50 Shades a Self-Publishing Success Story? I Don’t Think So

A couple of years ago, I heard about a book called The Passage. It was to be the first of three in a viral-vampire-post-apocalypse-type-thing, the author had got a huge deal and there were countless stories in the media and online about how the book had come to be written. I made a mental Post-It note to check it out but, in case the sticky stuff failed by the time it was released, there were still plenty of reminders about its publication, including mention of it in seemingly every newspaper I picked up and huge, movie-style posters behind the counter at my favorite bookshop. This wasn’t just the release of a book. This was A Big Story.

Stiletto fatigue: if you’re planning on releasing a book anytime soon and you’d like it to sell, start thinking about how you can feature one of these on the cover, preferably with a charcoal/steel color scheme. You’re welcome!

I probably would’ve read The Passage anyway. I was the target audience, in a way, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was how I’d hear about it. “Writer publishes a book” just isn’t a story anymore, especially now that with self-publishing digging its elbows into the mainstream’s ribs, anyone can publish a book in a couple of hours. The Passage needed a story that was better than that. Luckily the author got an eye-bulging deal, and reportedly worked on the storyline with his young daughter. Enter the New York Times and every other media news outlet that takes a minute to report on books. The Passage was a big deal book with A Big Story, and so there was plenty of story fodder to go along with reports of it. The writers, reporters and bloggers get something meaty to write about, and the author gets plenty of publicity. Everybody wins, Hooray!

Forward now, if you will, to the world we knew before we knew about 50 Shades. I’m sure erotica writers wish they could go back there. Booksellers are glad they don’t have to. I still haven’t read the books even though a copy of the first one is somewhere on my computer, so for my part I’m just glad I haven’t yet moved to a world where I’ve seen sentences such as “I rolled my eyes at myself” and “… bewildered by my lack of underwear” in a book a major publishing company giddily unleashed on the world.

What’s interesting, I think, is when we knew about 50 Shades. Think back, if you can. When did you first hear about it?

I would consider myself generally up to date with self-publishing news. Since I’ve written a “how-to” guide about it, I get paid to deliver workshops and participate in discussions about the subject, and I have a blog that’s about little else, that’s a good thing. A necessary thing. When the world found out about a young women’s seven-figure deal off the back of self-publishing success, I already knew all about it, because I’d been reading Amanda Hocking’s blog for months. When John Locke became the first self-published author to sell a million Kindle books, his name was familiar, because I was already following him on Twitter and receiving his mailing list updates. Because I follow so many self-publishing blogs and news sites, I usually have heard something about the self-publishing authors who hit the headlines before they do.

But I heard absolutely nothing about 50 Shades until I read about E.L. James getting her book deal.

Nothing. Nada. Not a peep.

Whatever success 50 Shades had as self-published books, it wasn’t big enough to enter my view of the blogosphere. Therefore I have to conclude that it wasn’t that big. I can’t find a single mention anywhere online of how many books it had sold before that dotted line came along, which I find a bit odd. [Does anyone know?] But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I’m wrong. Let’s say it sold millions and that I just wasn’t paying attention at the time.

Maybe I was distracted by my special edition Blu-ray Jurassic Park trilogy box set that week or something.

It’s still not a self-publishing success story, because its sales would’ve been logistically impossible without the help of a traditional deal.

I refuse to look up how many copies its sold, but by all reports it’ll be at infinity any day now. In the UK—and, honestly, I feel real despair at this news—it has become the biggest selling book ever. (Yes, in Harry’s part of the world, he’s been outsold by the story of a relationship that in the real world, would land one party in jail and the other in a woman’s shelter. THESE ARE ACTUAL TEARS.) A few weeks back I read that James was banking a million a week in royalties; most career authors couldn’t match the daily interest on her bank account with the sum total of their advances. Until everyone over-ordered copies of the trilogy so that now they’re like a branded set of sand-bags inside the door of every bookstore, the titles were sold out for a while. Someone told me that in one of Cork’s biggest bookshops, there was a list of no fewer than two hundred names waiting for news that it was back in stock. I’m sure any day now we’ll hear something like “1 out of every x households has a copy of 50 Shades…” and in a year or so, charity bookshops will actually be using them as sand-bags, or at least posting signs saying “No more 50 Shades, please!”

Maybe they already are.

How has the book sold so many copies? I’m not sure anyone knows. But I know what had to happen in order to facilitate the sale of that many copies: people who don’t normally purchase books and/or read for pleasure had to buy it/read it, and in order for that to happen, the book had to be widely available in stores. When books sell as many copies as 50 Shades has—and when you can’t turn your head without catching a mention of them on TV or in print—it’s because they have broken out from the planet’s Reader population and spread (like a sexually transmitted disease, in this case…?) into the Non-Reader one.

And Non-Readers don’t, generally, read e-books. They don’t order books online. I—and every other self-publisher—can attest to this, because chances are you’re related to a few of them, and trying to explain to them that the buying options for your book are: (i) e-book, (ii) POD paperback only sold online or (iii) not reading it at all, is usually a migraine-inducing waste of your time. Therefore it is a logistical impossibility that had 50 Shades remained a self-published book [I actually don’t know was it available in POD paperback? I can’t find any evidence that it was…], it would be the phenomenal—and inexplicable—success story it is today. It just couldn’t have happened.

50 Shades isn’t a self-publishing success story. It might’ve been back when she signed on the dotted line, but it’s not now. What it is is a win for traditional publishing. It’s a traditional publishing success story, served with a generous side of clever marketing.

And you know what, self-publishers? I think we should be happy about that. I know I’m unusual in that I quite like the traditional publishing industry, and hope that one day, they’ll like me enough to offer me a book deal. So you may not join me in being happy for them, but that’s quite alright. They did need this, though, and so did the booksellers who have been seeing a lot of new faces come through their doors in the last few months.

But I do hope you’ll join me, fellow self-publishers, in being glad that this isn’t one of ours.

“I rolled my eyes at myself?” Don’t our books get enough stick as it is?

In 2008 I went backpacking, somewhat against my will, and in terms of the obligatory travel-induced self-discovery, the only thing I got was a confirmation of what I’d thought all along: that I’d hate backpacking. But I got a book out of it, Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America, and it’s free for Kindle today and tomorrow. Once it goes back to paid, it’ll be $3.99 so, like, hurry up. Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and all the other ones.

108 thoughts on “50 Shades a Self-Publishing Success Story? I Don’t Think So

  1. Tim McGregor says:

    Great piece of detective work, Catherine. I think you just blew the lid off the whole thing, kind of like Woodward and Bernstein did with Watergate. Greygate? Fiftygate?

