'Fifty Shades' Author EL James To Publish Writing Guide

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'Fifty Shades' Author EL James To Publish Writing Guide

I don't write a whole lot of news posts these days, but I had to come off the bench for this: EL James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, will publish and release a how-to guide on writing

Now look, I'm trying to be a more gracious person. Walk down a righteous path. Care less about things I can't control, and concentrate on being the best writer I can be. But days like today, all I can do is quake in fear at the mysteries of this planet we call Earth. 

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, James' Fifty Shades trilogy includes some truly horrifying prose. This isn't a matter of taste; it's objectively bad. Which, fine, some people really like it (specifically: 70 million people worldwide).

EDIT: I had included a widely-used quote attributed to the book, but it turns out to have been made up. I'm an asshole and I apologize for the error. Anyway, carry on... 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here is the original, erroneous quote, which is too goddamn funny not to include. Rob actually had to purchase and search all three books to verify it was a fake. His penance for sullying the good name of EL James.

His finger circled my puckered love cave.

"Are you ready?" He mewled smirking at me like a mother hamster about to eat her three legged young.

Discussion point: Isn't that a bit like taking nutritional advice from the Honey Boo Boo clan?

Seriously though, there's an interesting discussion to have here. I say she's a bad writer; a lot of people on this site tend to agree. And yet she sold 70 million copies. That's remarkable. So are we the ones who are broken? Is it our tastes that's out of step with the rest of the world? Is LitReactor home to the last remnants of a dying, obsolete culture? Will this book of writing advice be clutched to the bosoms of legions, and come to define the literary acumen of millions of people for years to come? Is EL James the messiah for this new society?  

Is this the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a Fifty Shades writing guide?

Fifty Shades of Grey: Inner Goddess (A Journal) comes out in May and it will sell a ba-jillion copies and the cries of lament on Twitter shall echo through the universe. 

Image of Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey Series)
Author: E L James
Price: $10.18
Publisher: Vintage Books (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 514 pages
Rob Hart

News by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor, as well as the publisher at MysteriousPress.com. He's the author of New Yorked, nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose and South Village. Short stories have appeared in publications like Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Needle, Joyland, All Due Respect, and Helix Literary Magazine. Non-fiction has appeared at Salon, The Daily Beast, Birth.Movies.Death, The Literary Hub, Electric Literature, and Nailed. He lives in New York City. Find him online at www.robwhart.com

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Comments

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words March 12, 2013 - 6:35am

double post

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words March 12, 2013 - 6:34am

at least I learned that mother hamsters mewl.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer March 12, 2013 - 6:35am

I laughed till I cried about "puckered love cave."

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry March 12, 2013 - 6:39am

I will forever refer to any cavity (including my coffee cup and the drain for my shower) as "my puckered love cave". 

Thank you for this, Rob.

I will buy her book and sell 70 million copies of something.

Suzanne van Rooyen's picture
Suzanne van Rooyen from South Africa is reading Silver Dream World by Neil Gaiman March 12, 2013 - 6:41am

Wow, just speechless.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson March 12, 2013 - 6:49am

At least I learned that mother hamsters mewl.

But only when about to eat 3 legged young. If baby ham-ham has all four legs— no mewling.

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry March 12, 2013 - 6:53am

And no puckered love cave.

awesomehotdogs's picture
awesomehotdogs from Denver, CO March 12, 2013 - 6:56am

Another fantastic case of the blind leading the blind. 

Sound's picture
Sound from Azusa, CA is reading Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt March 12, 2013 - 6:58am

WOW! That IS some bad writing.

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things March 12, 2013 - 7:16am

I frown.

Camicia Bennett's picture
Camicia Bennett from Florida is reading Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See March 12, 2013 - 7:38am

I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

onmytangent's picture
onmytangent from Charlotte, NC March 12, 2013 - 8:09am

Man, that was too much. She combined a hamster and a sex scene. Never thought it could be done.. 

Unfortunately, I don't think much of the American public wants to read (or watch, for that matter) anything that makes them think too hard. We want to be entertained without having to think about it. Granted, the same can be true for myself on occasion as I've been known to watch some ridiculous crap. 

But James might be a genius. She got 70 million people to buy her trashy book. Maybe she's actually a decent writer and plays it down for the sake of $$. Think about it, it's like a smart girl playing dumb to get the attention of guys. 

