I should be writing a story. I’d rather it be something new, but there’s this glut of deadlines in front of me and I have to meet them. So I’m editing and revising, which is like a punishment because it means I have to read my own stuff. But a little earlier, the following article by Tamsin Flowers came to my attention. Has EL James Broken Erotica?
I don’t know Flowers’ fiction, but after reading her article on the current state of the erotica market I’m making it a priority to change that. I suppose it’s hard not to feel that way when someone comes out with ideas that so closely mirror your own.
Admittedly, I’ve made one, feeble attempt to read Fifty Shades. Maybe because I’d heard too much about it beforehand, but I couldn’t commit. It was just…vapid, careless writing. So I don’t know enough about it to be able to conjecture what it is about the book that has captured so much attention. It has burst far beyond the usual ghetto borders of erotica and gone mainstream.
Lets face it. Every so often, a book or film everybody knows sucks catches on anyway. That’s just the nature of arts/entertainment. As one of the worst selling authors on Amazon, I should probably get upset with everyone who’s selling more books than I am. But that would be just about everyone, and I’m thinking I’ll live longer without the stress of begrudging other people their due, if not a wild stroke of good luck.
Still, there are people – writers – with more talent, more commitment and sincerity – than EL James who slog and struggle for precious little return. We live in societies that tell us “sex sells”, yet at the same time vilify sex and erotica. We are hypocrites more tolerant of racism and violence than the desires and passions that reveal what beautiful animals we have the capacity to be.
At the same time, the worlds of erotica and BDSM are evolving in ways I never would have predicted. Once upon a time, you could make a living writing smut for magazines, but the internet has changed that. The world of ebook publishing blossomed in a few short years and made successful companies of those who got there first. By now, it’s the wild wild west, and anyone who knows how to download freeware from C-NET can be a publisher, or a self-published author, regardless of whether or not they have a background in the field.
It’s a massive bandwagon, and everyone’s jumping on. When something like Fifty Shades comes along, it’s easy to look at it and say, “Hey, I can do as well as that.” It’s easy to look at Ellora’s Cave, EL James or Selena Kitt, and be tempted by the lure of all that easy money. But what most of us discover is that it’s not easy. For a few, there’s a lot of money, but the biggest surprise for most people is how much work is really involved. It takes a huge amount of time to write a novel as extensive as Shades. Even one as badly written. And Selena Kitt is a tireless promoter.
The market isn’t broken. Only hopelessly glutted. The downside is that it’s rife with bullshit artists and pretenders, some of whom can barely maintain a consistent pov or verb tense within a single sentence. But you get a flashy thumbnail on Amazon and boom…you’re a writer! Then there are those who love telling stories, whether or not they have any technique, and tell them with exuberance and passion. And there are those who fastidiously do their homework…reading, writing, honing their skills in order to create something with multiple levels of impact.
And we’re all in this together. Same genre. Same market. Same hopes, ambitions, fears, failures and heartbreaks. It’s a market seemingly unfettered by the trappings of training, experience or tradition. And this, quite possibly, is what I love about it the most. It’s as wide open as the human imagination.
Fifty Shades doesn’t deserve half the attention it’s had, but I’m glad it’s gotten it. If anything, I believe it’s gotten many more readers curious to seek out more erotica…to be more curious about other writers and other books.
Most of us will continue to slog and struggle through obscurity. We’ll write and sell our stories. Some will be better than others. Some will sell and some won’t. And in another year, maybe two…maybe three or…ten, someone will write something that captures “that thing”, and it will blow up into the next Fifty Shades style phenomenon. I just hope whoever it happens to will have it coming.