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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Fifty Shades of Fame and Shame

PW has chosen their Publishing Person of the Year. They chose E.L. James. Their reasoning:

Because the success of the series continues to reverberate throughout the industry in a number of ways--among other things, the money it's brought in helped boost print sales in bookstores and turned erotic fiction into a hot category--we have selected James as the most notable player on the publishing stage this year.

The money the books brought in turned erotic fiction into a HOT category. Mmm hmmm.

All puns aside, I'm not getting why PW would celebrate the fact that erotica is growing in popularity. Is there some philosophy or political persuasion that rejoices in erotica? Are mommy-porn readers superior citizens, better neighbors, and more loving mothers than, say, readers of fantasy or mysteries? I mean...I can see Mormons or Christians or Atheists or Muslims saying, "Hurrah! This book written from our worldview has sold a bajillion copies and we are impacting a bajillion readers." But who has a stake in erotica? I've never known anyone who would say, "Yeah! Erotica is selling well. We've fought so hard to make it happen because we think it's so important to society that erotica sell well."

I have friends who are fantasy lovers who might rejoice if a fantasy writer was named Publishing Person of the Year. They might say that So and So's books have made fantasy a hot genre and that is a reason to celebrate because more fantasy will published to fill their bookshelves. But is there a big erotica-loving contingent that is out there celebrating that there will now be more sadomasochistic novels published for them? Apparently so. Millions of readers bought the Fifty Shades books. The three books together have sold 35 million just since Random House picked them up. So, yeah, apparently there are a lot of mommy-porn-lovers out there.

What can we do about that?

We Christians can pray.

And we writers can keep writing and keep improving.

And we readers can get the word out that Christian publishers are putting out some high-quality books these days. My sister--not a Christian--read Gina Holmes's books a few weeks ago. She's visiting me because our mother is dying, and she found Gina's first two books, one of which deals with death, on the shelf. She read Crossing Oceans one day and Dry as Rain the next day. She liked them very much, and she had no ulterior motive. She had no reason to say she liked them--she's not a champion of Christian fiction.

In the end, though, we won't get a lot of respect from the world. If perfect Jesus didn't get much respect, why would anyone respect warty old Christians?

I searched the Internet and I couldn't find any reference to PW naming Jerry Jenkins and/or Tim LaHaye Publishing Person/s of the Year, and rejoicing over the fact that their books made post-apocalyptic fiction hot.

And in the end, who cares? Our job is not to gain praise from the world, but to live with integrity in the world. To love God and to show him to the world. To show that he's excellent and beautiful and merciful and holy and altogether good. We can do that, in part, simply by working hard and writing well, I think. Study, improve, go the extra mile, make your book great, offer it up to God, and then start the next project. Let's not be discouraged by PW's choice of Publishing Person of the Year. Instead let's see it as a call to pray and as a challenge to put out quality work.

But just for fun...who would you have voted for if you got to pick Publishing Person of the Year?

Sally Apokedak
Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She's in the process of building a dynamite list of authors. She is also active in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the American Christian Fiction Writers, and Toastmasters International.


  1. I can't believe you don't have a dozen comments already, Sally. This was a great and bold statement. And I don't just like it because you mention your sister enjoying my books. Though, thanks for the shout out.

    This person of the year is just further proof of our suddenly (it seems to me) breakneck speed down a downward spiral in this country and the world.

    You inspired me with the reminder that it's out of our hands what the world is doing or reading, but what IS in our hands is the work we put out. I've got writing to do and that was just the little pep talk I needed today.

    1. Thanks, Gina. For commenting. And more than that, for writing. For being faithful.

    2. So very true, Gina. That was my first thought. Is this choice really all that surprising in a fallen, depraved world who desires explicitly to follow the lust of the flesh? Shoot, I'd have been surprised if they had NOT chosen something so evil to elevate as good. Very sad testimony, really, to just how lost and hurting this world really is.

