Friday, March 23, 2012

50 Shades of Envy

I admit it. I am jealous, hexed, completely thrown off balance. Out of seemingly nowhere, an erotic trilogy surfaces that serves up a great big seven figure advance to the author. Seven figures! The fantasy number for any would be or already published writer out there. The one you think is only possible if your writing reaches to that high level of literary distinction that will allow your books and your name live into perpetuity, like Emily Bronte, or William Shakespeare.

At least that is the way things used to be. No more.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is not that kind of writing. Nor is that of Amanda Hocking, another recipient of the seven figure prize. I doubt we'll find that in the memoir of Amanda Knox when that is published. Or in that of Andy Cohen, the 40 something  Bravo executive whose memoir also landed him a number with seven digits. And don't get me started on Sarah Palin's $1.25 million advance. But that is the way things work today. If a corporation thinks they can make a lot of money really, really quickly they'll advance. Good writing is secondary to the equation. ( Note that in the case of E.L. James and Amanda Hocking both were already selling books like crazy and Amazon bestsellers before a Big Six publisher even considered pulling out their checkbook to write a number with that many zeros. But that is the subject of another blog.)

Don't get me wrong. I liked Fifty Shades of Grey. Enough to read the second in the series, Fifty Shades Darker. Last night I dove into the third, Fifty Shades Freed. And I've recommended it to my friends. Do I think it is great writing? No. But for its genre it is very well done and rather addictive and I'd like to think that once Vintage Books, a division of Random House, gives it a real edit, it will read a bit smoother than it does now.

Was it worth the $9.99 I paid for an e-book? Absolutely. This is entertainment reading, a chance to escape into a fantasy world that makes you laugh at the absurdity of it at the same time you turn the page to find out what will happen next.  And for the record, I am not a suburban housewife, though the trades will tell you that is the only group reading it. There are many, many urban singles and working mothers who are staying up late with Christian Grey. Rick Santorum take note. As one of your colleagues said, sex is popular, as is reading about it.

But back to my jealously. It's created a bit of writer's block.

Questioning what I am writing and why I can often struggle over one word when self-editing when others can repeat the same adjectives page after page, as if they have never read it twice and rise to the top of best seller list. Is success in it writing or a business or a traditional career path, not about honing skills but more  like the lottery? You buy a ticket and you play to win but it's anyone's guess whose got the right combination of numbers. Today it's E.L. James. And while I am envious, her success also offers hope. She wrote what she wanted to, she wasn't afraid to put it out there and the Universe has responded with a resounding seven figures. Or at least Vintage did.

What do you think about the extraordinary success of 50 Shades of Grey?
Have you read it? 
Do you think it warranted a seven figure advance?

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