Pub Rants

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

Slightly Less Opaque Grey For Me

STATUS: Popped in on a Saturday to finish up a few things. This afternoon Chutney and I are heading into the mountains for a nice long hike.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE MORE I SEE YOU by Michael Buble

Kudos to blog reader and commenter Elizabeth who manned up and explained the appeal of 50 Shades of Grey. Just in case you didn’t catch her comment in that section, I’m including Elizabeth’s post in its entirety.

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 made 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.

I loved that she was willing to simply be honest and put her reaction to the book out there. For me, I’m thinking this book is kind of like trends that happen in other mediums. There’s no easy or clear explanation. It just happens and something becomes wildly popular. For example, the phenom of Ugg Boots (which are not particularly attractive) or croc shoes for that matter. The youtube phenom for Randall’s narration of National Geographic footage: The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger.

There’s a spark. It taps into some zeitgeist. There’s no explaining it and quite frankly, I don’t think we have to. It is what it is.

For me, I’m not sure I would recognize it under all the flaws. I couldn’t get past the writing and a lot of groan worthy dialogue. But in the end, who cares what I think. The public has spoken and in the end, that’s the opinion that matters.


22 Responses

  1. Amber Lin said:

    Back when self publishing was brand spanking new, I picked up plenty of it. I found some gems: great story and characters, mediocre execution and no editing. I recognized its flaws while enjoying the heck out of it.

    Then I started writing and participating in critique groups and, lastly, working with editors. At this point it’s almost impossible to ignore big errors, even for a good story. I consider this a loss for me. I’m the one who doesn’t get to enjoy them.

    The online publishing folks have been giving 50 Shades a lot of grief, but we were always the wrong audience.

  2. A Curious Writer said:

    Here’s my question about 50 Shades, and its viability. If there’s nearly 90% similarity between 50 shades and the original fanfiction, then how is the publisher going to handle the download issue.

    Fanfiction is archived where anyone can access and read it at will, for free. Master of the Universe is still available in fanfiction archives. The author’s publisher can’t prosecute for “illegal” downloads of a book that’s fanfiction of a property owned by another publisher. So, readers can take a copy of the free fanfiction, search/replace the names and location, and they’ve got an instant copy of 50 Shades without pirating it.

  3. Keisha Martin said:

    I think the writer has taken down MOTU, I was trying to check out the fan fiction.

    Although I have not read 50 Shades Of Grey I am in a writing zone in which in order to learn and grow as a writer I feel reading books that are well written will further help me develop my skills,situations like FSOG stump me, because if plenty of people like something then poor writing, editing is forgivable. =o/

  4. Kate Brauning said:

    I can’t enjoy badly-written books. Maybe that means I miss out on some good stories, but typos, awkward dialogue, fatty sentences, and all the rest pull me out of the book. They make me painfully aware what I am reading is a book, not a world.

  5. Cassandra said:

    To me it is appalling–and heartbreaking–that this utterly unreadable bilge has been picked up by publishers and Hollywood, for enormous amounts of money. Not because it’s erotica or porn, but because it is BAD. I get that sometimes you just want junk food. But this is junk food that is spoiled and moldy, and it doesn’t excuse anything to say, “Yes, but never mind–it’s so spicy you won’t taste the mold.” I wonder whether those who claim that they’ve read the whole thing really read every word, or, like me with the excerpts on Amazon, began very rapidly skimming after the first chapter, looking for the hot spots among the drivel (there aren’t any in the excerpts).

    Because of all the money thrown at this, hundreds of vastly better books (of whatever genre) will never be published. To publishers who’ll think that readers can’t tell when something stinks, or that readers don’t care, and will rush to pump out more works like this–well, knock yourselves out. But I won’t be buying it.

  6. Anonymous said:

    The author may have taken down MotU, but the nature of fanfiction is that it’s shared and archived places the author has no ability to remove it.

    It’s not my cuppa, but MotU is definitely still out there, in full.

  7. Keylocke said:

    To each their own and I give props to the commenters who can own their guilty pleasures.

    But as a writer, I don’t strive to write popular. I strive to write quality. Of course, my goal is to be read but I’d rather leave a quality piece of writing that lives on to select few after I’m dead than write a madly popular piece of pop culture.

    But again, to each their own. There is plenty of room on the book shelves for more than our individual tastes.

  8. J.W. Dumas said:

    As Keylocke said, we don’t write to follow the popular trend. We don’t write to be like everything else. We write to put forth OUR visions. We write to share OUR ideas. And, all to often, we get cast adrift because we don’t follow the current fad. But we don’t give up, as doisheartening as it gets, we continue.
    Get over the fad, get over the idea of following the trend like a lemming. Be the writer within YOU.

  9. Paul said:

    I haven’t read the book, but I have been struggling with questions like these for years. Why does one horribly flawed artist / musician / writer find success when superior craftsmen do not? It could be that there is a market for this kind of thing, or that the universe is ultimately random and unfair. Or, it could be that what she does right turned out to be more important than what she does wrong.

    Look, no writing is perfect. We all have our flaws. The best we can hope for is that our strengths overpower our weaknesses. Unfortunately, the reading public sometimes surprises us with the strengths they choose to value.

