The Fifty Shades trilogy was originally developed on fan-fiction websites for the Twilight series of books, then removed and published on EL James’ own website. After a rewrite, “Fifty Shades of Grey” was released as an e-book and a print-on-demand paperback in May last year by The Writers' Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher based in Australia. The second and third volumes were released in the same way over the following months. Massive sales through this unorthodox channel led to interest from an orthodox publisher, Vintage Books, who re-released the series in a revised edition in April this year, which is the one that has broken the records. What the story seems to show is that while the traditional publishing route is still a big part of the story, it isn’t necessary to be traditionally published from the start to enjoy success.
Of course you have to have the right book, and congratulations to EL James for working out that sex sells – who’d have thought? Actually, that’s unfair. There are loads of sex-based books around but locating your book just this side of the S&M porn line so that respectable people felt they could read it on the train was a clever idea. Still, who would have known in advance it would enjoy this level of success, any more than that Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code or the Twilight books would sell as they did? The screenwriter William Goldman’s comment about Hollywood that “nobody knows anything” is just as apposite for book publishing.
We can now no doubt look forward to lots of writers imitating EL James in an attempt to generate at least a share of her sales. A depressing indictment of the lack of imagination and self-respect now prevalent. Anyway, on a more positive note, my second novel will shortly be out: “Fifty Shades of Milligan”, a sado-masochistic romp around 19th century Japan featuring teenage vampire Robert S. Milligan and his sidekick Miyazawa, the boy wizard. Buy while stocks (and whips and chains) last.