50 Shades of Grey: Why Is It So Increasingly Popular?

It's a silver neck tie. 50 Shades of Grey

As Jane and I have been discussing, and as she noted at DA, 50 Shades of Grey has been collecting the type of media exposure that publicists have fever dreams about. From HuffPo to the Today Show website and television broadcast, to the NY Post and various Fox affiliates in New York and San Diego, the story boils down to: women are reading this book, it's become exceedingly popular, it's a sexually-focused romance, and the women featured share a few things in common, most notably that it's a wonderfully arousing book for them.

I didn't like the book myself, but if you liked it, and it turned your engine, more power to you. Go on with your happy reading self. Since women's sexuality and reproductive health are under political attack here in the US of WTF, anything that supports a woman's right to satisfy her own sexual curiosity is all good with me. 

Moreover, I am certainly not trying to imply by asking why this book is popular that, if you liked this book, there's something wrong with you. There's not. And I wish there wasn't so much implication in the coverage that there is something bizarrely alien about the popularity of a novel (particularly a novel popular with female readers).

Yet the fact remains, one of the questions I've seen (and been) asked is, “Why is this book, 50 Shades of Grey, so popular?”

Well, if anyone can answer that, there's a few dozen publishers who would likely pay a lot of money for that information on What Makes a Viral Bestseller (With Accompanying Huge Media Exposure). It's mostly impossible to really define why one book is popular, particularly one surrounded by ethical concerns and one which even the fans who adore it openly state is not well written or edited. The media coverage doesn't really help with that, either, since it focuses on the fact that women are spreading the word about it because they find it so tantalizing and, frankly, arousing.

I have a few theories as to why this book is popular. It has a secrecy element, for example, similar to some paranormal romances and their avid fanbases. It's also not at all surprising that 50 Shades and Twilight share a few plot themes, specifically that secrecy and the temptation inherent in the world of both narratives, and the alpha male who is opulently, ridiculously wealthy, Volvos optional. Plus, Edward, as I wrote a few years ago, and in many similar ways (again, surprise surprise) Christian are both very much old-skool-style romance heroes. 50 Shades (and Twilight, obviously) are also told from the heroine's POV, a very deep, first person, detail-heavy point of view, and the narrative is also akin to reading a diary, adding to that sense of illicit secrecy.

But the point of divergence between them is that secret — and this is not to say that at this point 50 Shades become a wholly original piece of fiction. It is not, considering how much of the character types are based on Stephenie Meyer's work.

In Twilight, the secret world and the key to entry is the knowledge that Edward is a vampire, knowledge only Bella, and by extension the readers, initially share. In 50 Shades, the secret world focuses on sex, specifically Christian's secret room and his sexual expression through BDSM. Sex, in many senses, is the initial conflict of 50 Shades book, and is the obstacle between the characters initially as well, and thus becomes a focus. So the secrecy is layered and complex.

Also, and this is more difficult to define, some writers just write books that have crack embedded in them. They are compulsively readable for many, many people. JR Ward's Black Dagger series has been described as “cracktastic.” The Hunger Games trilogy was equally difficult for some to put down, as was the Harry Potter series. For me, sometimes it's particular authors: Johanna Lindsey has terribly compulsive crack in the writing. And for many, Stephenie Meyer had that same addictive prose that grabbed readers. So perhaps it is also somewhat logical that James' writing, which is so heavily founded in Meyer's work, assembles those same elements to much the same effect  — with the added element of sex, and what is perceived as kinky sex at that.

The thing is, and this has been discussed in many places, 50 Shades isn't really that kinky. There are BDSM romances that not only portray the BDSM elements in a more accurate and explicit manner, but also portray it as something that doesn't need to be “cured.” Moreover, the sexual play that is present in this book barely scratches the surface of what's explored in other BDSM romances.

Yet the sexuality of 50 Shades, and reader arousal, is the part being focused on by the current reporting. Women are turned on by this book – and are talking about it because of that fact, and because they couldn't put it down.

The danger is discussing the arousal of readers, and the women in the articles thus far have not been shy about that (more power to them), is that it so easily leads to the, 'Oh! So romance IS porn!' presumption. Romance isn't pornography. Romance novels can sometimes be arousing physically or emotionally, but they are not pornography. Moreover, 50 Shades is like a romance in that it focuses on courtship and attraction, but I don't think many other romance novels would appeal to the same audience currently devouring 50 Shades. Readers suffering book rebound from 50 Shades are probably more likely to pick up the sequels or reread the books than search for something similar – though there is always Twilight.

