Fifty Shades of Grey, the erotic novel that has risen to the top of the NYT and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) bestseller lists primarily through word of mouth, started out as a piece of Twilight fan fiction posted in full on FF.net.
50 Shades of Grey is the first title in a trilogy by British author E. L. James. This morning, the NYT reports (in what is currently the most-emailed article on the site) that the book has “electrified women across the country, who have spread the word like gospel on Facebook pages, at school functions and in spin classes…conversation about the book online has fed many of the sales.” Over 250,000 copies have been sold.
Though the NYT mentions the “word-of-mouth excitement” the trilogy has generated and says James “began the trilogy by posting fan fiction online,” the article doesn’t explain its origins in detail. Well-known romance blogs like “Dear Author” and “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” have been covering 50 Shades of Grey since last year. 50 Shades of Grey is hugely popular on social reading site GoodReads, where it was a finalist for “Best Romance” in the 2011 GoodReads Choice Awards. There, it has been rated 6,821 times (with an average star rating of 4.34) and reviewed 1,347 times.
The trilogy was published last year by a small Australian company, Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House. Random House’s Vintage announced today that it paid seven figures for the print and digital rights to the trilogy at auction. The Random House e-book will be available Monday, and a 750,000-copy print run of a redesigned paperback edition will follow. (You can buy the e-book on Kindle and Nook for $9.99 now, but it is still the Writer’s Coffee Shop edition, though the publisher is listed on Amazon as Random House.)
“Dear Author” founder Jane Litte explains the trilogy’s origins:
It was originally published along with the two sequels, Fifty Shades of Darker and Fifty Shades of Freed, in its entirety, as Master of the Universe on ff.net, a site that hosts what is known as fan fiction. Master of the Universe reimagined the Bella and Edward love affair set in contemporary Seattle, Washington with Bella as the young college graduate virgin and Edward as the masterful billionaire with secret sexual predilections. This collection of submissions has since been deleted.
She also notes “During the height of its popularity, an auction for the series raised $30,000. The author appeared on a fan fiction panel at the 2010 ComicCon and attended a three day conference in DC thrown by her fans.”
And at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Sarah Wendell explains why she thinks the book became so popular:
It has a secrecy element, for example, similar to some paranormal romances and their avid fanbases. It’s also not at all surprising that 50 Shades and Twilight share a few plot themes, specifically that secrecy and the temptation inherent in the world of both narratives, and the alpha male who is opulently, ridiculously wealthy, Volvos optional. Plus, Edward, as I wrote a few years ago, and in many similar ways (again, surprise surprise) Christian are both very much old-skool-style romance heroes. 50 Shades (and Twilight, obviously) are also told from the heroine’s POV, a very deep, first person, detail-heavy point of view, and the narrative is also akin to reading a diary, adding to that sense of illicit secrecy.
But the point of divergence between them is that secret — and this is not to say that at this point 50 Shades become a wholly original piece of fiction. It is not, considering how much of the character types are based on Stephenie Meyer’s work….
Ultimately, I think 50 Shades is popular because of the combination of elements and the foundation it “borrows” from Twilight, among them the very mysterious and barely glimpsed alpha-male point of view, and the presence of a very innocent heroine being inducted into a secret, sexually charged environment. Moreover, the scarcity of paper copies and the absorbing qualities some readers find in the story, as well as their own reactions and desire to share the recommendation with others in an exclusive environment, contribute to the increasing coverage.