In case you weren't sure, I'm about the last person on earth you would catch perusing the romance or erotic fiction sections of Barnes & Noble (at least with any intent to buy). I am also about the last person on earth you would catch writing in the genre. It's just not for me, the way g-strings and high heels and country music and olives aren't for me. If you like those things, though, that's awesome, because it means someone who produces them is making a living, while you remain one happily fed and entertained motherfucker.
But there are a lot of people--writers in particular--who look down their noses at books like Fifty Shades and Twilight. I mean, who hasn't taken a swipe at that low-hanging fruit? I know I have. I'm lazy and don't have long arms. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.
But why do we do it? Well, I guess it's because these books offend our sensibilities. We ridicule the not-so great writing and the ridiculous characters and proclaim the end of literature at large if books such as these can get so popular. We shake our heads that such junk can make so much money. And, of course, we are always so damn certain we can do better, and many of us have set out to do just that.
Of course, I don't think any agent or publisher is specifically looking for someone to improve upon two series that have collectively made them billions of dollars. No one will ever confuse E.L. James and Stephenie Meyer for Donna Tartt or Margaret Atwood, but I don't think that was ever their intention.
But why are books that are so regularly decried as poorly written or trash so very successful? Well, as William Munny said in the wonderful Unforgiven, "deserve's got nothin to do with it." And I could leave it at that, but I figure I'll dive a little deeper and provide some actual reasons.
1. That Fresh Car Smell (at the right time): Carp all you want about the BDSM "Mommy Porn" or the sparkly "vegetarian" vampires betwixt the pages of Fifty Shades and Twilight, but up until that point, there really wasn't anything else like it on the mainstream market at the time. Oh, there were books with sex. There were books with vampires, but none quite like these. Like all successful products of either culture or commerce, they filled a gap in the market in a way that wasn't being filled before. Yes, there were tablets on the market before the iPad, but Apple designed it in such a way that made us actually pay attention and want one.
These books made people talk, either in spite of or because of their less-than-stellar writing (and it's TALK that sells). Even their covers were different for the time. Alluring, striking, different. No flowing hair or pouty faces. It was all pure symbolism and clean-lined simplicity. These books very likely appealed in many ways to people's need for simple, unassuming comforts in a complicated and depressing post-9/11 world, and countless authors and publishers have copied that stark simplicity ever since (er, Hunger Games, anyone?)
|Keep it simple (and sexy), stupid.|
|Kinky. Gentle Kinky.|
If you think your own version of an erotic or vampire story is more worthy simply because you can make your words sound prettier, then you're kind of like the five-star chef cooking up foie gras and duck confit in an elementary school cafeteria. You're not paying attention to what the audience actually wants. Sure, have your style cake, but if it's making your story too impenetrable for everyday readers, then you might not be able to eat it too.
|Yeah, it's a little "meh," but it'll get you there.|
It sounds like a backhanded compliment, but trust me, it's not. I may snort at some of the lines of dialog and bristle at the ridiculous themes, but I bow down to those two ladies for doing what so many writers and aspiring writers struggle to do every time they sit down to write. Until you can accomplish that feat even a little bit, you might want to keep your snark somewhat in reserve (I said somewhat...).
|It's just that simple.|