Publishing has a new unlikely heroine: an unknown author named E L James who recently scored a seven-figure book deal with Vintage Books to publish her erotica trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Brimming with purple prose and racy imagery, the series had already sold more than 250,000 eBook and paperback copies through Australia's Writer's Coffee Shop Publishing. The New York Times ran a photograph of the book on a shelf at Watchung Booksellers, where a tag tantalized readers: "Yes, this is THE book everybody is talking about."
The buzz has catapulted the book to No. 1 on the New York Times paperback best-seller list, but there's one thing no one is talking about — the origins of this kinky best-seller and its implications for the industry.
The book emerged from the steamy land of fan fiction, an online community of readers who write unauthorized extensions of their favorite stories. On FanFiction.net, readers have produced a mind-boggling mountain of work: 583,000 free Harry Potter stories, 197,000 free Twilight stories and 46,000 free Lord of the Rings stories. ...
50 Shades of Grey may not revolutionize porn, romance, chick-lit, or literature. But this one-click wonder is the future of how we’ll read.
The Daily Beast
Just days ago, an agent, editor, book critic, and literary blogger sat around a table at a private downtown club, discussing the book no one had heard of. “And I told my cousin, there is no bestselling book I don’t know,” said the agent, laughing, who is celebrated for getting her stable of literary authors big advances with all the best imprints. “But I was wrong.”
Every so often a manuscript, like an impudent toddler, rises on unsteady feet and toddles onto the bestseller list without so much as a by-your-leave to that ignorant publishing foursome. Such a work is E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey, which, out of a teeny e-publishing community in Australia, managed the neat trick of vaulting to the top of the New York Times e-book and print bestseller lists, garnering a seven-figure deal from Vintage, and leaving readers clamoring for the as-yet-unpublished rest of the trilogy, all without ever being in print in the United States at all.
From Twilight to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to The Lost Carolina Finger Club (I made that last one up), we’ve come to expect our bestsellers to rise from obscure circumstances. Only The New Yorker’s nonfiction scribes are allowed to churn out blockbusters from a known address. But readers who found the popularity of those Swedish sext-hack-repeat sagas somewhat mystifying may have an even harder time with Shades of Grey. ...
As far as anybody can tell, the women of Long Island found it first, around Thanksgiving.
During their Christmas vacations, they carried it by Kindle to Boca and possibly Aruba, and from there, it ripped its way through Jersey and then the nation's e-readers before landing last week at the very top of the New York Times best-seller list for combined print and e-book sales.
It's Fifty Shades of Grey, the sexual-bondage romance novel from first-time author E.L. James, a married British TV executive and mother of two, that's been steaming up e-book readers since its digital publication in May and is about to be released as a trilogy in paperback form, with a first run of 750,000 copies.
As Anastasia Steele, the young, innocent college-student heroine of the megahit might say - and does say when pondering the imminent loss of her virginity early on in the story: "Holy Cow!"
So, holy cow. What's the big deal if women dig a highly charged and breathlessly trashy read? Haven't romance-novel enthusiasts debated the merits of the BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochism) subgenre since time immemorial? Has no man (or woman) ever blushed at passages of Sabbath's Theater, or any other Philip Roth book? Or Mary Gaitskill's bondage tale "Secretary"? Does no one remember The Story of O? Madame Bovary? The biblical Song of Songs?
Maybe it's the book's origin as a fan-fiction riff on Bella and Edward of the Twilight series. Maybe it's the commercial success of a novel (more than 250,000 copies sold so far, most in e-book form) that Vintage, a Random House division, spent a seven-figure sum to acquire from a small Australian publishing house. Or maybe it's just a good, lusty read. ...
The story is about a virgin college student, Anastasia Steele, who meets the handsome and wealthy Christian Grey. The two engage in a complicated relationship that involves some pretty graphic carnal knowledge (think bondage, dominance, etc.).
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Romance genre experts are somewhat bemused to see "Fifty Shades of Grey" cause such a stir, as this type of story -- BDSM moments included -- has been done before.
Audrey Goodson, an associate editor at RT Book Reviews, read and reviewed the first book in James' trilogy. She said she "really enjoyed" it and gave it a thumbs-up.
That being said, she described the book as "pretty standard" for its type and pointed out that the plot (ie, young virgin meets really hot and rich dude) isn't exactly exclusive to the story, as readers can find variations of that same plot in many a romance novel.
"In a lot of ways it's a standard romance story with a lot of erotic elements," Goodson said. "It's kind of funny that it's caught on to the degree it has." ...
Ok, I didn’t read the entire book, but I did do a hopscotch through the sex scenes and, on the basis of the naughty parts alone, I can understand why folks are getting hot and bothered.
The book I’m referring to, of course, is “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the first in an erotic trilogy by E.L. James that melds kinky sex with romance. The novel has been selling like hot cakes and is causing quite a stir due to the explicit scenes of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM).
