Saturday, February 14, 2015

It's Good to be Different In a Sea of Fifty Shades Imitators

When I was growing up, Sundays meant listening to Casey Kasem's American Top 40. My dad was a music lover, and we had two reel-to-reel players and an entire shelving unit of stereo equipment and music. Neil Diamond, fifties rock, and Top 40 pop were staples in my house, and the radio was always on.

To my young ears, music was supposed to have lyrics. Songs that had no lyrics were somehow inferior to songs that did.

And then Chariots of Fire came along in 1981.

The main title for Chariots of Fire steadily climbed the U.S. music charts until it finally reached #1. It went on to hit the top 10 in five other countries' music charts, and the top 40 in two others. Why? The title song of Chariots of Fire was different. It appealed to people on a different level. We'd never heard music like this before. Electronic? Synthesizers? New age? Wow! What is this cool stuff?

Looking back over time, a lot of "different" people and things found success. The Beatles. Elvis. They were "different." Even Peyton Manning revolutionized the way professional football teams played the game with his no huddle offense. Before he came along, no one had ever "no huddled" except in a two-minute drill. Peyton used the two-minute offense in the first drive of a game. Caught other teams completely off guard. If only the defense had been better at that time, the Colts might have won quite a few Super Bowls in those early Manning-era years. At any rate, the point is, things are new and different find more success than those things that aren't.

In literature, different works just as well. E.L. James proved that with Fifty Shades of Grey. J.K. Rowling did it with Harry Potter.

But have you noticed that when someone different comes along and revolutionizes behavior, ideologies, music, sports, etc., a whole train of followers jumps on board and imitates the differentiator? For example, Vangelis's electronic sound paved the way for a flood of other musicians who also played electronic music, finally culminating in today's wildly popular Electronic Dance Music (EDM). The Beatles took rock 'n roll to a completely new place. Next thing we knew, tons of bands were playing rock like the Beatles. Those other bands even started growing their hair the same way. Everyone wanted a Beatles haircut.

And as for Peyton Manning? Well, offenses throughout the NFL started using no huddle offenses to capitalize on the success he had shown them was possible.

Which brings us back to Fifty Shades of Grey. When that book came out, authors everywhere rushed to put out their own version of Fifty to ride the success James created. I even found one book where the author admitted that she wrote it because she wanted to ride the successful coattails of Fifty Shades. And, no, that book was nowhere near as good as Fifty. In fact, it was obvious the author was uncomfortable writing sex scenes and erotic content. With that said, a handful of copycats did find moderate success as readers clamored for more books like Fifty Shades. But those who followed have not (and will not) come close to reaching the same level of success as E.L. James. Why? Because she was the originator of this trend. The originator of a trend will always find greater success than those who follow. Still, even a fraction of that success is appealing. I get that.

However, now, with the first Fifty Shades movie newly released, the Fifty Train is just about played out. The movie will revive the books temporarily, but as the movies continue being made, the popularity will gradually dwindle until the meteoric rise to popularity fizzles into a spark, and then into obscurity, where, one day, those who have experienced the phenomenon firsthand will look back and say, "I was there when..."

The truth is, readers have grown weary of billionaire heroes and "innocent" heroines, as well as BDSM. They're starting to itch for something new. A few informal reader polls have indicated as much, and all you have to do is search the internet to find more readers saying, "Please, stop with the BDSM!" Here's a blog post titled Untie Me Already!: Over BDSM from Heroes and Heartbreakers, if you're interested in reading what someone else has to say on the subject.

Remember how popular Twilight was a few years ago? Now, sparkling vampires have become a punchline. Fifty's fifteen minutes of fame has about run its course, and readers are starting to look for the next big thing. When will Ana's Inner Goddess or bottom-lip biting become a punchline? Or has it already? It's inevitable. It will happen. That's simply the reality, not a criticism.

I'm not dogging Twilight or Fifty. I LOVED the Twilight books, as well as the movies, and I'm as psyched about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie as just about everyone else. My point is that every trend has a beginning and an end, and a lot of times, the end is marked with people making fun of the trend. Bell-bottom jeans? Yeah, they were once cool. In the 70s. But in the 80s and 90s, you were an uncool has-been if you wore them, and people let you know it. And speaking of the 80s, which was my era, big hair was all the rage. Now, it's a punchline, just like sparkling vampires and inner goddesses. Check out the bite-size Twix commercial if you don't believe me. 

So, what will the next book trend be? Because it's coming, whether you're ready for it or not. Maybe a better question is, are you still following the Fifty trend, or are you moving on to something else? Because those who are moving on—those who are striving to be different—are the ones positioning themselves to be the next trendsetter.

Many will follow, but only a handful will lead. 

Be a leader. Be different.

You might just find yourself writing the next blockbuster if you do.

Happy Writing


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