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