“Fifty Shades of Grey” has put the words "bondage erotica” into the mainstream, according to Rachel Kramer Bussel, a writer and editor of more than 40 anthologies of erotica, including “Best Bondage Erotica 2012.”
“It has shown that you don’t have to be a certain type of person to enjoy erotic fiction, and you certainly don’t have to be a BDSM practitioner to enjoy reading about it,” she says.
“That’s the biggest misconception about erotica in general. Some people may read a book of spanking erotica and be intrigued and want to try it. Or maybe they’re curious and seek out erotica as a way to test the waters. But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying and appreciating fantasy as fantasy.”
Some readers and cultural critics have opined that BDSM themes may be particularly relevant to today’s women, many of whom may have power in the workplace but would like to potentially relinquish some in the bedroom. Conversely the book could also appeal to stay-at-home moms who are so busy taking care of the kids – and everything else for that matter – that they long for more TLC for themselves (even of the not-so tender kind).
But does the success of “Fifty Shades” lie in its contemporary relevance, or its timeless universality? In 1958, “Story of O” caused a firestorm of controversy with similar erotic themes, and in 1994, Anne Rice published a trilogy based on “Sleeping Beauty,” which also explored BDSM themes. ...
Hey, have you heard about that book Fifty Shades of Grey?
I'm kidding … of course you've heard of it. And, boy, is it causing some discussion. I'm sure most everyone reading this knows the history of Fifty Shades of Grey. Started out as Twilight fan fiction, struck a chord with readers, author changed the names and other aspects, published it as a trilogy and, wham, we're looking at massive sales followed by a seven-figure book deal. Lucky E.L. James. (And good for her!) Oh, and BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) themes play a big role. Can't forget that.
I held back on weighing in until I'd had a chance to read it, because I don't like it when people condemn, say, romance novels, when they've never even read one. And, frankly, romance readers, the beloved audience of HEA, are not shocked by this book. Many romance readers have been enjoying erotica for a looooong time. Romance readers also are not surprised that real women have healthy fantasy lives and that some of those fantasies might even include some BDSM. That really shouldn't be a huge shock. I mean, what century are we living in? (Other than one in which women's reproductive issues are a hot political issue. But that's not a discussion for HEA.) ...
The hugely popular erotic novel “50 Shades of Grey” is quickly becoming universal water cooler conversation for women from all walks of life.
Everyone from so-called “mommy bloggers” to hardcore feminists is hailing the tome as a triumph for women, in spite of the book’s strong themes of female submission at the hands of a high-powered man.
They also say that men who feel differently should butt out.
Jill Filipovic, a blogger with Feministe.com and a contributor to the feminist anthology “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” told Fox411.com that because the book depicts a consensual relationship (Steele does sign that contract), she is unconcerned.
“I would say that there's nothing wrong with BDSM when it's fully consensual on both ends, both partners have relatively equal bargaining power, both partners feel comfortable setting boundaries, and boundaries are communicated and respected,” Filipovic wrote in an email. “I suspect it's getting extra press because of the BDSM angle (which freaks a lot of people out).”
While women are applauding the book, some men are expressing concern over whether women should be insulted by a plot dominated by a man who tells a woman when to sleep, eat, work out and even how to groom herself. Television host Dr. Drew Pinsky recently called the book a “rape fantasy” on his HLN show. Women writers laughed off Pinsky’s remarks, saying there is absolutely no reason for men to weigh in on this issue at all, and certainly no reason for them to use the term rape.
“Why is Dr. Drew speaking on behalf of the fantasies and desires of women, let alone women he hasn't even met?” Jessica Wakeman of the women’s blog The Frisky told Fox411.
“He and every other man should not be telling women what arousal is acceptable and what is not. That's pretty irresponsible. No one should be concerned about a consensual relationship between a submissive and a dominant. The realm of fantasy is just that — fantasy.
“In this book,” Wakeman continued, “the protagonist may be naive and young, but those qualities alone don't mean she isn't following her sexual desires in the bedroom. BDSM relationships could not be farther from domestic and sexual abuse: people who practice it follow the rules that everything they do will be safe, sane and consensual."
Journalist and author Paul LaRosa blogged that he thinks the success of the book proves that women want to be dominated by men.
“Is it possible that so many women dream of becoming the submissive partner of a dominant male partner which, after all, is the central plot of the book?” LaRosa posited.
Rachel Kramer Bussel, a former sex columnist and the editor of the Best Bondage Erotica 2012, explained to us that enjoying the fantasy of a dominant sexual relationship does not mean that a woman wants to be dominated by men in all aspects of her life.
“There's nothing wrong with a man being dominant and it doesn’t mean he's misogynist, any more than a woman wanting to be submissive in the bedroom means she wants to be submissive outside the bedroom. It's about consensually playing with power and eroticizing it in a safe environment,” Kramer Bussel told Fox411. “The success of ‘50 Shades’ shows that women are becoming more comfortable reading erotica and openly claiming that reading.”