    For years, the best selling jazz single on iTunes was “What a wonderful world” sung by Louis Armstrong. Armstrong was a jazz legend as a band leader. But as a vocalist? Pure glottal fry. He did everything wrong as far as vocal technique was concerned. But there is something special about the way he sang that makes you want to smile. Maybe it was his enthusiasm, his honesty, or his complete lack of pretense. I don’t know what it was, but it is still selling records today. Thousands of well trained classical singers can’t match that.

    I’m not comparing this writer to Lois Armstrong. Judging by the comments, that may not be appropriate. But, it’s evident that she did something right somewhere.

  10. Martha Ramirez said:

    I enjoyed reading all the comments and reactions. Great topic. And LOL on Ugg boots. My hubby thinks they’re ugly. Yet they never seem yo go out of style do they?

  11. Bonnee Crawford said:

    Ugg boots are the best things in winter. They look shit-house and they get damn smelly, but it’s all worth it for how warm your toes are kept. I guess that’s what Elizabeth means when she’s talking about that book. It looks bad but it’s worth it for the entertainment.

  12. Cara M. said:

    A couple of things:

    I think some of the reasons people are upset about this is because we’re thinking about it wrong. There seems to be a lot of response of the “oh no! How could the publishers publish such a horrible thing?” And that, in my mind, is a little foolish. Publishers are not a moral authority. When they try to be a moral authority, that’s when we get censorship. Publishing is a business, and if they think they can make money off of a book, why not? It’s not like they’re making money hand over fist these days.

    “50 Shades of Grey is trash thus Fanfiction is trash and vice versa.” I’m not going to talk about the legality of fanfiction, because that’s not my business, not being an IP lawyer, but the culture of fanfiction is what’s really interesting. Fanfiction is what I see when I see the self-publishing boom taking off. Fanfiction.net is colloquially known as the ‘pit of voles’ because it is a pit, filled with obsessive people and terrible stories (and me). It is also a great place to get people to read your work, to share the thing you enjoyed writing and get more enjoyment knowing that other people liked it too. And that is the only payment you get.

    There’s no way to market a fic. Maybe posting in some places you get more readers. Word of mouth works really well. But unless people like it, people don’t comment, and the comment is ready cash to the fic writer.

    My point is that fanfiction may be poorly written, utterly unedited, sloppy, inexperienced, (and don’t make me talk about the inevitable high-school AU), but it’s written because the writer enjoyed it, and often that enjoyment transmits itself straight to the reader. So honestly, I’m happy for ‘Icy,’ because she did something she enjoyed and was a success.

    Isn’t that what we all want, to do something we enjoy and be successful? When we start to get bitter and upset and shrill and admittedly jealous, that enjoyment gets corrupted. And who wants to read a story that the author didn’t enjoy writing? Not me, but then clearly I have no standards, because I read fanfiction.

  13. Eileen said:

    I didn’t read the book, not for any lofty reason, just wasn’t interested. My to-be-read list is a mile long so if something doesn’t grab me it doesn’t get read.

    I would however counter the argument that because this book was published other more deserving books weren’t. It could be argued the opposite. This book will earn big cash for the publisher. Money they can use to invest in other projects. To me it’s like when Snooki writes a book. (and by write here I’m assuming writes a check for a ghost writer to do the actual writing) That book will sell. I wish it wouldn’t. I wish people were more interested in other books by less well known people, but the truth is they aren’t. Sales of that book can pay for other books to be written.

    Then I harbour the hope that someone who doesn’t think of themselves as a reader, picks up a junk food book, decides they like it and then moves on to reading other things.

  14. JP said:

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It is that simple. Some of the most talented musicians in the world have never made a dime while lesser talents are mega rich. I have not read this novel, but from every synopsis, article, blog I have read, it has no appeal for me. I am not going to disown someone if they think it is the cat’s meow.

    That all being said, Kristin, love reading your blogs and how you have so many great links on here. I wish you continued success!

  15. Elissa M said:

    Readers read faster than writers write. One book’s popularity does not hurt sales of other writer’s books. If anything, it helps all book sales, because very few readers will read ONLY one author’s work. If a novel makes people excited about reading, all writers should be glad.

    That said, yes it’s discouraging to struggle with improving my skills, only to see sloppy, bloated drivel catch fire with the public. Nobody said life was fair.

  16. Mark Murata said:

    That book would definitely not interest me, but I understand when she says she likes campy things. I liked the movie Lost in Space, which astonished people, because I liked the kitschiness of it.

  17. lemon said:

    There are many wonderful books being published today. However, I have to wonder why many don’t finish books they purchase, especially fiction. Many of the books I purchase I end up not finishing because the story just doesn’t seem to grab me. I also must be honest and say that is the case with fiction over nonfiction. It’s probably a matter of my personal taste but this is something I hear from many readers ragarding the books they read. My point in mentioning this is only to confirm the implication (in the post) that it is the reading public that really matters.

    Still, we have to trust agents and others in the industry on their instincts since they know what sells based on various patterns.

  18. Ebony McKenna. said:

    50 Shades is the “Snuggie” effect on the reading world. It’s a silly product but loads of fun. And it’s also something you probably won’t take out of the house!

    50 shades is not replacing quality writing, in the same way a Snuggie will never replace a properly-made warm pullover.

  19. Claire L. Fishback said:

    After reading Elizabeth’s “man up moment” I find myself intrigued by the book. I’ve sent the sample to my Kindle.

    It’s amazing to see the word of mouth as best marketing practice working here. 🙂

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