad.

    And not at all a good sign for the book industry.

  13. Shannon said:

    I read “Fifty” in its original form, as Twilight fanfiction, and I knew at the time that the story was something different. I never thought it was award winning literature, and I didn’t expect any of this, but I’m telling you, there is a dynamic in the story between Christian and Ana that screams to me and I believe others based on this crazy success.

    It’s the idea that Christian is so desperately seeking love, to the point that he acts out/dominates women in a twisted attempt at revenge, even though he claims that love is the one thing he has no interest in. It’s the ultimate challenge to the heroine. Love the man, and love him good. Women absolutely adore feeling NEEDED and vital to a man’s emotional/physical/sexual wellbeing. This story nails all three of those…hard.

    Despite the lack of attention to grammar, copy-editing, etc., the story is a romantic magnet.

    I disagree with the commenter above me to an extent when they said that fanfiction as a whole avoids conflict, or is a lazy way of writing “fast food”. In fact, I’m a voracious reader of all kinds, and I’ve come across fanfiction that has taken my breath away with its prose and story-telling. It is a way for writers to flex their muscles, and in this case, James wrote something that is speaking to the masses, to be so needed by someone with such incredible power, that he essentially becomes the weakest person imaginable.

  14. Sarah said:

    I wish I knew, because then I might not be so insulted by the whole thing. It’s a travesty!

    The story is poorly-researched (let’s even just say it’s flat-out NOT researched). The BDSM is not BDSM. The writing is awful. The characters do not sound American. There’s no plot. There is nothing appealing about any of it; I kept laughing at the terrible language! That inner goddess needs to be silenced.

    There’s far better fanfic out there than this. I wish someone would do find-and-replace for things that had actual plot, depth, character development, story…

    This just feels so wrong. Such a dumb, dumb move.

  15. Carmen said:

    I can’t stop laughing about “bacon in the night,” oh my goodness!

    A screenwriting blog recently posted about this impending deal. The blog author didn’t mention anything about Twilight, so I had no idea until just now that it was all related. The blog author did ask why it was so appealing on the Hollywood side. I was reading it in a feed without comments attached and never got around to reading the comments til just now. Comment #6 was spot-on; see it here:

    For my two cents’ worth, I don’t think there’s any logic to this — the Twilight phenomenon or 50 Shades of Grey — unless it’s all a subconscious rejection of fifty-sixty years of feminism’s influence on our culture. When I consider how many very young women read Twilight… well, I don’t know. The future is uncertain. We’re not liking what we’re “supposed” to like. What does that say about feminism in the 21st century? …Do you think this might be related?:

  16. Anonymous said:

    “It’s the idea that Christian is so desperately seeking love, **to the point that he acts out/dominates women in a twisted attempt at revenge, even though he claims that love is the one thing he has no interest in.** It’s the ultimate challenge to the heroine. Love the man, and love him good. Women absolutely adore feeling NEEDED and vital to a man’s emotional/physical/sexual wellbeing. This story nails all three of those…hard.”

    …Isn’t this essentially the mentality behind abusing ones’ spouse and staying with an abusive spouse? The abuser is acting out their anger, and the spouse stays with them because they think they can ‘cure’ the abusive person with their love? Because if so, then this novel is way creepier than I thought. Haven’t read it, but if that’s what makes it appealing, uh, I’ll skip.

  17. Shannon said:

    Yes, anonymous. It most definitely is eerily similar to that, except that Christian recognizes the “fifty shades of f***** up” that he is (where the title comes from), seeks professional hep for it, and changes for Ana when she is not fully comfortable being the submissive to his dom.

    I’m not here to defend the ethical issues or ruffle any feathers. In fact, Dr. Drew and other notable professionals have serious issues with the theme of a powerful man manipulating a virgin with NO sexual experience into this kind of relationship, and I agree with some of those complaints. I’m simply trying to explain, per Kristin’s question, my take on what has contributed to the intense popularity with women everywhere.

