Fifty Shades of Readers

Since writing my post about FSoG, I’ve read the trilogy (in two days!) and absolutely loved it. I don’t feel a pressing need to justify and articulate just why they worked for me (I keep that on Goodreads) because this is about why reading them gave me a completely different perspective about myself as a writer.

An occasional meme on writing blogs is “write to your dream reader.” For the most part, I didn’t understand what the heck that meant–how am I supposed to know who my dream reader is when the only people who’ve read my writing are my critique partners and my agent? Don’t you find your dream reader when your books are out in the wild for them to find? Obviously, the concept flew right over my head, and the more I dug around trying to understand it, the more confused I grew because it didn’t seem like any other writer could break down just what that little nugget of “writer’s advice” really meant.

This, I now see, is part and parcel with the natural inclination to listen not to readers, but to other writers–who in turn gained their insight listening to other writers–and then to industry professionals. Not saying those voices are not important–I wouldn’t have a critique group or an agent if I believed they needed to be cut out of the equation–but once a writer jumps into the fray, we’re taught to write with our dream agent or our dream editor in mind, instead of our dream reader.

FSoG, or Master of the Universe, originated as Twilight fan-fiction, and as someone who was heavy into the Spuffy fanfic scene as a teenager, writing fan-fiction is purely about the reader response and experience. The second I’d upload a chapter of an ongoing fic, or posted a short PWP (Porn What Plot), or completed a challenge, there the comments, encouragement, suggestions, and critique would be. The instant feedback was gratifying, and meeting the expectations of those who enjoyed my work was utmost in my mind. It also challenged me to maintain or increase my skill level, to focus on the types of plots I enjoyed, and to always remember to entertain readers. I had peers and Spuffy writers whose skill I envied, but the immediate knowledge that I created something that people enjoyed increased my confidence.

Fast-forward to my career as a fiction writer and everything is completely opposite. There is no instant feedback because posting your work online, chapter by chapter, is a big no-no. Your audience is not the reader, but the agent or editor who must gauge your work on what’s sold, what sells, and what will continue to sell. Your career lives and dies on the mechanics of writing, as opposed to the mechanics of storytelling (I can imagine the horror if someone said they had no CPs, just beta readers). And worse yet, the isolation usually makes you turn inward on yourself because getting published in those few slots is a competition against other writers (and The Market, to an extent) as opposed to a shared celebration of a fandom.

When I read the reaction to FSoG on industry blogs, much of it is to express surprise or dismay over its success, to share that they wouldn’t have picked it up, and to reiterate that this doesn’t mean they would pick up books deficient in scintillating prose (this is not to pick on them, because the same type of conversation happened about Twilight, the Sookie Stackhouse series when True Blood first aired, and the other pop culture juggernaut, The Da Vinci Code). I know FSoG isn’t everyone’s cup of tea for a variety of reasons, but at the same time, I wonder if their knee-jerk reaction against the book is because industry professionals read it (or browsed through a few pages) with their “job goggles”–that is, studying the mechanics of the book, comparing it to other BDSM romances on the shelves, and dinging it for breaking rule numero uno in the romance genre: a romance novel must have a self-contained HEA.

Much of my writing inhibitions stemmed from this erroneous way of thinking. Sure, I was writing the types of books I would want to read, but I held it at arm’s length, not wanting to be emotionally invested for fear of rejection from agents, editors, and other writers. I never, ever once thought about a readers’ experience with my writing, or even the type of people I wanted to adore my books, because I was a lowly unpublished author who had no right even thinking about having a readership pre-publication/release (but it’s ironic that we’re told to have a platform, right?). I admit that I even hesitated to say I wrote novels on my own history blog (!!!), or even claim my readership there, because I’m not some big-shot historian with a cool job and major credentials, so why would anyone even give me the time of day?

Absolutely, stinking insane, right?

So when I finally got around to reading Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels, and aside from the warm fuzzies, I suddenly felt this great big honking sense of liberation–when the heck did I forget the real purpose of a book? It’s a great ego stroke to win awards and critical acclaim–and I certainly wouldn’t turn down a RITA or a DIK from All About Romance, lol–but one award or one great review is not the sum total of why I write. I even joked with a friend that if being hated or rejected by my peers was the price that came with touching millions of readers, I’ll take that success. Based on my past, that is a very out-of-character remark, so you can see how much of an impact FSoG has had on me. *g*

Author: Evangeline Holland

Evangeline is a public historian who brings her academic skills to fiction, in order to fill in the gaps in the historical record. Her love for history permeates just about everything she does, going so far as to "suffer" for this love--as the bruises and stuck fingers from fencing and sewing costumes to understand life in the past firsthand can attest.

Leave a Reply