Fifty Shades of Success

The startling trend that shows why you can have all of the glory of fifty shades – in only fifty pages, and why this is the sexiest chapter of all.

The book that's been bank.
The book that’s been bank.

When a genre of book racks in US$1.44 billion per annum, eclipsing the other steadfast names we know and love, such as Hawking, King, Rowling and Tolkien, you know that there must be something going on there. And by going on, I don’t just mean the kinky stuff.

Whilst the age old adage of ‘sex sells’ certainly applies in a macro-sense, the recent explosion of self-publishing with a fast and easy means of getting onto Amazon Books, and an even greater profitability margin for ‘e-Booking’ is potentially the most exciting development in the literary sector for decades.

As of this very moment, the highly-anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey film has brought in almost three hundred million US dollars globally. Whether you love it or hate it, author E.L. James is undeniably onto something good here. The books aren’t particularly well written, don’t possess the market-standard formula for plot and aren’t heavily focused on character development, like some of the work of erotica’s more notorious past penners, such as Henry Miller or Madame Julie Maroh.

Henry Miller’s 1934 novel “notorious for its candid sexuality."
Henry Miller’s 1934 novel “notorious for its candid sexuality.”

So, it seems that the ingredient for success in the kink kitchen is… simply writing it. James, and many like her, admitted that they got their literary and financial start by simply writing about sex. It didn’t have to be good. It just had to be written. In actual fact, the idea for Fifty Shades kick-started as a piece of Twilight fan-fiction on a website dedicated to extreme fans and their wild, sometimes overtly sexual imaginations. Think Bella and Edward engaged in some serious BDSM in the Cullen attic.

So, once that first pesky step of getting it down on paper is out of the way, a revolutionary process called direct publishing takes the reigns. This online tool, known on Kindle as KDP, allows for your work to be uploaded to a global audience for purchase in seconds. Amazon actually outlines the process in one, single sentence: “simply upload your content, enter sales copy and pricing information, and publish in minutes.” That’s it. According to Kindle sales, erotica has turned more ordinary people into well-paid authors than any other genre in history. This signals a ground-breaking phenomenon whereby quite literally (excuse the pun) anyone can do it.

Kindle is considered to be the most popular way to self-publish.
Kindle is considered to be the most popular way to self-publish.

Now in a world where book contracts are referred to by the average writer as ‘gold dust’ and publishing house internships an old wives tale, what’s the catch with this? Surely, writing about having sex is just a warped form of pornography (funnily enough, pornography is known within the industry as being the “gutter cousin” of erotica) and no-one actually pays to read about it? Well, like the aforementioned gutter-cousin, works by amateurs can be regarded just as highly as the big blow-out productions, and here’s why:

It takes people away from the humdrum of their mundane lives. Have you ever been sitting at your desk wishing for something, nay, anything exciting to happen, if only to give you a five-minute respite from the staleness of your everyday monotony? Okay, it might not be that dramatic, but it’s no secret that humans spend a huge portion of their time daydreaming. In fact, a study by Harvard University found that, on average, people spend half of their days dreaming about being somewhere else, or in this instance doing someone else. Erotica provides that escape.


It’s the reading version of a great cup of coffee. Studies have suggested that there is a direct link to reading erotic material and drinking coffee. That is to say that the same chemical in the brain, dopamine, is released into the system. This means that you feel a sense of elation and are, more likely than not, going to keep coming back. This means return visitors, which means bank for you.

It’s women’s “gutter-cousin”. Erotica doesn’t have the male-dominated overtones typically associated with your run-of-the-mill porno. In fact, the erotic literary genre is dominated by female writers. And whilst most stories are steamy, they are also sensitive and feature undertones of love. In short, they don’t degrade women by treating them like sex-slaves. And whilst Fifty Shades kind of… does do that, the facet of love and respect is somewhat there, although thinly veiled.

The secret of Kindle, is that it’s just that: a secret. Human beings are naturally very embarrassed about their sexuality and sexual lives because most live in a society dominated by religiously charged social norms, whereby these topics are taboo. What the Kindle does is it privatises these literary escapes because no-one can see what you are getting hot and heavy over. As far as your train buddy knows, you’re a bit sweaty over a great cupcake recipe. Happens to the best of us.

Most importantly, the Amazon machine is always fighting your corner. Most people who publish work on Kindle will only write roughly 40-60 pages. Now, depending on how fast you work, that could take as little as a week. And remember that it doesn’t have to be particularly good. In addition to this, the way that novella’s are structured means that you can use your account to sell a whole lot of your written-in-one-week inventory … in one click. And even more weirdly, you don’t need to have any reviews for people to buy your stuff, but the passion of erotica lover’s means that they will usually write long reviews if they, you know, liked it.

On James own website, she describes the steamy trilogy as being a story that will “obsess you, possess you and stay with you forever”… we here at Fashion Industry Broadcast HQ take that to actually mean: “it will wine you, dine you and finance you forever.” So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do. $$$$