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.