Fifty Shades of Greed

I recently read Fifty Shades of Black & WhiteThe Anatomy of the Lawsuit behind a Publishing Phenomenon, written by Mike Farris and Jennifer Pedroza, and published by Stairway Press. As I’m sure you can guess from the title, the publishing phenomenon in question is the Fifty Shades trilogy. As I mentioned in a previous post, Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels were originally published by a small independent publishing company that seemed to specialize in fan fiction, and when The Shades went big, this small publishing company sold the rights to a major publisher. They ended up getting around $35,000,000 just for the rights. The major publisher, of course, earned way more than that, as did the author.

It truly mystifies me why 125,000,000 people bought the book. All I can think is that the world is vastly different — baser and less literate — than I ever imagined it to be. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

This book, Fifty Shades of Black & White, has all the elements of a blockbuster novel because of all those millions of dollars as well as the greed of one of the publishing partners who managed to snag all that cash for herself. The major conflict, too, is a catchy one — the naïve and trusting vs the scheming and manipulative. But what really sticks in my mind and tickles me is the irony.

(What follows in no way gives away the story if you don’t already know it from the news. It’s all in the first chapters.)

Apparently, one of the clauses the greedy partner stuck in the contract she had her trusting friends sign was a non-compete clause. Any time the defrauded woman tried to do anything in the publishing world, she got a cease-and-desist letter from the greedy woman’s greedy lawyer. So she and a fellow refugee from the original business decided to do something different — make soap. They did well, but when some authors they knew wanted to buy soap and put the images of their covers on the soap wrapper for giveaways, the greedy woman got even greedier and threatened to sue if they didn’t stop.

Realizing the greedy woman would never leave them alone, the two refugees finally got a lawyer, not to sue but to try to keep from being sued. Things escalated from there, and the only redress they had was to be proactive and start a suit themselves.

And it’s this irony — more than the millions and the catchy conflict — that makes the story so compelling. If the greedy woman had been satisfied with what she had already absconded with, if she had left the others alone, she would never have been sued.

It just goes to show that one shouldn’t get so greedy that one’s greed gets in the way of one’s own best interests. Or maybe it shows karma at work. Or maybe it shows the necessity of leaving well enough alone. Or something.

It makes me wonder if the greedy woman and her husband are still married. To hide the millions she grabbed, she turned them over to her husband to put into his name and his businesses. Depending on the law of where they lived, if he divorced her, he’d end up with it all. Instant retribution!

Still, I’m satisfied with and amused by ironic twist to the story.

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Fifty Shades of Black and White

I’m reading Fifty Shades of Black & White: The Anatomy of the Lawsuit behind a Publishing Phenomenon, written by Mike Farris and Jennifer Pedroza, and published by Stairway Press. It took me a few pages to figure out what was going on, because although I knew there was a lawsuit concerning the Shades of Grey trilogy, I was under the impression it was Stephanie Meyers who sued the author of the trilogy for using her characters. But not so.

Fifty Shades of Grey started as fanfiction, taking a couple of Twilight characters and continuing their story. I’d never heard of fanfiction before that, but apparently, it’s a popular thing. I truly don’t understand how it’s legal to steal the characters someone else has created. Isn’t that plagiarism? I suppose it’s one thing to do it online in a group just for fun, but eventually, this particular author changed the names of the characters, published it, and went on to publishing fame. (I was going to say literary fame, but I once read a short excerpt and was appalled at the writing, to say nothing of the porn-ish subject matter.)

The myth surrounding the trilogy is that it was a self-published book that took off all by itself and ending up gleaning a multi-million contract with a big-name publisher. This was frequently talked about in groups where self-published authors hung out, because it gave them hope. After all, if one self-published author could make it big, why not them?

But that wasn’t at all true. She had a publisher. A small independent publisher, to be sure, but still a publisher. And that publisher spent a huge amount of money and time promoting the book.

And that was what the lawsuit was about — one of the publishing partners vs. the others, not between the author who created the characters and the author who also got rich off them. (Apparently, Stephanie Meyers was okay with that particular theft.)

Because these publishers had the book rights, when the book was sold to Random House, the women partners received multiple millions. Well, one of them did, anyway. She managed to keep all those millions for herself by lying and telling the others she was having problems getting the money from Random House. Eventually, a couple of the defrauded women found a lawyer who would take the case.

It’s sort of funny reading this book right now. I’ve been watching Judge Judy with the woman I help care for, and this book seem like an extension of one of those shows where friends ended up being enemies because one cheated the other out of money, but this case went miles beyond a small claims court. All I can do when watching one of Judge Judy’s cases is shake my head, and that’s all I can do reading Fifty Shades of Black & White. It simply stuns me that people can be so utterly without morals, without honesty, without dignity, without any sense of justice. If I were in that situation, I’d be so delighted with the immense riches from my share and glad that my friends also shared in the good fortune, that it would never occur to me to try to take it all.

But that’s what one woman did. And it never even bothered her.

She knew it was wrong because she tried to hide the money, forming a whole pyramid of businesses with her husband to deal with her ill-gotten gains. It shows to me the difference among people: some can do such things, justify it to themselves (or not — maybe they feel no need to justify their actions) and sleep well at night, others of us can’t.

I still remember when I stopped pointing out when a checkout clerk undercharged me. I felt like a thief, but I’d learned that it is even more complicated to right undercharges than it is overcharges, perhaps because they can’t believe anyone would be so honest (or stupid) to bring it to their attention. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had committed major larceny. Even if I had gotten away with it, I wouldn’t have gotten away with it, if you know what I mean.

Truthfully, I especially can’t imagine those numbers — the millions that were awarded to the small company for selling the rights to someone else’s work. Although I’d like to make it big and have to try to deal with such magnificent and munificent numbers, I’m really hoping I sell enough of my newest book to keep from embarrassing my publisher, the same Stairway Press that published Fifty Shades of Black & White.

***

“I am Bob, the Right Hand of God. As part of the galactic renewal program, God has accepted an offer from a development company on the planet Xerxes to turn Earth into a theme park. Not even God can stop progress, but to tell the truth, He’s glad of the change. He’s never been satisfied with Earth. For one thing, there are too many humans on it. He’s decided to eliminate anyone who isn’t nice, and because He’s God, He knows who you are; you can’t talk your way out of it as you humans normally do.”

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God