Tag Archives: writing

How EL James Exploited the Fanfic Community for Fifty Shades of Grey

Great background on the origins of Fifty Shades of Grey and how its author built it’s success on the backs of the fanfic community – and then kicked the ladder away. Starts with the transition of the fanfic from ‘with-vampires’ to ‘just-humans’ – I never really got this part and couldn’t figure out how BDSM fiction connected back to vampire romance:

“I mean, porn for Twilight was pretty decent up until the last book, where Meyer jossed her own canon and got Bella pregnant. … until we all realized that Meyer was a moron who knew nothing about even human anatomy. By that point, everyone was just frustrated. we just wanted to create and consume some fucking porn, give us a break.

We could have totally moved to another fandom or begin writing original stories, but everyone was already there, you know? We’d already made friends and established trends in the community. Moving was not an attractive option for anyone, especially given that Twilight is a mono-fandom, meaning it was a first-and-only fandom for most of us (whereas in other fanfic communities you’d see a lot of overlap with other canons).

So Twilight All-Human AUs [alternative universes] were ultimately invented. There were stories where vampires didn’t exist (like FSOG). They got CRAZY popular within the community because they were essentially just generic romance novels with characters we already knew (made it easy to write and consume, as we already liked and cared about the characters). Though there were always nods to the original Twilight series within them, you didn’t even have to know Twilight to enjoy an AH-AU. I’ve gotten tons of reviews on my fanfic where readers say they’ve never even picked up the book.

By 2010, probably a good 75% of Twilight fanfic being produced was All-Human. It was literally a chore to find a fanfic that had anything to do with vampires.

Fifty Shades was part of this. A lot of people here are saying it’s ripping off Secretary, but it’s not. It’s ripping off another really popular Twilight AH-AU called “The Submissive“, written by TaraSueMe. It was the first very popular BDSM Twilight fic (and frankly, so much better). Whenever a fic reached mega-popularity, there always began a brief spike of fics using those tropes. For instance, there was once a really popular fic about Edward being a tattoo artist (Clipped Wings & Inked Armor), which spawned all kinds of fics about Edward and Bella having tattoos. There were even contests with prizes to see who wrote the best tattoo fic.

So basically, The Submissive spawned off tons of BDSM fic. Fifty Shades was one of them. This is really important because it indicates a very strong practice of collective collaboration in the community at the time that would later be at the root of a lot anger when Erika published. Just about everything in her books is derivative… and not derivative of other media, and not even just derivitave of Twilight, but directly derivative of other Twilight fanfics. Sure, you could say it was ripping off Secretary, but considering intent, Fifty Shades is actually a ripoff The Submissive and dozens of other insanely popular Twilight fanfics.

In reddit-speak, think of these kinds of stories as reposts. It’s generally frowned upon to repost without giving credit here, but reposts can still get a shitload of karma, because some people hadn’t seen the original, or other people liked the content more than they disliked reposts. We’re all sitting here going, “Oh that’s kind of lame they’re getting karma from someone else’s idea,” but no one really cares too much. This is what Twilight fanfic was like.
FSOG got a shitload of karma. Ask me how!

Well, the short of it: Erika is a marketing professional.

The long of it:

  • Erika made reposts of already-proven-popular content
  • Erika posted short updates to the story very frequently, keeping it at the top of the story search list
  • Since people could give ‘karma’ (reviews) for every single chapter/update, the more chapters a story had, the more karma it had

FSOG had 80 [edit: was actually 110] chapters. That means that a lot of people actually reviewed that fucking thing EIGHTY times. So even if she had only 100 super loyal readers, that’s 8,000 11,000 reviews (think upvotes). People see a story with 8,000 reviews and want to click it to see what all the fuss is about. I think it had something like 20,000 reviews when it was pulled down for publishing.

Hence, FSOG went viral.

To put into perspective the social power of the Twilight fanfic community, consider this:

There was a fandom-run charity auction to benefit pediatric cancer research. These auctions, held annually, lasted 1 week. That’s it. Just 7 days. Mostly authors would auction off stories. So if you donated in my name, I’d write you 10,000 words of porn in my Tattward universe, or something new, etc. That’s how it worked.

