Analyzing the Dynamics of a Blockbuster Bestseller
By Jacqueline Seewald
Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James is the latest blockbuster bestseller. Women are buying it in droves. What made this initially self-published novel go viral? As a writer and a reader, I’m particularly interested in analyzing the phenomenon that causes certain novels to become instant bestsellers by previously unknown authors. What makes such novels so unique? And in fact, what do they have in common? Over-the-top sex and/or violence? Something so outrageous and/or controversial that it catches the public’s attention and awareness? Perhaps.
I discussed this with a college-educated woman who fits the “Grey” demographic. She showed me how she had the novel set up on her I-pad. She is the mother of three small children, ages . She works part-time outside the home, is always busy and sleep-deprived. Yet she is finding time to read “Grey.”
I asked her: “What appeals to you about this book?”
She appeared embarrassed by the directness of the question. “I was curious I guess. It’s not my usual taste in books,” she explained with a shrug. “I’m not into S and M. And the book isn’t even well-written.”
Nevertheless, she did pay $10 for the opportunity to read the novel as an e-book. Others are buying the trade version for $15.95, putting the novel at the very top of that bestseller list along with the other two books in the trilogy and ahead of a Nora Roberts novel.
I also discussed this with an older woman, a respected bank manager who had purchased the novel in print. She told me that she was enjoying the book and had recommended it to several fellow workers. Word of mouth clearly sells books.
Because the novel had gone viral as an e-book, the author was able to get an agent who sold the entire trilogy to a major publisher. The division of prestigious Random House that brought this novel out in print is Vintage Books. Ironically, they claim to focus on publishing “quality literary fiction.” This struck me as particularly interesting since “Grey” has been described as erotica—translation soft porn aimed at female readers. It’s also been noted that the novel degrades women. Is this the average woman’s secret sexual fantasy? Or are women now buying the novel mainly out of curiosity because there has been so much notoriety? Getting publicity seems to be crucial for sales of any novel. The big publishers still have the ability to promote and distribute a novel successfully, something small indy publishers do not.
Writing a quality book is something I always have as my main goal. But few know about my novels or read them. My latest novel DEATH LEGACY received excellent reviews from both BOOKLIST and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. It’s a romantic suspense mystery thriller, and those who have read it said they couldn’t put down. Yet sales are meager. Libraries are apparently reluctant to order it regardless of good reviews. And libraries are the main buyers of Five Star/Gale novels.
We come back to the initial question. What makes a particular novel stand out so that it sells well to readers? Must it be outrageous? Over-the-top in sex and/or violence? Or are there other reasons? Is there any way to analyze how to write a bestselling blockbuster? What do readers most enjoy and value in novels? I continue to ponder these questions. Your views, comments and opinions are valued