Why have all the bookseller shelves turned a depressing shade of grey, Sheena Lambert asks.
My heart sank standing in the aisles at my local Tesco supermarket the other day, and no, it had nothing to do with horsemeat (don’t ask…)
I was actually standing in the book aisle. And there it was. Confirmation that soft-porn has taken over the literary world. Of the top ten fiction books set out in the lovely booky display next to the greeting cards and the paper serviettes, FIVE of them were Fifty Shades knock-offs. Most of them did little to hide it, with their black, shady covers and the single, allusive object set diagonally across the front. One was masquerading as regular fiction, but the blurb on its back cover gave its dirty little secret away.
But seriously. FIVE of them. Fifty per cent. I find it more than a little depressing. Not that I’m a prude. I like a good literary roll in the hay as much as the next exhausted mother of young kids. But where are the books for those of us who want a good story to read? Stories with layered plots, stories about relationships, and not just sexual relationships. It’s hard to find the Maeve Binchys or the Khaled Hosseinis for the EL Jameses these days.
And it’s even worse if you like to read your books electronically. I know to avoid the Kindle ebooks’ Erotic Fiction category if I am looking to avoid erotica. But of the top ten Kindle ebooks listed in Kindle ebooks’ General Fiction category SEVEN of them are erotica at time of writing. Okay, so one could argue that high sales’ volume might skew those figures slightly. Allowing for the fact that erotica is the current “fad” now that we have over-dosed on vampires, then perhaps this top ten is understandable. But when you look at the Kindle ebooks Women’s Fiction category top fifteen, EIGHT of them are erotic fiction. And what about your sweet little Granny, searching for a “nice romance” to read with her cocoa? Well, there’s a 70 per cent chance that the book she chooses for herself to read in large font on her lovely new Kindle (that she never thought she would be able to use) will give her an education in the desires of the typical Dom, as seven of the top ten in the Romance category are soft-porn. (God help Granddad.)
But perhaps the biggest upset for me, was the Literary Fiction charts. Ah, at least here, I thought, I will be safe from Christian and Gideon and their whips and cuffs and whatever else it is that they get up to while the rest of us are in the missionary position. I’ll check the Kindle bestsellers in the Literary Fiction category and find a good book there.
But I was wrong.
Because slap bang (sorry, sorry,) in the middle of the kindle Literary Fiction top ten, is an erotic fiction book, complete with 17+ rating and adult content warning.
We are not safe anywhere. Even the vampires weren’t this insidious. I was going to check the top ten kids books, but I was afraid of what The Gruffalo might be getting up to these days.
Okay, so perhaps I am particularly disconcerted by this current state of affairs (sorry) because not only does it bother me as a reader, it bothers me as a writer. You see, I wrote a book, a lovely novel about two people working in a bank in Dublin. A love story, yes, but a proper story with twists and surprises and relationships of all kinds. And without spoiling the plot, there is an intimate scene or two in there, but they are more suggestive, and less explicit. Nowadays, knowing on which virtual Amazonian shelf to put your book, or in which category to file it so that the right people can find it, is crucial to a book’s success. And selling a book on Kindle is ALL about the category.
Now, my novel should, in theory, appeal to Maeve Binchy/Marian Keyes/Jojo Moyes–type fans. Readers of women’s fiction with a bit of depth. Putting it on the Literary Fiction shelves might be a bit of a stretch, but Women’s Fiction or Contemporary Romance would, you might think, fit the bill.
Except here my poor little stand-alone story of modern people with modern problems would be swamped by ersatz Fifty-Shades series, volumes 1, 2, 3 AND 4, and would ultimately get lost in the sea of KY jelly and love beads. A sea populated by authors who are so embarrassed about their work, that they almost exclusively use made-up names, until such time as they are successful and wealthy enough not to care what their mother thinks.
This was all bad enough in the worldwide web. But now, it’s on the shelves of Tesco. Because, it seems, the current trend is for authors of successful e-erotica to be given publishing contracts with the main publishing houses once they have proved themselves online. Rather than take on an author who will take a year or two to produce a quality, literary read, publishers of late have been putting their resources behind writers who can churn out three or four “series” books in a year, riding (sorry, SORRY) the erotica wave.
So I’ve decided. If you can’t beat them (Sorry. Again.), join them. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the submissive in all of this. So I’m doing it. I’ve just started writing my first erotic novella. I should be finished by Thursday. It’s about a couple who can’t…. oh, well you are just going to have to spend $0.99 to find out what it is that they get up to. Although, you won’t know that it’s mine.
Like all good churner-outers of erotica, I intend to use a pseudonym. Until it makes the top ten in the Literary Fiction category. Then you’ll hear all about me.
Christine Grogan is a beautiful 28-year-old meteorologist with a loving family, great friends and an exciting career working for an international investment bank. So why does she spend every January 20th crying like her heart might break? As everyone around her appears to be moving on with their lives, Christine wears her past like a pair of concrete shoes. Can nothing, or nobody help her shake them? Mark Harrington thought he had all he ever wanted. Head of the bank’s Irish operations, he has the career, the house and the relationship any 39-year-old would wish for. But when his seemingly perfectly-planned life suddenly strays totally off course, Mark is confronted with the fact that he isn’t actually in control at all… and that he is crazy in love with Christine. Insider trading, rambunctious Christmas parties, overnight conferences, the modern office environment has it all. But it can also be the stage for a simple, modern love story. Alberta Clipper is that story. It is a story of guilt and forgiveness, trust and betrayal. And absolute, unconditional love. The story of two people, each floundering in their own lives, who might just be able to save one another.
Sheena Lambert is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. Her articles have appeared in the Irish Times and Irish Independent newspapers. Alberta Clipper is her first novel.