Thursday, 14 June 2012

50 Shades of Hype

It's the hype that's doing my head in.

Not the author - I'm not into author bashing, honestly I'm not. OK, maybe a little pummelling and tenderising but that's the limit.

Not the book itself - although that is difficult considering how badly written / annoying people say it is. Or more to the point, I haven't seen people saying it's well-written. (Although I've enjoyed the well written snark!)

But the hype.
My giddy aunt, THE HYPE!!!!!

It's out of hand, and it's stupid.
And ultimately, the hype over 50 Shades of Gray can't be good for writers, the romance/romantica/erotica genre, fan fiction or publishers.

Why is so much hype bad for writers?

Because for the last few weeks, I've had three well-meaning relatives suggest I jump on the erotica bandwagon. Yeah, that's real sensible considering I write "sweet" young adult romantic comedy. With talking ferrets.

But what's worse is that so many writers like myself attend workshops, write every day, critique work, go to meetings, hone our craft . . . and then something like 50 Shades becomes a bestseller by accident and  . . . I can't help thinking the world doesn't make sense any more. My writer friends are also scratching their heads wondering how this happened.

"But you're just a jealous hater," people say. Sorry for the typo, that should be Jelus H8er.

Fair cop. I'll wear it. How could I not be jealous? I wish I had sales like that, I really, really do.

Why is the hype bad for the genre?

People love to pour scorn on romance. It's shooting fish in a barrel. I deeply love romance of all kinds and in any broad genre like romance (inspirational, urban fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary, historical, young adult, erotica) you're going to get some really good crack and some absolute shite. Every genre has it. But here's the thing, I don't think anyone is reading 50 Shades for the quality of the writing, at which point people who disparage romance will use this one trilogy as an example of how 'all romance is crap'. It's such a tremendous shame because if only Kate Noble's books had this kind of hype, or Anne Gracie's, or Cristina Brooke or Anna Campbell or Kelly Hunter or Trish Morey or Melanie Milburne or Fiona Lowe or ME!!!!!!
(sorry, I forgot myself) but any and all of these authors write really, really well and love the English language and love crafting a fabulously written story and if they got the hype, maybe more of the world would see just how good the romance genre could be!

Fan fiction - how can this be bad for them?

From what I've read, 50 Shades began as fan fiction. It was fan fiction based on the Twilight novels. Fan fiction is where you take characters and settings (copyrighted characters and settings) from established popular culture and then write your own adventures about them. Loads of my friends have made Star Wars fan fiction movies, for example.

The thing is, by playing in a recognisable sandbox, you're amongst friends and having a great time. The quality of product can be hit and miss, but it's where a great many people begin learning the craft.

And they can't make money on it, because they're using copyrighted and trademarked characters and worlds.

So personally, I don't quite understand how this has made the crossover. I'm expecting to read about a lawsuit any day now. But then Stephenie Meyer's people might have to read 50 Shades and I have a feeling they'll be all, "You're not tricking us into buying it!"

People know the origins of 50 Shades was in fan fiction and . . . I can only see this polarising the community further.

And lastly, why is this bad for publishers?

Publishers are getting kicked in the head from all places. Bookstores are closing, Amazon is voraciously eating into their profit margins like my son going through a stash of chocolate. Costs are going up. Distribution is painfully expensive. More books are being published every year creating even more competition, yet the buyers are purchasing less . . .  it's inverse supply and demand and it's not sustainable.

Publishing is risk-averse at the best of times. Picking up an indie author who already has strong self-publishing sales is a smart move. BUT with so much hype surrounding this product, the publisher raises people's expectations . . . and then someone reads it and doesn't like it, probably because it's so badly written.

CONFESSION: I have not read all 3 books. I have read the first few pages and . . . what's that old saying? You don't have to eat the whole egg to know it's bad? Maybe my complaint about the hype is nullified by me not reading it. I mean, reading all of it. OR, maybe I'm contributing to the hype by even talking about this? This is the problem with hype. It becomes all pervasive and infects everything. Even sensible conversation.

"Ignore it" you might suggest. Yes, of course I'll ignore it. Except that it's invaded even the daggy aisles of my local Big W for goodness sake. How can I ignore it when it's up in my face?

But you know what I can do? I can pour this frustration into my books. I am still writing, still querying, still doing everything I can to write the very best books I can. And not even the hype of this book, or whatever hype is around the corner, is going to stop me.


Emmie said...

Ebony, I can't help but agree with you on all counts. Especially the Jelus H8er. I've definitely gone down the "What about me?" path. I have to admit that I've got about halfway through the first book and I'm not sure that I'll read further.

The link to that article about 50 things that annoy me was hilarious! I'm so glad it wasn't just me that got seriously angry about being told about Christian's pants hanging sexily from his hips multiple times. I think the third or fourth time I read that was when I stopped...

Ebony McKenna. said...

Oh Emmie,
you got much further than me.

I will happily own up to being jealous. "What about me" came on the radio the other day and I sang out loud and heartily, lol!

We'll both have to keep writing awesome books and getting them out there. *tents fingers* *makes plans* *laughs malevolently*

Jennie Brumley said...

3 things...

1. I am yet to read *that book* but I have been told my many people, including several respected authors, the horrible writing is easily overlooked by how wonderful the story is.

2. I write erotic romances, some of which include elements of BDSM. I also know some people in the lifestyle (both Dominant male and submissive female) who read and critique my work for me to help me better understand the dynamics.

These people refer to *that book* as "50 Shades of Lame", and say the writing could be perfect and the story would still suck.