    I forget how I found your blog but I’m really enjoying it. Great stuff! All the best,


  2. Bethany Dean (@bethanyrdean) says:

    Fantastic point. 50 Shades of Grim is a bog-standard publishing deal that some new executive with a trendy haircut had the sneaky idea of plugging into the self-publishing zeitgeist. I’ve never read it, don’t intend to and feel really quite depressed about it all to be honest.

    A few points meandered through my head as I read your post, in no particular order:

    1. ‘Bewildered by my lack of underwear’ sounds like something I’d write… in a comedy. Not erotica.

    2. I love Jurassic Park!

    3. You self-print? I must check this out.

    4. I’d never heard of 50SG before the deal either… the conspiracist in me is wondering whether to don my trusty tinfoil hat, as this can’t mean anything but the publishing business developing a mind-ray that subliminally plants advertisements into people’s heads.

    Brilliant post. I’m brand new to your blog, but I’ll be visiting again!


  3. Daniela says:

    The first time I heard about 50 Shades was through fandom. Something along the line of popular Twilight fiction now published as romance novel.

    The fanfiction must have been relatively popular on fanfiction.net but Twilight is one of those things I steer away from. I already found the basic of Twilight problematic, so wasn’t even remotely interested in the fandom aspet of it.

    Publishing reworked and changed fanfiction also isn’t that new but before E.L.James no-one was this blatantly open about it and used it as part of the Marketing-spiel. And that’s something quiet a number of fans aren’t too happy about so it was discussed on some blogs and people talked about it. Not many very complimentary, despite the hype on ff.net.

    And then things seemed to explode.

    I think for a lot of people it’s one of those things where they feel like they have to at least buy it, reading it is optional though.

    Reminds me of that time when Patrick Süsskind’s book Perfume was so hyped about (at least in Germany). Most people who bought it, didn’t even read it. Me, I borrowed a friend’s copy, read it and much later bought a used copy because it’s actually an amazing book.

    It also doesn’t seem to sell that well in Germany despite the heavy marketing and the articles. So far I’ve also only seen critical or down-right dismissive articles in German newspapers and magazines.

      • seymourblogger says:

        The fans at fanfic net were the ones who put it over the top.They bought in the beginning when it was self-published and again when published just to have it.They fed in over 150,000 feedbacks,suggestions,etc while she was writing it off the back of Twilight and Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson’s personal life.

  4. Marcia says:

    I can understand your discussion on how it became a best seller, but if you haven’t read the book, please don’t judge its content. The story is solid. Yes, there are phrases that don’t work and a repetition of certain ones, but it is not a piece of trash, which is what you are making it sound like. It’s not for everyone, certainly, but it has had rave reviews from most…because the story and character development is excellent! Readers can overlook a few poorly written lines when the story has grabbed them and won’t let go. It was no different for Twilight, Amanda Hocking’s series or John Locke’s books. They all have flaws but readers loved the stories. We should all be so lucky. And I found the book before they were picked up by the trad publisher.
    I’m disappointed to see writers judge the content of a book they haven’t read. Shouldn’t we be above that?

    • Tim McGregor says:

      Marcia, we’re not debating the merits of the book itself, just the marketing of it. All the news stories I’ve seen about the book’s success describe 50 Shades as a self-publishing phenomenon before it got a traditional publishing deal (with a hefty dollar figure for the author). Catherine is pointing out that there appears to be no self-pub success story at all before the big book deal. Clever marketing and half-truths, that’s all.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      You’re right, I shouldn’t judge a book I haven’t read but I have, as I said, read countless reviews from sources I trust, spoken to my reader friends who have read it, etc. I think this is sufficient to give me a sense of what the book is like; it’s what I’d trust to rate any other book to determine whether or not I might like to read it/what it’s like. I would have to disagree however that it’s been well-received by most. That’s not my experience.

      For the record, I loved Twilight. :-)

    • tryingtowriteit says:

      Marcia, I agree with you so loudly I wanted to shout out loud. I am so sick of hearing all the slating of these books by the blogging community. You hadn’t read a blog about them before they were published? Guess what not all of your reader blog! Most of your readers as an author come from elsewhere and frankly are not interested in your blog or twitter platform or whatever else you are currently spinning. I am not a fan of the books, I just don’t like weak female heroines. However, most of my female colleagues at work and quite a few of my female friends have read them. Cover to Cover, sometimes staying up to 3 am. Most of these smack down articles of fifty shades are based on one thing “jealousy”, yeah you heard me. Get down off your god damn soapbox Catherine as you aren’t looking to pretty in pink up there!

      • catherineryanhoward says:

        Sarah this is my blog, so I’m quite entitled to use it as a soapbox if I wish. This isn’t a “smack down” article; it’s about whether or not 50 Shades could have sold 10 million+ copies in such a short space of time without the help of a traditional publisher. And I think you meant “you aren’t looking TOO pretty.” Thanks for your contribution.

        • tryingtowriteit says:

          Oh, I think I hit a nerve. This is just another “Indie” author whine about why no-one is buying their work. There are probably another hundred articles in exactly the same vein. How original! You know what, until you have read it, don’t comment. You don’t get that intellectual right. I have just found the Unfollow button, which is a shame, because I loved your blog. As for the pointing out my grammar issues. Bravo, made you feel better about dismissing another writers work before you’ve even read it? I think not.

  5. Stella says:

    From what I’ve heard (a friend who’s been in the fanfic and fandom community for decades) she was well-known in those communities and when word got out that she’s published the books, people went to buy it. Never underestimate fanfic communities, there are probably far more writers in it than we can imagine.

    She did a smart job and built her audience there. So, she is a self-publishing success. I haven’t read her books either, but I say kudos to her. I bet most self-publishers wish they were her.

    • Jae says:

      Yes, she first started out on a fanfiction site writing 50 Shades under the title of ‘Master of the Universe’. I read the books. Poorly written in my opinion, but a solid story. Props to her for thinking outside of the box.

  6. Cynthia Ripley Miller says:

    From what I was told, 50 Shades originated in Fanfiction. Her first book ends like a chapter ending and continues into the second and third books. In the U.S. it has spread like wildfire. Women of all ages are reading it because they’ve heard that it has kinky sex. If someone mentions it to me one more time (It goes like this, “OMG, have you read 50 Shades of Grey?” They nod their heads with a devilish grin) I’m going to scream. Also, I’ve been informed that the plotting and characterization improves with the series (maybe she got some help?). In any case, she is happily depositing at the bank because she struck the fantasy chord, but as you mentioned, Catherine, in real life, we’d call the hero a sick guy and the girl co-dependent, suffering from low self-esteem or just plain stupid and shallow. Oh wait, he’s rich and can buy the heroine a real Prada bag, so what’s the big deal about a few handcuffs and no emotional intimacy allowed. Really? Cha-ching, Cha-ching.

