The fact that Fifty Shades of Grey took out the gong for most popular book of the year and E.L. James was crowned ‘Publishing Person of the Year’ has engendered quite a lot of outrage.
“But it’s badly written rubbish.”
“She pinched an idea from somebody else.”
“You want good erotica? You can get it for free on the internet.”
“It’s not even good BDSM.”
and even a few “I’d rather write quality.” So there.
And to all that I say, “tough!” (Exclamation mark intended)
One thing authors can never, ever predict is what will grab the public imagination. Dan Brown did it with The da Vinci Code. J.K. Rowling did it with Harry Potter. Stephenie Meyer did it with Twilight. All those authors have had invective poured upon them while they raked in the loot.
I have not read 50SoG or Twilight and will not. They are not to my taste. I have read The da Vinci Code (a fair bit of it, anyway, until the plot got too silly to hold my interest – but that’s my opinion.)
But back to 50SoG E.L. James has freely admitted her novel started out life as a fanfic based on Twilight. Very often, people jump on the bandwagon for the latest new thing. Look at all the vampire books around and the increasing number of zombie novels. It happened with The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars among others. But often, by the time they’re in print, the wave has rolled over them and crashed on the shore. Self-publishing has changed that paradigm a little. You can get on the wave before it breaks and that is one thing E.L. James was able to do, because the last of the Twilight movies was not yet out there.
She did one other thing and that was take the essence of the plot a step or fourteen further, from YA lovestruck fantasy to horny, slightly kinky sex. (I hesitate to use the word romance. If you’ve read it, you’ll have your own ideas.) Because of that, she attracted a whole new audience. Apparently, for reasons known only to themselves, many, many grown women loved Twilight*. There you have it. A ready-made audience for a firm like Random House to draw in.
No, you don’t have to write a ‘good book’ (whatever that is) to have a best-seller, or win a popular book award. All you have to do is capture the public imagination. I have to tell you, I wish I could.
*This is not a criticism, simply a bemused observation – but then, I loved the Harry Potter books and I’m a bit past the target demographic. To each her own.