It's a shame though when good authors out there have to claw and scrape just to get someone to notice their labor, and that authors like James can come up with several hundred pages of sentences a third-grader could write--throw in some sex-- and now it's a bestseller. Nothing is ever solely on merit anymore. 

 

eirikodin's picture
eirikodin from Auburn, NY is reading Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler March 12, 2013 - 8:23am

Didn't Patrick Bateman have a sex scene with a hamster.  Oh wait a minute, that was a torture scene.  Carry on.

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry March 12, 2013 - 9:16am

combined a hamster and a sex scene. Never thought it could be done..

Nonsense!  Richard Gere did it that one time, right?  All kinds of fun if your doctor is a discrete kind of person.

 

 

 

So I'm told...

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind March 12, 2013 - 9:55am

 I've read good and bad writing guides in my time, but none have ever had bad advice. (Just bad formatting.) 

We should all still read this guide. At best, it will be the "What NOT to do" guide -- and think of the quotes we can drop in the forums! At worst... we might actually learn something from the book in a roundabout way. (Like how House solves medical mysteries because of something someone says that has absolutely nothing to do with the case on hand?)

Madeline's picture
Madeline from Yamhill, OR is reading Worst. Person. Ever. March 12, 2013 - 10:56am

Shame on you. I was under the impression that Litractor attracted open minded authors. Sounds like you want Litreactor to be a place where Zombies are the only thing that “defines literery acumen”. That's remarkable. If you want to be a famous musician you don't have to like Justin Bieber, but you do have to be interested in why he is famous and you aren't.  He is not famous because he sucks or because the masses are mindless and you are the only one who “thinks”, even if he is a poor musician and you may be a smart cookie. How then has he won the hearts and minds of millions? Of course no self respecting musician would want to be Justin, (they shouldn't strive to be anyone else at all) but only a blind asshole wouldn't want his secrets.

Romance novels are a way bigger deal than any fringe subversive stories about alcoholic fathers and date rape. Maybe you are looking in a very crowded literary direction and it wouldn't hurt to expand your horizons. Maybe you are afraid that her How To will do just as well as 50 Shades and bookshleves will overflow with fly by night aspiring Romance wanna be writers and they will all become more famous than you are, Rob.

Ms James doesn't write cunning sentances about how fucked up your parents are like Chuck, or glorify your imaginary crime and/or drug spree like Irvine but she does speak to 70 million more people than you, and you don't wonder why? If it doesn't read like a cock fight it doesn't deserve respect? Then you don't deserve to have anyone read your writing if you don't care what anybody except you likes to read.

I have never bought her book, nor will I , but I would be fascinated to know how she made so many people pay attention to her vagina talk.

Jennifer Dunn's picture
Jennifer Dunn March 12, 2013 - 11:20am

The problem Alice is not that the writing is just bad it is offensive. Society has a strange way of accepting things that are mediocre. Justin may be making money but it doesn’t mean it was good music. The same goes for James, Her writing is not good and her content is offensive to say the least. By society accepting people like James and Bieber it says that they are not willing to stretch their brains beyond something that they are able to undersatnd. They are willing to just accept it, like the” hamster” who in their right mind has that thought as they are about to have sex. I can assure you that people are not reading for content. 

Joan Defers's picture
Joan Defers from United States March 12, 2013 - 11:45am

70 million people bought it. They don't have to have liked it.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books March 12, 2013 - 2:44pm

I don't think anyone here is hating on her booksales (and if they are, that's really sad), what people are saying is that she is not good with the technical aspects, she was not good with characterization (she had a 20 year old in the PNW speaking like a Brit in the 80s), and several other things that if you want to write WELL and not just SELL, you need to master. Plenty of writing is great technically, but is boring as hell, and obviously, the opposite is true, too. But just selling a lot of books doesn't make you an expert on writing good prose. 

One can argue all day and night about whether James deserves the heaping portion of hate she is getting (I don't think she does), but there are actual rules about writing well in a technical sense, she doesn't. Writing guides are meant to help writers become technically proficient, as well as help them to tell a good story.

MahoganyWriter's picture
MahoganyWriter from Stamford, CT is reading Murder on Lexington Avenue by Victoria Thompson March 12, 2013 - 5:57pm

Everyone is writing about the quote but it is a fake quote. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here is the original, erroneous quote, which is too goddamn funny not to include. Rob actually had to purchase and search all three books to verify it was a fake. His penance for sullying the good name of EL James.

