I am one of those weird people who liked school, and though I’ve been out of college for quite a while now, I’m still a student of the world. I can’t just look at something. I have to look at it and ask why? And my big question right now is why in the world did this one particular erotica book that has taken publishing and suburban women by storm go viral?
There are plenty of erotica and erotic romances out there. The theme is not new–uber rich, powerful and handsome billionaire business mogul. The unknown, average, seemingly inconsequential college girl he’s so attracted to he must have her no matter what. Classic romance novel trope, but with the addition of super hot BDSM sex. BDSM isn’t new either. You can find thousands of books with those elements to a variety of extents.
So why oh why did Fifty Shades of Grey, written by an unknown UK author, published by a small press that I had never heard of, sell hundreds of thousands of copies and hit #1 on both Barnes & Noble and Amazon? Why has it been blog fodder everywhere and featured on all the network national morning talk shows, being touted by Good Morning, America and The Today Show as “mommy porn”, and “suburbia’s dirty little secret”? Some doctors and sex experts are debating if the BDSM theme is freeing to women who just want to turn the reins over to someone else in bed after being in charge of the house all day, while other experts are saying it’s dangerous and sets up women for abusive relationships (an accusation which to anyone who knows how to Google and look up the principals of BDSM knows is absurd). Meanwhile, there are plenty of books where women relinquish control to be ravished by the rogue, so why this one book in particular, which grew in popularity strictly by word of mouth and not through marketing or advertising dollars?
Here’s why it shouldn’t be so popular:
-a few very respected and increasingly famous book bloggers didn’t like it. One marked it a DNF (Did Not Finish) last year, long before it hit the media full force. (Seriously, this story is being covered everywhere in the past week, from the NY Times to the Washington Post.)
-it’s based on fan fiction. The author loved the Twilight series so much, she wrote her own little stories using the same characters, published them on fanfic websites, then eventually expanded those ideas, changed the characters’ names from Bella and Edward to Christian and Ana, and published it with a small press overseas.
-the writing style, in my opinion, is annoying. Disclaimer right here I have NOT read the book. I read the beginning of chapter 1 on Amazon.com (they allow samples) and realized I wouldn’t be able to read the entire book because it is written in first person present tense and, though it may be a personal pet peeve of mine, I can’t read books in that POV. I find it distracting, annoying, and amateurish. I fear I would lose my mind and that my internal editor would never be able to get past the POV and see the story beneath.
Yet bookstores can’t keep the print version in stock and I’m sure that is driving sales of the digital formats even higher. Again, the question is why?
Here is why I personally think it is so popular:
-the book has both a title and a cover that is totally tame and mainstream. At first glance, 50 Shades of Grey could easily be a legal thriller or a murder mystery. Had the publisher slapped a picture of some man titty (ala my Cat Johnson novels) on this book, I bet you it would have never sold even a fraction of what it has. Why? Because people don’t WANT to like erotica, or erotic romance, or even the Fabio-esque romances of our mother’s generation. This book slipped under the radar with its innocuous cover.
-inside that boring cover is HOT sex that most likely crept up on the unaware reader (since what I read of Chapter 1 of this book reads almost like a Young Adult novel). Before they could slam the cover shut and say “Oh my God, this is dirty“, the story had captured them and the sex took them by surprise, until suddenly they realized their lady parts were tingling and they were feeling a little bit naughty just for reading it. Who doesn’t want to secretly be naughty? It’s the reader’s dirty little secret. Who would know what she’s reading? It’s just a hardcover book with a boring cover, but inside, their hormones awoke, and these readers couldn’t wait for hubby to get home so they could jump him.
-people like to be the first. The first to know something others don’t. The first to recommend something they discovered to their friends, or even strangers, so they recommended this book to others. “I just read this book. You should see what’s in it! I never knew there were books like this!” the unspoken continuation to that would be…because I am so high brow I would NEVER pick up a romance novel and see that there are thousands of books just like this one and better written too.
-maybe that first person POV I hate so much makes the readers feel what the main character is feeling on a more personal level? Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong and there is no reason that the present tense should make me so crazy. Maybe I’m already crazy. Hell, anything is possible at this point.
And there you are, my personal, unqualified and unsolicited opinion of the trilogy of books (yes, there are 3 in the series) that has taken publishing by storm, the rights to which just sold to the paperback division of Random House Inc., reportedly for an undisclosed 7 figure sum to be rereleased immediately in eBook and in paperback in April with all the fanfare they think it deserves. Coincidentally this is just weeks after PayPal told the owner of Excessica Publishing that stories with BDSM themes amounted to rape for titillation and may have to be restricted…at the same time that other eBook retailers have been told that their PayPal account would be frozen if they didn’t stop selling certain books that they qualified as obscene. Among themes being classified as taboo and being restricted by certain retailers were pseudo incest, bestiality (which can get iffy in the world of shapeshifters) and “barely legal” stories (IE younger of legal age girls, such as college girls, having sex with older men, possibly billionaire playboys even)…but I digress. That is another tale totally.
Today’s lessons– The almighty dollar is king, perception is everything, and it’s very possible that people do judge a book by its cover.