TG loves publishing phenoms. Whenever a book sells a gazillian copies, especially when the author is someone nobody ever heard of, it warms the cockles of his misanthropic heart. Enough with the same five authors getting all the publishing money, (you know who they are) bestowing it on unknowns every once in awhile reinforces the basic principal that keeps so many of us toiling away in this particularly wretched vineyard: It can happen to anyone! And you don’t even have to be particularly good!
So when 50 Shades of Grey hit the Interweb and racked up millions of sales, TG had a good laugh. Especially when all the pious literary critics came stomping onto the stage declaring it just a piece of porno shit.
TG will explain the publishing story, even though most of the world has already heard it. British author E.L. James had written a piece of fanfiction based on the Twilight vampire series, itself a phenom book series written by Stephanie Meyers, who also garnered who own share of terrible reviews. Fanfiction is when writers or wannabe writers write short stories or novels based on characters in someone else’s books, movies or TV shows that they love. After fans of the Twilight series books (on the Internet) opined that they thought there was too much sex in the story to be about their beloved characters, James removed it from the fan sites and put it up on her own website under the title Masters of the Universe. Here’s part of an article from Wikipedia: “This reworked and extended version of Master of the Universe was split into three parts. The first, titled Fifty Shades of Grey, was released as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback in May 2011 by The Writers' Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher based in Australia. The second volume, Fifty Shades Darker, was released in September 2011; and, the third, Fifty Shades Freed, followed in January 2012. The Writers' Coffee Shop had a restricted marketing budget and relied largely on book blogs for early publicity, but sales of the novel were boosted by word-of-mouth recommendation. The book's erotic nature and perceived demographic of its fanbase as being composed largely of married women over thirty led to the book being dubbed "Mommy Porn" by some news agencies. The book has also been reportedly popular among teenage girls and college women.”
Are you still with me, Thriller Guy readers? Hang in there.
So the book goes on to sell more than 35 million copies worldwide, at least. 35 million copies! Does this book deserve a read by Thriller Guy? Of course it does. So, even though he’s got several books backed up waiting for reviews, TG spent a day reading the first book in the trilogy.
And found it not bad, not bad at all.
First, the question of the quality of the writing. TG reads hundreds of books a year, most of them by mainstream thriller writers, many of whom are raking in vast profits on their books. TG would say that James writes just as well as most of them. Her writing is what we in the business refer to as “workmanlike.” Meaning she gets the job done. The same word has been applied to TG’s own novels by reviewers at times, and he wears the label proudly. All you horrified pious reviewers and authors out there, the woman is writing a particular sort of genre story (erotic) for a particular audience (women) and she hits her own mark just fine. Huffing and puffing in supposed agony about the style of the writing says more about the reviewers (snooty dopes) than it does the folks who love these books. And TG would also add that the writing is actually better than many books he reviews, and these are also by writers who are commanding high advances and mega sales for their work.
The plot. Many of the reviews slammed the book for being plotless, just a vehicle to put in the naughty bits. TG would like to report that there is an extensive plot, too extensive for his erotic tastes and, again, aimed at women young and old. He’s not going to go into an outline of the story because it’s too much trouble, but if book’s basic message seems to be all about snagging that special someone and holding on to him, well that’s been the basis of much highbrow literature in its more refined forms as well as much lowbrow fiction. In fact, the entire Romance book industry is built on this solid platform and haven’t we reached the point yet where critics of all varieties can stop yammering on about how women should be interested in “better” fiction than that? The market has spoken to these reviewers and it says shut the hell up.
The sex. One would think that these books are loaded with sex like porn books used to be, books that were aimed at male readers, classics that have been around forever: The Story of O -- perhaps the most famous and the sort of bondage and sadomasochism book that is most like Grey. Other classics are Venus in Lace, Venus Unbound, Venus Remembered, and The Diary of Mata Hari, to name just a few. Usually by “Anonymous.” Unlike these books, which start with sex scenes on page one, Grey doesn’t ease into a sex scene until page 120, and then there are only five or six scenes in the rest of the book. It is clear that this is porn for women, who are interested in the lead up to sex and the let down from sex, rather than the male desire for descriptions of the act itself, over and over in its many variations. TG’s point is, there’s not really all that much sex in these books. But there is much more sex than there is in most fiction aimed at women, so that’s what makes these stand out. These are romance books with amped up sex. Which leads TG to the startling conclusion…
Women like sex, and they like reading about sex.
On the one hand you have the pious, nay-saying critics mewling on about how this sort of book is beneath women, harmful to women, and degrading to women. And then you have the 35 million women who have bought the book and just can’t wait for the movie to come out.
35 million books sold so far. The fastest selling paperback ever. E. L. James’ net worth – 15 million, probably much more by now. The amount Universal paid for the film rights, $5 million. The number of print copies Vintage sold in a month – 5 million. 60+ printings to keep up with demand amounting to a 25% increase in adult fiction sales.
But there’s nothing new here in the treatment James is receiving from the nation’s literati. They did it to Dan Brown, they did it to Stephan King, they did it to Stephanie Meyer and the list goes on and on. What these folks hate, what they really despise, is that someone who speaks to popular culture on its own terms is making so much damn money at it.
Here’s at least part of what these critics are missing. Sex sells. Ever heard that little bromide? It beats out hunger, comfort, it beats out good sense, intelligence, morality (General Petraeus anyone?) it beats out everything. And most people will sort of agree saying yeah, well, but that’s just men. Men think with their dicks. Women are different. Women don’t have these gross instincts, they like to be wooed, whispered to, taken to dinner; yeah, well, everyone likes that sort of thing, but when it comes down to the basics, women like to have sex just as much as men do. Science has now shown conclusively that women are just as susceptible to the arousing powers of pornography as men are. So why shouldn’t they like to read pornography? Especially when it’s pretty tame stuff like Fifty Shades. So why shouldn’t they have their own writers to supply it? And why shouldn’t they have the right to make these suppliers rich? Why should the critics chastise their sisters, (even when the critics are men) tsk tsking because their tastes don’t run to Don Delillo or David Foster Wallace.
These are genre books, people. Some of us like genre books. Be they thrillers, romance, cozies or erotica. So mewl on, jealous critics, those of you who pretend that the enjoyment of sex in all its varied forms is beneath the intelligent, upper-class, intellectual beings you would have all of us, at least the women among us, be.
Come on. Take off those glasses. Let down your hair. Show us what you’ve got. You’ll like it, I promise. Just give it a chance. Now hand me those handcuffs…