      And so very true, Sally, that we aren't here to please man or earn awards or kudos. We're here to serve God. As long as we're pleasing Him, the rest really doesn't matter in the eternal scheme of things. :-)

  2. Thoughtful post, Sally. Honestly, I've read some very good Christian fiction this year but can't really come up with a nominee for PW's Publishing Person of the Year.

    You gave the proper instruction to Christians. We can't determine what the world will read or like. For me, this downward spiral shows not only the receding morality in this country but the need for "more" that can't be fulfilled by the "norm". "There's got to be more" is the cry of the lost, and they're right. They're just not looking in the right places and as a result they're seeking to satisfy their flesh which will never be quenched in its desires, always leading to further depravity.

    There's some great Christian fiction out here (Gina's included), but we also must remember no matter how good our work, we can't save a single soul and all the wonderful marketing in the world won't bring a reader to our work or to consider the One we know can save them from themselves. Nevertheless, we must write what the Lord gives us and do it the best we can, hoping He will use it for His kingdom.

    1. There's got to be more" is the cry of the lost, and they're right. They're just not looking in the right places...

      This is exactly it.

      And while we can't save anyone, or even make them read our books, we can publish more books and have them available in case God wants to use them.

      We are called to partner with God, to work as his yoke fellows. Wow! What a thing that God allows us to join in his work. We can't save anyone, but God is calling daily those that are being added to the church. Our books can be links in the chain that leads a person to Christ.

    2. Amen, Sally! One of Casting Crowns songs ("In Me") comes immediately to mind. Part of the lyrics say "How refreshing to know You don't need me. How amazing to find that You want me." God doesn't NEED our help, but He does WANT us to work alongside each other and in obedience to Him to accomplish His plans. That chain you mention - each of us linked together - unified in Christ to be lights in a dark world. :-)

  3. For sheer audacity and not necessarily because he's admirable, my nominee for Publishing Person of the year would be Rupert Murdoch, owner of NewsCorp which this year acquired Thomas Nelson though HarperCollins and then made a bid for Penguin, which eventually merged with Random House. At last report, Murdoch had his eye on Simon and Schuster. Regardless of ownership, the ongoing consolidation will continue to reverberate through our industry, affecting editorial, marketing and sales staffs and of course, authors. It's interesting that as the quality of inspirational fiction rises, the readership is declining, forcing traditional publishers to look for ways to appeal to general market readers. The challenge ahead for all of us is to grow a readership large enough to sustain a writing career without letting go of the principles and values that set us apart from authors in the secular market.

    1. Murdoch is having/will have an impact. No doubt.

      The challenge has always been to write great books without letting go of our principles and then to get the word out about the books. I wonder if you see this as a bigger challenge today that ten or twenty years ago. I'm not sure I do. I think the darker the world gets the more fresh and good the Christian message sounds.

      I hope Christian publishers are looking to engage general market readers, because so many Christians read general market books. I do. There are not nearly enough children's books published by the CBA to offer me what I want. Everyone I know has read the Hunger Games. Christian readers are forced, presently, to go to the general market to get certain books that aren't offered in the CBA.

  4. It's a sad reflection on our world when this is all that can be said after bestowing such a prestigious award. Unfortunately though, not surprising. It's what sells. It's what the majority of the people use to get a peek into a forbidden world. This type of success breeds more of the same type of smut until the new next best thing comes along and knocks it off its throne. The cycle repeats. The only mystery, as you've said, is no one knows what the next best thing will be.

    The part that is most bothersome is that the inspirational writers are slammed repeatedly about poor writing. And something like this gets praised. From what I understand its not even written well. Story trumps? Hah. So the story has to be so deviant that poor writing is overlooked? No thank you, I'd rather study the craft and trust in God's plan. And get my reward in heaven.

    1. The part that is most bothersome is that the inspirational writers are slammed repeatedly about poor writing. And something like this gets praised. From what I understand its not even written well.