3. How is there are so many truly fantastic writers out there, people who have done the work, have won contest after contest for their efforts, who can't get published, yet *that book* takes off like a rocket...?

I do not understand.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Hi Jenny,
that's a magnificent response from somebody who knows the genre.

Publishing is never fair or logical sometimes (and it's a commercial trade, not some writer utopia), but I scratch my head and wonder how the really good writers who work so hard and write marvellous books don't get a gram of the attention that this book has.

50 Shades of Lame. *snort*

Sarah Billington said...

Yes - I, a YA comedy writer - was told by my 72 year old father that I should try erotica. My DADDY wants me to write erotica because of this book.

That's all the reason I need to hate it. :)

Jennie Brumley said...

Maybe I should self-pub some of my old Star Trek fanfic and see what happens.

Cardassians and Ferengis and Klingons oh my!

Ebony McKenna. said...

Oh Sarah! That is ... I'm grossed out on your behalf.
And also, why are people, well meaning or otherwise, suggesting we write books like this?

Because they want us to do well I guess, but they think we can only write books that won't sell????

Anyway, you're not alone. Someone in publishing, someone dear to my heart, suggested a similar thing to me. I cried for his lost sanity. I think a lot of people in publishing are also scratching their heads wondering how this book got so big.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Oh please do!!!!!!!!
I bet there's a whole swag of Janeway / Picard slash out there.

Alison Stuart said...

Nodding, nodding...! Thank you, Ebony, I thought it was just me. I read the Amazon sample and the characters didn't grab me, couldn't see the plot and quite honestly couldn't be bothered.
1. As Jennie has pointed out WELL WRITTEN erotic or romotic fiction has been around for at least 10 years now and everyone is going on as if EL James has just discovered the G spot!
2. More alarmingly, it is killing the market for authors who don't write erotica. Every publisher is now wanting "HOT". Hey...I don't write hot, I don't read hot. I want to read (and write books) with gentle love scenes, in context with the plot and the characters that doesn't involve whips and chains. I'm sure others out there want to read gentle romance too but I'm sorry, I fear the market for the next few years will be books so hot they're jumping off the shelves, mostly written in haste to cash in on the Market.
Oooh...Alison on a soap box! I will get down and tiptoe quietly away now.
Alison Stuart

Erica Hayes said...

Well said :) Publishers are always going to hype some book. We could just wish it was a good one, for a change :)

I mean, sure, we'd all like to make heaps of sales. But the fact is that when a series sells 10 million copies? They can't all be genre-savvy readers. There aren't that many genre-savvy readers. Those 10 million people are the same people who read TWILIGHT and said, 'wow!! A sexy vampire hero!!' when the rest of us groaned and said, 'not *another* one!'

Not to be mean to them -- they're allowed to enjoy what they enjoy, and it's none of my business -- but they just don't know any better.

Those people, bless 'em, are not my target audience. I write for genre readers. I aspire to entertain *them*, with their love and knowledge of the genre and dislike of genre cliches. Like every genre author, I'm looking to turn the genre on its head a little, not pander to its worst overused tropes. My readers are bored with that.

I don't aim to revisit the beginnings of my genre. No genre writer does. To quote Captain Mal, I aim to misbehave. If 10 million people suddenly thought my dark, violent, weird paranormals were awesome? I'd be doing something wrong.

And that's one reason a lot of genre (erotica) readers don't like 50 Shades. Because it's gone back to the beginning. Which is where 10 million people who've never read any erotica need to begin.

However... {getting back on topic} that doesn't change the fact that if the publisher took even a fraction of the money they've spent on buying and producing and promoting 50 Shades, and divided it up among their emerging authors...

That for me is the disappointing part. Not unexpected. Just disappointing.

Ebony McKenna. said...

How many times have we read advice telling us 'don't try and write what's hot now' because by the time we wrote and submitted, it wouldn't be hot.

Erica, I was trying to think of something else much hyped and settled on anything Mac related. Eyepads and pods and phones etc. Some people refuse to buy anything Apple because they're sick to death of the hype - and Apple makes good product!

Righto, I'm off to hit the reset button and 'invent' science fiction. Anyone want to join me on a journey to the middle of our planet? ;-)

Ebony McKenna. said...

I may bang my head into the desk at this one . . . .there's a book coming out which is a rewrite of Jane Eyre with extra naughty bits, and someone's written about Louisa May Alcott with extra sauce.

More fan fiction. And people say Hollywood can't come up with anything original.

lheinrich said...

Yup! Very badly written, couldn't read it!

lheinrich said...

OMFG!!! I just read ur last comment Eb 8S (bashing of head on desk!)

Philippa said...

I read a sample page online and gave up. But the girls I work with - who sadly think that Twilight is the best thing ever written - can't put them down.

Writing aside, friends I have who are into the BDSM scene in a big way have informed me that the information is so wrong and potentially injury causing that it is actually a bit worrying.

And while one could say 'but it is just a book, surely noone will take it seriously', look how many believed The Da Vinci Code was real! The number of conversations I had about that was unbelievable.

lheinrich said...


Ebony McKenna. said...

Lou, it's so lovely to know other people share my pain. :-D

Yes, it's just a fad. I'm sure blanket and cardigan makers were tearing their hair out when Snuggies were all the rage.

Ebony McKenna. said...

I'm in the same camp - read a few sample pages and the jaw dropped. To me it felt so banal and inane. (That's probably a tautology). She's the kind of girl who turns on the light and wonders how the electricity got in there.

It doesn't upset me that these books exist, because not everything is going to be to my taste (nor should it) but ..... oh hell, there's no denying it. Why couldn't it be my books being hyped like this instead?