I want to write well and sell 70 million copies. Look life is not fair so let her have her 15 minutes (and 70 million in sales) and keep on writing your masterpiece. This is not me be snarky just being me which is real and truthful.

Write-On!!!

anima's picture
anima March 14, 2013 - 10:56pm

I was linked to this from somewhere else and made an account just to be able to comment on this, because I think it's interesting to consider. Here's the way I see it:

As most people know, 50 Shades originated as Twilight fanfiction. I was never in the Twilight fandom, however I've been in many others for many years, and I've seen the way different fandoms work. I've been a fan of very popular pairings or series that you can find anywhere with all sorts of interesting different ideas, and I've been a fan of extremely obscure pairings or series where I can't find anything at all or I have literally one or two stories as options. My main interest lies in a relatively popular genre (gay male stories, called m/m for the rest of this comment) that is nonetheless looked down upon by some subsections of readers. In general, if you tell a "normal" person that you're into fandom, they won't know or understand what fandom is, and they might even look down on you for it, because they have preconceived notions of the quality of writing found in it or who should be in fandoms and who should not.

I know this comment is long (sorry) but I couldn't help giving my own personal perspective on what happened/why this series is so popular despite the generally accepted lack of quality in the writing style itself. I also wasn't trying to over-explain but in my experience not everyone understands the terms used so I figured I'd explain if I mentioned one.

I discovered m/m accidentally, however I also quickly realized that it was something I really liked and really connected with. When I first discovered it, I was so happy to have found a genre that I liked that I would read ANYTHING in it. No matter the quality, no matter if I disagreed with what the author wrote or the plot devices, no matter the incomprehensible grammar and spelling and terrible characterization and boring dialogue, no matter how banal or unimaginative everything was. I thought it was the only option I had, and so I read anything and everything, and I ignored the parts I didn't like because I didn't think it could be any other way.

However, as time passed, I grew to realize that actually the genre was much larger and more diverse than I had first understood. And through that I started to have access to variety, and through that I became more discerning, and eventually it got to a point where the stories I first read because I had no other choice were now the stories I skipped or stopped immediately upon starting because the quality was not nearly up to par with other options out there.

I can tell you right now that in the fandoms I've been in, there are some writers who are on par with published authors, and sometimes they're even better than just about anything published I've ever read. There are a number of people who have gone from fandom into original series and have been published. There are some incredibly thoughtful, well written, well researched stories that, at times, may as well be original fiction themselves for as little as the story connects with the original premise of the world. (In fandom, we call that AU-- Alternate Universe, when someone takes the characters and divorces them from the original setting. 50 Shades, for instance, is an AU fanfic of Twilight. It's why she was able to auto-replace names and pretend it wasn't all about Twilight, because the setting wasn't the same.)

But as a fandom person of many years, I can also tell anyone who asks that the writing quality of 50 Shades is precisely the quality of the stories I first found in the m/m genre. It's unimaginative, simplistic, and if you really dig into a lot of different parts of the plot or the writing style, it doesn't actually make sense. For instance, the main character's a college student who's not only never had a computer but never had even an email address? That right there is unrealistic in the setting. However, in defense of the characterization in other ways, some people take issue with her having been completely asexual into her early twenties but actually that can and DOES happen and I wish fewer people would try to say that just because they were sexually awakened earlier that clearly no one else could have been delayed an extra set of years. But that's beside the point.

The point I'm trying to make is that I think the reason for the popularity of this story is not actually the story itself, or the quality of it. I think it was a case of timing. I think there are a lot of people (primarily women) who feel repressed in their daily lives or don't feel they have lived up to the level of a fantasy they wished to attain, and I also personally know a number of middle aged women who thought that Robert Pattinson is super cute/hot but they felt a bit uncomfortable with lusting after someone so young.

So my belief is that in essence what happened here was a bunch of housewives and working women discovered fandom through 50 Shades, and like happened with me when I discovered it myself, they were so excited by the idea that something like this existed that they ignored anything related to quality.