And even though I don't necessarily want to engage in more of the “did this book turn you on” discussion, at the same time, I'm quite tired of female sexuality and arousal as subjects to be controlled as tightly and legislatively as possible, or something to be pointed at, laughed at, and shamed. Rush Limbaugh can publicly call someone a slut for using birth control, and that's the topic of news coverage. Women openly discuss that a book that has aroused them, and it's reported from a mocking perspective —  I wish the media coverage about the book would focus on something slightly wider in scope than, 'Oh, look, wealthy women are turned on, isn't that cute.' (I also wish Dr. Drew had decided not to categorize BDSM as “disturbing” and state that the scenes in this book equate to “violence against women.” Geez, dude, think or at least read something about it before you talk out your ass). About as difficult to answer as the question why this book is so compellingly popular is the question why female arousal can't be treated with some frank curiosity, and not mocking fear.

Ultimately, I think 50 Shades is popular because of the combination of elements and the foundation it “borrows” from Twilight, among them the very mysterious and barely glimpsed alpha-male point of view, and the presence of a very innocent heroine being inducted into a secret, sexually charged environment. Moreover, the scarcity of paper copies and the absorbing qualities some readers find in the story, as well as their own reactions and desire to share the recommendation with others in an exclusive environment, contribute to the increasing coverage. But all that leads back to the question of why Twilight was and is so popular – and whether that formula can be repeated with any additional success for anyone else. In other words, it looks like Twilight is still popular. 

Why do you think 50 Shades is increasing its viral word-of-mouth, and with it the media exposure? If you read it, what is it that you think is compelling, or perhaps even arousing about it, or Twilight– or any other book you couldn't put down? 



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Random Musings

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  1. Meoskop says:

    I haven’t read it, or been at all interested in reading it. The conversation about it reminds me of when 9 1/2 weeks was ruling the handbags of my acquaintance. Something slightly (but not very) shocking with a somewhat abusive dynamic. Something feeding a fantasy that wasn’t acceptable to feed.

  2. Roni Loren says:

    My theory (which is pulled from the ether, but if Dr. Drew can do it, I can too) is that this is “kinky” YA, so it’s appealing to that same group of adults who went nuts for Twilight. I know the heroine is supposed to be in college, but she comes across like she’s a really naive 16-year old (probably because it’s morphed Twilight fan fic). And if you’ve never read a real BDSM romance, this book is going to seem SO scandalous and different. I wish I could send all those ladies in that book club a stack of real BDSM romances. Ones that, like you said, don’t have a heroine trying to cure her poor stalker boyfriend of his BDSM “illness.” 

  3. Angela Hudson says:

    The sex thing is spot on. I lost a bit of interest in Twilight after Bella and Edward ‘did it’. Had to find a new motivation to keep reading. Of course, being invested in the characters helped a little. Haven’t read this 50 Shades one, don’t have time, frankly, but I have no doubt that the methods applied are the reason for its success. And I have to hope that’s the case, because I used the same methods when I wrote my book.

    Women, I find, are more ‘sexual’ than men, in a good way. We’re more expressive and open with our emotions. So, when a book comes along that feeds those emotions on all levels, we just want more. It’s like having really good sex, but without all the….sharing. It’s ‘selfish sex’. Our very own…orgasm (can I use that word on a blog) that we can just ‘roll over’ after.

    But you have to combine the idea of sex with the absence of it for a reason that goes beyond just the physical. You have to make the characters 9and readers) want it, need it, crave it, and have a damn good reason why they shouldn’t. There also needs to be the element of innocence in the female as well. I think we all see ourselves as that innocent young girl, deep inside, and when someone threatens to corrupt or destroy that, we get excited or maybe scared, like we’re getting to grow up and break free of our parents’ restrictions all over again.

