— Talk about stamina: E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" has now been on The Washington Post bestseller list for 50 weeks.
The novel and the other two books in James's BDSM trilogy have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide. "Holy cow," indeed! And this surely won't be the climax of her success.
With Universal Pictures whipping up a movie version of "Fifty Shades," sales of the books could continue to surge for months. That's the kind of domination of the marketplace that her publisher, Vintage, is eager to stimulate.
On May 1, James is set to release a "bonded leather" journal titled "Inner Goddess" for aspiring writers to record "their innermost thoughts." The first printing will be 125,000 copies. So much revenue was generated by her three novels that Random House, Vintage's parent company, was able to give every employee a $5,000 bonus at the end of 2012, hardly the norm in today's weak industry.
No wonder James was chosen as the Publishing Person of the Year by Publishers Weekly. But this British TV executive, who had been writing online "Twilight" fan fiction before "Fifty Shades" launched a thousand op-eds about mommy porn, didn't invent sex or erotic romance.
What is it about her books that made readers so hot and heavy? Anne Messitte, the publisher of Vintage/Anchor who discovered James, says the success of the books is a classic example of the role that word-of-mouth has always played in the success of commercial fiction. "For many readers, these books tapped into fantasy and curiosity, and those aspects started a lot of women talking to other women," she says.
The buzz started among women in their 30s and 40s in the New York metro area but kept spreading. Soon people wanted to know what "everybody" was talking about. "All of that was accelerated by social media and by the general media attention about what was happening and who was reading these books," Messitte adds. "It wasn't just a genre-interested reader. It wasn't just an erotica genre reader. It was a very mainstream, general audience. And that become a story unto itself until it became part of the popular culture very quickly."