Fifty Shades of Success

There was recently an article in THE GUARDIAN by Hannah Ellis-Petersen about the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY phenomenon, due to the most recent release of GREY. If you aren’t a fan, you are probably beyond fed up with all the hype. When are we going to stop talking about it? Why do we care so much?

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Hannah’s article perfectly captures why we should never stop talking about FIFTY SHADES- it has completely transformed the erotica genre, let alone the publishing landscape itself. Despite if you read the book or not, nor if you find the genre enticing or sickening, there is so much we can learn from this single book.

As we all know, the book was self-published fan fiction before being “discovered.” The author was unknown and the genre was taboo. Critics are harsh on E.L. James, many label her writing as “boring and clunky.” Some aren’t afraid to say that it is the most poorly written book to ever be published. Putting all the book’s challenges and criticisms aside, somehow it still managed to do the impossible- becoming one of the most read and talked about books of the past few years.

It is now very clear what made this book so successful- the readers. It proved that all readers are really looking for is a good story and they don’t care how they get it. Historically, as Hannah points out, the publishing industry’s opinion used to be the only thing that mattered. If they didn’t like your writing then you were out of luck, it wasn’t getting published. Their opinion was mostly based on the literary style and quality of writing. We are now seeing that readers have a completely different opinion how what makes good writing and that opinion is really starting to matter.

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Not only did FIFTY SHADES start to force writers/authors to think more about their audience rather than their editors or agents, it also catapulted digital publishing. It showed that digital publishing is actually a fantastic way to publish quickly, build a platform, and reach the masses. The print publisher followed the trends of digital publishing when releasing the print books, releasing each book really close to each other. “Thick and fast” worked in the digital world, why wouldn’t it work in the print realm as well?  FIFTY SHADES shattered traditional print habits and never looked back.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY also completely legitimatized the erotica genre, pushing it from the back of the book shelf into the spotlight. It took what many readers want (a deep love story) and cast it in light of a completely different world (BDSM). It was new, intriguing, and risky. It was wanted, or perhaps it was needed. Reading should be enjoyable and no one can be the judge of that better than the readers themselves.

That is why we shouldn’t stop talking about or learning from books that overcome the impossible, whether we want to rip the pages to shreds or keep reading. Write On.

The Romance Of It All

Romance is a hugely popular genre in the audio market. Listeners seem to crave romance above most other topics. Add some sexy steam to it, a few shirtless dudes, and a happily ever after- you’re golden. But, the hard thing about the romance genre is that there are so many different types of romances. There’s contemporary, historical, erotica, new adult, regency, gay/lesbian, western, paranormal, and the list of sub-genres can go on and on. Which one should we focus on? Where is the biggest market/audience? What qualities lock a book into a particular category? Is one category more perceptible to audio than another? The answers to these questions are often complicated, long winded, and often changing. But the one thing we always know is that romance sells, whether you are a sexy duke, hot cowboy, or irresistible vampire.

The same problems/challenges can also come up when writing a good romance novel as well. There are so many possibilities, how do you know where to start? Which category do you want to lock into? Do you need to pick one? Or is there potential for a crossover? Unfortunately, I can’t answer those questions for you. You need to feel what you write. You need to write from your heart, staying true to your own interests, and go from there. But, there is always room for advice- especially from those with more experience. That’s why I was pretty excited to run across an article in The New York Times Magazine by Malia Wollan, entitled “How To Write A Romance Novel.”

My mind immediately went, BINGO! Right? Well, sort of. There’s obviously a lot that goes into writing a romance novel, or any type of book, but this article gives some great advice to help get writers to where they need to be.The article featured Jayne Ann Krentz, a New York Times bestseller romance author, and her advice to romance authors.

Krentz immediately points out that romance novels end happily. No matter the struggles that the characters go through within the story, they always need to end up together at the end. You might think, well that takes the suspense out of it- right? But think about it- would it really be a romance novel if it ended without any happy, sappy love?