I think the similarities to Twilight which were not bothered to be edited out aided the popularity of the series for the women who wanted to lust after Twilight but didn't know how or thought that fandoms were beneath them if they DID discover them. I think the BDSM aspect (which is not at all accurate in any form to real life BDSM) made them feel tantalized by the idea that they were delving into something "naughty" and "forbidden". I think the fact that the sex scenes weren't actually descriptive for the most part aside from a bunch of "oh my"s let them feel, again, that they were dipping their toes into something naughty while at the same time not being thrown off by something more graphic that might have embarrassed them to admit to reading. (Because if they'd really wanted a well-written sex scene, there's already a lot of erotica out there that's probably written much better but isn't as popular)

Also, there's a lot to be said about the idea of being able to read a book that doesn't make you think-- there are plenty of people who pass on more well-thought-out affairs to opt for a quick and dirty read, and I certainly can't say I've never done the same myself. For some people, after being stressed out by daily life, reading something that isn't thought provoking is quite welcome.

Then, add in that some people reacted excitedly to this book the way I did to the first fanfics I found, by recommending it to anyone who would listen simply because I didn't even know I'd wanted something until I found it. You then have a lot of people buying a book based on a recommendation. However, of the people I personally know who bought the books because they kept hearing about it, they all thought they were awful, and finished the first book only because they'd spent money on it and they were waiting for it to get better. But one of them has a sister who loved the series, bought all three, and tried to convince her husband to do some of the sex acts with her.

The reason I go into this whole long thing is because, personally, I think the 50 Shades books are terrible, but I can't necessarily blame all the people who got so excited about it because it puts me so strongly in mind of my first naive fandom moments. I think they're going through the same process I was, only they don't realize they're doing it. Fandom people like me look at 50 Shades largely aghast, because we feel like people who don't belong to any fandoms but who learn that 50 Shades is a Twilight fanfic will henceforth believe that all fanfic is that quality. Trust me. It isn't. However, to be fair, 50 Shades is probably the lower to mediocre quality of fanfics out there-- it's readable and has a plot that more or less at least attempts to connect across the series-- but it is by no means the pillar of fandom. It is by no means a good example of the quality that can be found in some fanfiction.

But precisely BECAUSE I think all the above reasons are the reason for the popularity of the series, I shudder at the idea of her writing a How To guide, because honestly, if a bunch of people emulate what she did, they on their own would never be able to get anywhere. If they have any popularity at all following her process, it will only be for the people who want to read more stories like 50 Shades. In essence, they will be creating fanfictions of her fanfiction.

So maybe people following her tips will sell a lot of books, I don't know. But it's interesting because I don't think it's her tips that will help them sell it per se, I think it will be them trailing along in the wake of her story, and should 50 Shades ever lose its popularity entirely, so too would they lose their chance. Because even the most popular of fandoms have a shelf life. They may be insanely popular with tons of great new stories coming out one moment, but after a point no matter its previous popularity, it dies down into obscurity, and all those stories which emulate it from its heyday remain loved and remembered only by the most devoted of fans.

Those who aren't from fandoms who are looking at the series, aghast, wondering how it could possibly be so popular, are in fact not far from the way more established, better quality fanfic writers might look aghast at the popularity of overly simplified, poorly characterized fanfiction that panders to the newly initiated. Basically, EL James brought fandom to the real world and didn't bother to tell anyone it was happening, and those of us from fandom can more clearly understand what's happening, but those who are unfamiliar with the entire concept might still be wondering when everything changed so dramatically around them.

This, at least, is my theory.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 15, 2013 - 12:07am

We try to tell the stories we have, or think the world needs. It is big and serious and requires a ton of thought. She told a story they wanted to hear and loved doing, so of course people bought it.

The writing sucks, but for a lot of people the story was fun. When was the last time any of us, myself included, posted about making something we wrote fun?

Carlie Lee's picture
Carlie Lee March 21, 2013 - 10:53am

Laughing! What a brilliant article. Ha! See me smile, through my bitter, jealous tears.

Andreia Marques's picture
Andreia Marques from Brazil is reading Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood April 1, 2013 - 6:38pm

I HAVE read a lot of fanfics in my life. Some of them were good in a fun, hobbyist way. I compare it to a person who takes pictures of their family and trips, some which may be good, to a professional photographer. I may like my friends' family pictures, but I wouldn't hire them to photograph, say, a wedding, y'know?

