Letter from PublishAmerica's CEO: Why some people write bestsellers May 10, 2012
Open mic for Heidi Hansen, Inner Wisdom: A Personal Narration of My Encounters With God In My Heart, (http://email@example.com): "Inner Wisdom: filled with profound true spiritual experiences shared from the heart of the author."
What's with the phenomenal success of the Shades of Grey trilogy? Three million copies sold in the U.S., and that's only the beginning. The last time something similar happened was when Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy exploded the book market. As was the case with Larsson, Shades' author is not American which, oddly, may explain part of the success. But not remotely all.
To make explanations more complicated, most reviewers agree that the books are not very well written. Erika Leonard, pen name EL James, is light on style, just like Larsson was repeatedly awkward with his prose. But it doesn't matter. Both authors are superior on content and timeliness, and that throws all conventional wisdoms out the door..
More after this book review, Surfwater by Ryan W. Keyser (http://firstname.lastname@example.org).
In the height of rock band hysteria in the late 1970s, a group of women set out to blaze a trail through the music industry. The rapid pace of events in Surfwater mirror the lifestyle of rock bands—moving from one place to another, participating in interviews, performing, and living on the road between their returns home. Ryan Keyser's quick but thorough dialog dictates the energy in the novel, keeping the readers apprised of the band's activities while delving into their personal battles and reflections as Amy and the other band members experience their share of romantic and monetary difficulties. A shocking ending rounds out this fast-paced novel and provides a calm closure.Surfwater is a glimpse into what lay behind the scenes for a rock and jazz band with platinum status in the late 70s and early 80s. There is no shortage of drama for these women, but they manage to perform all across the globe and please audiences everywhere in private concerts and sold-out theaters. It's fun to get to know these women behind the stage and see what life is like for those whose life is music. Find Surfwater here: http://www.publishamerica.net/product40716.html.
Much has been said already about the mommy porn aspect of the three Shades books. It has caused some Florida libraries to ban the books, which only helps sales. But to a large degree, the R+-rated content is immaterial to the books' success. There's something else at work that drives the popularity.
I first read about British EL James in a newspaper, and said something about it to my wife. She showed no particular interest until a few weeks later her sister called with almost daily reports on passages that she had read. By then we figured that the trilogy had become a watercooler issue everywhere. My wife downloaded all three books in her Nook, I downloaded them in my Kindle Fire. What I saw confirms what I've been thinking all along.
The first ingredient of successfully defying conventional wisdom is sheer luck. Sensual books have been written since forever, good and bad quality alike. I'm certain that EL James has not written the best book of this genre that's recent and currently available. But she scored the best hit. How? By a combination of grassroots word of mouth (beginning in Australia of all places, where she initially self-published it as an ebook) and luck. There must be at least a hundred other women in the world who have recently written the same genre, of similar or even better quality. 99 were unlucky, while EL struck gold.
Second ingredient: a book must tap into a vein that's currently throbbing in a culture where disposable income is readily available. A successful author needs luck plus a feel of the pulse of people just like her. EL James is a self-described midlife lady, and she is un-special. She must be because she writes stuff that appeals to millions in her age bracket. And to older ones: Barbara Walters, 82, said on TV that she understood the books' success, including the attitude of voluntary submission of the story's heroine to the man in her life, "When you go go home, you want the guy to be in charge. More than be in charge, do very kinky things." All the emancipation in the world doesn't wash away that a woman still wants to fantasize about letting go and surrendering control. Men do too.
EL got that. She wrote it down in non-Pulitzer language, which is how normal people speak, warts and all: short clips of sentences, abrupt, maintaining a normal human pace, rarely interrupting the flow. In non-American English too, which is what many readers actually like about it. (Yes, that's odd but unsurprising: I still speak with an accent and in imperfect English, but I find that that often counts for a plus.) And she got lucky that her story popped up on the internet just at the right moment and in the right places, when women just like her were looking for something similar, to confirm that their own fantasy life is perfectly normal. Remember Eat, Pray, Love? That was the more upscale version of the exact same phenomenon. After that success it was just a matter of time for a Jane Blow version to occur. Shades is precisely that. Just about every woman can imagine herself to be Anastasia Steele.
One little detail: the main character in all three mega successes (Shades trilogy, Millennium trilogy, and Eat, Pray, Love) is an aspiring writer! How is that for a coincidence?
Or is it?
Also on the soapbox today: Tony Ayles, The Eternal Expatriate, Part Two, (email@example.com): "The Eternal Expatriate, Part Two is informative and entertaining, it takes the reader through several countries with principal events taking place in England and Germany."
I invite you to talk back to me. I don't guarantee a response, but I do guarantee that we listen. You can reach me by email at http://firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line write Attn. Willem.
Have a wonderful day!
If you want to rent space on Willem's future Letters-from-the-CEO, go to www.publishamerica.net/service/Willem.html. Have your book reviewed for tens of thousands of people to see, or talk into the open mic!
You can read this letter also online here: www.publishamerica.net/ceo051012.html. All previous letters are here: www.publishamerica.net/ceoarchives.