Fifty shades of blah

Oicture of FrankensteinI think the whole world has heard about E.L. James’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, which started life (so I’ve heard) as a ‘Twilight’ fan-fic and developed a life of its own. Rather like Frankenstein, if some of the reviews are to be believed, such as this one. Judging by the comments, the readers of this blog are in vehement agreement. And I find it fascinating.

Let’s be clear; I haven’t read ‘Twilight’, I really do not understand the sexual attraction of a vampire. Out of morbid curiosity, I had a look at the opening scenes of the second film. I was on a long plane flight and it was (maybe) a way to pass the time. I got as far as discovering that Edward was over one hundred years old – and he was going to HIGH SCHOOL? Give me strength. And that’s even before I thought about it some more and decided that was just plain creepy and yuck. Okay, that’s me accounted for.

But millions of teenage girls and grown up women LOVED Twilight. It touched a nerve, sent a thrill through their bodies (or something). This 50 shades thing has latched on to whatever it was that all those people adored and ratcheted it up a notch, adding BDSM and eroticism to the mix. I can sort of understand that. Eroticism and BDSM are implied in a vampire story. I mean, vampires are hardly cute and cuddly even if they are into undying love (haha).

All the reports I’ve read say that the book is not well written, the story line is blah etc. Yet it’s walking off the shelves. I’ve read many an excellent book by a raft of Indie writers that, sadly, don’t walk off the shelves. That includes mine.

So what are we doing wrong? What can we learn from E.L. James – leaving aside the fan-fic argument? Or do I go back to my own post (the only thing that really matters is the story) about a badly written fan-fic and beat myself over the head with that?


About Greta van der Rol

I'm an author of fast-paced, action-adventure novels, mainly space opera - although I've been known to write in other genres. I live not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia and enjoy photography and cooking when I'm not bent over the computer. I have a degree in history and a background in building information systems, both of which go a long way toward helping me in my writing endeavours.

Posted on 19 June 2012, in On writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Haven’t read either one, sampled 50 Shades a bit. Like you, I can’t see the attraction of vampires. Sorry folks it just doesn’t work for me. Obviously I’m in the minority! I don’t mind BDSM at all but what I’ve sampled 50 Shades isn’t for me.
    However the same can be said for many VERY popular books. So am I in a minority? Well, I did like Harry Potter, for the fun of the read. So I’m not totallyout of step with the rest of the world. There truly is no accounting for tastes is there?

  2. Yeah, well that’s not me. I haven’t read them – no time, nor the cash to spend. I think it’s like anything else -word of mouth, excitement, selling to friends. Her online persona had tons of people following the story and those are the people that told her to publish – they would buy. And they did.

    We can do it, ladies, we can and will be successful at this writing gig because there is nothing else like it. Have no fear!

  3. I don’t know the answer, but you made me laugh really loud when you mentioned the 100 year old high schooler. Have to confess I don’t get it either. I think I’ll be satisfied with telling a good story and trying to get in front of as many eyes as possible. One day my ship will come in. Til then I’ll just do what I gotta do.

  4. The answer is, sex (or in the case of Twilight, sexual tension with a dash of danger) sells. It sucks, but it’s true. But I think it would behoove us to ask ourselves why we rush into the fads (if and) when we do. I hate following the crowd. I got sucked into the Twilight thing briefly. And when I was done, it was like I’d gorged myself on pancakes. It was good. It was fun, but … sheesh … where’s the beef?

  5. Thanks for linking to my blog, Greta. I’m completely mystified why this book sold too, and I’ve read a good bit of it. It could be that sex sells, but even that doesn’t ring true. I’m up to Chapter 8 and page 109 (according to my iPad), and they still haven’t had sex. Hardly anyone has had sex. It’s the most sexless erotica I’ve ever read. So far. James is going to have to really go for it if she’s to live up the hype by the end of the book, so I’m now hoping that Ana and Christian will be at it from the top of Chapter 8 till the book ends… But somehow I don’t think that will happen, as Ana hasn’t described the glass walls in his apartment nearly enough yet.

    But seriously speaking, I can only think that what’s sold this book is the promise of sex, and the promise of some pretty hardcore BDSM. But it seems to me, from what I’ve read so far, that James has chickened out.

    • I’m so glad you wrote your post. When I think about it, from what you’ve described it sounds like a serial, where you have to come up with some mind-blowing way of ending a very short piece. Maybe that explains the constant ‘accidents’. Whatever. I’ve not had a person respond who actually liked the book. Have you?

  6. Maybe it’s more. Matter of marketing?

  7. I was going to mention the marketing angle too. What’s the story there? It looks to be sold by Random House, so that’s not Indie. If it makes anyone feel good it does appear that there are over 2000 negative reviews (1 star) on Amazon vs. 2900 positive ones (5 star). Obviously people love it or hate it.

