I realise that the following words are not the most popular, but I have a confession to make: I don’t dislike Fifty Shades of Grey quite as much as some people.
No, I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, and no, I don’t really intend to. But, put the literature aside, and E.L. James presents a major shift in the self-publishing landscape.
I am led to believe that E.L. James had some success with Fifty Shades even before being picked up by publisher Vintage Books. If this is the case, then she is yet another example of the viability and legitimacy of self-publishing in today’s climate.
Yes, I did read the first paragraph of the book out of sheer curiosity, and yes, I did cringe a little. The writing is clichéd, and really not that great at all. But I think it is what Fifty Shades of Grey represents that is exciting for me, and for other fellow authors: a nudging encouragement of the sort of success available to indies, even with a questionably written book.
I am not pretending that everybody is set to become the next E.L. James by simply writing a coherent book and putting it on the Kindle Store. However, it just goes to show that a little social media marketing and blogosphere buzz can go a hell of a long way. Set up a blog, tweet useful links, and engage with your audience, and you are already well on your way to at least some success.
I do understand the counter argument – that it is ‘unfortunate’ that a ‘poorly written’ book has been so successful at the expense of other writers, and is being held up as the rather low bar of quality for our indie breed. But, I can’t help but sense a little envy here. E.L. James has made it big with Fifty Shades of Grey through self-publishing, and that’s a fact. Instead of feeling jealous, why not focus our energy on raising that bar ourselves? Shit; let’s smash the bar, and build a new one.
The argument that the bar for quality has dropped is, in my opinion, redundant. Bad books have always existed, as I argued in a recent guest post. Good writers aren’t going to suddenly start writing books of a lower quality just because they feel they can – the notion itself is absurd. We always strive to do the best we can, especially when it comes to something as passionate as writing.
E.L. James might not be everybody’s favourite writer, to say the least. She isn’t mine, but that’s because erotica just isn’t my genre. Perhaps I’ll have to reconsider that in the wake of her success… any creative variations on the title What We Saw are welcomed. Back to the point though: although she isn’t everybody’s favourite, I can’t help but thank her for proving that our career is a viable one. Sure, she sold the book to a major publisher in the end, which kind of fits in to the whole ‘self-publishing is the first step’ philosophy, but she’s achieved her dream, and credit to her for showing the rest of us that it can be done.
I did wear a bullet-proof vest when posting this blog, so all your shots will be in vain. I hope.
Where do you stand in the Fifty Shades of Grey debate? Should E.L. James be acknowledged for her success, or criticised for her writing standards? Leave a comment below!
Image from ellebnere via Flickr
Interesting post. I see it from both sides to be honest: one on hand I agree with you and the whole thing shows that literature isn’t a dead artform; but on the other it makes me skeptical about the general public, as I think it suggests that literature has gone the same way as music in the sense that people find talent irrelevant and instead just like what everyone else likes and what it is fashionable to like at this time, regardless of how shit it actually is
Very true, Gaz! I am actually rather split on it at times, too. Although, I think that people have always been more selective when it comes to books, bar the odd breakout hit like Fifty Shades. It’ll be interesting to see just how many of those go on to further explore the genre, mind.
I haven’t read Fifty Shades (just like you, I only grazed through the first two lines of the book), so I can’t serve judgment just yet. But I do agree that the fact that E. L. James is able to self-publish and eventually get a publishing house to deliver her books in print shows that writers have the tools and the power to make a name for themselves and leave their marks on humanity through the written word.
And you know, taking it as inspiration to “smash the bar and build a new one” is much more worth my time and effort than constantly ranting about how awful the quality of the writing is. 🙂
Thanks for the post Stef!
I totally agree. It just goes to show how much the landscape is really changing today, doesn’t it? That’s why I think that the ‘quality’ argument is somewhat irrelevant. It displays the power of the self-published author.
And yes; let’s get that bar smashed!
Thanks again for a great comment.
I believe hearing part of the sucess may be to the genre she is writing in. Bringing erotica into mainstream more. I have not read the book but have worthy proof of its lack of writerly skill. (I will probably read it for kicks some time). Anyway, i like your point of view on the subject. I think she should get both. Criticized for crappy writing but commended on making it work. Credit where its due and all
Great point you make there, Rachelle. I think a balance between criticism and commendation is probably the healthiest way to view things. I’m both pleased at her proving that the self-publishing route can bring great success, and slightly peeved that it is being used as an indicator of indie quality. But still, I think we may see more and more indie success stories over the next few years, whether following the true indie route, or finding success and selling to a publisher. Credit to E.L. James for bringing us into the spotlight again.
Thanks for the comment!
Well you know, What We Saw can be very suggestive. Perfect erotica title. Just add some abs or a tie or a handcuff or something to the cover. ;P
In all seriousness, I think you’re right. I think it’s a sign that self-publishing is now viable, but it’s also a stark reminder that the reader chooses what is “good”, regardless of actual writing quality (though I’m convinced that readers aren’t always drawn to crap writing and more often than not want something substantial in terms of a writer’s abilities). That’s my viewpoint on it in any case.
I think you’re on to something there. Who knows, What We Saw COULD be a secret erotica? I’m keeping very tight-lipped about it!
Absolutely. Whether or not it marks the ‘death of the critic’ as some have suggested, I’m not so sure, but it certainly puts the responsibility into the reader’s hands.
Thanks for a great comment Elisa!
What is your response to those who have claimed that the book series cloaks a seriously abusive relationship in the guise of “BDSM erotica”? I don’t claim to be an expert on either subject, but I do listen to and read what those more experienced than I am have to say, and one of the repeated criticisms I have seen is that the relationship portrayed in the entire series of books is not healthy and may be dangerous in terms of persuading women (especially young women) that a man who wants to control every aspect of their lives (even before they have agreed to a dominant-submissive relationship is not a dangerous man but merely an aficionado of “kinky sex.” I think that’s a legitimate concern for such a popular collection of books, aside from what appears to be–from the excerpts I’ve seen–seriously abysmal writing. (And yes, I have seen seriously abysmally written books before the era of self-publishing.)
Thanks a lot for the comment, @twitter-131175226:disqus
I totally agree with what you are saying: the standard of writing is poor. The reason I chose not to talk about content in this article too much is 1.) because I haven’t read the book, and 2.) because I know the subject matter has caused quite a stir. Instead, I’ve stuck to a defence of the self-publishing process, using E.L. James’ recent success as an example.
I think you make some fantastic points, though. I guess only time will tell whether more books like this sneak into mainstream culture. Regarding the relationship portrayed (going off what I have heard), without saying too much: I too agree that it is questionable.
Thanks again for a great comment!
There’s a quote from the film ‘Maybe Baby’ which sums up this whole debate quite nicely;
‘What you write is just sh*te!”
“Aye, but it’s PUBLISHED sh*te!”
Certainly sounds like an accurate quote to me, Andrew!
As an journalist do you think that she might have used her friends in the media to spread the good word. Enough people saying it is a good book that everyone went out and bought it. A number of people who make it to the top use these methods particularly celebrities. Their books are usually dire but their status gets them read.
I think it’s a viable theory, Kerry. I also think that the snowball that is word of mouth really gathered so much pace that it became unstoppable, too.