E.L. James did not invent BDSM and other discussion topics

Authorly thoughts here….

As I watch the reviews for Acceleration come in, I’m finding it interesting that there are no comments on the reviews. Nor are my books being talked about in general discussion on forums over at GoodReads, the Amazon Kindle forums, etc. A Google search for my name/titles turns up the reviews and announcements regarding my books, but no random mentions elsewhere. My guest blog posts and author interviews get almost no comments unless there’s a giveaway attached.

On the mercenary side, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to imagine that discussion generates sales and brand recognition. Naturally as someone trying to make a living at this gig, that’s a consideration.

But more importantly, on the perhaps somewhat egotistical side, I want to know that I’m making an impression. I put an awful lot of effort into my books to include things that will make people think about them and hopefully remember them. I want to know, is any of that getting through?

What is it, do you think, that makes a book discussion-worthy? What is it about some books that brings people together to discuss the book with one another? It’s obviously not just the quality of the book. After all, my books are getting great reviews and have great ratings, so obviously readers are finding it quality to be fairly high. So it must be something else. But what?

Is it author presence? I confess, I’m a horrible lurker. I follow a lot of sites but almost never comment. I rarely find places to introduce myself into a conversation, especially when we’re adding the fact of not wanting to appear to be engaging in crass self-promotion. Even if something in my books happens to be topical, I will often refrain from commenting somewhere because I don’t want to look like I’m pimping myself.

Furthermore, one of the earliest pieces of advice I got once I published Inertia was not to engage too much with readers. It makes them feel creeped-upon and inhibits open discussion, I was told. And in the worst case scenario, it might tempt trolls to try to bait you if they find you and/or your books objectionable for some reason. So I don’t comment to reviews beyond perhaps thanking the reviewer for their consideration. Should I be doing more?

Should I take reviews as an opportunity to generate discussion on particular themes? For example, one rare comment on a recent review basically implied that BDSM themes are being included in books lately because authors are trying to ride the coattails of the popularity of 50SOG.

If I didn’t have that policy of not engaging commenters, I would have explained that — leaving aside the discussion of the fact that every person with the slightest bit of education about BDSM knows that 50SOG is not about BDSM, it’s about romaticized abuse masquerading as BDSM — E.L. James did not invent BDSM fic. I was in the BDSM lifestyle fifteen years before E.L. James wrote the first word of that book. I wrote my first BDSM-themed fanfic back in the late nineties when online fandom was still a very new thing and almost NO ONE was writing BDSM fic in the (very few) online fandoms that existed at that time, and BDSM hadn’t yet gone mainstream. That particular series of fanfics I wrote became a hot topic of discussion not because they were necessarily great stories, but because it was something new and rare and it was on the forefront of a new trend.

Now, I’m not egotistical enough to claim to be the first. My fanfic may have been ONE of the first BDSM fanfics to be written in the age of online fandom (I don’t know how popular it was back in the days of print ‘zines) but it wasn’t THE first and I make no pretensions otherwise. There were, of course, the writings of the Marquis de Sade (from whom we get the term sadism) and Venus in Furs by Masoch (from whom we get the term masochism.) Then you also have Pauline Réage who wrote Story of O at least a decade before E.L. James (or myself) were born, and of course, Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy and Exit to Eden which was written back before I was old enough to know the definition of the word “dildo.”

In more recent history, of course, there’s Jacqueline Carey’s amazing trilogy that starts with Kushiel’s Dart, which was published in 2001, not long after I started writing BDSM fic myself. That really seems to me to be the crest of the first wave of mainstream BDSM fic.

So, no. The BDSM elements are not included in my stories because of the popularity of 50SOG nor am I attempting to ride anyone’s coattails. It’s included in my stories because I’ve been in the lifestyle and have a deeply personal insiders perspective that many recently popular BDSM fics lack. If anything, E.L. James is riding the coattails of those of us who brought BDSM fic into online fandom and mainstream pop culture long before Twilight fandom even existed.

I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. I know it probably sounds egotistical, and I don’t mean it to be. But it’s the truth. You can, however, see why I would refrain from saying this to a commenter even if I didn’t have a policy of not engaging commenters.

Part of why I lurk is also because I’m trying to be very careful of the reputation I establish for myself as an author. I’m an opinionated bitch at times (see above 😀 ) and I often present my opinions with an unvarnished “take me or leave me” approach that can rub people the wrong way. I don’t want to make enemies or offend people or attract trolls, so I sit on my fingers when I’m itching to opine.

So, back to the question of how to generate discussion. Is it the subject matter of the book(s) in question? I don’t think my books are lacking in themes people would find discussion-worthy, but are they presented in such a way that no one feels like they have anything more to add? I have a hard time imagining that, but I don’t know.

So, readers, other authors. What do you think promotes discussion and encourages people to not just read, but actually think about and talk about your books?

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5 Comments

Filed under Acceleration, Musings

5 responses to “E.L. James did not invent BDSM and other discussion topics

  1. It’s a great question. I really wish I knew the answer! I know, this is a very helpful comment. 🙂

  2. Aggie

    I enjoyed this blog, Amelia. I am a yapper who likes to communicate with authors because they are so down to earth. I always feel like I am the creepy one though if I keep up the conversations! I don’t want writers to think I am some crazy stalker fan. LOL LOL.

    I would have liked a comment about my review of Acceleration. It helps me as a reviewer to know what I am doing right or if I am being unnecessarily mean or crass or anything like that.

    • I will remember that you like comments on your reviews, Aggie. I wonder how much distance we’re supposed to keep just so it doesn’t look like authors are buttering up reviewers to get favorable reviews?

      I enjoyed your Acceleration review, and not just because you rated it so highly. I liked the Kubler-Ross quote and the insight into Derrick.

      I do wish readers would respond to reviews more, just because reviewers work hard on their reviewers. Generating discussion is gratifying. It lets the reviewer know someone is paying attention.

  3. Aggie

    I don’t know how James can be credited with the BDSM craze. It’s been around for decades and probably centuries, in fiction. It was just more taboo back then.

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