Most fic writers aren't good at all. One of them I actually pointed toward publishing her own stories because she was that good. But most of them, the vast majority of them, are NOT the sort of author I'd pay to read - they're fun as fanfics, but...

EL James is one of those people. As fanfic, I probably wouldn't mind reading her stuff (well, other than the Twilight aspect; I wouldn't read that), because I have much lower standards for fanfics. Hell, I even write them for fun. As a professional, though? Sorry, no.

I have a feeling that the 70 million people who bought her books are not familiar with fanfics.

Writingkat's picture
Writingkat April 29, 2015 - 3:23pm

Hmmm.

...what will be the #safeword for this little tome?

dunsnapped's picture
dunsnapped April 29, 2015 - 3:25pm

Will there be a chapter on how to surreptitiously steal scenes from the movie Pretty Woman while stealing the whole story from another author?

Angelica Hopes's picture
Angelica Hopes April 29, 2015 - 10:34pm

LOL :-) Thomas Wolfe, Marcel Proust, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Nabokov will rise from the grave!

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter April 29, 2015 - 11:21pm

I want to be angry, but here I am 40 minutes before midnight once again trying to rewrite the first chapter of my novel over a nearly-empty box of wine.

I'll probably just cry myself ot sleep tonight.

William D. Prystauk's picture
William D. Prystauk April 30, 2015 - 9:36am

I wouldn't trust her to write a grocery list.

Sabrina Kinnison's picture
Sabrina Kinnison April 30, 2015 - 9:50am

Guess I'm the outcast here enjoyed her books for what they are fiction romance lite reading. Nothing seriously taken but after taxing day they were enjoyable read. Yes I giggled at same of it but thought it wasn't a serious book. (Was it suppose to be serious?)

Now that said no I'd not buy this next book. She's a new writer just beginning her career how can she give advise at this time? She still has to learn, improve and grow as a writer. Perhaps after she's publish more work I'd consider it but not at this time. 

 

 

AmandaHootie's picture
AmandaHootie April 30, 2015 - 10:15am

The only reason she sold anything is because she wrote a story about Bella and Edward from twilight and added raunchy, poorly written sex. That got her noticed by her publisher who in turn made her change her character names and now humanity is worse off because of it. So technically she owes her success to Stephanie Meyer because the entire outline of 50 shades follows the same exact pattern as twilight. *end rant*

AmandaHootie's picture
AmandaHootie April 30, 2015 - 10:17am

Oh and to prove that she has absolutely ZERO talent she's still clinging to this stupid book that has lined her pockets while other "real" authors have branched out and done other things. She's a talentless cunt.

Dana Boyer's picture
Dana Boyer April 30, 2015 - 10:17am

And it will out sell 'The Elements of Style' ten fold. Sad. 

Lynne Hinkey's picture
Lynne Hinkey April 30, 2015 - 11:03am

Despite publishing through an indy publisher, I'd still harbored dreams of landing an agent and getting a traditional publisher. This has cured me. I don't think I could write badly enough to do that even if I tried.

Micheal Craft's picture
Micheal Craft April 30, 2015 - 11:05am

Stephen King beat her to the punch fifteen years ago, as well as William Strunk and E.B. White's with Elements of style. These books alone put public school English writing classes to shame. So why the hell would she , a horrid fan fiction writer, bother? What's that? Oh yeah, her ravenous fan base would clamor for it and only further the 50 shades cash cow that she is so meticulously perched upon. Moo goes the cow, moo.

DaVonne Rochelle's picture
DaVonne Rochelle from Philadelphia is reading The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer April 30, 2015 - 11:25am

So this is one of those signs of the apocolypse they didn't mention in that ancient book everyone is raving about. I can't believe someone is going to publish a writing guide by her. UNLESS!!! Unless it is actually written by her ghost writer! 

I have a theory too. My theory is that someone from the publishing company, or a freelancer, wrote the second half of the first book and the other two books. There is no way the same person who wrote the first 15 chapters, wrote the rest of it. The writing got exponentially better after chapter 15. Did anyone else feel this way?

Crymsin Lilly's picture
Crymsin Lilly April 30, 2015 - 2:37pm

Okay, who is she boinking to get all of this utter shite published?  

If she has researched BDSM and D/s relationships, she did it via Jerry Springer.  

Her "writing" (I use that word so loosely that one could pilot a derigible through it) had lead to many injuries because so many of her fans are idiots.

