Friday, May 18, 2012


Recently my blog partner Laurie sent me a link to a YouTube® video parody of E.L. James’s breakout novel trilogy 50 Shades of Grey. I haven’t read the books, but who hasn’t heard the buzz, and the parody was hilarious. I would share the video with you all here, but I’m not sure it’s appropriate for a general audience.

The point is that the books have become such a phenomenon that even a determined effort to ignore them will be wasted. So, let’s discuss. How is it that something like this can happen?

Those of us who aspire to be professional authors slave over our computers for years, tweaking every word, seeking just the right formula of character and plot that will catch the agent’s eye or the editor’s ear. For us progress is glacial, though we occasionally have a little melt that carries us a few feet in a good day or a mile in a huge jolting leap forward.

But here’s this piece of hastily re-written fan fiction (yes, this was originally posted to a Twilight fanfic site) that somehow goes viral, snags the attention of the Powers That Be in New York and its unknown, (apparently) unskilled author wins the publishing lottery.

Is it that the ideas expressed in the work are new, or done differently somehow? Okay, I haven’t read the books, but from all accounts the answer is no. Nothing about the story of a young “innocent” woman in New York City having sexual adventures with a rich, sexually sophisticated/demanding man is new. The book is erotica, plain and simple. Our own Friend of Spacefreighters, Barbara Elsborg, writes in that genre and does an excellent job of it, thank you very much. And she’s not the only one (she’s just one of the best).

What E.L.James and her handlers managed to do was find a new audience for something that has been around for quite some time. For the crowd that is swooning over 50 Shades of Grey, erotica truly is a new thing. These are grown women who love Twilight, even though it is aimed at a much younger audience. Twilight deliberately avoids sex, for appropriate reasons. Twelve-year-olds shouldn’t be having any.

Romance novels aimed at adult audiences, especially paranormals featuring vampires, do anything BUT avoid sex. Christine Feehan, who along with Sherrilyn Kenyon started the whole paranormal phenomenon, writes some of the hottest vampire novels around in her Carpathian series. For readers of her books, well-written erotica is hardly shocking. It’s expected.

But for the mommies who were reading their daughters’ Twilight books, not so. When they got wind of this new thing, they suddenly discovered they were adults. Now they can’t seem to get enough. It’s a “mommie porn” stampede, worthy of laughs on Saturday Night Live.

The one good thing that could come out of this is that the competent writers of elegant erotica (like Barbara) and better paranormal romance (like Christine) should benefit from the expanded audience of enlightened readers. I’ve been telling everyone who brings up 50 Shades of Grey with me about Barbara and her books and sending them to Amazon to buy them. (Barbara—if you have business cards, send me a bunch.)

Meanwhile, E.L. James is getting paid, and as my friend Linda says, I ain’t mad at her. She got lucky—proof that the lottery does have winners. The rest of us keep buying our tickets and hoping our numbers come up.

Donna’s Journal


The partial I sent out a while back yielded a request for a full from a major agent this week—for both my novels! The same day I got another request for fulls for both novels from another well-known agent based on a query-plus-five pages. Woo-hoo! Now my fingernails are being bitten down to the quick while I wait for their responses. Fingers and toes crossed, y’all!

Ping Pong

Huge congratulations to Laurie on signing with her agent last week! We are indeed building some momentum around here.



  1. Congratulations on the requests, Donna!

    Re: 50: I wonder, though, what would have happened if James had submitted her trilogy to publishers without first sharing it with the Twilight fandom? Would it have garnered the same profitable advance?

    For me, the key difference between James and authors who have been writing similar erotic romance all along is that they didn't (as far as I know) tap into a huge fandom. From what I've read, James was very strategic about her path to publication.

  2. Interesting question. And while, like Donna, I'm still scratching my head how Barbara Elsborg's work didn't become mega bestsellers (if you want to know what I mean, read Strangers...that is all), I think tapping into a ready-made fandom certainly had it's pluses.

    So, this got me thinking. How and where would we go about tapping into this sort of fan mania, but for SFR? Where might we find a readymade audience like James?

  3. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work.

  4. Congrats on your requests, Donna, that's FANTASTIC - leave those nails alone and thanks for the promo! I haven't read 50 Shades. I'm very curious but feel if I buy it, I'm adding to the feeding frenzy. So why is James so successful? I agree it's the fanfiction thing. Look at the book Gabriel's Inferno - also fan fiction. also HUGE number of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads so I can only assume it's sold loads. One to me too unfortunately. I'm learning to look more carefully before I buy!
    I suspect YA - are fuelling some of the market here. There's nothing to stop them reading naughty books. I had to make do with Ian Fleming when I was their age, so after being left longing after reading Twilight, they were ripe for 50 Shades!

  5. Congrats on the requests!

    I tend to avoid books that seem overhyped like 50 Shades. Besides which, I haven't gotten into the whole Twilight obsession either. Does this mean we should all be writing fanfic?
    Someone today compared my book to a Doctor Who story, which obviously has a huge cult following. Not sure if that's a good selling point or not, even though I AM a fan of the series.

  6. Laurie and Heather, I've always believed that audience exists out there among TREK fan fic readers, a huge percentage of whom were women looking for a big romance component in the stories. I know Jackie Lichtenberg would back me up in this--she's built a whole career on it. The question in my mind has been how to tap into that audience in a systematic way--short of going to conventions and selling books in the dealers' rooms, which would work, but is expensive and slow.

  7. >tapping into a ready-made fandom certainly had it's pluses.

    And also some ethical issues.

    Now for my general response:

    I agree that geek girls who love ST are a ready-made audience for SFR, and SFR authors *have* been tapping into the Star Trek fandom for some time--Linnea Sinclair's work is one of the strongest examples of that.

    Unfortunately for SFR, there's a big difference in the source material of 50 Shades and Star Trek, meaning the type of fantasies they offer.

    50 Shades is basically explicit Twilight for adults. Star Trek doesn't tap into the forbidden romance/sexual relationship territory the way Twilight/50 Shades do. It isn't about that, although forbidden romance is a component of it at times.

    Plenty of ST and other SF fan fic stories have featured lots of sexy times. Have any of those been pulled to publish? If so, how successful were they? Star Trek has been bigger than Twilight, so why haven't we been hearing about those stories?

    What Barbara said: "I suspect YA - are fuelling some of the market after being left longing after reading Twilight, they were ripe for 50 Shades!"

    Hence, the appeal of the forbidden romance, only this time around it was created explicitly for the adult market (and probably 18+ young adults as well).

    Then add in the fact that James pulled her fan fic to publish it--something that hasn't been very common until digital publishing made it more feasible.

    But I suspect that even if authors of erotic romance Star Trek fan fiction published their stories, the basic fantasy isn't quite the same as what 50 Shades is delivering.

    @Donna Re: systematic way: Perhaps one answer lies in good old fashioned marketing, done by both authors and publishers.

    Even books with strong buzz-appeal sometimes need a marketing boost. Of course, engineering an effective marketing plan costs money and time. How do we get the cash for that--maybe that's the real question.


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