Full disclosure: I read a little less than half the book until I gave up. The fact that I managed to keep with it for half of the book still surprises me.
I heard about the book over a year ago, in July 2012. I was planning to go on a short vacation with a friend and we were talking about which books we should take with us.
“You should get 50 Shades of Grey, everybody’s reading it now, I got it for my Kindle” she said.
I shrugged, because a long time ago I came to realize that the fact that everybody was reading something, did not mean that I was going to like it.
A few days later, as we were at the beach reading and drinking margaritas, my friend said “I really don’t understand what the whole fuss is about. It’s a really bad book. The plot is weak and some parts are just cheap porn…”
My friend wasn’t the only one to be surprised. She, like many others, bought the book because it was a bestseller, and had no idea what it was about. She didn’t even know that she bought a book in the “erotica” genre. She simply followed the hype and thought she was buying the best book ever.
I eventually grabbed the book for the same reason many others got it – curiosity about its success. As an author, I wanted to know what about this book made it such a bestseller. My conclusion: the success of 50 Shades of Grey has nothing to do with the book itself.
The success of 50 Shades of Grey has nothing to do with the book itself
This is not the success of the author, the genre, or the story. It’s the success of a publishing company that did an excellent marketing job and turned a niche category into mainstream. That’s all.
As far as I know, no one enforces an age restriction when buying books; so publisher simply took late night porn and put it on prime time, + added a bit of (weak) plot. Then, massive promotion through various channels and distributors initiated the circle of large sales > curiosity > more sales.
Erotica fiction has been around for a while, with authors enjoying a constant stream of revenue but hardly ever topping the bestseller list – it was niche. Some looked at “reading porn” as “watching porn,” thus saved their “reading list” to themselves, and there was never much of a viral effect around erotica titles. Thus, even though lot of erotica was sold before 50 Shades of Grey, the 50 Shades hype completely “mainstreamized” the genre.
Get an editor maybe?
So if the only reason 50 Shades of Grey became so popular is marketing, what about the quality of the story and writing?
There are many articles out there criticizing the poor writing quality of the book (check this one for example) , so I will not repeat, but yes, I think the writing is bad. The editing job on 50 Shades of Grey is poor, even though it is backed up by a large publishing house. It just feels like the editor did a very sloppy job. It doesn’t read well.
Is this erotica, or fantasy and science fiction?
When I read fantasy or science fiction, I like it when the characters behave like real people – when their actions fit their background and motivation. In 50 Shades of Grey no attention is given to minor details such as “character credibility”.
Anastasia is 21 years old and she never had sex before. Moreover, she never “touched herself down there” (authors language) in her life. Note that the story takes place in Seattle, America, not a Mormon village or another religious society. We are expected to believe that Anastasia who is a 21 years old student never in her life had sex or masturbated. Reminder, this is a porn story, not a Christian novel.
Then she has sex for the first time with Christian Grey. Even though she never had any sexual experience before, not even with herself, she seems extremely comfortable with it. Then she instantly has an orgasm, and she finally understands “what the fuss is all about.” Huh??
In her relationship with Christine Gray Anastasia seems to have orgasms as easily as making tea. Sometimes simply from nipple stimulation. Which makes it even less believable that she never touched herself… Judging by her sensitivity she’s supposed to get turned on whenever she puts her shirt or panties on.
Any responsible adults in the room?
Critics are ranting, EL James (the author) is sitting on a pile of cash, and authors of more “responsible” books remain hungry.
What do I mean by responsible books? My writing is far from being a politically correct; a book I published under a pen name had sex scenes, profanity, and hard-core concepts. But it was overall realistic, and empowered the readers in addition to entertaining them.
50 Shades of Grey gives out weird messages to the readers. Some of the readers are teenagers and young women who can consciously and unconsciously shapes their views according to what they read in the book. Readers of the book might think that:
- Masturbation is bad. Otherwise, how would you explain the fact that Anastasia never did it? The book depicts Anastasia, the non-masturbating virgin easily having orgasms right away on her first sexual experience.
- If you don’t have an orgasm easily when having sex or when your nipples are stimulated, there might be something wrong with you.
- If you stick to someone abusive long enough, he might turn out to be the prince charming you want him to be
- I am sure there are more examples… I didn’t stick with the book long enough to find out
To make one thing clear: I’m not against erotica and the unrealistic situations depicted in this type of literature. I just feel that when you mainstreamize a book and get such a large readership, you have a great opportunity to put some positive, empowering messages out there, and be conscience about the implications of your choices.
By the way, if you’re interested in reading more (funny) criticism about 50 Shades of Grey, there is an author out there named Cassandra Parkin who wrote a hilarious post : Fifty Things That Annoy Me About Fifty Shades Of Grey