    I haven’t read it and have no desire to. I’m with those that tend not to jump on a bandwagon unless I’m on the bandwagon before it gets very crowded as with Harry Potter-I read the first book before the phenomenon began.

    However, I do get the sex appeal of vampires and loved Anne Rice’s vampires, but haven’t had any desire to learn anymore about the sparkly ones.

    • My understanding is the Random House picked it up because it was doing well. That’s happened before today. I don’t begrudge the author the success, I’m just wondering how she found that button to press. Like Dan Brown, who also pressed a public button.

  8. Greta, someone visited my blog and said they thought it was a ‘beautiful love story’ (they were a bit peeved about my ‘biased’ review …ahem). I think they’re entitled to that opinion, and it is apparently true that people have read and enjoyed the book, without finding all the faults I have. I don’t deny them that.

    Others, like myself and my daughter, love to hate it. I’m not getting the ‘beautiful love story’ feeling from the book, myself. It’s plodding and workmanlike and completely lacking in sexual tension. Yet I do want to read to the end. But then again, if we pass an accident on the motorway, even though I shouldn’t look, I can’t help myself…

    My real problem with it, is that as an ex-fanfic writer, it would never have occurred to me to change the names in an obvious piece of fanfic and try to sell it as original fiction. It’s just not playing the game. And just to make things more surreal I have learned this morning that there are ‘Fifty Shades’ fanfics on now. As someone said, we’ll end up in a perpetual nightmare where fanfics of fanfics of fanfics are being published to the unsuspecting public.

  9. Vicki Batman

    Hi, Greta. Currently, 50 isn’t on my list. I think it made a huge splash because all 3 books came out at once. So what should we do? Get more out there. The conflict here is trying not to have burn-out.

    Yeah, don’t read vampires either. LOL

    Good post.

  10. I was going on vacation with some friends who read all 3 of the shades books, and they enjoyed the series, and that’s all they were talking about. (one friend had never read BDSM ever) So I figured if I wanted to “be in the know” while on vac. so I better get to reading. While I found the writing style hair-pulling/telling/back story/etc., there was something there that kept me reading. It was the promise of something yet to come. And Quillers, they do end up having “lots” of sex in the BDSM fashion. (too much sex after a while, like every other scene.) There were things he (Grey) did to her that screamed abuse to me, and I wanted to throw the book many many times. She (Ana) seemed to waiver back and forth through out the book, and that drove me insane…If he said “do this, but not that,” you can bet she did exactly what he didn’t want her to do, which resulted in a punishment. I wanted to shake her silly…But again, my buddies enjoyed it, so I forced myself to continue on. At the end of the third book I was left wondering as a writer and reader, WTH? I didn’t get why it was a #1 best seller, but I feel that way about most best sellers, so what do I know, right. However, I have to give kuddo’s to the author for her success. She touched a nerve in the reader market, and that’s all we can hope to do as writers. It’s going to be made into a movie, so you can bet the books will stay on the top seller list for a long while to come. I’m happy for James, and hope other authors can do the same. 🙂 Different books for different folks makes the world go round, right. Just my 2 cents.

  11. Dawn, in one of my reviews, I point up the abuse factor. It’s before she’s even found out about him, when she gets drunk, and he said that if she were his she wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week. That, to me, is nothing to do with sexual gratification, and everything to do with Domestic Violence. He wants to hit her because she did something he didn’t like. It was a part of the book that actually made me very angry. My mum was a battered wife so it’s a very sore subject for me.

    But yes, different books for different folks and it would be boring if we all did the same.

  12. I am soooo with you. I got scared by a vampire B-movie I watched on TV (a Hallowe’en double-feature) when I was six. It made a lasting impression!

  13. Thanks so very much to everyone that got involved. I’ve no problem about diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks. I have no problem with that, none at all. Just… what makes a particular book go viral?

  14. I’ve never exposed myself to Twilight and I don’t get the hoopla at all. I can not imagine thinking that a vampire is sexy. OK, not true. As a teen I used to stay up and watch a late-night show hosted by Vampirella. But that was because I was a teenaged boy and she was showing a lot of cleavage. I had no interest in the fangs or undead bit.

    But then I also do not read gory horror, blood spattered murder sprees or erotica. These genres all seem to be top sellers, so that makes me the weird one. I know that if I wanted to write a best selling novel, paranormal, vampires, zombies, erotica, or gore would need to be the focus (preferably all of the above). I don’t read these, so I don’t know these, so I can’t write these, so I’ll probably never be a best selling novelist. But, maybe if I dust myself in glitter at my next book-signing it would help.

    • Haha. Try the glitter, Doug. It sounds good. I don’t go for horror, either. I love my SF but I’ve never seen any of the Alien movies and I won’t go to see Prometheus for the same reason.

  15. This could be a rather tangential connection, but read this. I saw it and thought about you 😉

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