    Who knows, that’s just my take on the situation. 🙂

  4. SonomaLass says:

    I found it compulsively readable when I was in that process—which is the same way I felt about Twilight, although I didn’t know about or recognize the connection while reading Fiddy [a private Twitter nickname]. And yes, arousing—but I know I enjoy tame BDSM. (NOT like Twilight, incidentally.) Also like Twilight, once I was done reading, I felt icky about it; once I took time to think about the dynamics between the characters, it was more stalkery than romantic. (With Twilight, I excused that on the basis of both Bella and the target reader being teenage girls, because at that age you totally think obsession = love. I couldn’t do that here.)

    Ultimately what disappointed me most about the book was the implication (which I understand gets stronger in the sequels) that Christian’s BDSM orientation is because he’s “broken,” and the idea that Ana might “fix” him with her pure vanilla love. Sigh.

    My favorite part of the book was the email exchange between the main characters; as others have pointed out, these seem to be totally different people than the characters when they are together. I kept hoping the two would converge, and be more like the smart, sassy people in the email, but I was disappointed.

  5. Di_emerald says:

    I thought and almost obsessed about why Twilight was so popular as well. Why was it such a phenomenon.. especially among the teens and preteens… I think it stems from what you call the ‘old school hero’… if you look at all the shows marketed to teens, Gossip Girl for instance (the only one that comes to mind or the new Degrassi)… there’s a big difference from those kinds of shows’ emphasis on sex and clothes and popularity and outward appearance and Bella and Edward’s relationship where there is respect and love and that love is shown in other ways (other than sex). it is old fashioned and so it is different from all the other images of relationships out there. I think it also plain fantasy as well – “the other world” created by the writer… I didn’t think Twilight was so well written (not on the scale of Harry Potter), but it did have the crack aspect to it.

  6. Sunshineyness says:

    The fact that it derives from a Twilight fanfic disgusts me on an ethical level (that’s another topic of ethics and intellectual theft) but also doesn’t surprise me:

    Like Twilight at the beginning I felt like an outsider. I got an advance copy. I read it and hated it before any hype happened. I found it unrelatable, unreadable, and very immature even for a teen book. I also felt like it was a book written not for teens but by teens…. than the media explosion happened and I was a minority. What do I know? It ended up being a bestseller and reasonably well read and educated women I know loved it.

    Interestingly, a fanfic that was written for Twilight was rewritten by said author to eliminate the “Twilight elements” and much the same explosion happened and I was… well, left with the same feelings.

    Take that for what it’s worth.

    BTW, watch that Today Show segment. It’s the most disgusting and ignorance of the romance/erotica genre I’ve ever heard. PLUS, the “book club” featured is hosted by an Exec producer of the Today Show which is the only reason it managed to worm its way on there.

  7. I haven’t read the book and I don’t really care to do so because it doesn’t sound like something I would like.  The thing that bothered me about the Huffington Post article was that it read as if there was something wrong about women being aroused by something that they read.  It is okay for men to fantasize about all sorts of things, but once a woman does the fantasizing it is bad and “disturbing” as Dr. Drew claimed it was.  I would say that every girl over the age of 13 or 14 has had a sexual fantasy or two and many of them have probably been of the BDSM variety.  Nobody should be able to tell me that my fantasy is disturbing because it involves explicit sex. 

    What I find slightly funny about the reaction to the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey is that all of the male reactions seem to be very Victorian.  I don’t know if they would prefer women to not read at all, only read the intellectual classics, or maybe only to read books with missionary, vanilla sex.

  8. DreadPirateRachel says:

    Dear Dr. Drew,

    Your own inability to enter into a particular kink does not make it “disturbing,” and if the people engaging in the activity are consenting adults, it is not “violence against women.” Rather, I would argue, your attempts to dictate what sexual activities women should or should not enjoy are enacting a form of violence against women: shaming women’s sexuality and presuming to know better than they do about their own life decisions is simply another way of smothering women in a pathetic and transparent attempt to control them.

    Here endeth the rant.

    Actually, that’s not true. The rant is just warming up.

    I have not read 50 Shades of Grey, and I’m not particularly likely to do so. I prefer my erotica to be a bit more hardcore (heh. I guess that’s probably “disturbing”). Nevertheless, comments like Dr. Drew’s always raise my hackles, because I’m tired of hearing BDSM attacked. A while back, there was an episode of “Bones” that basically implied that BDSM practitioners are incapable of engaging in a healthy and loving relationship. I think it’s disgraceful that government and mass media think they have the right to dictate the ways in which people express their love and sexuality.