      No doubt. Bad writing can be forgiven if the message tickles our ears or if the story thrills or titillates us.

    2. So true, Marian. One of my sisters actually read it after her female coworkers positively raved about it. She said not only was it completely depraved and pornographic, it was one of the worst written books she'd ever read. For someone who is an avid reader like myself, that says a lot, imo.

  5. Love Marian's and Gina's comments above--we have to pray and write and get our rewards in heaven sometimes.

    Also, sadly, it is a reflection of our culture--and NOT just the non-Christian culture. Plenty of Christian wives/moms read 50 Shades. WHY is this? I think b/c sin's tolerated, even promoted in Christian homes and churches today. It's never easy to go against the flow. I'm learning this as I now have a teen in the house (a teen who thinks much like I did as a teen...).

    Here's hoping the CBA will come out with a slew of writers who speak the truth and reach many for the Lord, even as society continues to push us to accept wickedness.

    1. And sorry, that sounds like the CBA doesn't have any writers like that already! I know it does--writers like Gina, who aren't afraid to tackle difficult topics. You know I'm just kinda rooting for all these as-yet-unpubbed authors out there. :>

    2. I've heard people say that Christian women were reading these books, but I don't know any who have. Do you?

      I'd like to read some blog posts by Christian women who think reading these books is justified. I can't imagine what the justification would be.

    3. Yes. One of my sisters read it to see what her female coworkers were raving about it. She said it was utter trash, and she knows never to trust a book recommendation from any of those women again.

    4. Yes, I do know some Christian women who read it and FB-ed it! But I'm not going to name names. I think the church kinda turns a blind eye on it.

  6. Publishing Person Of The Year? Off the top of my head, I'm not sure whom I'd pick.

    Yes, as you've pointed out, we do need to spread the word about Christian fiction. We must let others know about our books.

    Great post and great discussion, BTW.

  7. Great post, Sally. I think it was $$ driven. She saved a lot of publishing jobs this year, I suspect. And didn't even have to work hard (in the writing, I mean). I actually had people say to me that they didn't care that it wasn't written well--didn't, in fact, even notice. We are attuned to story, aren't we? And if it titillates, all the better. (sorry for the pun)

    1. Michael, I didn't read Fifty Shades, but I read the Amazon "look inside" portion and didn't find anything compelling about the opening at all.

      I did read the first Twilight book, though. It was slow going, I thought, for reasons that don't really matter right now.

      But what I wonder, when I consider the phenomenal sales of both of these series, is if the publishers aren't missing the real reason they sell. I wonder if it's not the titillation that makes women love these books (though I do know that stuff is addictive).

      What's the point of commonality between Twilight and Fifty Shades? There is sexual tension in both series, yes, but what I see as the common denominator is the warped obsession the girls have with dangerous men.

      In Twilight there is a scene where Bella goes to meet with the boy she knows is a vampire. She says over and over that she's obsessed with him. Then she lies to her father, a cop, telling him that she's going somewhere else, so that if she ends up dead--if the vampire boy she's obsessed with kills her--her father won't know who did it. She is willing to be killed and willing to hide his identity after he kills her.

      I'm appalled at the message that book sent to my teen-aged daughter. But I wonder if what the girls and the women of this world really want is a return to Biblical submission. I wonder if the women reading those books might really want their husbands to lead them. Maybe this is a reaction against the feminism that was supposed to make them all happy, but which was just another empty promise. Women today are so stressed out. One in four women in their forties and fifties is on anti-depressants. Could it be that it's too hard for them to take on the women's role and the men's role at the same time?

      The obsession with these books seems to also be a warped version of the God-give desire women have to be cherished and cared for. God made us to want to be cherished as the "one and only" and we've warped that as we have warped all things. Now we want to be worshiped more than cherished.

      God also made us to be helpers--nurturers--and the warped version of that is that women often want to save bad men. In both Twilight and Fifty Shades the women seem to be the only ones who can tame the savage beast in the men.

