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Fifty Shades of Grey: A Publishing Success Story

By Edited Mar 16, 2016 1 7

Fifty Shades of Grey(103228)
Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, have taken the literary world by storm. They have topped bestseller lists in the US and UK, and the publishing rights have been sold in thirty-seven countries around the world. The first book in the trilogy has become the fastest selling paperback of all time, even surpassing the astounding sales of The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There has now also been a deal signed for a Fifty Shades of Grey movie adaptation. All of this raises questions regarding the appeal of these books, and so it is important to analyze this remarkable publishing success story.

 

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy was written by British author E.L. James. The first book, Fifty Shades of Grey, began life as a piece of fan-fiction based around the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer, a fact which has led to criticism from some quarters. Such criticism has been dismissed by the book's original publishers, The Writer's Coffee Shop, and has certainly done nothing to halt sales. Since it was first published in May 2011, positive word of mouth has resulted in hundreds of thousands of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey being sold, with the sequels being equally as popular.

 

Part of the reason for the buzz generated by these books is their sexually explicit content. So much so, in fact, that they have been rather unfairly labeled as “mommy porn.” The plot centers around the young college graduate Anastasia Steele and her relationship with an older billionaire, Christian Grey. This relationship is deeply sexual, and is described in graphic detail. However, the sexual content in the Fifty Shades trilogy of books is plot driven, and could not be regarded as gratuitous.

 

While it is undeniable that the sexual nature of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed has become a common talking point, it is unlikely that the books would continue to sell for that reason alone. Instead, reviewers often describe the books as page-turners, and cite plotting and pace as being the main reasons for their popularity. Despite this, these books have certainly become known for their sexually explicit nature. This raises an interesting question of whether attitudes towards sex in literature have changed, particularly among women.

 

It would appear so. The phenomenal success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has alerted publishers to the fact that there is money to be made with these types of books. So much so, in fact, that industry insiders are predicting the emergence of a new sub-genre of erotic fiction. In addition, at least one Fifty Shades of Grey parody is due to be published, with more undoubtedly to follow. In short, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed, while not literary classics, are currently the books that everyone is talking about.

 

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is undoubtedly a publishing success story. The Writer's Coffee Shop is a relatively small publishing house in Australia, and E.L. James had not enjoyed any previous success of note as an author. There was no large marketing campaign, and no extensive print run. In fact, Fifty Shades of Grey was originally sold only as an e-book or print-on-demand title, with the vast majority of sales coming from digital downloads. It therefore seems even more remarkable that from these small beginnings arose a New York Times bestseller, and the fastest selling paperback of all time.

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Comments

Jul 26, 2012 12:23am
Aurelia
When I heard about this book recently I was told to go and have a look at some excerpts of the novel online. I did and I couldn't believe that such a badly written and corny book is so popular. However it seems that many others would disagree.
Jul 26, 2012 7:15am
joncal
I think that the criticism from some quarters as to the quality of the writing adds to the intrigue regarding the reasons for the phenomenal success of these books.
Jul 26, 2012 9:56pm
footloose
I read all 3 and thoroughly enjoyed them. What a nice relief from subjects not often written about so well-dominatrix and submissives. Come on, it was fast, furious, great fun and a love story to boot.
Jul 27, 2012 9:21am
Skye_McKiernan
Friends told me I HAD to read these books and I wanted to know what all the buzz was about. About 10 pages in I realized I'd read this before under the "fanfiction" guise. I will say the original "fanfiction" story was less edited and streamlined, but it is fun to see those who write for the fun of it and for the online feedback see real true success. Nice synopsis and congrats on your feature :D
Jul 29, 2012 6:14am
angieyoder
Great story. I am truly bamboozled over the success of these books. They read like some kind of excerpts from a giggly 16-year-old girls diary. Sorry, not impressed by the books at all, and as far as their popularity? Women love sex; we like doing it, we like talking about it and we like reading about it. Most women wouldn't be caught dead in an "adult" bookstore, but you can buy these at Barnes & Noble. There is some great erotica for women being written today. In fact the "Totally Herotica" series is available on Amazon and has some wonderful stories and some great erotica, all written by and for women. But these books? Save your money. Schlocky, corny and extremely poorly written.

Great article though; that was NOT poorly written! :)
Jul 29, 2012 10:32pm
xlorah
As soon as I started reading them it took me back to the days when I read the romantic fiction and then add a little bit of naughty! Well, a whole lot of naughty! I've read the first two books and will read the last and am glad of the author's success. It is what it is and you've written a very good article, thanks for that!
Aug 1, 2012 12:36pm
Misskate
I have just finished reading the third book and it's been great to have books that were easy reading, exciting and I didn't want to put down. Like a lot of my friends, I simply loved it. I think the author seemed to find a way to incorporate into one man, one relationship what a lot of real women want secretly, of course not all. I think it sexy and sweet at the same time. Congrats on your feature.
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