  9. Elizabeth Archer says:

    Just read the trilogy today.  Yes, it took about three hours to read this Harlequin Romance in BDSM clothing.  Basic silly twenty something virgin (was she living in a convent while her roomie was partying?)meets incredibly handsome billionaire who is seemingly waiting for a gawky virgin with an English degree to melt his repressed heart.  Yeah, right.  He threatens her with a bondage room but suddenly decides ordinary sex is so exciting that he can forget his room full of kinky toys (probably because the author has no idea how any of the stuff works) and contents himself with the benign sex toys available in catalogs for senior citizens.  Obviously, being the first still counts for everything in this kinky mixed up world of ours.  Its charming to find a girl too stupid to use birth control.  She can’t remember that itsy bitsy little pill everyday, darn it.  Good thing she doesn’t have diabetes.  She can’t remember her shot either…  Her one redeeming quality is her inner Jane Eyre, who must be shuddering in her well written Victorian boots….I am not surprised it is a best seller since it would hardly challenge a third grade reading level.  But what do I know?  I paid for the damn thing too.

  10. Connie333 says:

    Oh Dr. Drew – if this gets your knickers in your twist then I wonder what would happen if you read any of Elizabeth Amber’s “Lords Of Satyr” books with the double peen and bonkers sexual politics…. I own several of them obvious deviant that I am.
    I have read 50 Shades of Grey and really just felt “meh” about it. I do wonder how much of the buzz had to do with it starting off as a fanfiction with apparently a lot of followers when it came to garnering attention though.  Since it’s common knowledge that the book started off as fanfiction and there are a hell of a lot of Twilight fans who will spread the word of something involving their favourite characters now S Meyer isn’t writing them anymore (I know that in 50 SOG they are supposed to be oc’s but once I knew that it originated as Twilight fanfic I couldn’t help but read the protaganists as being Bella and Edward, and I’m not even a fan of the series). Most authors don’t get that already established fanbase or fansites that are going to encourage others to go and buy a book that would probably escape their notice otherwise.
    I did have a quick Google out of curiosity and there were at least 30 Twilight-centric (ok, probably not a word) sites that were eagerly anticipating the release of the book.
    It reminds me of Cassandra Clare who writes the “Mortal Instruments” series.  She was a big name in Harry Potter fanfiction (as Cassie Clare), and while she is a very entertaining writer and I’m not saying either she or E.L. James don’t deserve to be read or their success, they did have an advantage over a lot of most first time authors in already having a fanbase that would create buzz that most first time authors or their publishers would have to pay for.  They are also in a lot of people’s minds linked to big, established franchises rightly or wrongly when it comes to their current work, and so they have have a big network of people who are going to talk about it. Talk online means sales – even if it’s negative.

  11. bmmcgreg says:

    I have done a lot of thinking about why people love Twilight so much. I didn’t, but I know a lot of women my age (early to mid thirties) who are obsessed with it. This theory only applies to grown women – not tweens – because I can absolutely see why that series would be popular to a 12-13 year old girl. I was actually reading EIKAL when it hit me   – none of those women that I know actually read romance. They read a lot of James Patterson and maybe they read Janet Evanovich. Twilight is ok because its a vampire story and YA – not a trashy romance (GASP!) – and it fulfills something that they aren’t getting anywhere else.

    I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey – but maybe for some women, it’s the same thing? The viral buzz and shared fanbase with Twilight maybe made it somehow “safe,” and now, it’s a novel with OMG SEX IN IT. For women who have avoided romance novels due to their stigma, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey’s subject matter is perhaps revolutionary and game changing for them. Whereas most of the ladies I know who devour romance like candy are just “meh” because there are so many better written, better developed, better charactered stories out there.

  12. anon-anon says:

    Well now, that was $7.99 wasted. Should’ve come here first to read a review before buying. Never would I support or condone any work that views BDSM as an illness. I have friends in the community. They did what no single therapist could: Helped me move past the scars of a physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive marriage. Never have I met a more caring and supportive group of people.  I gave up on Mr. Drew (he is not a real doctor, imo) years ago when he insisted that every girl having relationship troubles had daddy issues and was sexually abused. It came across as his personal “kink” wanting to know all the intimate details of a teenage being abused and he would spend minutes on air trying to get the poor woman, who just wanted to know if her feelings that her boyfriend was cheating were correct, to admit daddy had touched her inappropriately.  It was disgusting to listen to and I see he hasn’t changed his stripes, only darkened them. Someone get Mr. Drew off the air already.

