Friday, June 29, 2012

EL James: Hero, or Superstar?

The creator of the phenomenally successful Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, EL James, is apparently making tons and tons of money for her work. Brian, at a website called Celebrity Net Worth, estimates that she's making about one million dollars a week.
It’s safe to assume that E.L. James has long ago sold enough copies to repay her seven figure book advance, which means at this point she is earning the standard 7% royalty on every $14 paperback and 25% royalty on every $10 ebook. In the last month, James has sold 4 million paperbacks and 1 million ebooks which equates to $2.94 million in paperback royalties and $2.497 million in ebook royalties. In other words $5.4 million in four weeks, $1.35 million per week!
There is much to love about the story of the writing and publishing of Fifty Shades: It started out as Twilight fan fiction, with Christian Grey as Edward Cullen, and Anastasia Steele as Bella Swan. It was originally published for free on a Twilight fan website, but after fans complained about all the sexual sexuality, EL pulled it and posted it on her own website. She them published it as an ebook and print on demand in three volumes. The print on demand publisher had so little money that they couldn't promote it, instead relying on recommendations of fans of the work to sell it. And boy, did they. So much so that a big publisher, Vintage, picked it up and published a "revised" version in April of this year.

Moreover, its popularity has disturbed the despicable scumbag reality TV star Dr. Drew Pinsky:
"Maybe I have no business commenting on how women massage their fantasy life. Indeed I don't. But as I look at this as a clinician, the idea that women look at this relationship as anything other than absolute, categorical, profound pathology is more than I can imagine."
I didn't realize just how much I enjoyed reading Fifty Shades before that self-aggradizing psychopath offered his unasked-for two cents.

Stephanie Meyer, the creator of Twilight, has made herself and EL James into publishing superstars, thanks to her series of novels aimed directly at women. This catapults Ms. Meyer into the ranks of the truly great authors, whose works have inspired pastiche that have themselves become publishing forces (I'm talking Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Hans Christian Andersen, etc).

To say nothing of the Fifty Shades parodies that have popped up. (I believe that the first such parody was this one, and it is hilarious. The others that have since been released I cannot vouch for.)

Clearly, there is a market that's not being served by the mainstream publishers. That's why one of them had to step outside of their bubble to find what has turned out to be a massive, record-shattering bestseller.

There are lessons here: For authors, write what you love. Pastiche, parody, fanfiction, slash fiction, blogging, whatever. Get your stuff out there. Ebook it. Don't worry about impressing the old gatekeepers; and, if there ever was a stigma attached to self-publishing (for crying out loud, Arthur Rimbaud self-published) it's gone now. There is an audience looking for material that's not always being presented to them by the mainstream publishers.

For publishers: Look at what's being published outside your bubble. You might be shocked to find that there is actually stuff out there that can find an audience. There are dozens if not hundreds of other EL Jameses out there -- see if you can find them before they hit it big. Publishing could use more big hits.

My choice to play Anastasia Steele in a film adaptation of Fifty Shades is the lovely and talented Jo Anne Worley.

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