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.

How Do You Value Your Work?

Amazon is at it again, changing the literary/publishing market with another “innovative” idea. Beginning July 1st, Amazon will pay Kindle Unlimited lending library royalties based on qualified borrows to a per page read system.

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The way it will work is: “The author of a 100 page book that was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).” A recent article in THE GUARDIAN by Samantha Shannon gave some further insight into this change over.

On the surface, the biggest problem with this change over is that longer books will have more value. The reality is that a longer book does not always mean higher quality or enjoyment. Therefore, some authors may feel it is in their best interest financially to have “fuller” books for pure profit reasons, not to enhance the story.

Shannon further revealed the real problem with this change over, that this may just be a precursor to things to come. If this trial program is successful, Amazon may have a pay per page option for all purchased books, which would drastically devalue the creative process. Shannon pointed out all the ingredients that go into publishing a book. Each layer (editor, publicist, agent, graphic designer, etc.) all contribute to the book’s success and they get paid in full for their contribution- whether they hate or love the book, whether readers hate or love the book. What about the author? The one person, who without them, the book would have never come into existence? Why are they the only one losing money that is rightfully theirs? Shannon also explains that unless there is an objective problem with the book, you should not be able to only pay for a portion of it. Take a bite of a perfectly good piece of cake at your local coffee shop and perhaps you then decide you aren’t in the mood for the cake anymore, or you are fuller than you had originally thought, do you only get to pay for that one bite? I don’t think so.

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I understand why Amazon creates the programs that they do. They are in the business to make money and stay profitable. Publishing is a quickly changing industry and you need to way finds to stay on top of it, or your customers will take their money elsewhere- I get that. Without Amazon’s self-publishing programs, many authors would still be struggling to share their work with the world. Amazon creates a lot of opportunity, but we must be weary. There is no reason that authors should not get what they deserve for the work they successfully completed. Amazon is not your local library and should stop acting like one. Amazon should start catering to their clients needs and let their clients cater to their consumer’s needs. Without happy clients, there will be no consumers. Write On.

Erasing The Stigma

It really makes me happy to see that self-published books are gaining more and more integrity every day. We are starting to hear more of their wild success stories about grossing more and more money- some even into the seven figures. With each of these successes comes more writers willing to take the plunge into the self-publishing world. To be honest, there really isn’t any reason why they shouldn’t. Of course getting picked up by a major publisher certainly does have its perks, but for many writers that just isn’t an obtainable goal. There are only so many books each publisher can produce and the competition is only rising for those few spots. The good news is that self-publishing provides a reasonable and accessible solution to that problem. With the amount of success the industry has had and the amount of advice/resources available today for self-published authors, I don’t see why one wouldn’t give it a shot.

selfpub1 In my line of work I do not automatically discern a self-published work from non self-published work. What’s more important are the numbers, the audience, and the books’ marketing appeal for my company. At least for me, the self-publishing stigma talked about in a recent Guardian article, entitled “Is the self-publishing stigma fading?” by Ben Galley, is truly fading. Self-publishing done right is not easy. At a publishing house you have many different people working on your book- an editor, graphic designer, publicist, sales associate, etc. When you self-publish you need act as all those people yourself, or find people who will. If you don’t, then that self-publishing success you hear about probably won’t happen to you. Your readers still want polished, pristine work. After all, they deserve it. They are the reason you are able to do what you are doing.

The biggest issue I have with a self-published book is editing… surprise! It is so important for a self-published book to be edited appropriately. I completely understand the difficulties a new self-published author has in order to get their work edited. Who should I have edit my book? How much should I pay them? Should I even pay to have someone edit my book or just do it myself? Does the editor I hire know what they are doing? And the questions can go on and on, I understand that. The bottom line is that every self-published author needs to do something. They need to edit and have someone else edit their work. You may be a grammar queen/king yourself but I guarantee you that you will miss a few errors here and there. There’s only so much time that each of us can stare at the same story and not become numb to it. You always need a fresh set of eyes before you publish. If hiring someone isn’t on the table for you, ask a friend or family member. They may not be expert editors but if there are any major problems I’m sure they will be able to point them out. If hiring an editor is an option for you, do your research and make sure you pick the right editor for you with the right credentials.

The article also touched on other issues with self-publishing, some being “awful covers, and mediocre content.” Visual appeal and content are obviously very important as well. Your cover is the first impression readers have of your book. If it looks unprofessional then chances are readers will think the same of you and your writing, not even willing to give it a chance. If you aren’t versed in graphic design I would suggest finding someone who is. There are many designers out there that can whip up a pretty awesome cover for you quickly and relatively inexpensively. Content is tricky but it’s also pretty personal. When thinking about what to write about or what to include or exclude in your writing, think about your audience and genre. Write to what your readers want. Listen to their comments, suggestions, and even criticisms. They are the ones driving your success.

At the end of the day, both book covers and content are personal choices. If the author did what their heart told them to and stayed true to themselves, a true fan will understand and most likely agree with your choice. Bad grammar, on the other hand, is not a choice. Grammar is universal and should not be undervalued. If more self-published authors took grammar more seriously then more publishers, literary agents, and literary awards would drop the “self-publishing stigma.” I, for one, will keep reading and publishing self-published book into audio, the craze is only beginning. Write on.

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