Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the short version: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is a BDSM erotica phenomenon that started out as TWILIGHT fanfic. (Links provided so you don’t have to Google anything. That could get dangerous.) FIFTY SHADES has sold an estimated 40 million copies worldwide, been optioned for film, boosted the mainstream demand for erotica, spawned dozens of copycats, and even given hardware stores an unexpected lift. (But only for items like “soft” rope.)
Now, I am not one to jump on any bandwagons, and I don’t chase trends. But 40 million is no small potatoes. So I figure, there’s gotta be a lesson in here somewhere, right? Well, here’s what I came up with:
1. Write for yourself.
That’s the whole point of fanfiction: Take a bunch of characters you love and play around. (Arguably that’s the whole point of all fiction.) The idea is that you’re making yourself happy, by writing a story that you want to read — and it’s only natural that if you like something, then other people will too. After all, even the “weirdest,” rarest niches have fan sites and Facebook groups.
Sometimes we’re so busy worrying about whether X concept will appeal to “the market,” or if Y story can hook us an agent, that we forget to ask ourselves, Does my idea appeal to me?
2. Seize opportunity.
When the author of FIFTY SHADES realized how popular her fanfiction stories were, she found a way to capitalize on them. She changed Bella and Edward’s names, retitled the series (formerly “Master of the Universe”), and self-published in digital form. Based on impressive sales figures, a small Australian publisher picked her up for print. Based on even more impressive word-of-mouth, a Big 6 publisher picked her up for re-print and mass distribution.
None of this would have happened if the author hadn’t been willing to open a few doors on her own, to experiment with the available tools, and to take a chance on herself.
3. Success is unpredictable.
(This one could also be called “What we can’t learn from FIFTY SHADES OF GREY: How to become a millionaire.”)
No one saw this coming. Not the author, not her first readers, not her later readers, not her first publisher, not her second. No one could have predicted the incredible rise of this one TWILIGHT fanfic out of the millions that flood the internet. Heck, some people still don’t understand it.
You can’t worry about how to be the Next Big Thing, because that’s a trigonometric equation we don’t yet know how to solve. And let’s be honest: we probably never will, because we are book people, not mathematicians.
4. Bad reviews won’t kill you.
Or your book. Or your career. Yes, they can sting, but the best thing to do is brush them off, ignore them, or avoid them completely. (Easier said than done, I know. But do it anyway.) Most people will still check out a book if they were really interested — because one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
So don’t stress over — and do not respond to — public criticism of your work. At best you’ll have no effect; at worst you’ll lose potential readers and look like a fool.