She has painted the BDSM communites with two brushes in the same go;

one that makes it look appealing to people who find the idea of dominance and/or submission enticing and who want to learn more but think that her work is an accurate example of what is healthy so they readily fall into abusive relationships 

the other that makes the community look violent and degrading, unhealthy and abusive, which it is not, when you do the proper research, advocate for yourself, and most importantly USE COMMON DAMNED SENSE!

James can't write her way out of a wet paper bag and she certainly has zero business publishing a book on how to write!  We don't need a generation of garbage spewing pleebs publishing books.  We can only hope that no one is so stupid as to publish anything so horried again.

booklover1281's picture
booklover1281 April 30, 2015 - 7:06pm

The author's ability to write, whether its good or not, is like all creative endeavors, a matter of opinion. Some like it, some don't. It was never designed to be classic literature. I'm sure the people who like it, first, never confused it for classic literature and second, don't give a flying flip what you think. They read it for fun. And considering that people here are still commenting and judging a quote which you have identified is false, I have to question the validity of opinions of people who clearly can't read what's in front of them. But shame on you for publishing the false quote in the first place; you only managed to fact check it after you published it. And since there is apparently a lot of bold face lies about this book running rampant on the Internet (and we all know everything there is the truth) why do we believe this is true? If it isn't, shame on you for perpetuating the crap. If it is, who cares. It's not the end of the world.

Anne Silva's picture
Anne Silva April 30, 2015 - 11:30pm

This is like Ronald McDonald writing a cookbook on gourmet food! NOT buying that! 

Katy Helper Jordan's picture
Katy Helper Jordan May 1, 2015 - 9:19am

Jesus wept.

I honestly just want to ask her, "Do you truly think you're a good writer - good enough to advise others on how to do it - or do you recognize you're a mediocre, right place/right time writer who decided she can cash in on her success?" I mean, if you can make a living getting people to buy your books, have at it, but I honestly want to know if she's delusional or just sees a financial opportunity.

Katy Helper Jordan's picture
Katy Helper Jordan May 1, 2015 - 9:28am

Also, I would like to point out that there are several one- and two-line comments on this article that are better writing than her entire body of work. I don't even care about the content of the books; I'm not easily shocked or a prude (and unlike the baffling number of horny housewives who loved this crap, I got over it with VC Andrews when I was 15). My go-to genre is cop procedurals with plenty of grit and gore and non-vanilla sex. My sole issue is that the writing itself is just. so. horrendous. I feel like most people were writing at about this level in ninth grade. I'm sure a lot of people - if they continue reading - will come to realize that the writing itself is garbage and there is good erotica out there, but the learning curve shocks me when I see 40-year-old women reading one of the books on their luncbreak at work.

Mike Nugent's picture
Mike Nugent May 1, 2015 - 10:18am

Trash novels have always sold well, penny dreadfuls, Mills and Boons, etc. Some trash novels are well written and just happen to be in one of the trash formats. But some trash novels are trash writing. The market they are aimed at is the "unthinking read" market. I buy some books in this area, for on the beach, travelling by train etc, where I don't want to think but shut down. For me it's a form of sleeping while awake. What I can't stand is when the writing is so bad it intrudes and wakes you up. I have no problem with there being a trash novel market, I like some of it. But if it wakes me it's failed...........50 shades would, I believe, fall into this area.

Alaric Longward's picture
Alaric Longward May 1, 2015 - 11:34am

Looking at Amazon, the first book in the trilogy has some 30 k reviews with the average of 3.5 stars. This seems to walk hand in hand with the fact that many found it horrible.

The following books have around 14 k each, with 4 or more stars on average. 

It might be she had a pure, simple, and terrific idea, but not the skills to make the first book a literary masterpiece and not enough editing power back then.

We are all learning. Some just do brilliantly while they do.

Vermin Jerky's picture
Vermin Jerky May 1, 2015 - 7:44pm

I wasn't going to comment until I noticed that a commenter had the infantile temerity to use the phrase, "Shame on you," as though she is the author's scolding nanny. And going on to suggest that only an "asshole" could hold the writer's opinion! Look at that, two fallacies down already. (Argumentum ad populum seasoned with the abusive variant of ad hominem.)

