Publishing Looks for S&M

Illustration Alex Eben Meyer

With more than 20 million copies sold in four months in the U.S., the erotic Fifty Shades trilogy seems to be giving mouth-to-mouth to the barely breathing book industry—and slipping in some tongue for good measure. The series accounted for one in five adult print books sold this spring, so it makes sense that publishers are scrambling to reproduce its success.

“E.L. James has opened up these genres to a whole new subset of readers who might not have previously been familiar with them,” said Paul Bogaards, executive vice president of Knopf, whose imprint, Vintage, publishes Fifty Shades. Sylvia Day’s Bared to You, an erotic romance with Grey-like themes (emotionally burdened characters and rough sex), has climbed to the top 10 on several bestseller lists. Originally self-published in April, Bared to You was picked up a month later by Berkley Books and marketed as a Fifty Shades clone, down to its gray book jacket featuring a pair of cuff links and the tagline: “He possessed me and obsessed me.”

Day insists Bared to You is different from Fifty Shades because it’s not a Cinderella story, but she didn’t fight Berkley’s marketing strategy and even thanked E.L. James in the back of the book.

Fifty Shades has absolutely contributed to sales,” said Day, whose previous bestselling book, Bad Boys Ahoy!, sold about 9,000 copies. Bared to You has already sold roughly 10 times that number.

Other publishers are trying to capitalize on the Grey phenomenon. Atria has published erotica for years, but now it is repackaging books by established authors to fit the Fifty Shades niche. Z-Rated, an upcoming title from a New York Times bestselling erotica author who goes only by Zane, is pushing its XXX factor with the tagline “No shades of grey, just red hot.” And last week, Penguin Group’s Plume reprinted Anne Rice’s erotic Sleeping Beauty trilogy, originally published under a pseudonym, with a cover blurb that promises Fifty Shades fans will love Rice’s naughty 1980s twist on the classic fairy tale.

We’re just beginning to see the effect of Fifty Shades on the industry, as writers and agents work to produce Shades spin-offs and genre crossovers. To wit: Penguin’s Gotham imprint recently picked up British journalist Sophie Morgan’s The Diary of a Submissive, a memoir by a “real-life Anastasia,” the Fifty Shades heroine.

“I’m excited to see the spillover effect this wave will have,” says Philip Budnick, editorial director of Plume. “Will we now see a mainstream demand for gay erotica, African-American erotica? Will other authors who don’t usually write erotica want to try it out? We are exploring all options.”