  7. dragonmis says:

    Great blog. It’s good to see someone dispel the self publishing myth of 50 Shades. Clever marketing I’m sure also played a part in the success, but the real reason it took off, I think, is because it reached the tipping point, that mysterious place where, as you said, non readers had to have a copy, even if they weren’t going to read it. I would argue that this is what happened with Harry Potter too. I know a number of my friends who would never, ever have read a children’s book had it not been constantly in the news. Once enough people are talking about a book, it will sell, sell, sell, regardless of quality. As for Shades, it is badly written and the subject matter is dubious in the extreme, not because it is porn but because it is exploitative and denigrates women and their sexuality. More seriously though I would like to know how the supermarkets justify putting such an explicit book where any child could pick it up and presumably buy it. There is much discussion about making porn off limits on the internet for kids and here it is full frontal display in Morrisons etc.

  8. A.J.Race says:

    I would feel happy for them, if I didn’t feel sort of bad for them, sure it’s a success, but at what cost? I mean they basically sold out good literature and grammar for that matter, for a quick buck and that is dangerous. How can anyone compete? Must we now dumb ourselves down to be published traditionally? I’ve been kind of wondering this since Twilight actually.

    • Adrienne Krogh (@awkrogh) says:

      A.J., your comment is exactly how I’ve been feeling about these books. Sometimes, I really feel we are going down the dumb and dumber route, especially with the lack of great books and TV shows (I hate reality tv) But it did give me the courage to write my own novel complete with a MC is the antithesis of Bella and that woman in 50SOG. And if all the critics give me is “it’s better written than Twilight and blah, blah blah” then I’ll be helluva happy.

  9. kammotion says:

    You make excellent points, Catherine, as usual. One of the things that’s important to recognize is the “machine” now knows how to capitalize on the self-publishing angle. Whether the angle is completely true or manufactured, the machine understands the angle will work and can attract big bucks. The studios are now much more open to purchasing the rights to self-published works, “Wool,” comes to mind. And traditional publishers realize they, too, can make bank on self-published books as well. It’s positive for all self-published writers. Figuring out the threshold of sales needed to grab a larger entity’s interest or the path to get the marketing push that will sell millions of books is a more difficult task. It’s not viable option in all self-published books’s future but I agree with you – the warmer embrace of the marketplace is good for all self-published authors.

  10. heyheyholly says:

    I hadn’t given much thought about when the hype started, but you have a valid point. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for people wanting to self-publish, certainly, though it’s good for us to look at the success of Fifty Shades through a more realistic lens.

    As for the series itself, I’ve been wavering back and forth as to whether I ought to read it, knowing full well that my main purpose for doing so would be to avoid criticism for trashing a book I haven’t read. Still, I’ve read excerpts that made me shudder with revulsion, and this highly entertaining review on Goodreads seems to confirm that maybe there’s no need to waste time: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/315616160

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      That review is AMAZING. And the author says she writes erotica, which is exactly my point. Why aren’t we hearing about her books? I’d much rather re-read that review than read 50 Shades! :-)

      (And her review actually makes it seem even worse than I thought.)

  11. goinghome says:

    Very well said, Catherine. Like a symptom of mass female psychopathology and strung-out short-sighted thinking – as if it’s already not hard enough for really trapped women to say no. Maybe things have to get worse before getting better, where both attitudes about relationship behaviour and about publishing are concerned.

  12. David W. Wright says:

    The book was doing VERY well before it was picked up by a big publisher. I’m a non-erotica reader, and I’d seen it appearing all over the place — topping the Amazon lists, and hearing about it from female friends.

    The biggest reason this book took off, aside from people sharing it, is eBooks. Women were able to read it without shame, on the privacy of their Kindle or other eReader. And when they got into the book, many of them realized it was more than just a “sex book,” it was a book about a dysfunctional man and the woman who comes to love him. In other words, a somewhat classical romance at its core.

    The women I know who love this book, LOVE the characters like nothing I’ve seen in a long time.

    What’s most impressive is that this phenomenon started as what is deemed to be lowliest of low in literature — fan fiction. AND based on the already fading “fad” of that other phenomenon, Twilight.

    50 Shades not only proved critics and elitists wrong. It offers as inspiration to everyone who’s been told, “No, you can’t do THAT story. It’s been done. It’s too dirty. It’s too… (whatever).”

    And here’s where you’re a bit off, Catherine. You say 50 Shades is not a self-publishing success story. I disagree.

    Because if E.L. James never self-published this series (or published through the tiny publisher in Australia), none of what followed would have happened.

    In other words, if you want a huge success, then YOU need to be the one to get it started. The days of waiting to be discovered and made by a publisher are just about over.

    If you can’t get some buzz on your own, most publishers won’t touch you.

    Yes, traditional publishers have thrown gallons of high test fuel on the 50 Shades fire and made it possible to get the book into major stores, airports, etc… and that’s all helped immensely. However, this fire was already burning bright and she’d already made it on the strength of her story primarily via eBooks.

    And some people will discount 50 Shades as a freak anomaly that will never happen again. Others, are getting to work on their own story to prove that theory wrong.

    And it will happen again. And again. And again.

    This isn’t a freak thing. This is the new world, and it’s full of possibility for those who put in the hard work, write the right story at the right time, and get a bit of luck.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I totally agree with you that this *is* a self-publishing success in the sense that without the sales of the self-published version, she properbably wouldn’t have got the deal. Well, she definitely wouldn’t have. My point is that she couldn’t have sold the mind-boggling numbers of books she’s sold since without the help of a traditional publishing deal, because e-book sales can’t support these kinds of numbers, because not enough people are reading them (yet?) and that when a book gets this big, it’s because everyone is reading it, not just readers. It has to be stores.

      The privacy of an e-book reader is clearly a huge factor in the popularity of erotica e-book, but why this book? There are OODLES of erotic novels that are much better written and are far more original than this…? It’s a mystery to me. I’d hate to be an erotica author, because people are acting like this is the only book in the world with sex in it.

      I can honestly say I didn’t hear anything about it until I read an article like the one Jamie posted a link to above, talking about the e-book sales and the book deal. And I have yet to meet a single woman who said they enjoyed it, and I know plenty of woman who devoured Twilight, myself being one of them. It remains a mystery to me…! :-D

      • Tahir says:

        I agree with Catherine’s point about the difference between HUGE and big. All of the things people mention may have contributed to it being “big” but HUGE comes from disproportionate exponential factors like Amazon deciding to put the book on it’s front page for *months*. Even a day on the front page of amazon will put give any book a disproportionate boost. Then every other retailer wants to cash in so the book gets prime real estate on every virtual and real outlet because its seen to be a no-risk no-brainer. And then from the public’s point of view some want to buy it just to see what all the fuss is about. The exponential factors applied to a book that is doing “ok” or even very well cannot be underestimated. Suppose the book is selling 50,000 copies a day on Amazon. Is it 5,000 times “better” than a book selling 10 copies a day?

