In 2003 Stephenie Meyer had a dream about vampires.
What if a young girl fell madly in love with a vampire but he thirsted for her blood?
She wasn’t a writer, but she wrote up the story anyway, for teenagers.
Her younger sister read it and loved it, she said she should get it published.
Stephenie knew nothing about publishing but she sent it off to fifteen companies.
Five didn’t even bother replying, nine rejected it straight away.
Books for young people were supposed to be 40 – 60,000 words, this one was 130,000 words, way too long, any professional knew that.
But at one company an inexperienced assistant read her book.
She didn’t know about the rule for the number of words, and she loved it and straight away recommended it.
8 publishers competed at an auction and that book was eventually bought for $750,000, it became the first in the ‘Twilight’ series.
It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 235 weeks, nearly five years.
But it wasn’t popular with the critics.
The Washington Post wrote: “Meyer’s prose seldom rises above the serviceable, and the plotting is leaden.”
Stephen King compared the book to Harry Potter, saying: “The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer, and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a damn.”
But fans didn’t care, they loved it so much they wrote their own follow-up stories and put them on the Twilight website, this is a genre called Fan Fiction.
One fan, Erika, introduced her own fantasies, if vampires were okay why not BDSM?
BDSM stands for: bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, and sadism & masochism.
Not really appropriate for a teenage audience, so they asked Erika to put it on her own site.
And she did, she changed the names, dropped the vampire theme, and self-published the BDSM storyline via online eBooks and print-on-demand books.
The first one was called Fifty Shades of Grey.
It became the fastest-selling book of all time in the UK.
It sold 5.3 million copies, 3.8 million in paperback, 1.5 million in eBooks, and it’s been translated into fifty-two languages.
Luckily, like Stephenie Meyer, Erika didn’t listen to the critics.
Because Metro News Canada wrote: “Suffering through 500 pages of this heroine’s inner dialogue was tortuous, and not in the intended, sexy kind of way”.
Salman Rushdie wrote: “I’ve never read anything that was so badly written. It made ‘Twilight’ look like ‘War and Peace’”.
But, those two women were incredibly successful because they didn’t listen to the critics.
As those of us who live in the real world know, people aren’t interested in critics.
Because critics aren’t interested in people, they write to impress their peers, to show how intelligent they are.
It’s the same in any business, including advertising.
And if we listen to the critics we’ll spend our lives not doing anything they disapprove of.
Which means not doing anything new or different, of course.
Because to do something new we have to do something they haven’t seen before.
Something they don’t know what to make of, because they haven’t seen it before.
So we’ve got to go beyond the critics if we want to get to ordinary people.
People who don’t care about the rules, they just know what’s good, what they like.
People who are the real audience.
People who don’t give a damn about our jargon, our theories, our awards.
Because the critics are confused, the critics think they are the audience.