Tuesday, March 3, 2015

50 Shades of Sales

So, I just got home from seeing Fifty Shades of Grey.

Hey—come back!
I promise, I’m not gearing up for a big cultural commentary. I will not be sharing Deep Thoughts on whether I betrayed feminism by going to see it, or the meaning/significance/ridiculousness of the term “mommy porn.”

The only reason I’m bringing it up is that afterwards, I got caught up in a well-worn topic of conversation with two friends: why have those books been so phenomenally successful? Mocking them has become an art form on sites like Goodreads, and the professional writers I know can’t discuss the series without sinking into jealousy and resentment. Why did those books do so well? Why not us?   
An immortal line from a book that has sold millions more copies than mine ever will. You can enjoy more quotes on the Beutler Ink website.

I’d love to write a bestseller. (Or three.) I’m totally jealous of how much money E.L. James is making, especially now that 50 Shades sex toys are available at Target. I love the craft of writing, and I believe it’s an important artistic outlet, but it’s also my job. The more books I sell, the less writer-for-hire, freelance work I have to take, and the more time I have for fiction. Like it or not, the marketplace is always a consideration when I choose what to write.

“Writer” writers with university professorships and excellent pension plans are probably exempt from these concerns. But the rest of us have these internal debates all the time. We have to balance the ideas we’re dying to work on with readers’ demands. We have to know what else is selling in our genre and what trends are overdone and tired. We like to think of ourselves as artists (and we are!), but we’re also businesses. We have to think of our name as a brand and our books as commercial products. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting we want to sell more books.
Sadly, there’s no magic “Sell Out” button we can push for instant riches. E.L. James started by posting fan fiction online; she had no idea where she’d end up. So I’m working on acceptance. There will always be books that sell better than mine, even though I have no idea why. All I can do is balance the demands of the marketplace with my own interests and hope there’s some overlap in the middle. To see my books as both art and a consumer good.

Have you ever changed your work to make it more “commercial?” Been torn between what you want to write and what you think you should be writing? Or are you too busy imagining possible product tie-ins to your book at Target?




  1. In a strange way, what I really want to be doing tends to be more commercial than how I write in my first drafts. I tend to censor myself away from what I determine "stupid" ideas, but are what actually appeal to me in the books that I love. My instinct is to hold back and put more gravity into the situation, and in later drafts I have to push what I really want to be writing instead of being embarrassed about it.

    Good post!

    1. You make a very good point. Style & tone & story can change from draft to draft, becoming less "literary" and more fun along the way!

  2. It's because she plagiarized, used, and stepped on people to get to the top, not because she's honest and a wonderful writer. The plan was always to publish and make money, even when that rubbish was merely fanfiction. From there she just got lucky. Be proud of your talent as you actually have it, even if you don't yet have a line of products at Target.

  3. Oh... I totally am going through this right now... Or at least, I was. I finally made up my mind yesterday that no matter how much I wanted to take my story a certain direction in order to create a strong conflict, it was not appropriate for my younger readers.

    I truly struggled with the idea of it for over TWO WEEKS! To the point my outline was stalled. After talking to a few friends and readers who know my characters, I realized... at the end of the day, my readers are mainly under 18 years old. Even my own daughter, whom is turning 15, would probably have cringed at the direction the story was going...

    SOOOOOOOO... Based on that, I had to completely start rewriting the story from Chapter 8. And although my heart feels lighter knowing my younger readers will NOT be tainted, I can't help but still see the original story reeling in my head!

    So, for the sake of commercialism, I guess in this instance, I did conform. I guess I can write other stories at a later date in the New Age Genre... :-)

    Excellent post, by the way! :-)

    Alora Dillon