  13. elskenewman says:

    Great post! I got 50 shades from the library just to see what all the fuss is about, it will have to go back without fully being read. It’s rubbish, although I do like how it got non-readers reading. That’s always a good thing, surely.

  14. klparry says:

    Wow! Like the post.
    Well, I agree. I’m happy to hear of any author’s success. ANd the fact that even my sister, a non-reader, bought and read all three of the books is just a huge credit to their marketing strategy. Kudos to them.

  15. PA Wilson says:

    Isn’t one of the main arguments for traditional publishing the fact that you get a quality product because experts support the writer in making the book the best it can be? Clearly someone decided that editing wasn’t necessary here.
    The success of 50 shades is one of those things no one can predict.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      That’s a bit of a mystery too because I completely understand the concept of piggybacking on self-publishing success in the hope it translates into traditional publishing success, why wouldn’t they run through the books in between? It wouldn’t have taken long, and they wouldn’t necessarily have been fixing story, just language. They didn’t even change the covers, as I understand it. Apparently E.L. James did those herself. I would’ve at the very least bumped up them a bit.

      • tricia linden says:

        I’m okay with the covers, but I agree that trad publishing is often telling us – writers – how important their editing services are, but it appears those all important editing skills were not used on this book. I did start to read it but it made my head hurt, it is not well written. I know, just MHO, but one that is shared by others. Love your blog. T

  16. Paul Sadler says:

    She self-published first and it’s been made into a success afterwards, all true. But the reason the book deal happened is because she wrote a solid story, tied in two genres that are niche-ly huge (erotica and fantasy), piggied back on Twilight and self-pubbed modified version after thousands had read it on the fan sites.

    She originally wrote it with Bella and Edward as the names, and then changed them for publication — when it was still fan fiction, Stephanie Meyers was even interviewed about it. While I am neither a Twilighter nor erotica nor fan fiction nor fantasy faniac, even *I* saw it showing up and being circulated as “news” before the book deal.

    My suspicion is you may even have seen it pass by on the self-pub sites (I only follow a small number of them like KKR, DWS, PG, JK, Stormwolf), saw that it was fan fiction and dismissed it as being beneath your mental radar threshold.

    Despite your lack of notice, obviously someone in the paper book universe saw it, noticed it, and jumped on board.


    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I didn’t see it all, Paul. Whether or not it’s fan fiction wouldn’t have registered with me because I know nothing about it and therefore wouldn’t have made any distinction between it and any other self-published work. I just didn’t hear about it. Maybe it’s because I’m outside the US or something but the first I heard was an article like the one Jamie posted a link to above.

  17. elizabethraine says:

    I first read Twilight only a few months after it got really big, before the movie came out, back when the main people reading it were teens but man, were they eager.
    The copy I purchased was a paperback from an airport, and it was poorly written (in my opinion) and even more poorly edited, with grammatical mistakes on every other page. I fear that mass-produced paperbacks in general, and ‘best-sellers’ in particular, are coming out of the gates like this more and more-poorly put together copies of something that is already not the best storytelling.
    And that’s really the problem I have with the whole traditional v. self published debate the most is that I feel like the books I buy in a bookstore from traditional publishers are not as good quality as they used to be, and are no better in terms of mechanics than the ones I buy online from a self publisher, and they show that these writers are also no more experienced than their self-publishing colleagues.

  18. AM Gray says:

    I think it is also relevant that James works in the television industry and knows how to write a press release or who to get to write it for her – the whole naughty mummy porn angle made it news and got it incredible free publicity. Which is self sustaining. If X is talking about this then we should be too.
    Yes, she was huge in fanfic – big enough for her fans to organise a conference for her to come and talk to them. The writers’ coffee shop set up the print on demand service. A tiny, new site set up in suburban Sydney, Australia. There was an article in the Sydney morning herald about it recently.

      • AM Gray says:

        fanfiction.net has over 4m members. The site is free and can be accessed from phones and mobile devices. All stories can be read without being a member, and there are probably a few million more readers that don’t register. A big story like Master of the Universe had tens of thousands of reviews.

        There is utter rubbish on there, of course, and there are also some fantastic writers. I do not think fanfic is any less literate than ‘real’ writing. It’s just easier to see the awful examples. There are many published books like The Wide Sargasso Sea, (Jane Eyre written from the pov of the mad wife in he attic) that are basically fanfiction. Why is that a ‘classic’ and other stuff disregarded?

        There are thousands of other sites that specialise in particular genres; Harry Potter or Twilight wolves, Vin Diesel or whatever.

        I write fanfic as mrstrentreznor and my review rate is about 1% of my page hit rate. People ask me all the time to do what James has done, but it feels wrong to me. I have plenty of other original fiction ideas. But I will credit fanfic with giving me a boost of confidence and the instant reward, to keep trying. And yes, it’s tempting to think that the ready made market of fanfic fans is just too easy to take advantage of. As you say, word of mouth in the early stages is the key. So if all your fanfic fans buy your story and then tell all their friends? When does paying my bills outweigh my qualms?

        • catherineryanhoward says:

          That’s absolutely fascinating. I had no idea it was that big! You’re completely right of course re: existing books being used as the basis for new work. It happens in movies too. (Like Clueless. Isn’t that just an updated Emma?) I have no problem with the fan-fic aspect of 50 Shades, although in some of the reviews I do see people wondering why she didn’t change it up a bit more when it got published. I think maybe this goes back to the very early days of self-publishing e-books (as in, two years ago!) when a lot of self-published work was things like fan-fiction, which couldn’t get published regardless of quality due to copyright issues, and self-publishing was a last resort presumed to be for bad work only. Maybe there’s a subconscious connection there.

          I’ve often said that I bet EL James doesn’t spend a nanosecond of any day thinking about the people who say her work is bad — and I wouldn’t either if I had all that money to comfort me! :-D

          • AM Gray says:

            Initially she tried to deny it’s origins and that irritated a lot of fanfic people. As if it was a dirty shame. She tried to remove all mentions of it from the Internet and the publishers vouched that it was an original work. I think they have given up now.

            But what if someone writes a fanfic of 50 shades? and that is published? how many Inception levels can we go?

            It has destroyed the idea that something that was previously published could not be put into print. We do have James and Amanda Hocking to thank for that.

            And as others have said, I have heard so many people say “I don’t normally read books… ” It is the tabloid mag book, I suppose and if it makes people go out and read or buy another book, we should all be thankful for that.

