Just this morning I was reading a post on a message board forum. Somebody was wondering aloud – (can you do that on a message board forum?) – just what was the secret behind the HUGE success of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.

So I threw in my two bits – which started my mind to thinking and elaborating further.

I didn’t even have to move my lips while I was doing that – although I am mumbling now as I type this into my blog.

Here’s my two bits.


I have been feeding the birds outside of my house for many years. I have a system. I put a few peanuts out on the sill of my dining room window. The blue jays come there. The crows – who also like the peanuts – are too big for the window sill – so this way the jays get to eat in peace.

(why is this dude talking about birds?)

Then, I put peanuts on the railing of the deck. That’s where the crows come to eat. I’ve always liked feeding crows. I consider them a kind of personal good luck totem. Their existence speaks to me of a wily kind of hanging-on existence – a worthwhile quality for an indie writer.

(Okay, so why is he talking about crows? Is this some kind of a flash-mob thing?)

Then I feed the smaller birds – the starlings and the grackles. I always save the heels and the last few slices of bread in a loaf for these birds – as well as the last few crackers and cookies that go stale at the bottom of every cookie and cracker box in the known universe.

(Okay, so now he’s back to talking about birds again. Has he gone crackers? Should someone call security?)

There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs at this point in time. While I am scattering the pieces of bread the birds all line up on the wires that run above our house. They sit and they tweet and they twitter and more birds come to sit upon the wire. That’s the time that I like best – because each bird sits and sings in it’s own way. It is like God never taught the starlings any one particular song – so they just make it up as they go. I sometimes like to sing back to them – just humming to myself. It is my own kind of personal meditation and I probably ought to feel embarrassed about it – but every man is entitled to his own particular dam-fool practice.

(All right, that does it, you make a noise to distract this guy and I’m running for the door)

About two-thirds of the way through the scattering of the bread one bird works up the nerve to light down at my feet and grab him some bread crumbs. The other birds see that bird lighting and grabbing and they begin to land and do their own lighting and grabbing of the bread crumbs at my feet.

More birds come.

By the time I go back to my deck chair and sip my coffee the entire front lawn is awash with feathered twittering.

That’s what is happening with such fad books as FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. One bird sitting and twittering draws another and another and before you know the whole damn lawn is filled with FIFTY SHADES OF GREY fans.

These people aren’t necessarily buying a book. They are buying acceptance. They are buying comfort. They are buying a whole herd of like-minded companionship. They are buying a conversation-starter. They are buying a piece of the status quo.

You give a listen to the next person you hear talking about FIFTY SHADES…

Odds are, they won’t talk about plot or character or story structure.

Odds are they will say something along the lines of “Everybody is reading this. EVERYBODY!”

We are all herd animals at the deep-down root of things. And we all are susceptible – to one degree or another – to this phenomenon.

Don’t believe me?

Just think back to your childhood when your Mom or Dad would see you picking up a cigarette or some-such bad habit and then you’d say something like – “But everybody is doing it. EVERYBODY!”

And then they’d say something like – “If everybody was jumping off a bridge would you do it too?”

And then you’d say “YEAH!”

Or if you didn’t say it, you’d most likely think it.



So, am I saying that the popularity of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is a bad thing?


Am I even remotely looking down my nose at FIFTY SHADES OF GREY?


I am saying that the popularity can sometimes be a by-product of communal hype.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is a “bad” book.

It’s got a cover and it’s got words and most of those words even make a sentence.

I have read the first chapter and it did not make me want to grab it and read it. I didn’t read TWILIGHT and I didn’t read THE DAVINCI CODE either.

I did read THE HUNGER GAMES and enjoyed it. Even watched the movie, just last week – and that’ll be a blog for the near future. So I’m not saying that the hype-machine that is in motion around such phenomenon-releases are necessarily a sign of a poorly written story.

However, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was not a story to my liking. Doesn’t make it a bad book. Just one I don’t care to read.

I would however love to figure out how to generate that kind of book-buying hype that FIFTY SHADES OF GREY has demonstrated for something of my own – say like maybe SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME?

Let’s get those birds twittering about that!


yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon


  1. I love crows, “Davinci Code”, blue jays and chickadees! I seldom jump on a bandwagon–maybe if Bon Jovi or Alabama was playing–so I judged “Fifty Shades” and “Hunger Games” by their covers and story line. Both didn’t appeal to me, so didn’t look further at them. The “Davinci Code” story line did.

    Like you, I’d love to be able to attract the birds like “Fifty Shades” did. If I find out how to do it, I’ll let you know.


    • My wife really dug The Davinci Code – but it never managed to turn my crank. I’ve never been that big on clue-finding and conspiracies and such. The conspiracy episodes of the X-Files always bored me. I was much happier with monster-of-the-week.


