Holy Crap — this book is a phenomenal success. I’m minded to hate it just because of that, but I won’t. Until this last week I’ve sat back and watched the posts and reviews and progress of the book with perplexed awe. In last week’s Sunday Times bestseller list was this unbelievable statistic: in one week Fifty Shades of Grey sold over 500,000 copies. Half a million. In a single week.
“Unbelievable,” I murmur. “How did she do it?”
I’ve been silently sneering from afar, but it’s getting too late for that. The book is a success. Love it, hate it, you simply cannot deny that success. So I wanted to talk about how I think she’s done this, and I have a theory. I may be wrong, but that’s never stopped me in the past.
Two days later and I’ve had enough. I can’t continue. Please, please, don’t make me; let me stop now!
I don’t like it. But that’s not the point of this post. However, I don’t like it so much I can’t simply get to the point, I have to say a couple of things first.
Every other paragraph begins with those words. Holy Crap this, Holy Crap that. It’s not endearing. And every single character in the book either murmurs or mutters. I’m amazed anyone understands what anyone else is saying.
I could go on, Oh God could I go one! — Ms. James seems incapable of using a single adjective when three, four of sixty-nine will do. I have always written on the premise that I ought to use no more than four or five adjectives in an entire novel, and even then I’ll try to strip them out. Fifty Shades is incapable of describing anything without using every single adjective she can think of. Stop it. Now.
Like me. I’m going to stop the carping, which is likely only petty jealousy anyway, and get a little closer to my point. I write smut too — why couldn’t someone decide that The Beach House, or Summer Secrets should have this kind of success? So why is Fifty Shades of Grey such a success? Here’s my theory, for what it’s worth.
Most people know Fifty Shades started life as Twilight fan fiction. E.L. James then removed the references to vampires, replacing them with BSDM and in particular domination elements. So instead of being sent swooning by a devilishly handsome vampire, Anastasia is send swooning by a devilishly handsome dominant male.
Twilight was trashed for being, well, trash. It too didn’t spare adjectives, it too read like a high school primer on how not to write, but it too was a phenomenal success.
All those Twilight fans, all those teens who were teens a decade or more ago, have now grown up. Some are married, some have kids of their own, and most of them realized along the way that the unrequited lust that was stirred in their young loins isn’t quite everything it was made out to be when they finally get hitched. So they’re still dreaming of a tall, dark, handsome stranger to sweep them off their feet. And because we all know times are hard, if that stranger also happens to have oodles of money all well and good.
The Twilight generation has become the yummy mummies of today, and they want something a little more explicit and a little more dangerous — although what could be more dangerous than a vampire sucking on your neck until all your blood is drained I’m not quite sure — than their obsessions of ten, or fifteen, or twenty years ago. Enter someone who understands them, someone who is one of them, someone who can write in a way they have learned to love and associate with their favorite characters. And love it they do, in their millions, soon to be their tens of millions.
E.L. James has hit the zeitgeist perfectly. The Twilight teens have grown up, they are ready for more than pretend sex — now they want the real thing. And Fifty Shades of Grey is giving it to them in a package that is oh so familiar and comfortable.
So congratulations Ms James. Honestly and sincerely, congratulations. I do not have to admire your writing to admire your acumen and marketing genius — whether it was deliberate or accidental doesn’t detract from the fact of its genius.
Now… where is that copy of the Da Vinci Code I threw away in disgust… if I can just add a bunch more sex and some chains and whips (damn, they’re already there) maybe I can earn a couple of million as well…