  19. molly miller says:

    I have to agree with David Wright and Marcia’s points. I read 50 Shades purely to see what the fuss was about and fell in love with all three, devouring them. Yes they’re flawed in many ways but they’re also rollicking good reads and the characters she’s created give Bella and Edward a run for their money, which is ironic considering they were her inspiration. I don’t believe the books are exploitative and I’d like to think I’m not the kind of woman who sits down to gleefully read exploitative stories about women.
    I did find them well written – first person narratives aren’t for everyone. They’re very much in the vein of Twilight, which I also loved..
    They also can’t be taken too seriously – it’s a LOVE story, a fantasy romance. The BDSM aspect is very light so they’re not real Erotica. Having said that, I think James has blasted open the doors to lots of people who might now have an interest in Erotica and that’s a good thing because Erotica and Romance is a massive section of self-publishing and ePublishers, so she could be driving readers in that direction..
    I think this was a huge Self-Pub success – but then I’m not very involved in Self-Pub so can’t claim to know all the facts and figures – what I do know is that I’m not reading anything else that’s been self-pubbed.
    It’s also been a massive Marketing success. Whoever thought of designing the covers so they almost look like crime novels, and kept James’ name asexual was a genius. You only have to go into a bookshop now to see a hundred copy-cats.
    But I am at heart a traditional publishing person – for me knowing that a book has come through a publishing house gives it a seal of approval and a certain standard. This is just me and no doubt I’m missing out on some amazing self-pubbed work…to be honest I’m just a physical book person – I have a Kindle but I’ve barely used it. I’m still going on holidays with ten books which defeats the whole purpose..
    with the film of 50 Shades on the horizon this whole subject won’t be going anywhere anytime soon!
    Interesting post, thanks for the discussion..
    p.s. You mentioned ‘The Passage’ – what happened to it, did it come out?! Haven’t heard of it myself but that doesn’t mean much ;)

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      The Passage came out maybe a year and a half ago? I really liked the beginning of it (like, the first 200 pages — they were amazing) but then it slowed to a crawl, in my opinion. Basically the first bit was the WHY (virus gets out of hand) and then it jumped forward in time to what happened next (the post-apocalytpic bit) and that bored me to tears, so I was really disappointed because if the whole book had stuck with the first timeline, it would’ve been a 5-star read for me. BUT the second title in the trilogy, The Twelve, is out next month and apparently it goes back to to the virus bit that I liked. So to cut a long story short, I’d (sort of) recommend it!

      And Molly, I wouldn’t worry: I’m a self-published author and I’m almost exclusively reading traditionally published work… They won’t be voting me president anytime soon! ;-D

      • molly miller says:

        That’s interesting about The Passage – in a way do you think that if it had gone through traditional editing etc, it might have been made into a better read because someone would have seen the flagging middle?
        By the way if you are into that stuff there’s a great dystopian teen story out called Enclave by Ann Aguirre, she won an award in the US this summer for it ;).
        I think it’s brilliant that so many people are self-pubbing now because I think a lot of the successful ones are making a lot more money than they would be if they were being published in a more ‘traditional’ sense…
        But, o, for the success of E L James! A girl can dream :)

        • catherineryanhoward says:

          The Passage *was* traditionally published, which was why it was an even bigger shame. I’d have chopped 200 pages out of the middle and I’m not sure why nobody did. Still though, it was a good book. It just would’ve been a great book if it wasn’t for the slow, boring book hiding in the middle of it! I have high hopes for the next installment though, so we’ll see.

          Of course as a self-published author I think self-publishing is great, and I know a lot more writers are making money from their writing now and a lot more writers are making MORE money than they did before. I just don’t think it’s helpful to look at someone like E.L. James as a model for your work/self-publishing adventure, both in terms of how you prepare your book and your expectations for how it will sell. I always use the same example: last year I was at a talk about publishing when an editor told the story of receiving a manuscript that was in terrible shape, both literally (crinkled paper, coffee stains, handwritten) and figuratively (bad spelling, not obvious writing talent, etc.) BUT the editor soon realized that it was the personal story of the author, and that it was an amazing story. So he decided to work with the author to get it where it needed to be and published it. Now, knowing that, would any writer in their right mind submit to an editor with a handwritten manuscript on creased paper chock full of spelling mistakes? Of course not. I fear that self-published authors – or would be self-published authors – look at 50 Shades and think, “Well, it’s not very good and it’s sold millions therefore I clearly only have to bang out a mediocre book and hey presto, I’ll be sleeping on a mattress stuffed with cash!” And obviously that’s not a good thing! :-)

          I’ll check out Enclave — have lots of long, boring train journeys and flights coming up so I’m building a tall To Read stack to keep me company! Thanks for the recommendation.

          • molly miller says:

            I think the thing about 50 Shades is that it’s not actually that mediocre at all and attempting to replicate it would be a hard task. It’s interesting – there’s an author out at the moment (I don’t want to mention who) whose book has been touted as the ‘Next 50 Shades – Even Better’!
            The cover of her book is a direct copy of 50 Shades with different props. I heard her on the radio and she’s actually an established traditionally published author with a lot of titles already under her belt. I got the book purely because I figured it would be good (interestingly she originally self-pubbed this one), and it was AWFUL!
            It was a completely cynical attempt to cash in on the 50 Shades success right down to blatant plot similarities. It wasn’t plagiarism but it wasn’t far off. And the connection between the main characters just wasn’t there, they were wholly unoriginal and flat…to be honest it made 50 Shades look like Wuthering Heights. And this is an established author trying to do exactly what you’re talking about..!
            I thought that was interesting..
            Good luck with the train journeys!

            • catherineryanhoward says:

              Oops. Typed this comment and then it disappeared!

              So, again:

              I know EXACTLY who you’re talking about, and I actually did a double-take when I saw the cover of her book. Whatever I think about 50 Shades, such blatant cashing in (and thinking readers will fall for it) is utterly shameless. Yuck. I’m not surprised at all that it wasn’t good. Don’t you think all evidence suggests that she knocked it out in the last few months, just to take advantage of this?

              • molly miller says:

                Totally. And the pity of it is that it’s selling like hot-cakes by all accounts. Not in the league of 50 Shades but still. I’d feel dirty if I did something like that. At least James came up with an original spin on the whole Twilight thing!

  20. VJ Corfield says:

    It crossed my mind that it was a win for the Kindle and/or online book sales. That’s where I first saw it (no, I didn’t buy it). Since then, the whole office has been talking about it and the majority of them are non-readers.

    Whatever the history of the trilogy, the one big thing it now demonstrates is the power of word of mouth!

    Great article.

  21. Emily C. Sims says:

    I haven’t read the book and I don’t intend to as it’s not a genre I enjoy, so I can’t comment on the content, but what this book truly reinforces is the importance of platform. That is the overall message that I think self-publishers or any published author should take away. Platform can get you sales, a book deal, a well-known name, etc. This author was well known in the fan-fic community, a community many of us didn’t even know existed, and she launched herself from there. Find a niche, excel in it, and build from that point. It’s the mantra of writers and marketers alike.

