fiftyThe astounding success of 50 Shades of Grey has a lot of folks bewildered.  Publishers included, quite clearly.

While all of us stumble around trying to make sense of it, I was stumped when a reporter asked me recently why it was such a success.  Expecting a succinct answer, I started to talk about covers and the appeal of the hero and it clearly wasn’t what she was looking for.  She wanted a firm and fast answer.

And I just didn’t – and still don’t – have it.  But you know what?  Its clear that publishers don’t either.

I’ve seen the recommendations for those who liked 50 Shades and they strike me as tone deaf.  As in, “here, are our stale traditionally published books, give us some of your money” recommendations.  Please.

One thing that’s completely clear to me:  50 Shades is fresh.  As in fresh in tone and feeling and style.  It’s got a feeling of freshness to it that I haven’t seen coming out of New York in a very long time.

New York publishers are bound (sorry) by tradition.  They do things the same way they’ve always done them.  And they are sluggish.  I have no doubt that they are scrambling right now to find the next new 50 Shades authors. They’ll put them on the fast track and, gee, we might see a resulting book in about a year.  Too little too late, I’m afraid since who knows what readers will want by that time?  Chances are, it won’t be another 50 Shades.

Traditional publishers also seem to be completely reactive and not proactive.  They react to trends, to unexpected hits instead of creating new ones themselves.  That leaves you a day late and a dollar short most of the time.

First and foremost, New York publishers need to open their ears and eyes.  Listen to readers.  Take a fresh look at that slush pile.  Open up to new and different pitches from the agents out there who haven’t already given up on pitching anything new and different to New York.  Look how sluggishly they are adapting to the eBooks.  (Or not adapting, more like.)  The debacle that is Agency Pricing is hard to believe now that it’s almost over, but what prompted it I think is publishers wanted to say “let’s punish all those eBook buyers for not supporting the Holy Altar that is the hard bound book.”

Long time institutions tend to disappear as technology changes.  Book stores already are part of the fall out.  I would hate to see publishing as we know it disappear like the video store.

To me, it’s no surprise that a hit on the level of 50 Shades didn’t come out of New York.  While the Big Six are still publishing All Regency All the Time or Paranormal knock offs, someone so far out of left field they didn’t even see her coming writes the biggest hit of the decade.  And you know what?  Unless there are some big, big, big changes made in how publishing works, the next one isn’t going to come out of New York either.  And I’m afraid I know what that will eventually mean.

– Sandy AAR

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