Here, Madeleine. Let me give you the big secrets of Fifty Shits and save you a few bucks.

1. It's easy.

It's an easy read. It's written at a seventh grade level with a thesaurus on hand. You can easily read the entire series in a weekend.

It was easy to write. The author admitted to doing no research. She gets basic human anatomy wrong repeatedly, let alone her actual subject. It's a literal Twilight fanfic, for God's sake. There is no commitment to this crap whatsoever.

2. Oprah liked it.

She's like a one woman tripe factory. Being terrible, wrong, and crude but easy and overly dramatic is the key to getting the woman's attention. Fifty Shits never would have mattered to anybody if not for Oprah Winfrey, the tastemaker who also brought us such luminaries as Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz.

Oprah is legion.

3. Sex.

It's daytime-talk-sanctioned porn. Of course it was successful.

Generic sexy guy with all the sexiness. Chick who could be anybody. Add a pinch of poorly understood kinkiness, add physical impossibility, distribute via Oprah.

4. Broken boy

Here's the last and most notable ingredient. Literally every symptom of an abusive relationship is present in this series. You can find the signs on the APA website. All of them apply.

One of the biggest problems faced by domestic violence support workers is victims who go back to their abusers. The victim will change, be better. The abuser will change, be better. Some victims believe it over and over again.

You know what Fifty Shits has that real life doesn't? In Fifty Shits, staying with the abuser works. She's sure she can fix him... And she does.

If you can't figure out why some women swoon over this fantasy while others (like me) literally retch, go volunteer at a women's shelter. There's a serious glitch in the human psyche that this book feeds into.

Those are the real selling points, and Leonard (James) won't tell you a single one.

Back at fallacies, let's talk about that poor, beaten up straw man. The author never said the prose of a good book has to be anything other than good. Everything you suggested was pulled out of hammerspace. Good writing doesn't require a huge vocabulary or any particular subject matter. Look at Hemingway, for Christ's sake. You've confused good writing with popular writing, and it just won't do.

Good writers have something to say. They make you think, or feel, or learn, or come away with something. Leonard makes her readers masturbate and delivers stupid ideas about bad relationships. Its strength is that it gives people looking for a hit their fix. It's literary heroin. It's popular specifically because it doesn't use too much gray matter. (Okay, some readers probably did think it dug deeper. I do not care to know those people.) This story has been told a thousand times, if not more, and by much better writers.

Here are some actual quotes. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the writing of your teacher, Erika Leonard (James):

"His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel... or something."
I swear to God, that is real. This book is written in the first person by a supposed literature major.

"'Argh!' I cry as I feel a weird pinching sensation deep inside me as he rips through my virginity."
Your mom read this book.

"I am all gushing and breathy - like a child, not a grown woman who can vote and drink legally in the state of Washington."
Remember how I said Leonard did no research? She. Did. No. Research.

"'Does this mean you're going to make love to me tonight, Christian?' Holy shit! Did I just say that? His mouth drops open slightly, but he recovers quickly. 'No, Anastasia, it doesn't. Firstly, I don't make love. I fuck... hard. Secondly, there's a lot more paperwork to do, and thirdly, you don't yet know what you're in for. You could still run for the hills. Come, I want to show you my playroom.' My mouth drops open. Fuck hard! Holy shit, that sounds so... hot. But why are we looking at a playroom? I am mystified. 'You want to play on your Xbox?' I ask. He laughs, loudly."
Most popular romance novel ever published. Right there.

"My anxiety level has shot up several magnitudes on the Richter scale."
Wordplay!

"The elevator whisks me with terminal velocity to the twentieth floor."
SHE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT TERMINAL VELOCITY MEANS.

"How could he mean so much to me in such a short time? He's got right under my skin... literally."
SHE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT LITERALLY MEANS.

"'You look very relaxed in these photographs, Anastasia. I don't see you like that very often.' What? Whoa! Change of subject - talk about non sequitur - from playful to serious."
SHE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT NON SEQUITUR MEANS.

"You wanted to know why I felt confused after you - which euphemism should we apply - spanked, punished, beat, assaulted me."
SHE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT EUPHEMISM MEANS.

Still want to know more, Madeleine, bringer of scoldings?

"I have never bought her book, nor will I , but I would be fascinated to know how she made so many people pay attention to her vagina talk."

Then read the fucking garbage you cared enough to defend.