  13. Julipagemorgan says:

    I was going to comment, but Elizabeth Gunther said everything I wanted to say.  (And said it much better than I could!)  All I can add is, “Word.”

  14. LauraN says:

    I found 50 Shades deeply boring.  It was a DNF for me.  Besides all the crap everyone has already mentioned, the thing that really bothered me was how flat the characters were if you didn’t know they were based on the people from Twilight.  And I say that as someone who is emphatically NOT a fan of Twilight.  In other words, 50 Shades is the reason why I rarely spend time on fan fic—authors who don’t spend the time to build characters or worlds.  They just piggyback on someone else’s character and world building, assume you know what’s going on, and then tell their story.  But let’s think for a minute about series romances.  You could say that every novel following the first in a series piggybacks in a way.  I submit that the good ones continue the world building and continue fleshing out characters.  If they don’t, I tend to get bored.  So I guess it’s not really a fan fic problem but a poor development problem across the board?  I’m thinking this through as I type, so my position here is not fully developed, to say the least.  At any rate, I read 50 Shades and thought, “Lazy [author].  If I didn’t know these people were Bella, Edward, and Jacob, I wouldn’t know much about them or why they do what they do.”  Meh.

  15. Elemental says:

    Perhaps the “curing” of the BDSM habit is part of the appeal? It allows the reader indulgence in forbidden methods of sex and love, but the heroine (and by extension, the reader) can’t be condemned or judged for enjoying it, since virtue and normality triumph in the end.

    That comes up a lot in depictions of sexuality, especially female, that it’s okay for the characters to indulge in taboo pleasures, whatever they are by the standards of the day, but they must either abandon them to find happiness or be punished.

  16. LG says:

    What I think is interesting is the number of comments I’ve seen (on the DA review of the book) from people who said they liked 50 but couldn’t manage to finish Twilight. I wonder, did they really hate Twilight, or did they just not give it as much of a chance as they gave 50 because Twilight is a YA book and therefore not “grownup” enough to be liked? If the former answer is true, then whatever it is about 50 that’s cracktastic for them is something that’s not present in Twlight – I haven’t read the book, just reviews, so the only thing that really pops into my mind is the BDSM element. Maybe this is the first book they’ve ever read with BDSM in it, and they’re attracted to this new and different thing?

  17. Jenyfer says:

    LOL – I haven’t read any of the Twilight books (though I did enjoy some of the chapter by chapter snark on another blog at one point) and hadn’t heard of 50 Shades until I saw it here. I guess I must be living under a rock!

  18. kkw says:

    I haven’t read it, and I didn’t really care for Twilight, so I probably won’t.  Look, there’s nothing wrong with making fun of a book you don’t like, but it shouldn’t carry over to the people who do like it.  Nothing wrong with speculating about why other people like something, but why this underlying assumption it’s because something is wrong with them?  Saying it’s popular because of repressed women who don’t read ‘good’ romance or don’t know ‘real’ BDSM or don’t understand the difference between obsession and love…I find that distasteful, and no different really from saying it’s popular because it’s kinky shameful pornography (um, what’s wrong with porn, anyway? why does porn=Bad?  It’s like saying, I don’t know, photography isn’t art [although in my heart of hearts I’m afraid I do believe that] or comic books spawn juvenile delinquents).  Anyway.  Just cause I don’t get the appeal of a work of art doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the art or people who like it.

  19. Great post ladies…keep it up!

  20. thefairygodmother says:

    I am not going to read 50 Shades of Grey, because I am afraid it will get on my nerves just as much as Twilight. There are great BDSM stories, one of them being “Wicked Wedding Night” by Margaret Rowe in “Agony/Ecstasy” that does feature a Dom who is damaged and an innocent young virgin, but the way the story goes is towards communication, understanding and trust, not “fixing”.

    Also, I am tempted to send Dr Drew a copy of “Nana to Kaoru”. Show him that BDSM can be adorable.