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She also recommends reading many different types of romances before starting to write. Figure out where you fit within these categories, but don’t get bogged down by it. Krentz wants writers to remember that romances focus in on one particular relationship and “every twist in the plot must create a twist in the relationship, and vice versa.”

Krentz encourages writers to send their work to editors, but don’t shy away from self-publishing, especially if you are a new author. Romance is a vast genre and there are many other writers out there doing the exact same thing you are. Taking the self-publishing route can actually make you stand out. It opens up the possibility to brand yourself better, which is really important. I can’t tell you how many totally different romance books I get on submission that pretty much have identical covers from each other. At a certain point they all start to blend together and you don’t even know what you are looking at anymore. When you self-publish, you control that image. It’s the first impression that readers get of your book- make it count.

The best part? As Krentz mentions, you can brand yourself as many times as you want. You can create different pen names if you want to branch out onto other romance platforms. Self-publishing gives you an immense amount of flexibility. She also cautions against using too many alias’ because it does create double, triple, or quadruple the amount of work for yourself. If you can’t give each name your 100%, then don’t do it.

Her bottom line is that sex sells. Don’t be afraid to add it in and have some fun with it. But, don’t lose sight of the what romance novels are all about, “The heart of the romance novel is animated by the classic heroic virtues like honor, courage and a belief in the healing power of love.” I couldn’t put it better myself. Write on.

Listen To Your Audience

During some weekend web surfing I came across an awesome hub for science fiction writers and readers. Locus Online has been around since 1997. Although I am happy I discovered this website, I’m upset I haven’t heard about it sooner since I had a lot of fun poking around on it and reading some great articles. Locus Online is a website/magazine dedicated to science fiction and fantasy writing. It seems to be a great place for writers to go to share or discuss issues regarding writing in the science fiction or fantasy genre. It can also appeal to readers of the genre as well with book reviews and author interviews. I’m particularly excited about this because both science fiction and fantasy are very popular categories across all formats and any glimpse I can get further into this world will allow me better serve its fans and writers.

One of the articles I particularly enjoyed was a post by Kameron Hurley, who is both an author and reviewer of books. Her post is all about who she writes for and how she blocks out all the negative criticism. She points out that you should only write for your targeted readers and forget about what everyone else thinks. I couldn’t agree with this more. I do a lot of work with and reading of romance and erotica books and let’s just say the genre is absolutely not for everyone. I can completely understand and relate to that. I hear a lot of negative feedback about these books- too graphic, too much swearing, weak story line/not enough going on, only focused around sex. Many times I find myself saying, “So what?” to these comments. Romance/erotica is one of the most popular genres out there, it has a huge loyal fan base and many talented authors. Just because it isn’t your cup of tea doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. These books are doing exactly what their targeted audience is asking for and they are succeeding beyond belief. If you don’t agree then you aren’t the targeted reader and maybe you should find something else that better suits your style.

Kameron also goes into detail discussing how there are always going to be people who do not like your work. Unfortunately, especially in today’s society with the internet so readily accessible, if you put something out there for public viewing it will get scrutinized. There’s no way to avoid, even the most successful authors have haters. I am a firm believer that if you don’t have any haters or criticism then you aren’t doing your job right. The key is learning to accept that this will happen and learn how to block it out and focus only on the people that matter. The only people you should worry about are the readers who are your targeted audience because you will never ever, for as long as you may live, be able to make everyone happy. In fact, Kameron suggests (through an inspirational Colin Powell quote) you are actually doing a disservice to yourself if you try to make everyone happy. You need to remain true to yourself and your readers or else your biggest supporters will soon turn into your biggest haters.

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At the end of the day, worry about yourself, your work, and your readers. Listen to your audience’s feedback, not the haters. Criticism is a good thing, we all need it, but pick your battles because not all criticism is correct. Make your work the way you want to, something that you are proud of. Your work should make you happy, make you feel good because after all it has your name on it and no one else. Once it is out there in the world, it is not coming back. Write on.