  22. martin says:

    I know two older ladies (60+) who read it and thought it very unerotic.

    Just shows what traditional marketing and good bit of scandal can do for book.

  23. Jenn Flynn-Shon says:

    It was like you walked into my head and pulled out exactly what I’ve been thinking about 50 for the past few months. I’ve been telling all my non-Writer friends to expect to see/hear this book start to make an impact on the rest of mainstream media. And it’s happening. I also have no clue when I really started hearing about the books but like you it hasn’t forced me to read them. This is because the primary thing I heard is that I would be “rolling my eyes at myself…” for even attempting to read them. No wait, I take that back. I think it would be more along the lines of “banging my head on my desktop…” than an eye roll. My sister said she enjoyed the first one and said to me “you’d hate it.” I’m going with her on this one.

    But…if nothing else it sure has all of us self-pubs talking doesn’t it?

  24. Dan says:

    Hi Ms. Howard!

    I have been following the Fifty Shades thing for a while. The first time I was introduced to it was in April of 2012 when a friend on AIM told me that a piece of published Twilight fanfiction had been sold to a book and movie deal. I couldn’t believe it. However, as you dig? It gets deeper and deeper.

    The basics are actually very abhorrent. The gist is (and I’m giving you four links that will help you go further, if you’d like) that Twilight authors have been “filing the numbers off” of fanfiction and “pulling to publish” them. Essentially, fanfiction is allowed at private archives and on fanfiction.net because until now, authors won’t being blatant like James is or actively looking to rip published authors off. For a while, Twilight fic as far as I can tell (it’s not my fandom but I’ve written fanfic before) was like other fanfics—free. However, in about 2009, some of the writers who were getting tens of thousands of comments on fanfiction.net and hundreds of thousands of hits on stories, decided to “go pro.” They created a couple of publishing houses, including The Writers’ Coffee Shop and Omnific with staff and marketing departments and video trailer makers…etc. All of this was designed to create a cottage industry of fanfic writers taking all human, Alternate Universe fic (basically the Cullens aren’t vampires) and changing just the character names to create “new, original” work.

    Basically, it started, I gather from “editing” old fics and putting them out there. Fans of the original fanfiction wanted to support favorite authors, so the money came from them first as they just bought the “original” versions too. However, it soon mutated into the scam Twilight fandom runs now. The authors like James go into fanfiction.net, create these stories and once they reach X amount of reviews, are contacted by Omnific or The Writers’ Coffee Shop to pull the fic when it’s half or 2/3 finished. Basically, then they republish the complete novel as an “original” that the fans the buy because it’s the only way they’ll get the ending of what was a free story they are hooked on.

    James did this best of any of them, but she’s not unique (see Sylvain Reynard of “Gabriel’s Inferno”) by running with the BDSM angle that another author, TaraSueMe, had apparently done better first and by spending her time cultivating an army of fans to bully the Goodreads and Amazon boards for her, called the bunker babes. They dominated the romance sections of both sites and got the Fifty Shades novel under its The Writers’ Coffee Shop incarnation to win multiple awards on GoodReads. Traditional indies can’t publicize themselves on these sites like this as you know, but James could because she’d gathered a fan army of Twilight fans—rightfully Meyer’s fans—by publishing a fanfic and taking it away about 2/3 of the way through and driving them to buy it up repeatedly as a for-pay book. It didn’t hurt these fans made her a rock star and flew her out to conventions in the States (just for her and her fanfic back in 2010, still called “Master of the Universe”) and also gave her free labor in the form of sites for free, free videos made on youtube to promote (with footage of Rob and Kristen from Twilight no less and after Fifty Shades went big, Summit asked youtube to take down the original “Master of the Universe” fanvids for copyright violations), as well as art and other graphics.

    The Twilight fandom created a corrupt cash cow from Meyer’s generosity and gouged her fans, and James came in and exploited the system and, by several fandom accounts, seems to have then stabbed that fandom in the back.

    It’s not a catalyst or a zeitgeist, it was stealing fans for a fan bully army to be your media powerhouse and then selling a half finished fanfic to a shaky-at-best publishing house designed to repurpose fanfic. She only got this far because she encouraged troll internet behavior and found those trolls at all by stealing Meyer’s work and characters.

    For more reading, I’d start with Crushable’s piece talking about her origins in the Twilight community as “Snowqueen’s Icedragon” and go from there.

    It’s just so despicable the further you dig!


    1) Crushable about E.L. James’s Fandom Past – http://crushable.com/entertainment/el-james-snowqueens-icedragon-fifty-shades-of-grey-twilight-fandom-wank-860/

    2) Dear Author comparing “Fifty Shades” to the original fanfic “Master of the Universe” – http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/master-of-the-universe-versus-fifty-shades-by-e-l-james-comparison/ (they are 89% the same)

    3) An article by an indie erotica writer discussing how this has affected her, especially because books can be smeared as “converted fanfic” and it actually hurts sales cause of James’s stigma – http://www.lucyvmorgan.com/2012/03/crap-on-me-once-crap-on-me-twice-how.html?m=1

    4) Finally, a complete list so far, of fic converted from Twilight to “original” and which became hits on the indie circuit – http://twifanfictionrecs.com/published-fics/

    James is a mercenary and she did it best, but she’s the sign of a much bigger and even more corrupt factory system.

      • AM Gray says:

        Cassandra Clare’s mortal instruments series started life as Harry Potter fanfic. Draco is Jace… but she rewrote it, big time. I believe her fanfic fans sent her money when her house was robbed.
        Meg Cabot used to write ff… ahhh thinking… who else…

      • Dan says:

        It is surreal and infuriating as it feels like twilight fandom is cheating to best sellers, to be honest. I also feel bad for the fans who are being used and having fave fics taken down or have to pay to read their ends!

        • Cassie says:

          Interesting. I suspected this was what had happened when I heard that 50 Shades was based on a Twi-fic. It is kind of skeezy, but I don’t know that you can call it cheating exactly. Can you? You can bet the end product that people are paying for doesn’t infringe on the the original author’s copyright in any way, or there would be legal hell to pay. Is it really any different from the cornucopia of YA vampire romances that publishing houses started churning out post-Twilight? Or the boy-goes-to-a-magical-school books that popped after Harry Potter? These works owe just as much to Meyer and Rowling as the fanfic-turned-(semi)original books do. The main difference is that James left a clear trail to her inspiration.

          I’ve never read 50 shades or Master of the Universe; it’s not my kind of thing, but I’m assuming that it must have been one of those fanfics that was so different from the world Meyer had created that it was basically a completely new work that just re-used her characters’ names. So really, I’m not sure how much underhandedness we can attribute to James. She *did* come up with her own story idea, right? She just took advantage of a pre-collected fan base.

