The 50 Shades of Grey media blitz continues! From The Today Show to the AP to HuffPo and now Good Morning America. I did an interview for GMA that will air this morning. The segment focuses on how word of mouth and reader recommendation – as well as digital availability, I should think – made 50 Shades a bestseller, without any advertising and promotion from the publisher. Word of mouth was everything, online and off.
I am still baffled as to why more media reports aren't mentioning the fanfic origins, and why the publisher and the author aren't more open to acknowledging the foundation that 50 Shades is based on. As Robin from Dear Author said to me, without Twilight, this book wouldn't exist.
Some authors that I've talked to are very upset about the origins of 50 Shades, and are alarmed and outraged that a book based on the character work and development of Stephenie Meyer is achieving so much attention and profit. It raises the question of who, exactly, the characters belong to, especially when recasting them in alternate universes, stepping outside the “canon” of the original. If a publisher is willing to pay 7 figures for a book that began as Bella and Edward in a new location and universe, with the names changed and some additional ending material added, does that open the door for more beloved characters to reappear under new names?
Other readers who have corresponded with me, particularly those who are avid fanfic readers, don't see the conflict and the outrage, since 50 Shades is, to them, so very different from the original.
The entire phenomenon makes me question where the “ok, then” line is, and what this means for publishing in the future. It's ok to do homages. It's ok to rewrite Beauty and the Beast fairy tales sixty different ways (and I will so totally buy them all). It's ok to write parody and satire, and nod to obvious influences and include winking jokes and references to older source material that fans will totally catch. That's all good – and I've enjoyed some of it.
But the debate continues as to whether a book that began as fanfic ever diverged from the original enough to qualify as original work. DearAuthor is running a comparison of both Master of the Universe and 50 Shades of Grey to test Vintage's assertion that 50 Shades is an original work after Vintage “defended '50 Shades' as an original creation with a passionate following:”
“It is widely known that E.L James began to capture a following as a writer shortly after she posted her second fan fiction story,” Vintage said in a statement. “She subsequently took that story and re-wrote the work, with new characters and situations. That was the beginning of the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy. The great majority of readers, including fan fiction aficionados, have found ‘Fifty Shades’ deeply immersive and incredibly satisfying.”
It seems to me, as the coverage increases and readers talk to me via social media or via email, that many people who are discovering and loving this book don't really care about the origins, or even the real identity of the author, though it's been revealed by some UK newspapers. Readers who love this book love the story, love the experience of it, and the thrill of experiencing what everyone it seems is talking about. It remains increasingly popular. Even my mother in law has heard of this book – as well as my six year old.
The week before last, I was talking to my older son, known hereabouts as Freebird, about my job, and mentioned that I was writing about a book that I didn't like but that many people did. He said I should write about why people like it, and that it's ok if some people don't.
So when I told him yesterday that I might be on Good Morning America talking about a book, he said, “Mom, is this that book that you didn't like but lots of people did?”
Freebird: “You're STILL talking about that book? That was last week!”
So now that my six year old and my mother in law are both aware of 50 Shades of Grey without having read it, I think we might have reached some sort of maximum saturation point.
This book really has achieved astonishing public consciousness. What do you think of all the coverage and discussion? Does it bother you that 50 Shades began as Twilight fanfic? Is it the book you're reading now? What do you think?