The 2009 auction raised $80,000.
The 2010 auction raised $140,000.
The 2011 auction raised $20,00.

This charity has raised more than $230,000 in 3 weeks. http://www.alexslemonade.org/mypage/19842

Erika participated in the 2010 auction. A story from her fanfic (FSOG) raised $30,000 of that, all by itself. In some chats made public by another author (that’s some quality drama: http://gentleblaze.livejournal.com/[2] ), Erika freely admits to not wanting to participate in the charity at all, but felt pressured to do so by her readers.

But now, with the ability to connect the social power of the community with a monetary sum of her story’s worth, Erika shortly thereafter decided to publish.

She then leveraged the community’s sense of nostalgia and loyalty, urging everyone to buy the book and give it good ratings, so as to see ‘one of their own succeed in the publishing world’. There were multiple campaigns from her friends (tens of thousands of what she only saw herself as ‘fans’) to blast her Amazon page and send the book up the ranks. It of course worked.

Once a (genre fiction) book gets to #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list, you’re done. Mission accomplished. Book and movie deals to follow. Enjoy your money.

Erika never looked back. She actually has blocked every single person I still know from fandom on her twitter account. She used the community to get her book (most ideas created by the community itself) to #1 then essentially shut the door on them all.

Pretty brilliant, really.

But then, that’s why she’s not putting out any new content, and why she probably never will. She is likely incapable of producing fiction without the use of existing characters and a collaborative community. Erika Leonard is not a creator, she is a marketer.

There’s also a great reason why the 2011 charity auction made so much less money. Because after everyone saw Erika publish FSOG and make bank, they all wanted to do the same. Not really many popular stories left to leverage social currency–it’s all going into their pockets. Most of those really popular fics (including the two mentioned here [The Submissive and Clipped Wings]) have since been published and done quite well.”

Full URL http://www.reddit.com/r/TwoXChromosomes/comments/2byz2l/many_women_do_not_agree_with_me_on_this_subject/cjaqvmi?context=5

A Glorious ‘Benjamin Button’ Takedown

A thorough skewering:

“Written by Eric Roth, writer of Forrest Gump, the thing read as though a studio executive had come to Roth with the conceit – a man ages backwards – and the assignment to turn that conceit into Forrest Gump 2. Mission sort of accomplished. Consider:

  • a southern boy born into a body afflicted with a crippling ailment. Forrest Gump is unable to walk without the use of leg braces. Benjamin Button is born arthritic and dying of old age.
  • both boys gain the ability to walk properly through seemingly miraculous circumstances.
  • both boys fall in love at a young age with the girl who will be their Fermina Daza, loves lifelong and unrequited until one brief moment in young adulthood when the timing is just right. Their paths, of course, again diverge soon after, only to reconnect years later in a situation involving a child.
  • both boys are raised by a parent or parental figures who repeat a single piece of sage wisdom that the boy himself grows up to impart. In Forrest Gump, Forrest’s mother teaches him that “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Benjamin Button, in an unsubtle attempt at creating another catchphrase, has both Queenie and Tizzy, Benjamin’s step-parents, tell him that “You never know what’s comin’ for you.” Both Forrest and Benjamin go on to repeat this motto to others in their lives.
  • both boys grow into dim bulbs of men, “pure of heart” but emotionally naive and so sympathetically vulnerable to the cruelties of the world.
  • both become enlisted in the military, and enter the service of an eccentric commanding officer known primarily by his title and first name. Lieutenant Dan, Captain Mike.
  • both serve alongside ostensibly eccentric fellow officers, introduced by way of a scene that was itself, in Forrest Gump, a takeoff on the original, unironic, scene in Apocalypse Now.

For instance, Forrest Gump is a bit more proactive than Benjamin Button, who passively moves through life without making an active decision until near the end, when he consciously does one of the most despicable things a man can do. He abandons his family. The film, of course, intends for us to continue feeling empathy for Benjamin beyond that point, and so has one of the characters wounded by Benjamin’s decision tell him he was right to do what he did, but his decision never feels right, morally or narratively. The script needs (or, rather, wants) this thing to happen, and so it happens, despite its complete incongruity with what we know of Benjamin up to that point.
One would think the near total passivity of the title character would have been a flaw evident at the screenplay stage (for the record, it was) but rarely have script problems slowed the production of a film once an A-list director has his momentum behind it, pushing it inevitably toward the screen whether ready or not.

