There have been a number of discussions on several online writing groups regarding the popularity of 50 Shades of Gray, and everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon to say how amateurish and poorly written the story is.
Much of the discussion is not so much dissing author E. L. James, it centers on trying to understand why/how a crudely written story can become so wildly popular when other superbly written tomes go unnoticed. It seems a mystery to all.
I have not read 50 Shades, and I don’t plan to, simply because I’m not a fan of erotica even by a competent writer, let alone one reported to be amateurish. I’m not at all surprised that a sloppily written book can become mega popular. I’ve read several that I believe fall into that category.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer was so bad I threw it in the trash after forty pages. What did it have? A juvenile, overly sappy, romantic spin.
Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller was one of the best-selling hardback books ever, and it was feebly written. What did it have? An overly-sappy romantic spin with two great characters.
Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was mega popular, yet I, and most other writers I talked to, thought it was trash. What did it have? An interesting premise that Jesus fathered a child and had a lineage, and an exciting chase-scene plot.
Readers today are not looking for great writing. I’m not sure they ever did. It only takes a visit to Goodreads to see how many amateurishly written books are piling up five-star reviews, and well-crafted stories get two-star reviews. What they want, demand, are books that push their emotional buttons. They want to feel something. They want to be swept away in an emotional dream.
Does that mean writers shouldn’t strive to polish their craft? No. It means they also need to understand what readers demand and craft their characters and plots accordingly.