Those who thought the interest in Fifty Shades of Grey would be a flash in the pan were, to put it gently, dead wrong. The Fifty Shades trilogy has, according to Nielsen BookScan, sold over 10 million copies to date in print alone. The question many in the industry are now asking is where the Fifty Shades readers will turn next. Many publishers are hoping books with a BDSM hook (bondage, discipline, and sado-masochism)—and a relationship that mimics the master/slave one between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey—will now have a new audience. Not surprisingly, publishers are now claiming all these books are just like Fifty Shades…but better.
Thus far, the romance bestseller list has not been taken over by erotica. As of last week, according to BookScan, the top four titles on the list were, once again, the three books in E.L. James’s trilogy plus the boxed set, with the big other erotica seller being Bared to You, at #6. Sylvia Day’s novel was originally self-published, and Penguin’s Berkley imprint acquired the title in late May, releasing its own edition shortly thereafter, which it claimed would “speak directly” to the Fifty Shades reader. (The Berkley cover features a pair of cufflinks, recalling the stark grey/black/blue image of a tie on Vintage’s edition of the first title in James’s trilogy.)
While Bared to You has been one of the first erotica titles to find success piggybacking on the Fifty Shades phenomenon, more books are coming.
Margaret Marbury, v-p of single title editorial at Harlequin’s Mira imprint, does think Fifty Shades has caused a boom for the romance category. “Fifty Shades has certainly given a lift to our erotic backlist. It has raised all boats, in that sense,” she said. “I don’t know how long it will last, but those books have created a new readership. Will those readers start reading historical fiction, or other sub genres of romance? I doubt it. I think right now they’re focused on erotica and, even more so, BDSM.”
That promise—“if you like Fifty Shades, you’ll like this”—is one that publishers are making in ever-greater numbers. In July, Atria acquired Jamie McGuire’s originally self-published novel Beautiful Disaster, which is about a “good girl” named Abby who shows up at college and enters a bet with the tattooed bad boy named Travis: if she wins the bet he will take a one-month vow of abstinence, and if he is victorious she will stay in his apartment for a month. The book was sold by an agent at Valerie Hoskins Associate (Hoskins herself is James’s agent) and Atria filled its initial press release about the title with plenty of Shades references. (Atria inked McGuire to a two-book deal, but its edition of Beautiful Disaster has not been out long enough to offer any solid gauge of sales.)
Other houses are trying to more broadly market erotica titles that were already in their pipeline. At Mira, one such book is Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren. Reisz is a longstanding erotica author, and the book (a trade paper original), which went on sale July 31, is getting a major push from the imprint. Mira went out of the gates with an announced first printing of 60,000 and already has an event set up with DivaMoms, a Long Island book club/social group which had James read for them early on in the Shades craze. The DivaMoms event for Reisz is set for August 15, and Reisz has also released a number of free e-shorts about the characters who appear in The Siren, which is the first book in a series called Original Sinners.
Speaking to the book, Mira’s Susan Swinwood even invoked the novel that James modeled Fifty Shades on: Twilight. Swinwood, a senior editor at Mira, said The Siren features “characters with unbelievable backstories that are revealed book over book and, much like in the Twilight series, fans are already aligning themselves with Team Søren or Team Wesley.”
At Penguin, more Shades-like material is also on the way. Cindy Hwang, at Berkley, recently acquired Sylvia Reynard’s Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture (which were originally published in digital and POD by small press Omific Publishing); the books feature a male hero similar to Christian Grey, a kinky Dante scholar haunted by the notion that he can’t be redeemed because of his dark past.
Then there are the less obvious incarnations of Fifty Shades material. In September, Penguin’s Gotham imprint is releasing British journalist Sophie Morgan’s memoir, Diary of a Submissive, with an announced 50,000-copy first printing. In the book Morgan chronicles her journalism career as well as her secret life as a sexual submissive. In its cover copy, Gotham likens the book to Fifty Shades of Grey, as well as The Story of O. Lauren Marino, v-p and editorial director at Gotham, said they could call the book “Fifty Shades, the advanced, real-life version—but written by a heroine who captures us with her intelligence and normalcy.”
Indie house Skyhorse Publishing has taken a more creative approach to the Fifty Shades craze. The press announced last month that it was launching a mash-up series that would insert erotic elements into the classics—titles in the line include Jane Eyrotica and 50 Shades of Dorian Grey—and it’s also doing some Fifty Shades–geared sex guides. In June Skyhorse released Fifty Shades of Pleasure: A Bedside Companion: Sex Secrets That Hurt So Good (which, according to the press, has over 60,000 copies in print) and this month it’s publishing Fifty Shades of Ecstasy: Fifty Secret Sex Positions for Mind-Blowing Orgasms. Bill Wolfsthal, associate publisher at the press, said these books are, in a way, very much within the Skyhorse wheelhouse. “We have a long history of publishing strong how-to books,” he explained. “We know that books have always been teaching tools. If we can teach people to fly-fish and raise chickens, we knew we could also teach them the joys of sex.”