  21. KPATL says:

    Why the virgin and the older experienced male scenario?  I am a romance reader and this book was good but not the best book I’ve ever read.  The part I liked the most was the interaction of the characters and not in the sex parts of the book.  The characters have the potential but I hate this naive virgin scenario.  I understand that some women were virgins through college but she barely kissed a boy?  UGH frustrating…I do hope that this doesn’t make people turn their noses at romance readers and novels.  However, anything that gets people reading is a good thing.  And I think that the author and publisher and incredibly happy that almost one year after publication it is back on top of the best seller list.

  22. KPATL says:

    No I do not think that you were under a rock.  It was not reviewed well by most people who review romance novels. 

  23. thefairygodmother says:

    What boggles my mind is why hasn’t <url=http: 1760513=”” algonquinrt=”” u=”” http://www.fanfiction.net=”“>this girl gotten her fanfic published? “Mr Horrible” was hilarious, and plausible, and “Suburban Ennui” could easily have been the script for a marriage-falling-apart indie movie.</url=http:>

  24. Cyranetta says:

    The reviews of both the Twilight saga and 50 Shades that mentioned the basic definition of the heroine as a passive navel-gazer made me disinclined to read either one, only because that kind of heroine doesn’t interest me, not because I think it’s somehow inferior to appreciate that kind of heroine, nor do I think it somehow a sign of a damaged psyche to enjoy reading whatever kind of fantasy jumpstarts your engine.

    The thing I find that concerns me very much is that such segments as the Today Show’s might have the unfortunate effect of encouraging the politicians who are trying to circumscribe women’s lives already—“See, they just want to be told what to do…”

  25. anonmint says:

    This reminds me exactly of when Twilight first became “viral” and Today reported it back in 07 or so and suddenly places like Oh No They Didn’t were making fun of it on a daily basis while fans were endlessly praising the piece like it were the greatest American novel or something.

    This is another case of me reading it, finding it blandly dull and asking “Why is this popular?”. Let’s be honest, the book isn’t even that sexy, I’ve read genuine hardcore Erotic Lit that has been more boundary pushing when it comes to actual sex scenes.
    This just happens to be one of those increasingly common instances where the book doesn’t live up to the hype that the internet gives it.

  26. Anonmint says:

    Dope and Fresh. UYD holla.

  27. LG says:

    I took a look at algonquinrt’s main fanfiction.net page, and it looks to me like, unlike E.L. James, she views her fanfic as a way to hone her writing, not as writing she is intending to publish. I would actually hope that most fanfic writers viewed their writing this way. Prior to finding out about repurposed fanfic published as original fic, I assumed that this is how all fanfic writers who one day hoped to be published authors approached their fanfic. Apparently I’m naive. :o/

  28. pamelia says:

    Unabashed fan of the Fifty Shades books here (even the 3rd one although I have yet to read it 4 times like I have the first 2 so maybe the rereading will make me like it less who knows).  I’m also an avid reader of romance novels, erotica (including much more hardcore BDSM than can be found in these books), paranormals and I have read Twilight 2 or 3 times as well.  What makes Fifty cracktastic for me?  I love the virgin trope.  I think it works because it’s the ultimate “do-over” fantasy;  how great would it be to find the one on the first time out without having to go through the messy physical and emotional wrecks of trial relationships?  Sign me up!  I also love Ana’s voice (I know I’m in the minority in these comments) but I really love reading a female character who is not kickass and not self-assured to the point of parody.  I know women like that exist and I have read dozens of books where that character is well done and convincing, but I don’t want all my female characters to be the same; I really don’t.  I didn’t find the books to be trying to champion vanilla sex over BDSM/kink.  Ana was taken aback by the kink at first and the entire issue was muddied by Christian’s well-established sense of self loathing.  Also, I guess with my jaded reading tastes, I didn’t find the sexy bits particularly sexy or arousing, but I adored the relationship and the building of trust and love and all that.  I can’t castigate anyone for disliking the Fifty books, but I personally love them to bits.

  29. PLUK says:

    I read the first Twilight book and did NOT like it, so I think 50 Shades wouldn’t work for me either.  Best—and funniest—explanation I’ve ever seen for Twilight’s popularity is here: http://theoatmeal.com/story/tw&#8230;

    Bella will now forever be referred to as Pants in my world!

