Fifty Shades of…Uggg.

“There have been lots of badly written books that have done well.” This is a comment from Jim Milliot, Co-Editorial Director at Publishers Weekly. Fifty Shades of Grey sold 1.5 million copies. However, 80% of the reviews said this, “Fifty Shades starts off very, very slow, the characters are horrible, and the book is poorly written.” 

How did a new author break past the all-powerful gatekeepers and publish with Vintage Books, a Division of Random House? 

Keep in mind that Fifty Shades of Grey is an Erotic Romance. It took eighty-three pages before the main characters kissed. (For that matter, it took eighty-three pages for any characters to kiss.) 

It took just over a hundred pages for the first sex scene. That’s like a horror novel taking a hundred pages before someone gets killed. Or a thriller novel taking a hundred pages before the reader is actually thrilled. That’s like a vampire book taking a hundred pages to actually show the vampire. (Okay, bad example.) 

So what happens during the first hundred pages of Fifty Shades? Nothing. 

Can you imagine E.L. James sending in her query letter saying, “My manuscript starts off slow, but if you can get through the first hundred pages, I promise you, the story picks up. Also, this is my first novel.” (WARNING BELLS! RED FLAGS!) 

Below are some random lines taken directly from Fifty Shades of Grey. Enjoy. 

“I put bacon under the grill, and while it’s cooking, I whisked some eggs.” Are there grills that you put the food under it, rather than on it? 

“‘Weirdly I seem to have lost my appetite,’ I murmur petulantly.” Weirdly? Petulantly?  When E.L. finds a new word, she hammers it. The word Murmur is used just about every time a character speaks. For fun, look over all three books and see if you can find a page that does not say Murmur

And always, the murmur follows an “LY.” For example, “Christian murmurs dryly.” 

“Christian stares at me imperiously.” New authors love the “LY” words. (Adverbs.) Experienced authors run from “LY’s” like the plague. 

All the characters in E.L.’s novel like to whisper, even when ordering a soda. “I want a Diet Coke,” I whisper. (Just like the word murmur, you will find whisper on every page.) 

Another phrase she likes is, “Holy hell,” and “Holy crap.” For example, “Holy hell, I’m hungry.” 

“Cocks his head to one side.” You will only see that on every other page, instead of every page. 

Check out this line. “So your roommate is making the beast with the backs with my brother.” (Huh?) 

“You scrub up well Ana. You look hot.” That is similar to what a high school girl would say on Facebook. 

“He gazes as me, his expression unfathomable.” It’s supposed to be, “He gazes at me…” However, this is on page 432, so by this point, the reader understands what they have gotten themselves into. 

“I strip off my clothes and quickly clamber to the shower.” (Clamber is another word you will see about a hundred times throughout the book.) 

Here are some more random lines from Fifty Shades of Grey: 

“A flogger…hmm. I think I’m in shock.” 

“He whispers conspiratorially.” 

“Oh my dear Miss Steal. Get into my bed,” he growls. 

“I shrug apologetically.” 

“He moves quickly and sharply, filling me.” 

“I rub my writs reflexively.” 

“His hair is tousled as ever. I sigh.” 

“He smiles his dazzling toothy all-Hispanic-American smile.” 

“I feel his warm skin on mine. Hmm…It feels heavenly.” 

“He smiles wickedly, and his eyes glow as if relieved.” 

“I nod enthusiastically. It looks otherworldly.” 

“Grey smiles a dazzling, unguarded, natural, all-teeth-showing, glorious smile.” 

Speaking of the character, Mr. Grey, the author really brings home the “grey” color. Grey eyes, grey sweatpants, grey underwear, grey tie, and his company is Grey. 

“Christian leans over and shouts in Elliot’s ear. I cannot hear what he says.” 

“The drinking-oh no, the drinking– the phone call-oh no, the phone call-the vomiting-oh no, the vomiting.” 

“He smiles sardonically.” 

“He comes bounding into the shop like a gamboling dark-eyed puppy.” 

“Christian’s eyes widen infinitesimally, but I notice.” 

“He glares. I’m nonplussed.” 

“I shut the machine down with a flourish I don’t really feel.” 

