I keep hearing about how bad Fifty Shades of Grey is, how horrible its syntax and grammar, how the atrocious mistakes in point of view, repetitive words and kindergarten-level writing detract significantly from the enjoyment of the story. I keep hearing it, but as of this writing, they’re still sitting pretty over at Amazon. They’re still front and center at our local Barnes and Noble. They’re still selling, in spite of the flaws, in spite of the (mostly true, it seems) criticisms.
So why should this series of books be all the rage, while there are other books malingering on the shelves that are so grammatically perfect editors everywhere have little orgasms when they read their clever turns of phrase?
Because the unwashed masses that the elitists in “big publishing” once believed they had to protect from bad grammar, those poor slobs that publishers believed they had to choose for, are now choosing for themselves. They are voting with their dollars. The great big experiment that capitalism is supposed to be is being played out on Amazon, as books that would never have seen anything except the inside of an agent’s trash bin are now flooding the Kindle market, and readers are choosing which books they are actually interested in reading.
It’s the biggest market research study in the history of publishing happening right there on the marketplace.
And it turns out that big publishing was wrong. Readers don’t want to read what publishers thought they wanted to read. In fact, publishers were pretty far off the mark, if the bestseller lists are any indication. Big publishing has been surprised to see phenoms like EL James and Amanda Hocking and Tammara Webber flying up the charts. Publishers are aghast at the “grievous errors” in some of these infamously self-or-alternatively published books.
It turns out that readers want entertainment. They want a good story, plain and simple. And they’re even willing to put up with horrible syntax and grammar to get it. In fact, turns out those things are just a minor annoyance for readers. In the end, readers want a good story. Not the story publishers think they should read, not the ones agents believe they can sell. They don’t want Snooki’s autobiography, simply because she’s famous for being on television. They want a good story.
Reboots or rewrites or the same old formula? It doesn’t matter. If it’s a good story, readers will find it and read it. They will tell their friends about it. “Oh my god, I just read the best book, you have to read it!” It isn’t luck that creates a bestseller. Contrary to publishing and all the money they spend on their biggest names, marketing doesn’t sell books. Readers do. That’s why a backlist is the best thing a writer can have under his or her belt. Because if readers like you, they will read you, again and again and again. If they like your story, they’re going to want more.
The floodgates are open, authors. Everyone’s all-in, and if you thought the competition was fierce when big publishing held the reins, you’re in for a wake-up call when you send your little boat out afloat into the ocean that is Amazon. There are a LOT of boats out there. The good news is, if your boat floats–if your story is a good one–readers will find you. They will tell their friends. And you will sell books.
You couldn’t do that before. Big publishing controlled the ocean. They had it buttoned up tighter than the Hoover Dam.
Now, as an author, you can sail freely. Of course, you’re captain of your own ship now. In the world of self-publishing, there are no luxury cruises on Big Publishing’s Princess line. (But think of it this way–what were the odds you were going to get into one of the VIP suites anyway? You probably would have been relegated downstairs in steerage, like on the Titanic… and if you take this metaphor to its logical conclusion, yes, the boat that was too big to sink? It sank. Big publishing has hit an iceberg and they’re too arrogant to acknowledge it… but that boat is taking in water and is hitting its critical tipping point… )
So to all those people who are complaining about Fifty Shades and books like it, where reader enjoyment won out over the Grammar Nazis, you can relax. The world didn’t end because of a misplaced comma or the annoying repetition of a phrase or word. And clearly if so many people are reading it, it must be doing something right! You might have thought Fifty Shades sucked, but you have to admit that, first and foremost, it was entertaining. It’s human nature to slow down to see a train wreck. Perhaps many of Fifty Shades readers were simply curious about the hype, or wondered if it was “as bad as people said.” Still, the blog posts and reviews I’ve seen about just how awful it was as a book, clearly thought that it was entertaining–even if it wasn’t exactly in the way the author intended.
Now, I’m not condoning sending your little boat out there with holes in it. You should polish your manuscript, have a good cover, do your best to make your book water tight before you send it sailing. Doing so certainly does nothing but help you in your journey as an author. However, as books like Fifty Shades have proven, you never know what’s going to appeal to readers until you put it out there and let them decide. And even the dingiest, most beat-up little boat out there in the ocean can still sail, as long as it has entertainment value, however that appears to and for readers.
Big publishing has been shocked in the past few years by what readers are buying, reading, and telling their friends about. Books that were once denied to the market are being published–and they’re being read. So much for the judgment calls, so much for the gatekeepers. They have no power anymore. What sells, sells. It’s that simple.
So while Big publishing might have once snickered and tossed EL James’ books aside as Fifty Shades of Suck, they’re now scrambling to catch up, looking for more books like it, and seeing how they can cash in on what readers really want.
Me, I’m cheering for all the little boats out there on the Amazon ocean. I doubt, considering their history, that big publishing is going to wake up and smell the iceberg. But the reality is that the market is speaking loud and clear, for anyone who wants to listen.