          And as for the fans being used…if they paid to read 50 shades, they must not have felt very used. I imagine they were eager buyers, in fact. Avid fanfiction followers can be tremendous cheerleaders for their authors. Most of them probably supported her all the way to the bank.

          Not arguing with you, really, since there is an off feeling to the situation…just trying to look at things from the other side.

    • Liana Mir says:

      Yikes. You do have some of your facts wrong, wrong, wrong. James disliked the 2/3 pulling thing that other authors did and FINISHED the fanfic first. After it had been up a certain length of time, then she pulled it. She wanted her fandom readers to be able to finish the work like she had promised them. I’d hunt up the link to her statement, but frankly, I’m not invested enough in the conversation to do it. It’s findable, easily enough.

  25. Frank says:

    Question: You mention John Locke here. Will you soon do a column on the scandal that erupted when it turned out that he bought reviews to get big?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I doubt I’ll be posting about it but I have been following the reviews for sale debacle with interest. The thing is I really think Locke spent a lot of time and money (he once sent everyone on his mailing list a $10 Amazon gift card as a thank you) building his fan base, one person at a time, and doing it with proven marketing techniques, as described in his book. Paying for reviews was undoubtedly stupid, but I think the only person who is crediting the paid-for reviews with Locke’s success is the person who got paid to write the reviews. I think Locke’s enormous (cultivated) fan base had a lot more to do with his success than his Amazon reviews.

      I don’t agree with purchasing reviews, but I never trusted Amazon reviews anyway so I’m a bit bemused at people who are now *shocked* that they might be biased/paid for/written by authors’ friends and family. Like, duh. The only entry for becoming an Amazon reviewer is buying one book from the site; after that, you can write millions of reviews, if you wish. You don’t even have to have the books you’re reviewing in your purchase history.

      So what I’m saying is that while purchasing reviews is completely stupid, I can’t say I ever took much notice of Amazon reviews anyway. If an author was caught bribing the New York Times Book Review, then I’d say something…!

  26. J. Bridger says:

    And Clare’s work is questionable at best as her account was deleted from fan fiction dot net for plagiarism of book passages and Buffy dialog :(

  27. Iola says:

    So, have you not heard of Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire?

    Also originally published as ebook (although not fanfic, IIRC), also now got a publishing deal, also all over Amazon, with posts asking ‘anything else like 50SOG or BD?’. All. The. Time. To the point that even if I was interested, they’d been over-promoted. And that was before the book deals.

    Neither are my cup of tea (so I haven’t read them), but interesting to note the similarities – especially the number of reviewers who loathe them both for the way they portray women, pointing out that these are not ‘normal’ or healthy relationships.

    McGuire also got herself in deep do-do’s over on GR with reviewers, but that’s a whole ‘nother saga.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Was this GR reviewer scandal recent? I saw people talking about it online but they didn’t mention the author by name… maybe this was what they were talking about.

      If I learned anything here it’s that we should all be writing fan-fic… ;-D

  28. catherineryanhoward says:

    I have to say that publishing this post has led to the most eye-opening comments ever! Thanks everyone for all this info. I knew fan-fic existed of course, but I had NO IDEA it was this big or this scandalous! ;-D

  29. stephanie roberts (@ringtales) says:

    It is a self-publishing success story. No traditional publishing house is signing a nobody for a million dollars. She was by their standards a sure bet for making money, not advancing literature. The day after she wrote 50 shades, if by some miracle some savvy prescient agent realized they were holding a license to make money with her text. How much do you suppose they would have signed her for then?

    That is why it is a success for self-publishing and why we should own it. Not because the author was known by self-publishing insiders, before the mainstream (hipster much?). Sergio De La Paz’s excellent novel A Naked Singularity, is all the rage this summer but only after Chicago University Press picked up his novel this spring, which he self-published in 2008. Not a self-publishing success story? Sure it is. They both are.

  30. asraidevin says:

    I don’t consider it self-publishing at all. She wrote on fanfiction websites, which by the very nature of such the agreement is you don’t make money off using other characters.
    It was one of the most popular pieces of Fanfic out there (I stick to reading Dragon Age fan fiction so i can’t say) and got picked up by a small publisher in Australia. I guess since this qualifies as indie publishing, we can say it’s an indie success. (I know I’m bringing up self vs indie publishing debate now).
    I read somewhere it was removed as fan fiction because it was criticized by many as too racy. LOL. Tho I was reading TOS of fanfiction.net and they don’t allow explicit content. Can’t find the link now but I swear I saw it the other day.

  31. sunbeam23 says:

    This, besides enlightening, was very amusing to read – i actually laughed at the ‘Harry’ comparison. Although it really is sad – so far I have only skimmed through 50 Shades and I have no intention of reading it. Not after the Twilight disaster.
    I definitely was one of the confused ones, wondering where did that title come from and when did it manage to become a sensational best seller. Oh, and what was it about again? I really want to see real literature getting such numbers…

  32. Liana Mir says:

    Of course, you didn’t hear a peep about it. It was titled something totally different and a hugely popular alternate universe fanfiction of Twilight. You don’t move in those circles, but the story was huge. I agree that it wasn’t a self-pub story. It was a filing-off-the-serial-numbers fanfiction to original fiction success story of huge proportions. But if you define a webserial published on your own website and fanfiction.net as self-pubbed, than this was it.

  33. AM Gray says:

    Someone mentioned One Direction fanfic – which technically is against fanfic rules, too – being real people and not fic/movie characters – I read an article that said that Sony actually commissioned it to generate more publicity.

  34. Michael Burge says:

    Loved the charity shop stuff – I go to one near me to pick up great books for twenty cents … yes, twenty cents! Ever since we got a sales tax in Australia (of 10%), books went up by about 200% (and publishers wonder why they struggle), so I won’t risk my hard earned dollars on anyone apart from Alan Hollinghurst, and even he’s a risk! I don’t have an e-reader yet either as I refuse to update my hardware when the manufacturers want me to … I’ll do it in my own sweet time. So I’ll log the day I see the first ‘fifty shades’ joining ‘the da vinci code’ on the charity shop shelf, where they’ll probably be paying us to take them off their hands … one day we’ll live in a world where if an author wants to inflict crap on us, they’ll have to pay for the clean-up afterwards.

  35. Stacy Jantz says:

    I’ve noticed this too! 50 Shades on Amazon (and GoodReads… and any other website with star ratings) has thousands of 5 stars and thousands of 1 stars, but almost nothing in between. Talking to my friends and reading reviews, I can tell that people who read regularly for fun hate the books and people who wandered into a bookstore one day and bought it absolutely love it. This is why I’m in no rush to read it, I was told by a friend that it wasn’t worth my time or money.

