[Editor's commentary: "It was a dark and stormy night." How many times have you as a writer been told not to copy. Don't copy somebody's homework. Don't copy the way somebody looks. Seems somewhere along the line may have changed. Or, at least, knock-offs of something may be okay. Or at least what publishers are looking for. That's what this article suggests. So, maybe what you need to do is find some best selling novel and "spice" it up in some way, and see if an agent or publisher will buy it. I say it with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. Therefore, I don't know that I so much say this is a writing tip and maybe a way to get started writing if you feel stuck. Take something out there, a classic maybe, and bend it some, change it in some way. Many of the stories of King Arthur's knights of the round table were retold in just such a fashion. Each new writer taking what had been written before about a certain knight and adding his own inflections to it. In some ways, we may not be quite as far beyond the Middle Ages as we would like to think.]
“Fifty shades” of knock-offs?
By Matthew Carey
updated 11:31 AM EDT, Mon May 14, 2012
An erotic bestseller has publishers fantasizing… about how to repeat its runaway success.
The “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy by author E. L. James has sold an amazing three million copies in just a few weeks, seducing readers with its sadomasochistic tale of virginal college student Anastasia Steele and her troubled billionaire lover Christian Grey. Universal snapped up the film rights for a reported $5 million.
The “Fifty Shades” boom “is a very big deal,” says Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly. “I think it’s safe to say it’s a mini-phenomenon.” Milliot says publishing houses are pouring over ideas hoping to duplicate “Shades’” achievement.
“This is a notoriously copycat industry… This industry jumps on whatever big thing comes along,” Millot explains.
But it’s tricky to imitate what you don’t quite understand — and many industry pros are baffled by the trilogy’s success.
“A lot of people are kind of scratching their heads about what has made this thing pop,” Milliot says. “It’s not just the sex thing that’s selling. There’s way more explicit stuff out there if you want it. It’s more than that.”
Milliot credits word of mouth, plus “Shades’” distinctive cover art (a silver necktie) and what he calls a “secret sauce” — that mystery ingredient that can turn something ordinary into a big hit.
Already, some rival publishers are promoting titles with their own recipe for “secret sauce”:
• “Bared to You” by Sylvia Day is described as a compelling combo of “love, lust and secrets.” Heroine: Young Eva Tramell. Troubled, rich boyfriend: Gideon Cross.
• “Big Game”, the latest in the “Vampire Vacation Inn” series by C. J. Ellisson, which could be called a cross between “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Heroine: 580-year-old vampire Vivian. Sexy soulmate: Rafe.
Like “Fifty Shades,” Ellisson’s books contain a “heavy erotic element,” the author told HLN (though she notes the hot action involves a married couple). Ellisson began publishing her series before the “Shades” explosion, but all the media attention on James’ trilogy may benefit her sales too.
“I love that [“Fifty Shades of Grey”] has brought erotic literature into the mainstream. I think that’s terrific,” says Ellisson.
There’s an irony in publishers trying to imitate “Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it basically began as an imitation itself of Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. E.L. James’ story originated on a Twilight “fan fiction” website, and her main characters were first called Bella and Edward (not Anastasia and Christian).
Milliot says — imitation or not — “Shades” is not in “Twilight”‘s league, despite those impressive sales figures and a movie in the early stages of development.
“I think you see how books two and three (in the series) do and you have to see how the movie gets made and if the books have legs. It’s not there (yet) to be compared to ‘Twilight’ and ‘Harry Potter.’”
But Milliot adds, “It has the foundation to do that.”