“It doesn’t hurt. Well, not much. Just a slight ringing sting.” 

“My heartbeat starts pounding again. Oh boy.” 

“My voice is quiet, unable to hide the anxiety of my voice.” 

“His eyes soften slightly, warming.” 

“He eases me on to him, slowly, exquisitely, slowly.” 

“Anticipation runs bubbly like soda through my veins.” 

“Shakily, I get to my feet.” 

“He grins salaciously. I back impassively.” 

I can fix all these problems with one word: Ghostwriter

I don’t blame E.L. James. This was her first novel. I blame her literary agent and her publisher, Vintage Books. Never in my life have I ridiculed a book, or an author in public. The reason I am doing this today is simple… 

How did this happen? Where are the all-powerful gatekeepers? 

Also, why did Publishers Weekly give this book a good review? 

The stores right now are overstocked with the Fifty Shades series. Expect record amount of returns. 

My advice to E.L. James; cash in your lottery ticket and work on improving your next book series. 

Ron Knight

Ron Knight

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  1. Well said. The publisher should be embarrassed by their complete lack of professionalism. I don’t blame James for taking the opportunity to spread her work around the world, what author wouldn’t jump at the chance to be published by Random House / Vintage Press. However, after seeing the lack of care put into the editing, I would rather take my chances with an Independent Press.


  3. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I considered picking up a copy of this book to find out why it’s so successful but I just can’t bring myself to spend money on it.

  4. Unbearable. I reviewed here:
    You touched on all of the things an author should never get away with, yet this one did. I don’t understand it, and get into quite a few disagreements with friends who have read it and are still fanning themselves. Between the deplorable writing and THIS phenomenon, I am startlingly nonplussed. Oh my!

  5. I haven’t bought the book; the sample and the negative comments from people whose opinion I trust were enough to convince me this book was dire.

    However, I can clear up one thing. The author is English, and over here, grilled food is always put under the grill.

    Maybe it’s different in the States, but a grill here is set either into the top of the oven or is a separate entity. The grill tray with the food on it slides UNDER the heating elements hence, under the grill.

    Oven with eye-level grill:

    Having said that, if her character was American, as I believe she was, these sorts of Britishisms should have been picked up and changed, if not by the author herself, then by her editors at Random House.

  6. Ron Knight says:

    Julie: I had a feeling that was an English thing. Thanks for letting me know. They should bring that grill to the U.S. (Or should I say, bring the grill UNDER the U.S. lol.)

  7. Ron Knight says:

    Mel: Fiction is not real life. However, I’m glad you are reading again. I think that is great.

  8. Ron Knight says:

    Jade: You summed up this book series in three words: “Unbearable, Startlingly, and of course, Nonplussed.” Thanks for sharing your review. Everyone should read it.

  9. Ron Knight says:

    Ceri: I felt the same way. If I could demand a refund, I would. (And I’ve never said that about any other author, or book on this planet.)

  10. Ron Knight says:

    Jennifer: I wish E.L. James all the best. I also agree with every word you said and wish you all the best as well.

  11. I could NOT get through the first hundred pages. It is sitting in the bathroom next to the commode with all my other reading materials. Maybe I can use it for toilet paper. How in the world did it attract someone’s attention enough to get published? WHY is it successful? WHO is her agent? Geez.

  12. Missy Poo says:

    I borrowed this book from a friend, who borrowed it from another friend. I immediately noticed repetition of words (murmured, gazed, muttered, flush, etc.)… BORING. Buy a thesaurus, Lady! But what really irritates me is that this is a (not very) thinly veiled copy of the movie Secretary. Even the name of on of the main characters is “Mr. Grey” with the same fetishes… I was hoping for some sultry sexy material.. I like to be turned on. This is NOT THAT. I will read the entire book though, (on page 153 now) for my own selfish reasons. I am a fledgling writer, and if this woman can sell that many copies of a book, and ‘people’ are looking into making into a musical and a movie, then I can definitely succeed with mine. Reading this book is like watching a mistake happen over and over again and learning from it. One last thing, I read some of the book to my husband (one chapter) and we laughed every time the word murmur was used, we started to make a drinking game about her repetition, but decided to use our time more wisely.