      I wonder how we can write about these things, and tap into these desires, from a Christian point of view.

    2. An EXCELLENT point and question, Sally. And it would make perfect sense. I mean, so many other things in this world draw people for similar reasons. Women desperately want to be loved and cherished, but this world feeds that in unnatural and unfulfilling ways. So it would make sense that these sorts of materials could be tapping into that deep desire and putting an evil twist on it.

    3. Sally, this meditation strikes my interest. Looking for a common factor of what grabs readers. If you are going on the premise that Biblical submission equals security, then yes, I suspose it's safe to say that women want some of that. But they may also want a little adventurous risk, too. (Hence the interest in the bad boys -- in our reading material, where it is safe.)
      I think (as in my opinion only) that "taming
      the savage beast" is the gist of the romance genre. The best romances are the ones where the characters are individual and distinct and "made for each other." One of my biggest grumbles when I made the switch from reading secular romance to reading Christian romance wasn't the lack of out of wedlock sex (didn't really miss that). What I missed was characters who would die for each other, who loved on such a large scale that the reader knew no one else would do. A lot of genre Christian romance back in the day (and some still today) leaves me feeling that Sally married Joe Christian because he was handy and helpful and for a few dating moments, sweet. And, you know what, that doesn't escape the real world enough for a satisfying fantasy. Those books I finish and think, if Joe Christian died within the next year, Sally will find David Christianson and be happy with him too. But Bella and Edward ... ain't nobody replacing either one of them. To me, that's the fantasy. The larger-than-life love of romance novels.
      And, if you are curious, the way I justify writing romance, is that that fantasy is the love story of Jesus and me. He was willing (and did) die for me. I must be willing and die for Him. And we'll live happily ever after together.

      (Sorry that I can't comment on the love relationship in 50 Shades of Gray. Sadism is real and therefore scarier to me than vampires.)

      But as far as tapping into these desires in Christian romance, I don't think it is any great mystery. Write larger-than-life characters who are willing to die for the betterment of their partner BECAUSE they know Jesus is the reason and enabling power for love.
      That's just my Monday morning thoughts.

  8. Great post. Thank you for being brave, and speaking the truth. - Terrie Coleman

  9. Well said, Sally. It's hard to have a heart for the lost and watch what's happening out there--on all fronts. I love your perspective, because our focus must stay on Him, the only one who can save them and us.

  10. Thanks for the post. When I first read PW's pick I immediately reminded myself that Hitler was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year. Yes, he did have a huge impact on the world didn't he? E.L. James admits in interviews that she is a bit embarrassed. Geez, who would have thought? It is pretty much a given that it is poorly written. It also reminded me when the Goosebumps series was lauded as increasing the amount of reading of grade school children. I thought "at what cost?" When they could have been reading "Shane" or "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" instead they were reading about zombies. So, 50 Shades makes money and has readers. E.L. James' marketing phenomenon just puts a figure on the amount of people wasting their time and money, when they could be reading something worthwhile.

  11. Thank you, Sally, for the honest appraisal of the downward spiral as evil influences increase and the timely advice to Christian writers. Appreciated all the comments here.

  12. Great goading thoughts, Sally. I'd comment more but I'd better keep writing. :)

  13. Well said, Sally. I personally know Christian women who are reading this stuff and I don't understand how they don't see it as porn. Seriously, if their husbands sat down with the latest Playboy, it would be unthinkable. But women can read this kind of stuff and think nothing of it.

  14. Great post! I have read the first few chapters of 50 shades (I'm ashamed to say) just to see what at the rave was about. Yes it is porn, and yes it is poorly written. It's sad to see a book like that sell so many copies. I like to read stories filled with hope, and from what I've heard, this one seems to be about everything BUT hope. I guess all we as writers can do, like you said, is keep writing and keep improving, and hope that our stories will reach the audience with a tale filled with true, deep beauty instead of, well, lust.


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