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I Met This Chick In Motor City And Her Name Was Lexus

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Trilogy Sells 10 Million Copies in 6 Weeks

By Maryann Yin on May 22, 2012 3:39 PM

Vintage has sold a combined total of ten million trade paperback, eBook and audiobook copies of E.L. JamesFifty Shades of Grey trilogy in the last six weeks.

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group president Anthony Chirico had this statement: “This is an astonishing number. The sales velocity for Fifty Shades of Grey is unprecedented, with reader demand still growing. BookScan data indicates that the trilogy has captured twenty-five percent of the adult fiction market in recent weeks.”

At the same time, The New York Times reported more libraries debating about carrying the racy books like the Brevard County Public Library in Florida. The Wisconsin library that serves the Fond du Lac community has refused to purchase any copies. Several libraries throughout the country have chosen to do the same.

In the article, National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) executive director Joan Bertin commented: “The vast majority of cases that we deal with have to do with removing books to keep kids from seeing them … in the case of adults, other than the restrictions on obscenity and child pornography, there’s simply no excuse. This is really very much against the norms in the profession.” What do you think?

If you want to know more about the origins of this bestseller, check out our Secret History of Fifty Shades of Grey post.

MTV‘s Josh Horowitz managed to persuade the cast of Snow White & The Huntsman (all of whom are past the age of 21) to read a short snippet from the first book. The video embedded below showcases celebrity actors Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin reciting a particularly racy scene aloud.

67 Responses

  1. i’ve got a story that culminates in a scene that includes a strap-on dildo. will that do?

  2. Ask our very own Averil! Too late though, I think she’s taken.

    I’m not surprised in the least that clit lit is number 1, 2 & 3 on the ebook list. Women love throbbing members. On the page, anyway.

    I’m just hoping that dead cheerleaders are the next big craze. Or snarky empresses.

  3. Sadly, anything of that sort I could write these days would have to be fantasy… but… hmm. Let me go ponder it.

  4. What scares me? I don’t think you want to know.

  5. Betsy,

    You’re a fucking RIOT.

    J

  6. You know what scares me? The fact that I’m reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume and that I have absolutely no desire to read this.

    • Nor do I. And I think rereading Tales is an excellent idea.

      • BTW, Tales would be so much better if it were targeted at a 2nd grade audience. 4th graders are way more advanced these days. Hell, my 3rd grader read The Hunger Games.

  7. Where was all the fuss when A. N. Roquelaure was writing her hot and steamy stuff? Even if you don’t care for it, I think it’s better written than 50 Shades. I still believe that Harry Potter was the gateway drug for this current fantasy gorge. Bad books may get kids to read, but they don’t grow up to read good books, they grow up to read more bad books.

    • Yes.

      But I’m not sure if this Grey shit means anything other than ‘once a book-shaped-object achieves critical cultural mass, all the dickwits in the world buy it.’ Because everyone else is buying it, that’s why. Which is the goal; to produce a BSO that’s popular because it’s popular. It’s Kardashian publishing. It’s not a text, it’s a trend. The problem is, there’s no calculating that effect. You can’t sit down to write one of these, because the book itself is secondary. The zeitgeist either slips you one or doesn’t. Can you increase the odds by trying to write bland? Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code, Twilight. God knows I’ve tried, but one other thing those books have in common is, they’re earnest. They’re honest. They’re the writer’s extremely-low highest aspiration. And this one beats them all; it manages to make sex boring. (Which is actually the one thing I have in common with it.) Judging from the excerpts, you can’t compare the Grey trilogy to the Ann Rice books, you’ve gotta compare them to the more tedious stories on literotica.com. Reminds me of reality TV. You’re not selling storytelling and craft–you’re selling the absence of storytelling and craft. You’re selling an unflushed dump. Once you know what craft is, it’s all over. You can’t hit this particular jackpot. Averil wrote a fantastic clit lit book, and it’ll sell–if it hasn’t already–and readers will love it. But it won’t do one percent as well as Grey because it’s a hundred times better. It has things like psychology and depth and discomfort. That’s no good. You don’t find those on the Home Shopping Network.

      (Though goddamn, Averil, you should write the Grey woman a fan letter; timing couldn’t be better.)

      I’m back and forth on the good books and bad books, TP. I’m no fan of Harry Potter or Twilight, but at least those are books. They’re the kind of thing you expect to find in, say, a bookstore. (And actually, I think Twilight was well done, in some ways.) These Grey pustules, and the Amanda Hocking upchucks, are different. It’s not even that they’re bad novels. They’re something else entirely. Some very popular other thing.