      • Steve, you just stopped my heart for a second…you’re not an X-Files fan!?! 🙂 I watched one episode in its first season when no one knew what it was about and I became an instant fan. I still remember that first show. Granted, after a few years, I feel the writers were running out of material or inspiration because the first two years were the best, like Northern Exposure. Perhaps shows should have to have a three or four season max, so they don’t become ‘overdone’.


      • Oh Diane – I really dig the X-Files. But the whole “smoking man”, “Area 51”, “weird black eyeball dudes” schtick got boring really fast for me. But I really dug the liver-eating dude and that magic doll and the Texas Chainsaw homage and the carnival Fiji mermaid bit. All of those monster-of-the-week episodes kept me coming back. That’s what I like best in a television series. When I was a kid I always enjoyed the short story arc – say something like “The Fugitive” where each episode was a whole new story. I like being able to just sit down and watch an episode without needing to have watched every episode up until then.

        That’s why shows like “Lost” and “24” and “Prison Break” never really hook me. I was a big fan of “House” until they began farting around with that long story arc of the bad cop harassing him. I liked it best when each episode was like a Sherlock Holmes story – House would come in, get interested, nearly kill the patient with five or six knee-jerk cure attempts – and then figure out what was wrong, usually while the patient in question was convulsing in a seizure and spewing blood and puss and microbots from out of his nostrils, earholes, eyes and the pores of his left big toe.


  2. So true, once people start spreading the word it catches on the wild fire. I also think it’s the curiosity factor. If someone keeps hearing the hype, they want to know why everyone talking about it. I will not be jumping off the cliff 🙂


  3. You can draw a similar parallel with hot gadgets and electronics. The best selling are not necessarily the best i.e. iPhone and Apple products.


  4. I’m not sure it’s a ‘latest fad’ thing. I was listening to Q on CBC (CBC listener, born and raised), and EL James was on. You know what she said? She said women (from the US in particular) have been writing her, and telling her that they hadn’t read a book in *twenty years*, but they’re reading her book.

    So I think it might be mainly her incredible luck in tapping into a mighty and undiscovered publishing demographic: people who don’t read books. Sort of counter-intuitive, I know. Might has well try selling Torahs and Qu’uarans in the deepest mississippi. But she somehow makes it work.


    • “people who don’t read books”

      Yes! I’ve known someone for almost 20 years who has read only one book: Tim Allen’s “Don’t Stand too Close to a Naked Man”. He even asked for the book for Christmas. If a writer can tap into that market then they will sell more books than than the average writer.


  5. A bit off topic, does anyone think Hollywood can translate 50 shades into a movie without sacrificing a lot of the X rated content?


    • I’d like to see it made in black and white – with every second cut fading into a train roaring through a tunnel, waves pounding on the beach, and a 400cm German World War II railroad gun going off with an earth-shattering kaboom!


  6. I’m sucked into the myseries like Area 51. I can’t help myself. Steve, do you remember the 30 minute or 60 minute show in the late 1970s or early 80s on around noon from Monday to Friday called the Mid-day MatinĂ©e? They were usually older films. They had me hooked all summer. It was like an addiction. Monster movies didn’t appeal to me unless there was also a mystery involved. Mind you, I’ve never translated that interested into my novels. Maybe someday.


  7. Steve…Steve…Steve… *shakes head in disappointment* How can you write a blog post about herd mentality and book sales, AND THEN NOT TELL ME HOW TO GET THOSE KINDS OF SALES FOR MY BOOKS!!
    Ahem. Sorry, was I shouting?


  8. Pingback: Drive-by Blogging… « YOURS IN STORYTELLING…

  9. Maybe the twittering of the birds is the answer to your question Steve. If you tweet about Sudden Death Overtime in a very positive light. ‘Best in it’s Class’ Then ask all your Twitter friends to re-Tweet it, the word will soon spread. Positive Hype is what sells the books so we have to learn it.
    I’m not sure whether it’s better to have a book everyone wants to read or one everyone wants to own. I’m under the impression that the ones people want to own include all the ones full of pretentious rubbish so maybe I’ll go for the want to read group. Good luck with sales of the new book.


  10. I’m working on the “Hype Machine”, David, primarily with an upcoming release that I’m still just working on.

    As for that whole “buying books to own, not read” I still remember buying a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME – only to leave it sitting on the bookshelf until I finally got fed up and gave it to a church rummage sale.


  11. I doubt if there is a formula for writing a book that sells – it’s probably a fluke. Look at the Harold Robbin’s phenomena in the 60’s.

    I imagine all the copyists and now deleting their half-written Harry Potteresque stories and writing soft-porn.


    • Are you kidding me? Even now, my protagonist Hairy Pothead is explaining to Harmonica Graynger how she can free her true imaginary spirit if she will only allow Hairy to handcuff her to his Quit-it Stick! Coming Soon – Fifty Shades of Quit-it!


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