Whatever its literary merits, “Fifty Shades of Grey” can take credit for a few things. The phenomenal best-seller has brought kinky
But is this the literary equivalent of a one-night stand, or is it something more lasting and meaningful? Will "Fifty Shades" whip readers into a frenzy for more erotic
It is perhaps too soon to tell, but there is no doubt that "Fifty Shades" is being passionately received. E L James' titillating trilogy has sold nearly 25 million copies in the United States in four months in all formats, according to Random House, which brought to market the book that had inauspicious beginnings as "Twilight" fan fiction, initially self-published by James. Stieg Larsson's "Girl" trilogy, in comparison, sold 20 million copies in four years. Globally, the trilogy has sold 31 million copies.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday
Don't look for "Grey"-mania to cool any time soon. The three books continue to dominate the upper echelon of
Want to check out the books at your local library? Get in line. The waiting lists are long for a chance for some alone time with any of Highland Park Public Library's 22 copies, Northbrook Public Library's 25 copies or Lake Villa District Library's 26 copies. As this issue went to press, none in a consortium of 24 libraries in the north and northwest suburbs had a copy on the shelves. The
There is also a hotly anticipated "Fifty Shades" screen adaptation in the works, sparking a feverish casting call that recalls the frenzy surrounding the casting of "Gone With the Wind." Who will play innocent college senior Anastasia Steele and entrepreneur Christian Grey, who introduces her to the illicit pleasures of BDSM (which doesn't stand for "Bring Daddy Some Macaroons"). Fan favorite candidates include
There even are some musical spinoffs: "The Greatest
But what next for publishers who want to strike while the iron is hot? Does Random House have another "Fifty Shades"-type book waiting in the wings? Not yet, said Russell Perreault, vice president and director of publicity at Vintage/Anchor Books. "Our office has not been deluged by
Romance novels made up 15 percent of the adult fiction market in the first quarter of 2012, according to Bowker market research. But they accounted for almost one-third (32 percent) of e-books, up from 19 percent in the same period last year.
"Fifty Shades of Grey's" is an odd sort of bandwagon. It is far from being the first book of its type; it is only (and for some, unaccountably) the most popular, and if it was your first taste of forbidden fruit, you should have no trouble finding other tomes like it. Naperville-based Sourcebooks started publishing romance fiction in 2007. Its first erotic romance, "Backstage Pass," the inaugural volume in Olivia Cunning's "Sinners on Tour" series, came out three years later (the next volume in the series, "Double
Critics may debate whether "Fifty Shades" is a well-written book, but there is no arguing with its success and how it has resonated with readers. Publishers are adopting an attitude similar to traditional country artists when
"We're very much in favor of anything that gets people to read books," said Deb Werksman, Sourcebooks editorial manager. "We think it's great that readers love this series, and they'll naturally look for more. That's a great opportunity for authors."
The website Ellora's Cave bills itself as the premier publisher of "romantica," which it defines as stories in which sexually explicit scenes are integral to plot and character development, and monogamous love ultimately triumphs. Founded in 2000, Ellora's Cave publishes a minimum of nine new titles weekly and has more than 4,000 titles available for immediate download on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most other e-book sites, including its own. There is romantica for every genre, from sci-fi ("
The company pushes the "Fifty Shades" connection in its advertising and promotions, said Susan Edwards, chief operating officer, who credits the book in part for introducing erotica and erotic romance to readers new to the genre. "We were already seeing a strong surge in sales when 'Fifty Shades' hit the market because of the rise in online e-book vendors carrying our books," she said.
To what lengths will a publisher go to lure "Fifty Shades" readers and get a piece of that action? Total E-Bound Publishing is taking a page from the
Two original books are staking a claim to be the next "Fifty Shades." Sylvia Day's "Bared to You" (Penguin imprint Berkley Books) has been spending time on The New York Times' e-book fiction best-seller list. Its Twitter hashtag: #50ShadesHotter.
Berkley also recently picked up Sylvain Reynard's "Gabriel's Inferno" and "Gabriel's Rapture," which, like "Fifty Shades," originated as "Twilight" fan fiction. It concerns a debauched Dante specialist and an innocent grad student.
Some previously released books are being granted another chance to reach a new audience.
One book that may be watched closely is Jamie McGuire's "Beautiful Disaster" (Atria Books), a more PG-13 tale of innocent college student Abby and tattooed bad boy Travis.
"It's not just women reading romance, it's teenage girls who bought 'Twilight' to begin with," observed Edward Nawotka, founder and editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, an online trade journal for the international market. "We're going to see people start looking at how appropriate this material is when smart, enterprising young adult publishers push the limits on what they can publish. That will inspire more debate."
Still another unwitting beneficiary of "Fifty Shades'" notoriety is Ruta Sepetys' "Between Shades of Gray," a harrowing novel about a Lithuanian teen deported with her family by Soviet secret police to Siberia.
On a much lighter note are the spate of "Fifty Shades" spoofs and parodies.
Among the inevitable book parodies are Andrew Shaffer's "Fifty Shames of Earl Grey," written under the pseudonym Fanny Merkin, and "Fifty Shades of Louisa May" (as in Alcott), written under the pseudonym Louisa May Anonymous.
Beware the knockoffs (there are several "Fifty Shades of Gay" titles) and "companion" books ("A Guy's Secret Guide to 'Fifty Shades of Grey'" and "Fifty Shades of Pleasure: A Bedside Companion," both available on
"Fifty Shades of Grey" is serious business, though. What will be difficult for publishers is trying to duplicate its lightning-in-a-bottle, savvily marketed success.
"It came out of nowhere; nobody expected it," said Rachel Deahl, Publishers Weekly senior news editor.
It remains to be seen whether the phenomenon can be sustained, or whether it will be the literary equivalent of the 1986 film "91/2 Weeks," which did not usher in a new cinematic sexual revolution.
"You saw lots of fantasy novels after 'Harry Potter,' lots of vampires after 'Twilight' and lots of dystopian young adult literature after'The Hunger Games,'" Deahl said. "Do I think tons of erotica will become more mainstream? No, I don't think the market can sustain continued fascination with (the genre). There is no question that romance publishers are trying to cash in on the phenomenon, but there are people who have loved erotica for a long time. There's so much already out there.
"Will the people who read ('Fifty Shades') want more things like it, and how much will they want? (The right balance between) how erotic something needs to be and how much is the romance is the question the market will bear out."