  30. Cally says:

    I approach my fanfic as writing I do for a very specific target audience. I don’t regard it as training wheels or waiting for the big time, and I find that view a little frustrating as it seems to assume that fan fiction is not up to published standards which can be quite wrong (and considering current book standards…?!) I do agree that fan fiction should not be re-sold as original fiction, with the caveat that sometimes a fanfic idea will fit better as original work, but it should already contain a majority of original concepts and characters the author created for that purpose, not name changed clones of existing characters. /my two cents

  31. @SonomaLass

    I absolutely agree with this post. I could’ve written it.

    The book was recommended to me last week by another romance writer during an informal chat on twitter when she told me she was reading a trilogy she couldn’t put down. Since I know and admire this writer’s taste and style, I bought the first of the trilogy purely on her recommendation and didn’t read the blurb.

    I had no idea there was any connection with Twilight (I have the entire collection and enjoyed it for what it was). And I’ve never read fan fiction, the idea has never appealed to me, therefore I came to the book without expectation or background information.

    The deep first person pov took a bit of getting used to (I had exactly the same feeling when I read Meyer) but I persevered and was quickly drawn into the story.

    Both Meyer & James manage to cocoon the reader in a world that’s almost gothic and claustrophobic from the blacked out windows of the SUV to the ‘playroom’. Christine Feehan does this well in her Dark series too. We’re intimately involved and in the head of Anastasia twenty-four/seven. That’s a hard thing for any author to pull off, but in my opinion James does it without apparent effort.

    We care, we feel deeply connected to the characters – and that’s key to the success of this series imho. Yes, the hero is a tortured, controlling Alpha – and James takes the reader to edge at times – but I don’t think that’s the ultimate reason for the book’s success. The characters remained in my head for days in a way that Bella and Edward didn’t. The secondary characters are good too, but they never take over the story.

    As SonomaLass says, the emails back and forth between Anastasia and Christian are brilliantly done – usually they annoy me in stories and I tend to skip over them – but I laughed out loud at the way their conversations ebbed and flowed between flirting and arguing with each other. James used the tool to show the reader the deep ipov of each character and the character arcs for the story. It was very well done. The sex/intimacy scenes were well done too – they hit the spot. But as for BDSM, mild is the word I’d use and that’s being generous.

    So the recent hoo ha on the Today show and on other sites has caught me by surprise. Dr Drew did not read the books, therefore how can he comment to the entire nation? I watched the programme and I won’t dwell on my thoughts – I’ve already addressed them elsewhere – but certain participants made me cringe. They were worse than twelve year olds.

    As you say, Sarah, it doesn’t matter whether we like something or not. Everyone has a right to an opinion since taste in music or literature is terribly subjective. However, on another site, anyone who enjoyed the book was vilified.  *Sigh.*

    Then Dr Logan Levkoff did a post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…  which made a lot of sense.

    To round up, as a reading experience I loved it. The characters have haunted me with me, something that is so rare in a romance these days I can count on the fingers of one hand. And my writer friend has read the series more than once, saying she can’t put it down and I totally get where she’s coming from.

    Great Post, Sarah.

  32. SB Sarah says:

    Pamelia – Thank you for explaining so clearly why you liked the books. I think it is awesome that you know what works for you as a reader, and that you know why this book worked so well!

  33. SB Sarah says:

    Thank you for the kudos. I am fascinated by the fact that what worked for you as a reader sometimes aligned with my theories as to why the book was popular, and sometimes were completely different.

    You wrote, “Meyer & James manage to cocoon the reader in a world that’s almost gothic and claustrophobic from the blacked out windows of the SUV to the ‘playroom’” – and that’s totally true. Excellent point, totally.

  34. Amandag_18 says:

    I havent read 50 shades, but I have read – and re-read, twilight, Harry potter, and the hunger games. What I found so addictive was that the the different world created by the author was so believable and appealing, that I wanted to be a part of it. Really bad! It’s addictive. As for twilight, since it’s the one with the romance theme, I get the same feeling I do when I think of mr Darcy – I really like to think there are guys out there like this. I find the idea so compelling and intoxicating that it doesnt matter how the book was written. I mean, with all books you escape into a different world, but it’s different with these ones – you want to believe in the characters and their stories so badly, so you hold on to the words harder, longer, and you share them with as many people as you can.

