Stop it. Just stop it. Stop comparing new releases to Fifty Shades of Grey. Nothing, to me, is more off-putting than reading that in a book’s blurb or jacket copy or Goodreads description. Oftentimes, it only leads to heartache for both fans and haters of the Fifty Shades of Grey series. And believe me, I’m going to tell you why. Because it really grinds my damn gears.
First, this is not going to be a post bashing the book. That’s been done before and I’m a firm believer of read whatever you want, if it makes you happy. If you enjoyed the series, I’m glad you found something you loved. If you hated it, I’m sorry you read a book you didn’t like. Moving on.
What really bothers me, as someone who had several issues with the Fifty Shades of Grey, is that it’s a very preventative statement. I didn’t enjoy the book, so why would I want to read another book that’s likened to something I hated? It’s alienating and keeps me from trying new authors or a new series. I hate seafood, for example, which I know is a sin with me living in Boston, but what can I do. If someone wanted me to try something they were eating, whatever it may be, and they said, “Come on, try it. It tastes just like salmon.” HARD PASS. If you want me to try [fill in the blank here], don’t make a comparison to something I tried and disliked!
The statement is also pretty damn vague. In what ways is what forthcoming book like Fifty Shades of Grey? Does it have a billionaire hero? What about BDSM elements? Is it going to be a trilogy that follows the same romantic couple? Or is it the next Fifty Shades of Grey in the sense that’s it’s going to be a huge hit with readers and gross millions of dollars? I expect the latter is the dream, but having that lightning strike is very tough (as someone who used to work in publishing knows). There were certain aspects of Fifty Shades of Grey that I wouldn’t mind in other romances. I like BDSM romances and I don’t mind billionaire heroes; I can see their appeal. But other tropes or aspects of romance are turn offs. I don’t particularly like trilogies following the same characters. I’m firmly a one-book-one-couple reader. Admittedly, I’m pretty lazy. I don’t want to have to do the work based on the description to figure out which elements of the book are being compared with Fifty Shades of Grey.
For fans of the series, I can see how this helps, but also hurts. But I’m also only guessing at the potential “bad news bears” this descriptor can be. If you’re hoping a book is going to be similar to your reading experience of Fifty Shades of Grey and it isn’t, it certainly opens the reader up to some disappointment. I love cake and pie. If I went to eat a slice and I found out that it was made with Splenda or some other weird sugar substitute that doesn’t often replicate well in desserts, I’d be pissed. I think that it can also damage trust between the reader and the publisher or author. If a description doesn’t match the book, especially if it becomes a patter, readers might become suspect of a book’s blurbs, which I already know many readers don’t take seriously.
I used to work in publicity and marketing within publishing, so I understand why people make these comparisons. Often when a reader finishes a good book, they want to know what they should read next that’s similar. I read some great fantasy this year with women protagonists and once I finished one book, I wanted more of that same setting and characterization. It also serves as a signifier for what the book may contain, though as I mentioned before, it’s hopelessly vague.
When perusing books to add to me to-read pile, I will mull over the quick blurby text at the beginning of the description:
“The next [really popular book or series here…”
“A mix between [a beloved classic] and [a fun, well-known movie]…”
Relating or positioning books to other pieces of entertainment (other books, television shows, or movies) helps sell them. I’ve picked up or purchased books because they were compared to things I’ve enjoyed in the past, but because Fifty Shades of Grey is such a polarizing book, I feel like it can work against getting a reader to give it a chance.
In a perfect world, debut authors wouldn’t need this positioning, but it’s so easy to read within our comfort zones, with favorite authors or series. And my goal for the upcoming year is to take more chances will my reading. What’s the worst that can happen? I simply don’t like the book and put it down. There’s no obligation for me to finish. But, if you want me even give it a shot in the first place…please, for the love of god, stop positioning and categorizing books using Fifty Shades of Grey.