Saturday, October 27, 2012

Why is 50 SHADES so popular? Cerise DeLand states the case!

I have a few ideas.
Having been pubbed in the romance genre (in print and now digital) for more than 2 decades, I have witnessed trends. BIG ONES.
The appearance of this erotica series of 50 SHADES… on the best seller lists at numbers one through three seems unbelievable until, I think, you look at the trends in romance and in society over the years.
In the 1980s, the romance genre exploded into the marketplace. With boomer women getting college degrees and getting fabulous jobs, they wanted relaxing entertainment at night. (Yes, they needed it after all those household chores were done!)
By the 1990s, these same women had grown older, wiser and began to read more serious fiction. While these novels were female-focused, they were also relationship books which more often than not included a romance. The boomers’ younger sisters came along—and so did the boomers’ daughters—wanting to read the romances Mom and Big Sis had liked. What had begun as women reading romances that were 15% of the paperback sales, climbed steadily to more than 50%!
But in that decade of the 90s, other events occurred within the publishing industry and society as a whole.
Within the industry, costs of producing a book rose. This included the cost of paper and ink, copyediting and design. But also the venues where books were sold declined in number. With fewer places to buy books, readers had to go to Big Box stores to find them. Did they? Yes, but in fewer numbers.
This meant that back in New York Traditional Publishing Houses [NYTRPH] the accountants began to run the editorial decisions and the marketing ones, too. They told editors what they could buy and should buy. The Big Boxes added to the fray by telling publishers what sold quickest and best. Other types of books, said Big Box, will not be ordered in any great quantities.
In the offices of NYTRPH, the scissors came out. Authors who didn’t write this popular sub-genre or that one, saw their order numbers drag, their covers reduced to flowers or objects that sold few if any books. The result? These authors either conformed and wrote what “was selling” (vampires or fairies, anyone?) or the “newest trend” or died on the vine. Amid all this, if an author wrote a steamy book, she might get published, but more often than not, she was asked to temper her prose. Use euphemisms. Allude to passion in metaphors.
In society as a whole, tolerance for all types of lifestyles and parenting choices meant that readers were more open to bigger themes in novels. But were they finding those novels except in what we call literary fiction? I would answer, No.
By the turn of the century, many readers frustrated with few choices in the genre, began to ask, Is that all there is? And publishers in the U.K. and in the U.S., began to respond. Using the internet as the distribution means, publishers like Ellora’s Cave saw the way to distribute erotica in a manner that was safe, secure from prying eyes and immediate. And between the covers, readers got what they had not seen in novels. What had been verboten to them because of Big Box tactics or publishers’ demurring from printing hot sexy stories was now available.
The sales of erotica blossomed. The number of publishers did too. Most of them were on the internet using that platform to sell the books. Readers responded in the millions. While I generalize here, I will say that word-of-mouth and ease of access to the internet certainly provided the impetus for this proliferation.
Suddenly readers had erotic romances at their fingertips and with a few clicks could have instant gratification of purchase and reading!
To say that the internet and on-line publishers have changed the publishing industry is a given. To recognize that both have spawned the rise of self-publishing mechanisms is also a fact.
The 50 SHADES success story is, I am certain, built on the 3 previous decades of growth of the romance genre from Harlequin category types to single titles that have broadened women’s perspectives and their aspirations. These thousands of romances have also broadened women’s appetites to read about marvelous, intimate, mind-blowing sex.
Women not only desire to be entertained by well-written stories that help her escape to another world. They demand it. And 50 Shades is the explosive proof that erotica is not an aberration on the book shelves. It is a manifestation of readers’ growth and sophistication.
True, 50 Shades had a fabulous marketing and PR introduction. The well-oiled machine that created the series’ business plan is one we authors would love to learn more about! While we are not likely to hear those secrets, we do applaud the success.
It means women are becoming more savvy about their bodies, their communications and their intimate relationships. It also means we will see more and more erotica on the best seller lists. Already, we have seen 5-6 in the top 20. Move over 50 Shades. We’re coming through!


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Cerise. I think a lot of the problems writers faced was also because of the men at the top of the publishing kingdom. How many times have you read romances where you thought - 'what woman would think or behave like that?' (you know, quivering because the guy's so big, strong, handsome - or worse, acting like a spoiled teenager).

My guess is the poor writer was following the directive on high from a male publishing head who actually thought real women were like that.

Delicious Romance From Cerise DeLand said...

Tina, So true.
Even the term "bodice ripper" comes from the era when those who stocked the shelves in vendor sites were men who liked seeing low low low bodices! There was a feeling that this helped get romances in front of women readers who might not otherwise have noticed them!
How patronizing can men be?
What romance, etc. has done for women for the past 30-odd years is move the women's movement forward in a BIG BIG WAY.
50 SHADES is only the latest MEDIA affirmation of it.

jean hart stewart said...

Enjoyed the column and the comments. I agree with the fact FSOG moved erotica to the front burner, which I applaud. I do wish it had been better written, though.

Fiona McGier said...

The way I figure it, when the average adult hasn't read a whole book in the last 6 years, then they hear word-of-mouth about something selling alot, especially if it has (Shh! S-E-X) in it, then they will rush out and buy it. Since they don't read much, the lack of edits, the purple prose, the stilted dialogue, etc etc, all of this is skipped over as they rush to the naughty scenes.

What really amuses me is that many women who have read the books say they skipped the sex scenes because they were boring! In erotica, that's the kiss of death! Life's too short to read badly-written books!

Go indy and read well-written stories with hot sex scenes that will scorch your e-reader!

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Great post, Cerise. While I enjoyed Fifty Shades (hated Christian in book one and can admittedly say I LOVED, ADORED, and even OBSESSED over him in book two) I, too, wish it was better written. Not only for the sake of the romance industry, but because of the rest of us who take pride in our hard work and research and write the best book we can put out. Fifty Shades could have easily been better edited and without much cost - especially after all the success.

Anywho, I'm just chiming in and adding my two cents.

Thanks Cerise!!!

Selena Robins said...

Great blog post! I haven't read the books because I usually read the first few pages to see if an author's voice will entice me. After a few pages, I wasn't interested.

I agree with Fiona, word of mouth and the hype propelled a lot of people who don't normally read erotica to pick up this book. The actors, media, all touting it, also helped. That's not to say the author didn't work hard on writing it or promoting it. It's one of those books, where the story line and characters were interesting enough for the masses that they forgave the writing style.

I also think the book cover helped a lot, in that, it's not sexy or erotic looking.

Still not going to read the books though, because I love strong writing with well written scenes and three dimensional characters, and I like to use my book money to support the many authors who do this genre so well.