  35. Courtney Aurelle says:

    My theory is that 50 Shades has become sort of the gateway book to the romance/erotica genre for those who’ve never read it before.  Since it is Twilight fan fiction, it takes the elements of Twilight women love then throws just enough kink in it and they’re hooked – it’s something new and sexy to them.  And I can actually attest to the truth of that in my little world. 

    I learned of and read 50 after a friend (and Twilight fan) gave me the book.  She loved it and ended up passing the book on to a whole group of fellow neighbors (at least 10-15) who all loved the book.  None of these women were readers of romance or erotica.  One of those women who read and loved 50 was not a reader at all, but has since borrowed several romances from me and has even moved on to The Hunger Games.  She is completely hooked on reading now.

    I read all genres of romance and have for years and years.  I enjoyed the 50 books, but have not gone bat shit crazy over them like some. I can’t say exactly what elements about the Twilight or 50 books that appeal so much (or at least not without writing a crazy long post).  All I know is I enjoyed them and I’m thrilled that 50 spawned a love for the romance genre for some very good friends of mine.  It’ll always have a special place in my heart for that (and the kinky fuckery, as Ana would say, didn’t hurt either 😉 ).

  36. MissFifi says:

    A friend just told me about this book and from what I have read above and in the comments it would not be my cup of tea. I will stick with Joey W Hill when I need a taste of BDSM thank you very much 🙂

  37. Lily LeFevre says:

    I really enjoyed the first three Twilight books (cannot express my hatred of the 4th in a ladylike manner), and for all the caveats of “the writing isn’t great” I found the books easy to read; the writing didn’t annoy me, so it was, at worst, serviceable. But what I liked most about Twilight was that it took me back to being 15 again. I remembered things about high school that I had forgotten because the book put me back into the obsessive mind of a teenager, where everything is Dramatic and Important and that crush is The Only Guy On The Planet. I also agree with the commenter above about wanting different types of heroines. I think a lot of the attacks on Bella for being so passive could be read as attacks on girls who are too shy to take on a “leadership” role, and I really hate that.

    I have not read the 50 shades books and am not interested in them mostly bc I don’t see sexual proclivities as “problems” and would have a difficult time caring about a character who was so self-loathing about his/her proclivities. If the arc is about Ana learning she is an uninitiated BDSM counterpart to Christian then the story is more like Secretary than Twilight.

    As to why it’s popular, though—I think a lot of it has to do with the topic seeming like a scandalous, titillating, and excusable fetish (bc its Twue Luv so it’s okay to be kinky, donchaknow) for women who have not on the whole explored much of anything kinkier than doggie style and 69ing. Even most mainstream romance novels don’t go to this kind of place.

    The Dr. Drew comment really bothered me, as well, but there are some women’s issues theorists who claim consensual bondage = sexual violence, so the attitude doesn’t surprise me. It simply infuriates me. We can have a thousand flavors of ice cream but only one of sex? Please.

  38. LG says:

    I don’t know that “writing for a specific audience” is necessarily not included in “honing your writing.” Writing for a particular audience is just as much a part of a writer’s set of skills as anything else. There are an amazing number of people who can’t even do that on a basic level (and here I’m thinking of the student who used texting shorthand in a paper her professor had assigned).

  39. MissFifi says:

    Texting shorthand in a paper?? I would love to read that.  Does she speak that way as well? Now THAT would be funny. hee hee

  40. Jim L says:

    As an aside, 3/13 is the release date for the book THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO KINK: BDSM, ROLE PLAY AND THE EROTIC EDGE by Tristan Taormino.  I haven’t read it (pre-order, comrade!) but I know Taormino is a terrific writer (and speaker, if you get the chance to hear her in person) and she writes on kinky topics with a substantial amount of intelligence, experience, and humor.  Without pre-judging the book, I strongly suspect that this will be a terrific guide to the kinky world beyond the sensationalism that any mildly kinky book aspires to.  (I’m lookin’ at you, Harlequinn Blaze.)

    I also wish people would lay off trashing pornography.  A lot of it is very good, a lot of it is very sexy, and it usually delivers what it promises.  Yet it’s somehow become the nadir of quality in many discussions.

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