Thursday, April 19, 2012

50 Shades of Grey: Hot Lessons for Authors

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the New York Times Best Selling book Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. It’s an erotic romance set mostly in Seattle about a very wealthy man, Christian Grey and a naïve college grad Anastasia Steele. The story features their struggling romance and depicts explicit sex scenes with elements of BDSM. If you check out the reviews on Amazon, you’ll see they’re very skewed. Either readers love it or hate it. 1,662 last I checked. 816 were 5 stars, 402, 1 star.

Whatever their impression of the book, tons and tons of readers are reading and talking about the book.

So, what can authors learn from this to help improve their own writing career?

Dig into the book, read it but don’t tear it apart.
One thing I’ve notice the first time any author hits it big, is how people instantly jump to pick that author and the book apart, trying to find fault. I’m saddened when this happens, especially when other authors do this. And I understand we all have different tastes and won’t like everything we read. I’m talking about authors who rip another author’s work apart. Bad Karma in my opinion.

Sure we would all like to be getting the kind of royalties EL James is getting, and I’m sure there are a number of erotic and BDSM authors thinking: “Why not my book?”

But instead of thinking that way, we should be thinking: WHY her book? What did she do RIGHT? And learn from it. We can’t forget that James opened up the erotic fiction market to a public who has never read an erotic book before. After this group of new readers finishes the 50 Shades trilogy, many will be searching out other authors. Hello? New blood, yeah! That’s a great thing for all of us!!!

True, the relationship in 50 Shades does not depict a ‘normal’ loving BDSM relationship. Christian is screwed up. He was sexually abused as a child. And Ana is overly naïve, but at least she (for the most part) stands up for herself and isn’t TSTL (too stupid to live). They both have a lot of emotional baggage but there is something compelling between them that I think is deeply emotional and brilliant. AND, THIS IS FICTION.

When I read a book I want to escape and be entertained. Fiction is fantasy and I’m there for the ride, I don’t care if every detail is or isn’t precisely accurate as long as it fits for the story.

Christian and Ana are atypical characters in an atypical BDSM relationship. They’re flawed, their relationship is flawed, but deep down they’re good and caring people, trying to find their way through the dark. And isn’t that what makes this story so compelling?

Tips for Writers. What I got from 50 Shades of Grey. Or any blockbuster author.

·         Don’t write cookie cutter characters. Find something unique in each character. Normal, everyday people may be accurate but they’re boring.

·         Don’t write to trends. Watch, in the coming year you’ll see a rush of BDSM books that will be out on the market. If you write that genre, fine, but come up with your own twist. If you don’t write BDSM erotic fiction, think twice before jumping onto the bandwagon. Are you true to your brand or trying to get rich quick? Is bondage something you really want to write or are you going to have to force it. Readers will know.

·         Read the blockbuster books. Not to copy or parallel your story, but to get a feel for the spark that makes that particular book a hit. Was it the characters? The unique plot? The depth of emotion? The edgy rawness?  Etc. How can you improve your writing to strengthen those areas?

·         In an interview with EL James, she said she originally didn’t write the series to be published but to express what she felt deep inside. As a writer, dig deep and find those emotions and transpose them into words on the page.

·         Be thrilled for EL James and her success. Supporting another author also supports us all.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Dee Brice said...

I haven't read the book and probably won't. I do, however, agree wholeheartedly with what you said about not picking apart other successful authors, but learning from them.

Nice blog and very informative.
Dee Brice

Louisa Bacio said...

Great advice, Kathy, and it's fantastic to have this attention placed on erotic romance.

S.A. Garcia said...

The main problem is the writing and lack of research. That is what is ticking off other writers who write and understand BDSM. Plus the writing is awful.

Erotic writers own a reason to be asking "WTF" over such nonsense,

Sam Cheever said...

Hey Kathy,

I agree about not picking each other apart. It's sad when writers can't be supportive of each other. That being said, however, the negative reviews of Shades are examples of why I haven't written any BDSM. I don't know anything about the life and I don't have time to do the deep research needed to write about it. I know that people in the life are VERY sensitive about having it portrayed correctly, and you can't really blame them. #:0) That said, there are constructive ways to get a point across and I would hope we, as authors, would work hard to find that constructive path. We're all trying to work and function in a tough industry and supporting each other makes it a whole lot more pleasant.

Thanks for the great post!

N.J.Walters said...

Great post, Kathy. I think it's great when any author gets success. I'm more of a "there's enough for everyone" kinda gal.

And I agree...I don't write BDSM because it's not something I understand. I leave it to writers who do understand the lifestyle. They do a much better job at depicting it realistically.

Ashlyn Chase said...

Awesome post, Kathy!

I couldn't agree more. I recently heard the bit of advice re: study the greats. I read a few new-to-me authors who came highly recommended and I'm glad I did. I think my writing is richer for it. (not financially rich...yet, but hopefully someday...)

S. J. Maylee said...

Excellent post, Kathy. Sound advice and food for thought. Love it!!

Katalina Leon said...

Wonderful post Kathy.
I agree we shouldn't be picking any author's success apart and instead be thanking EL James for opening the door of women's erotic fiction a little wider.

Adele Dubois said...

Hi Kathy,

I agree that emotion is the key to a successful story. Apparently 50 Shades accomplished that.


Tracey H. Kitts said...

Great post. I also agree that picking apart another author's work is pointless and cruel.

I'm happy for others who hit it big, because I know that my day is coming. :)

I've never written about the paranormal because it's popular, but because it's what I'm into. I believe that comes across in my writing.

My goal has always been to put emotions into words. Emotions are something everyone can understand. :)

Anonymous said...

Great advice!

Savannah Chase said...

I think that is some wonderful advice. I've read the first book and have started the second. Some authors write that one book or more that stands out and the world wants to read. There are so many amazing and talented authors out there. I hope the success of this series opens people up to the erotic romance genre and romance or other books.

Heather Vivant said...

I am really hoping for a good crossover effect to emerge from the success of "Fifty Shades". While I think the indie market is ready to absorb the new readers, I am waiting to see how the traditional publishing industry responds and how they package the knock offs in a way that feels safe to the so-called mommy porn audience.

Kathy Kulig said...

Thanks everyone so much for your honest opinions. I love to hear from all sides. I do write BDSM and I'm still new and learning this subgenre.

Some stories have only a few elements of the lifestyle, or like Emerald Dungeon, have a full story about exploring that type of relationship. I do a LOT of research in alternative lifestyles. I've gone to clubs, talked personally to people living the lifestyle and read many fiction and non-fiction books. But I'm sure I don't get every detail right. And at times I may take my own twist on things to make the story more interesting and fun. Some readers may love it or hate it. I'm an author, I make things up. My idea of fiction is to curl up with a book, escape and be entertained. Some details do need to be correct, others not so much, I think. There's a 'grey' area. :)

Kathy Kulig said...

Heather, I think some opportunities will open for BDSM genre authors in traditional markets like you said. And I bet the covers will be more down-played (no whips, chains or handcuffs) for the new demographic of readers. :)