    • lucajove says:

      O medo aprisiona, a f liberta; o medo paralisa, a f d poder; o medo desanima; a f encoraja; o medo debilita, a f cura; o medo torna intil, a f torna til.Com amor,f,caridade e positividade.Tudo dar certo.Obrigado!!!

  36. Cameron Lawton (@CameronLawton) says:

    I was surprised. I dabbled in fan-fic (not Twilight) and one of the unwritten rules was that the fandom was like a secret circle. What was written for the fandom stayed in the fandom. Going public with an obvious “filled off” version was considered very bad form. While writing for fan-fic is very good practice – these other fans are more critical than some professional editors I’ve known, it is “cheating” to just churn it out with the names changed. It’s a subject on which I will be speaking at the LGBT Conference in Brighton in September.

      • Cameron Lawton (@CameronLawton) says:

        Thank you very much for that AM – interesting and I share her thoughts and opinions completely.

        Let’s face it – even when fan-fic is very well-written, it is basically taking someone else’s characters and putting them in different situations. The original writer of the book/film/TV series has done all the ground-work for you. Writing within canon *(sticking to the basic tenets of the original work, for those who don’t know) is good practice but it is NOT all your own work. So publishing it is rather like letting your Mum bake a Christmas cake, you stick the snowman and Santa on it and pass it off as yours.

        It SHOULD be something that is shared within a group of like-minded individuals and that is fantastic fun, rewarding when others like it, good training for facing criticism.

        What it shouldn’t be is a means of making money through re-cycling.
        *Canon – incidentally, within fandoms, canon can get twisted to include ideas that were never in the original work but have been repeated so often that they are now accepted as standard.

        I got out of fandom because there was far too much really nasty stuff creeping in to that particular one, especially rape, child abuse and torture – things which even the most hardened erotica publishing houses won’t tolerate.

  37. bridgetwhelan says:

    Reblogged this on BRIDGET WHELAN writer and commented:
    Random House have just announced a massive increase in profits for the first half of 2012 – over 20% – and a lot of those percentage points are down to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. They have sold 30 million copies between March and June, with sales evenly divided between the trade paperback and ebook editions. Thirty million! That’s a copy for every man, woman and child in Holland, Sweden and Norway.
    Like me, Catherine Howard hasn’t actually read FIFTY but she knows an awful lot about self publishing. Despite nearly every news story you read claiming it as an enormous self-publishing success, she sees it as the triumph of an original marketing ploy.

  38. Donna Newton says:

    I stumbled upon this post on twitter (RT’d I think). And I love it. I, like you, still love traditional publishing and like to live in hope that it will never die. I have a kindle but it still does not fill the void of holding an actual paperback in my hands.

    Oh, and also like you, I am not caught up in this poorly written, plot missing, sex lacking 50 Shades phenomenon. I’d much rather watch ultra sexy Jason Statham and his abs kick some butt :)

  39. snobbyrants says:

    ” In the UK—and, honestly, I feel real despair at this news—it has become the biggest selling book ever. (Yes, in Harry’s part of the world, he’s been outsold by the story of a relationship that in the real world, would land one party in jail and the other in a woman’s shelter. THESE ARE ACTUAL TEARS.) ”
    First of all, I just discovered your blog and I love it. Second, this quote is right on, as a bookseller I cringe at the mere sight of this book and I cannot believe it has taken over my beloved Harry Potters spot.

  40. Harriet Schultz says:

    Regardless of whether Fifty Shades is traditionally or self-published, I’d like to know how the “buzz” started.
    How does a book end up as a topic of conversation for readers, non-readers, celebrities, writers, college professors who are teaching courses about it, etc. Other books have had great advertising and PR blitzes, but it’s the very rare author who achieves the success (financial and popular) that Ms. James has the first time out.
    Your blog is a great read and I’m happy to have found it, via Janice Horton’s where I have a guest post this week.

  41. J A B says:

    I know this is old but I don’t believe she ever did self publish she was a twilight fanfic writer and the story originally read Bella and Edward this is a new trend for publishing houses.

  42. nibbynoo says:

    Fantastic article!
    I can’t decide if it’s filled me with elation or disappointment though.
    Personally, I bowed to peer pressure when the 50 shades phenomena hit the UK and purchased the book on my kindle.
    I was thoroughly disappointed with it… but had to read all three of them… it was a shameful craving to see how the story ended that propelled me forward.
    I did began listing the ways the book let me down, but I digress from my point.
    This book’s atrocity inspired me to write my own novel! I thought if this book can get a published why can’t my story?!
    I’m now publishing my first draft chapter by chapter via blog (deadeven.co.uk) and have over 500 followers.
    It’s not a multimillion pound publishing deal, but it’s a start 
    again great article- thank you!

  43. lisawhitefern says:

    When Fifty Shades first came out it was published by The Writer’s Coffee Shop a small epublisher who couldn’t keep up with demand. It was never self published. Unless you count the fan fic it originally came from being available for free on a fan fic site

    Being published with a small epublisher is not being self published. It was never self published in it’s Fifty Shades form. Where the confusion perhaps comes in is that it was available for free on fan fiction sites as a Twilight fan fic called Masters of the Universe.
    Because the small publisher could not keep up with demand Random House took over. So E L James was not a self publisher who got a “traditional deal”
    because of selling a lot of copies self publishing. She was someone published with a small publisher who transitioned to a bigger publisher because The Writer
    s Coffee Shop Press could not cope with demand.

  44. Dr. Robert says:

    Given the pending release of the film, I was looking for critical takes on the Book’s publicity success and your blog post was the best I could find. I just thought I’d mention what I determined from my assessment of the facts. The original eBook and on-demand publishing from Writers Coffee Shop sold 250,000 copies. Successful, to be sure, but nothing compared to the 100 mil copies it’s at now. Well, not nothing, 0.25% was sold via a non-traditional publisher.

    Here’s the interesting part, James started getting calls from interested parties in Hollywood in Dec 2011, THEN hired an agent, the first mainstream media mentions of the book occurred in Jan 2012, THEN Random House subsidiary Vintage Books signed a deal, and the movie rights were auctioned in March 2012, before the Vintage Books addition appeared in print.

    So the success of Fifty Shades, from the mainstream media publicity, to the book deal, it was all a product of Hollywood. You would never have heard of it, and rightly so, if it weren’t for the Hollywood machine. I suspect the initial mentions were engineered by her agent or just picked up as Hollywood scuttlebutt, and the resulting publicity has been driven as much by the buildup to the movie as by the drive for book sales. If the writing sucks it’s because it was never about the written product in the first place, successful as it was. Instead something about innocent young women throwing themselves at the feet of sociopaths with lots of money appealed to some Hollywood executives.

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