And while not the worst film I’ve seen, it remains so thoroughly mediocre, so poorly written and so poorly made, that its arrogance only leaves that much more bitter a taste in my mouth. As a rule, one hopes to judge a film on its merits alone, and not by any hype – any buzz – that might surround it. But the buzz about “the best screenplay I’ve ever read,” the hype and reviews that use words like “epic” and “masterpiece” compel me to take the thing down a notch. It is not a masterpiece. There are, in fact, few films in recent memory that I have detested more.”

Full length epic rage http://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/1vd0of/inspired_by_rbooks_what_is_a_movie_you_absolutely/cer6yn2

How Shakespeare Invented Modern Storytelling

“It’s 1594, and Romeo & Juliet is premiering; let’s take a look around to see what else is out there. It…sucks. There’s Christopher Marlowe (who might have given Shakespeare a run for his money if he hadn’t gone and gotten himself killed), and that’s about it (Ben Jonson hadn’t happened yet). Other than that, you’ve got a bunch of straggling morality plays and some stilted court masques and a handful of other dramatists’ whose work history has been very ok with forgetting. … And Shakespeare basically made it up as he went along. … The mistake that some people sometimes make is thinking of Shakespeare as some lofty, unapproachable font of profound art. He wasn’t. He was a guy who made his living from one play to the next, trying to write things that people would like. He was, a commercial artist trying to write things that would be marketable (another word he invented). Also, some of his plays were terrible — for every Hamlet or Macbeth, there’s a Pericles or a Henry VI that only the most die-hard fans would choose to suffer through today. … Your comparison to Stephen King is actually a good one — both men considered themselves to be storytellers first and artists second; the Author’s Notes in King’s Dark Tower books make really good points about the distinction there. But King is largely only possible because Shakespeare happened before him, because of our exposure (another Shakespeare-ism) to a manner of storytelling that is driven by the complexities of character, where the entire plot of a play or novel can consist of a flawed (that’s another one) character reaching a decision. That may not seem like a big deal now, but that’s only because it has been almost universally adopted into how we tell stories. But, when it happened, it changed everything. … But if you measure by looking at the impact of his work, upon culture and upon art, Shakespeare is the quote-unquote-greatest author who ever lived, and nobody else even comes close.”

Commenter on ‘I believe Shakespeare is undeserving of the legacy he left behind, including the title of greatest author to have ever lived. Change my view.’.

The White Correspondent’s Burden

“But this doesn’t explain why journalism from Africa looks and sounds as it does. For this, we blame our editors, who (we like to say) oversimplify our copy and cut out context. … For these tendencies, our editors in turn often blame readers, whom they assume can’t or won’t follow us through villages with difficult-to-pronounce names or narratives with nuanced conclusions or moral ambiguities.
Ultimately, the problem with journalism from Africa isn’t about professional conventions. It’s about all of us—writers and readers, producers and viewers. We continue a storytelling tradition that hasn’t fundamentally changed since Joseph Conrad slapped Congo with “the heart of darkness” label. Even stories that gesture toward something “positive” can’t escape the dominant narrative: “Africa isn’t a lost cause,” pleads one recent headline. The argument about journalism from Africa is often whittled into two camps, Afro-pessimists vs. Afro-optimists. But these binary camps, too, miss that Africa is many complex things, simultaneously. In our news broadcasts and our headlines, though, it’s usually framed by just one static thing: suffering.”

Boston Review

How to Write About Africa

“In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. … Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African’s cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care. … Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.”

Granta Magazine

Jonathan Franzen’s Shtick

“It seems like everyone wants to get on the Jonathan Franzen bandwagon of being a cranky contrarian about innocuous things people like. In unrelated news, my new book, Puppies and Kittens Are Giant Assholes is coming out soon. Enjoy the chapter about how butterflies are racist and don’t courtesy flush.”

via Steve Almond vs. Jon Stewart and Colbert | MetaFilter.