From Twilight to Fifty Shades of Grey
Stephenie Meyer, the author of Twilight, probably didn’t realize what a Pandora’s Box she was about to open when she penned her wildly popular trilogy. If you’ve somehow managed to not hear about this series (although I can’t imagine how, it’s become such a popular phenomenon), the basic plot revolves around an innocent girl, who meets a much older boy (by hundreds of years, because *gasp* he’s a vampire!), and they fall in love. There’s his dramatic vampiric adopted family, the Cullens, and a pack of Native American werewolves who hate vampires (the leader just happens to be Bella’s childhood best friend), just to keep things interesting.
Well, why would this be a Pandora’s Box, you’re probably wondering to yourself…
With over a million copies of this series in print and it having been on the New York Times bestseller list for months, it’s the literary equivalent of an out-of-control wildfire.
The series has become very popular with women of all ages, from the Teen Beat readers all the way to AARP members. The movie rights were signed away before the final book even came out, and each installment has been a box office smash hit, with giddy fans eagerly awaiting the next.
The series is set in an actual place: Forks, WA, to the residents’ chagrin and delight, depending who you’re talking to. The fans have anointed it a holy place, and it has become a pilgrimage for many, completely transforming the town into a vampiric tourist destination. Fervent fans have exploded the questionable genre of fan-fiction with paeans and odes to the series, which is where E.L. James and 50 Shades of Grey come in.
E.L. James is a British producer who read and loved Twilight so much that she decided to write her own fan-fiction, which was geared towards older readers. ( read: sex, sex, and more sex… ) It’s a little strange, because if you didn’t know it was based on Twilight, you would never guess, but apparently the Twilight connection is what got the books noticed in the first place.
Parts of the story (which was originally named Masters of the Universe) were published on fan sites under the pen name ”Snowqueens Icedragon”, and the main characters were named after Edward and Bella (the protagonists in Twilight). After James got a lot of comments on the fan sites saying that they felt her content was too adult, she removed the content, set up her own site, and renamed her characters: Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.
James used a very small publisher at first, The Writers’ Coffee Shop, which only published the book as an e-book and “on demand print” which meant that buyers had to purchase a certain number of copies before they were published. 50 Shades became a viral phenomenon, garnering its early popularity solely by social media and word of mouth.
The titles hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list despite most of the sales being in e-books! The movie rights were purchased by Universal Studios in March 2012, and right afterward, in April, the books’ rights were re-purchased by Vintage Books, who paid over one million dollars for them. Vintage immediately printed over 500 thousand copies of the series in a newly revised version.
Reviews have been mixed, and in the words of The New Zealand Herald, the book “will win no prizes for its prose” and that “there are some exceedingly awful descriptions,” but that it was also an easy read and if you “can suspend your disbelief and your desire to – if you’ll pardon the expression – slap the heroine for having so little self respect, you might enjoy it.”
The largest difference between Twilight and Fifty Shades is the intended audience. As the New York Times says, the books have “been described as ‘Mommy porn’ and ‘Twilight’ for grown-ups… [they have] electrified women across the country, who have spread the word like gospel on Facebook pages, at school functions and in spin classes..”
Liate Stehlik, SVP and publisher of William Morrow and Avon Books says, “This book has hit a chord with mainstream women who are not so shy about talking about sex.” She remarks that sales of erotic fiction have been growing over the last five years because readers are able to download titles electronically, which allows women to venture into genres they may have previously dismissed as “that kind of book” they’d never read. “The e-book is the great equalizer,” says Stehlik.
Now for the big question… what does Stephenie Meyer think about 50 Shades? She doesn’t know much about the book but she supports James in her endeavor.”I haven’t read it. I mean, that’s really not my genre, not my thing,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve heard about it; I haven’t really gotten into it that much. Good on her — she’s doing well. That’s great!”