Book of the Year? You’re kidding, right?

posted in: On writing | 13
Movie poster

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.

13 Responses

  1. Richard Leonard

    I was more than twice the age of the target audience of John Marsden’s Tomorrow Series when I read it, and I loved it. As did many others. I can’t explain it either. Except maybe that word of mouth is perhaps the best marketing tool. The trick is to find a mouth with access to many ears. 🙂

  2. MonaKarel

    Just like books in Oprah’s book club, 50 Shades caught the attention of some of the talking heads. By the time they were done “oh my”ing and doing the wide eyed “I just can’t believe it” sales rocketed. No reason to be cynical, it just is.

  3. Pete

    Well, McDonald’s has sold 50 billion hamburgers, but no one’s talking about making them Restaurant of the Year.

    And let’s make sure it’s clear – this was Publishers Weekly, described as “the bible of the American book trade.” In other words, booksellers.

    It seems like the principal barometer to them was sales numbers – PAPER sales – and how it seemingly single-handedly resuscitated a comatose industry.

    I put this in the same category as Al Gore getting a Nobel Prize.

  4. juliabarrett

    She attracted the Twilight crowd – all grown up now. Or maybe the grannies who had a thing for Edward. My teenage daughter made me read Twilight – I got the appeal – to teens. We’re talking wallpaper. Project anything you want onto the characters. As the series progressed it got worse and worse and worse, until we ended with Super Bella and her Invincible Rosemary’s Baby.
    But that’s not to say I didn’t get the appeal. I just didn’t care for the story or the story telling.
    But as a friend says, who was totally convinced, at first, 50 Shades was the best book she’d ever read – “Once I’d finished reading, I wondered what the hell? What did I see in this book? I had to read a nonfic book about the history of Australia to get 50 Shades out of my brain. I feel so duped.”
    My thoughts? These authors who make it big on dreck are laughing all the way to the bank.
    And I did think The Da Vinci Code was a hoot. Campy fun – but he ‘borrowed’ the whole story from Holy Blood Holy Grail.

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