      • Auggie, what I meant was the explicitness common to both James’ and Rice’s work. Why is the explicitness so noteworthy now? It’s not like the Christian Right were up in arms about this when the book first came out, right. They’re reading it too!

        And how can you sell “absence of storytelling and craft?” You have to sell some thing, even if in name only. What is it that James is selling? Is the book just a fun-house mirror being held up to Everywoman, making her look the way she’s always fantasized herself: the Inner Goddess?

      • I think the explicitness is a red herring. People don’t know what else explains the phenomenon, so they figure it’s the fuckery. But yeah, there’s plenty of fuckery. Why are -these- books blowing up?

        It’s not the chains and clits. My guess is that Grey is more closely related to Amanda Hocking than to erotica. What do James and Hocking have in common? They’re shit, so it’s nothing to do with writing. But both emerged from passionately-devoted communities of women who don’t give a crap about the craft, but love the fantasy. In fact, the craft -undermines- the fantasy. If these books were works of lyrical genius, we wouldn’t be talking about them. They would’ve died on the fan fic sites. When I’m watching porn, I don’t want a compelling story and realistic characters. Quality storytelling makes porn worse. This is that.

        They’re selling the fantasy. Could be teenaged girls killing zombies, could be billionaires fucking you from behind. Doesn’t matter. Long as you give it to them raw.

        Then they’re labeled this year’s Publishing Story of the Decade, and are bought by all the people who don’t particularly like books, but are terrified of being left out.

      • That’s it, right there, August. People afraid of being left out. Maybe that’s why I have no interest in it. I disagree with you and TP about Harry Potter, though. Number One is a rock solid good story and the writing is wonderful. I loved the name Privet Drive from the get go. Rowling’s problem was that she kept going. It should have ended after The Sorcerer’s Stone.

      • I think the comment about their earnestness is right on the money.

      • You’re right: it’s not about the book shaped object. Harry Potter, Twilight, 50 Shades of Gray: it’s about women finding a story that fills an emptiness that culture — literary, political, social, sexual — has created for them, as their place in the world. I can’t criticize the taste, intelligence, or morals of the 10 million people who buy 50 Shades of Gray, or the woman who wrote it, because those sales figures mean something important about what’s lacking in the culture. That passionately devoted community of women deserve to be taken seriously, not insulted for bringing down the level of a cultural discourse that clearly has nothing to offer them anyway.

      • Want to know the best way to fill the void? Give every girl a vibrator before they go to high school.

      • Kardashian marketing. Exactly, August. It was only a matter of time when the Kardashian, Jersey Shore and Real Housewives craze hit the bookshelf.

        What’s interesting about this one though, is the larger audience. Vivian makes a good point about women and culture. I was at a school thing last night and a friend told me her book club read 50 Shades. They’re well educated, middle class women with careers, or careers on hold with kids. They are political and opinionated. Most were embarrassed to be seen with the book so bought the Kindle version. They agree it’s not well written. No one took it seriously and said they’ve read more explicit erotica, but it was fun. It was a bonding experience. It’s probably comparable to the sex toy parties that were all the rage a few years ago, yet not as blatant as fondling a rubber penis. It’s a safe way to be outrageous and gauge what’s going on in other marriages, I suppose. Men have been doing this forever. It’s doubtful I will ever read it beyond the excerpts, but I’m starting to get it. I guess.

      • Sure you can criticize their taste and intelligence, Vivian. Twenty-seven million people passionately believe that Obama is a Mau Mau tribesman brainwashed by Trotsky, and climate change is lie spouted by the Protocols of the Elders of Science. I guess that’s because of a flaw in the culture, but they’re still shitwits.

        The idea that anyone will take this seriously in terms of publishing makes me sick. Not because the book is crap, but because the book isn’t publishing. Publishing could not have produced this book. Betsy wouldn’t have gotten past page two. Vintage wouldn’t have plucked it from the slush. Nobody would’ve, not the most junior of kink-challenged interns.

        Is that a flaw in publishing? God knows I think publishing is flawed, but I don’t think the inability to recognize the genius of James or Hocking is a flaw. That’s like criticizing Lion’s Gate for not producing the Zapruder film. Vintage jumped on this to bring in money. That’s great. That’s a publishing triumph. The more money in publishing the better. But those passionately devoted women don’t deserve any more respect than passionately devoted Beiber fans. Try to extract as much wealth from them as possible, acknowledge the fact that they’re tapping into a cultural phenomenon like Beanie Babies or the ShamWow, but don’t try to replicate the success. If you’ve gotta try, you can’t.

        And that’s interesting, Deb, the idea that it’s a bonding experience. Closer to Mary Kay than Mary Higgins Clark.

