Let’s be honest: We can’t blame E.L. James.

So, E.L. James decides to try to do what many authors do. In an attempt at promoting her new book Grey, James went live on Twitter, allowing other Tweeters to ask her questions using #AskELJames. What ensued was…troubling. Tweeters used the opportunity to criticize James’s writing and to accuse her of everything from glorifying abuse to setting back women’s rights a good fifty years.

Now, I’m not a fan of 50 Shades. I read the first one, or at least started it, after hearing a great deal of buzz about it. I ended up skipping through a good bit of it, and when I reached the end, I was actually disappointed to learn that there were two sequels. I’m no fan of E.L. James, but I don’t blame her, and I certainly would never have participated in the monstrous activity that took place on Twitter.

E.L. James is a writer. Maybe not a great one, but she did write, as of last count, four enormously popular books. Is it her fault that a publisher chose to publish her books, a gazillion people chose to buy and read them, and a movie producer chose to make a movie—which another gazillion people went to see? Not really.

So who is there left to blame if the author is out of bounds? The publisher for pulling 50 Shades out of the slush pile and giving it the type of promotion that most authors can only dream of? Maybe, but publishers are, in the end, just salesmen. They see a need in the market and they try to be the first to fill it.

The troubling thing about the whole 50 Shades phenomenon is that, at the end of the day, there was a market for the book. In spite of its disturbing thematic material. In spite of its sub-par writing. In spite of the fact that “those type” of books (which have been around for many, many years) were once hidden at the back of the bookstore, not prominently displayed at the front door to greet me and my children when we go in looking for summer reading.

So don’t blame E.L. James for writing what a large part of our society now wants to read. Writers write. Publishers publish. Readers buy the books.

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