  18. Anonymous said:

    If its popularity rides on this message: “It’s the ultimate challenge to the heroine. Love the man, and love him good. Women absolutely adore feeling NEEDED and vital to a man’s emotional/physical/sexual wellbeing.” And that the story ends and the conflict is resolved by validating such a thought process and rewarding it, then I’m not sure how I as a responsible adult would feel about banking on that. Keep in mind this story will forever be remembered as having been based off Twilight, which built its fanbase off young, impressionable teenage girls (an age range also immensely prone to self esteem issues,) and an ‘erotica 18+’ advisory will only draw them to it more. There are many novels with detestable messages out there, sure, but this one from what you’re saying seems to be trying to draw people *through* its detestable message, the “ultimate challenge to a woman is to win over a man who treats her badly and that only by loving him good can she save him.” That people are okay with this doesn’t make it okay.

  19. Kathleen Bradean said:

    I’m part of the erotica community where these books have been the big topic of discussion. Many erotica writers are bewildered by the popularity. Since I have not read the books, I have no opinion of the writing. But the viral popularity fascinates me. I think by connecting with the Twilight fanfic community, she tapped into a group that might not have been aware that BDSM erotica or erotic romance existed. A generation ago, it was the Sleeping Beauty series that was discovered and shared. We weren’t as connected back then via internet yet word still got around and pushed those books into massive sales. (and arguably opened the floodgates of erotica to female readers and writers and led to the success of Black Lace publishing and ultimately to Elloras Cave and erotic romance). Not every book is for every reader. But every successful book helps others in the genre. In the future, she’ll improve at her craft or she’ll lose her readers to more polished writers. So good for her. And extra kudos to her for finding those elusive evangelical readers who hand off a book to a friend and say “You have to read this.”

  20. Laura Kreitzer said:

    I read this when it was still a fanfic. However, I didn’t finish it because it was repetitive and predictable, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it for the first 100k words. I believe the reason it’s done so well and amassed such a huge readership as a published trilogy is because the story already had a huge legion of dedicated fans that hung on every word in every chapter that was posted online. From what I can recall, there were probably over 50,000 reviews and millions of readers before it was ever taken down. It might have been a fanfic first, but it was because of its popularity as a Twilight fanfic that made it as popular as it is today on the shelves of bookstores. And I believe that 100%.

    I also think it’s fantastic the author was able to publish her writing. She did the work, and she deserves the recognition of that, regardless of how others feel about it. I say: good for her!

  21. johnbaxter said:

    Kristin, You advice has be invaluable! You have encouraged and inspired me. In fact, you have inspired me to create a blog to document the process for writing my first novel. I hope to not only share my experiences on writing my novel, but to gain feedback and advice from those that are in the process of writing their own novel. My blog is at:

  22. Kelly said:

    I live under a rock. Haven’t heard anything of it, considered reading it, then read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia. Kudos to the author for getting an audience, but I think I’ll pass.

  23. M.Ziegler said:

    I did not know I lived under a rock… but I guess I do. Good thing my friends don’t. My friend told me to read it so i am. The writing isn’t really all that good, which you have commented on in another post so old news but I feel like should say it again. The writing is choppy but oddly enough I am still reading on. There is something that is pulling me in that I don’t want to stop. I want to know where the story is going.

    So since my friend who loved Twilight and several other novels we agree on, I am reading on and so far I am getting past the writing and just reading to enjoy. I love to write and therefore I love to read, if I got hung up on all the issues in books I think I would miss out on a lot. Besides, the fact that this did get published in its current state does give me hope. 

  24. Lori L. Clark said:

    I posted a review on my blog last week and the traffic to my blog — via Google search for Fifty Shades of Grey skyrocketed. I didn’t particularly care for it. I read it. Gave it a middle of the road review, but can’t really say I’m all that interested in buying 2 and 3.

    I loved the Twilight saga — but in my opinion any similarities between the two are far and few between. Ana is klutzy like Bella. Ana doesn’t like receiving gifts from Christian, as Bella didn’t like receiving gifts from anyone.

    I can’t even say it’s Twilight does Erotica. But I’ve even seen posts were people are hopping mad about the series and think Stephenie Meyer should sue Ms. James. Puh-lease.

    I liked it more for Ana’s inner dialog and humor than anything else. I’m no prude, but I’m not a lover of erotica. I’d rather watch it than read about it… so maybe I’ll go to the movie when it comes out. As long as Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are NOT the stars.

  25. Karen Peterson said:

    That’s exactly how I felt about Twilight. I didn’t love the writing. Didn’t love the characters. And I still don’t understand the hype.

    I don’t plan on reading 50 Shades of Grey. No matter how popular it becomes.

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