Monday, February 23, 2015

Would You Be E.L. James If You Could?

The weight is heavy on his shoulders.

And, as with most things in my life, I’m really talking about me.

When Twilight first came out, I was about fifteen-years-old. I had been writing for three years at that time and had definitely decided that it was going to be my career. Harry Potter, of course, had already rocketed into popularity, which was my first memory of a book be coming famous like that, but Twilight was a whole different ballgame. The reaction to it was like nothing I’ve seen in my short lifetime, and I would wager a new experience even for people much older than me.

I would call Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey “notorious” more than famous; I find that the negativity is a large part of what made them household names, more so than anything else. When I read the young adult vampire series, I remember liking it pretty well, but it not being my favorite book of the time. I was a voracious reader in high school and I likely would have forgotten the series if it had not become what it was.

I have yet to read Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m hoping to see the movie eventually, and I anticipate on being scintillated, uninterested in the characters or any non-sensual related topics, and primarily getting my jollies out by analyzing it from a writer’s point of view.

What interests me most about these series is that with the authors exuberant success comes a lot of backlash. Anything popular has backlash, of course, but nothing save for maybe Kanye West has this much success rise from hatred. People are outright horrible, albeit sometimes in a hilarious way, and that anger keeps the books into conversation.

These writers are millionaires, making ridiculous sums of money off of writing alone. The characters are beloved icons by many, the creators have an unprecedented say in the film’s productions, and I would argue that if anyone has the creative freedom that any author would wish for, I would say it would be them.

And yet, with all that, would you ever want their career?


First, I have to clarify that I have a very specific idea of what I want to be writing—in terms of the actual process, in terms of the results, in terms of the reputation. I don’t even want to be George R. R. Martin (despite having a high affinity and respect for his books) if it meant I had to write in the style of Game of Thrones. Not because I don’t like it, but because I want to write the way I want to write. My goal is to create certain moods, and if I could have success but meant that I needed to lose my voice or my vision, honestly, I would reject the idea.

So, no, I would not write the next Fifty Shades of Grey, even if hypothetically it meant popularity was guaranteed. Style, voice, mood, and even the smiggen of my own personal philosophy is important to me. If I’m not writing my books, then there is no point.

This isn’t what I’m wondering though. The bigger perspective is not based around the kinds of books James wrote, but the actual reaction to her success.

Would I want mass fame, fortune, and fans if it meant I would be the target of millions of people’s hate mail? A constant example of bad writing?

Whether or not this is an accurate assessment (keeping in mind I do not believe in a linear quality of literature) isn’t the point. Would you be willing to be considered a terrible author if it meant success in every other aspect?

And I’m not talking about the typical hate mail most writers get. I’m pretty obscure and I still get some myself. I’m talking about the barrage of insults that come along with the mention of your name or your books. Is it worth it to have loyal, fanatic fans when they are matched with equal haters?

I bring this up because when I empathize with E.L. James, it makes me question what I really want out of being a writer.

Have a lot of readers? Yes.

Have a lot of readers that fall in love with the characters? Yes.

Entertain people? Yes.

Have enough sway for creative freedom? Yes.

Make enough money that I can focus on writing? Yes.

Make a ridiculous fortune that I wouldn’t know what to do with? That would be nice.


Have my name be synonymous with terrible writing? No. No, way in hell.

Even though it has always been about connecting to people, even though I have always known that criticism comes with the job, even though I have long been aware that you’ll never get agreement on what is good writing, and by the nature of the beast, if someone loves you, it’ll make someone else hate you, still the idea of being an infamous writer makes moderate success much more appealing.

If I could have a decent amount of readers with a decent amount of funds and a decent amount of criticism, I would be happy. I would feel successful, and I would prefer that to having ridiculous fans, ridiculous money, and ridiculous hate.

On the other hand, what if it meant complete obscurity? If I had to choose between no readers, no money, and no hate, wouldn’t I prefer to be E.L. James?

Maybe. I guess it all just depends on the options.