Thursday, August 9, 2012
As if 50 Shades of Grey wasn’t enough. I found out through my favorite writing forum that a big New York publisher just shelled out a seven-figure advance for Gabriel’s Inferno, another book that started life as Twilight fan fiction. Why not? If it worked for 50 Shades, maybe reworked fanfic erotica lightning will strike twice. Or several times. The same forum reported from different sources that HarperCollins was soliciting fan writings at ComicCon. There’s gold in them thar fics!
I wish. I wrote a book that was (cough) inspired by my favorite TV show. I never tried to deny it. I was hoping the knowledge might translate into extra sales. While the book did indeed turn out to be my best selling title to date, it didn’t come anywhere close to the millions of copies 50 Shades has sold so far. You won’t find it at the end of the aisle in Kmart, and no New York publishers are waving seven-figure checks in my face. But it was based on a show with a passionate fan base! Why aren’t I rich and famous?
Clearly I made several mistakes in my marketing. For you budding E. L. Jameses out there, try this formula:
1. Pick a wildly popular book/show/movie with a huge and rabid fan base. Twilight is a worldwide phenomenon. The show I picked, well, isn’t. It’s got its fans, but they don’t number in the millions. On second thought, skip the TV shows and movies and base your work on a book. Those fans are trained readers from the get-go. You’re halfway home already.
2. Write a lengthy fanfic and post it on any one of the free sites available. Let it gather rave reviews and recommendations. Build an audience who’ll buy the rewritten version when you self-pub. It helps if you know how to write, but good writing isn’t mandatory. This is true even of professionally-published books. (Example: The Da Vinci Code or early John Grisham)
3. Include a lot of sex. The kinkier, the better. Especially if there was no sex between the characters in the original but everybody was dying to see some. Maybe that was part of my problem, I didn’t have enough sex scenes and they were pretty tame. Maybe the guy should have been into branding or something. C’mon, he had a tattoo. What more do you people want?
4. Make your hero a brooding older man who’s rich as all get out but has a tragic background/troubled past/deadly secret. His lover is younger, naïve, awkward and ideally a virgin. She’s drawn to him instantly, but she’s not sure how he feels. It worked for Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre is considered a classic for a reason.
5. Your main characters should be male and female. There’s another place I went wrong. Mine was two guys. M/M has a following, but nowhere near the numbers het romance enjoys. My love interest wasn’t a virgin either, although he was younger than the hero. Who was a vampire, by the way. I think that may have helped sales, but I can’t be sure.
The biggest error I made was skipping the fanfic stage. My major concern in devising my story was—what’s the word I want? Oh yeah. Plagiarism. Plus, until 50 Shades came along, there was no money in fanfic, and I have monthly bills. I thought fanfic and money were mutually exclusive. Instead of writing and posting a fanfic with loads of bondage sex, I concocted an original background and story and cast the show’s actors as the leads. They may look the same and sound the same, but they’re not the TV characters. Maybe that’s why big publishers with big advances aren’t beating down my door. If you can’t recognize the beloved characters from your favorite book/show/movie—and they’re not having steamy sex every couple of pages—then what’s the point?
For the record, I haven’t read 50 Shades, and after seeing all the reviews and comments and skimming a couple of pages in the local Kmart, I don’t think I will be. I did read Twilight (got it from the library), and while it’s not my thing, I can understand why 14-year-old girls would fall in love with it. Sadly, I don’t write the things 14-year-old girls fall in love with. I write what interests me. Whether it interests anyone else I don’t know until the book comes out.
For instance, I’m toying with a YA plot right now. It has a guy and a girl. It has vampires. There are no sex scenes at all. It’s primarily a comedy. Sounds like I’m doomed from the start. If I make the guy ten years older, make her young and virginal, put a hot bondage scene on the first page and name them Bella and Edward it might stand a chance. This time, make the werewolves sparkle. They’re gay and wear glitter in their fur. I like that idea, but it’s too original. In current publishing, the word of the day is derivative.
Screw this. Writing a 200k-word fan fiction epic and then rewriting it as an original work is way too time consuming. I’m going to cash in on another trend I spotted on the same forum. Some publisher wants to reissue Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice and a couple other classics in the public domain, but this time with steamy sex scenes added. I’m targeting Call of the Wild. Buck was a werewolf. Harnessing dogs to a sled constitutes bondage, right? Of course it does. Throw in a couple scenes of M/M cross-species shapeshifter bestiality and I might just have something. Hey, New York! I’m over here! Make sure you spell my name right on my seven-figure check.