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Erotic fan fiction hits a seven-figure home run

March 13, 2012

EL James

There was a day when fan fiction–that is, fan generated-stories, based on characters of your favorite novel, TV show, or movie, were a cute diversion for wannabe writers. If you wanted to go find some, you could. Google, then read crappy prose to your heart’s content.

If the fan fiction eroticized the existing stories, you didn’t just get to read bad prose–you got to read bad prose with over-the-top graphic sex scenes.

As with everything else in publishing, the rules aren’t so firm any more. Author EL James has signed a seven-figure, three-book deal to publish what started as erotic fan fiction, based on the Twilight series. The stories place Twilight’s Belle and Edward in modern-day Seattle, where she’s a virginal college graduate and he’s a billionaire with secret, uhhh, appetites.

The first book, now featuring different lead characters named Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, is called Fifty Shades of Grey, and you probably shouldn’t consider it for your church-based reading club. Originally published by The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House in Australia, it’s sold more than a quarter million e-books and paperbacks. That’s enough to generate a bidding war, with Knopf’s Vintage Books, winning the rights to a proper launch.

It’s not the first time fan fiction has made the leap to commercial success. Bridget Jones’ Diary was fan fiction based on Pride and Prejudice. But in the new, ever evolving world of publishing–it’s a tale worthy of telling on its own. The books were originally published on, a fan fiction site, and attracted a following. Author EL James (a pseudonym) auctioned the manuscripts for $30,000. Word spread through word-of-mouth efforts and organic social media contact. In other words, women dig this, in spite of the whips, chain, and handcuffs.

A quarter million sales later, the first of her trilogy tops the New York Times e-book best sellers list.

Not only is the trip from fan fiction to mainstream success noteworthy, but according to Times writer Julie Bosman, the books are introducing “women who usually read run-of-the-mill literary or commercial fiction to graphic, heavy-breathing erotica.”

Insert your own barely-suitable-for-work comment here.

  1. March 13, 2012 8:53 am

    I’m guessing PayPal is refusing to take a penny commission on any of the 250,000 books sold?
    Thought so!

  2. March 13, 2012 11:44 pm



    From: Smashwords [Edit Address Book]
    Subject: Smashwords author/publisher update: PayPal reverses proposed censorship, changes policies
    Date: Mar 13, 2012 7:20 PM

    March 13, 2012

    Smashwords author/publisher update: PayPal Reverses Proposed Censorship

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