      • I think Deb meant to say *bondage* experience.

      • Mary Kay with lots of wine.

      • Deb, you’ve hit it. My book club basically consists of talking about the Kardashians, American Idol, what new hybrid car someone is about to buy, and champagne. Last month we read REBECCA (there was hope) but then we watched the movie version — which everyone talked through, exclaiming how “that!” wasn’t like in the book, and “that!” wasn’t the dress they’d imagined her wearing, etc…

        They don’t want to read books. They want to get drunk, giggle like teenagers over the American Idol finalist, and have a slumber party. Which has nothing to do with books, except they are ALL reading 50 Shades and loving it.

    • So I was at a nail salon with women who were yammering about Grey. More, more, more, they chanted. It’s the promise of naughty. The little seizure in a box. Respite from the husband with the skid-marked briefs and the kids with constantly dripping noses.

      And there I was, getting my shellac, thinking superior thoughts. So happy, as my unpublished novels languish in their Rubbermaid coffins.

      Would I? Could I?

      Here’s a correlative that you may hate me for, but so be it. Years ago, on Easter, I dragged my kids to some Christian event promising coloring books and an egg hunt. Up we rode, on the escalator, to the atrium level of the rented out business office. Immediately the SWAT team converged and bestowed upon me an envelope with a sticky note plastered on an enclosed check. It read: We are touched by the love you have for your children. It was a check for $100 and I was broke. I really thought about cashing it. I did. And I really thought about signing it over to the Planned Parenthood organization in the neighborhood. But I did neither. I just shoved it in my glove compartment and whenever I needed a cautionary slap in the face, I took it out. But for the Grace, you know? If you’re really thirsty and its Kool-Aid or die? I do feel like a Darwinian misfit sometimes.

  8. Clit Lit? Seriously?

    I must suggest that for next month’s display at the library.

  9. Too depressing.

  10. People sneaking up quietly behind me scare me.

    Wasting my life scares me.

    Judges, the taxing authority, and persons with firearms don’t scare me, but I do try to have a very healthy respect for them.

    But I’m sorry, Betsy, I don’t think I can scare up any clit lit. I do have a story cycle called COCKED, which is pretty sexual and in places explicit, but it is not porn and it is not erotica. It is well-written adult literary fiction, for which there does not seem to be so much of a market. (Ten million copies! Great Christ!)

    And I have a poetry collection called THE CASE HISTORIES, VOL. I, which is derived from Krafft-Ebing’s PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS and is written in the voices of the people Krafft-Ebing studied. Three of its poems have been published (you can read copies of them on my website if you like), but poetry book publishers have so far shied away from inflicting it in its entirety upon our gentle and virginal world.

  11. For three years I’ve been asking you agents to read my next great women’s fiction trend and all you want is blood sucking teenagers, wizards with brooms and wands, (insert batteries please), and a college kid who falls in love with a rich guy who gets his rocks off doing the deed with a belt.
    Whoa, I’m getting turned on here. Batteries, belts, broom handles and virgins, wait a minute I think that one’s been written already, Bed Knobs and Broomsticks. (That’s just so wrong.)

    Anyway, how about some senior S & M.
    Fifty Shades of Gray Hair, hers ‘cause he’s bald.

    It’s about and old guy that tortures his wife by taking away her Life Alert and knocking her down so she can’t get up. He feeds her Ensure and takes away her dentures because he likes it that way.

    Jesus Betsy, don’t get started.

    On second thought, pay me baby, I’ll write it. I’ll even You Tube it.
    I never realized it before but even You Tube sounds dirty.

  12. I never heard the term clit-lit, but I think it might be useful to me. The subject comes up frequently.

    The ONLY thing that scares me is that maybe the baby will fall into the pool. Everything else will be just fine.

  13. Incompetence scares me: the tech who typed in the wrong information regarding my sister’s cancer diagnosis; the city workers who recently installed a street sign to direct drivers the wrong way into oncoming traffic; the university employee who lost a laptop with the SSNs and personal info for 5000+ employees and don’t even get me started on the job performances of the Corps of Engineers and certain oil drillers! Perhaps it can be blamed on questionable reading choices? Too much clit-lit during the bus commute to work? Debating the merits of ties as sex toys instead of discussing work-related schedules? Fantasizing vampire lust during safety meetings? If it could only be that simple.

  14. We marry the men, or at least I did, we should breed with. Men inclined to monogamy who love their offspring and scramble to keep their partner satisfied in a yes dear kind of way, men who crave security as much as their women. So in our fantasies we get the spankings we deserve, the alpha who shows us who the real boss is, who takes what he wants and does it so completely we sit and wait for our next “lesson”. I make my own fantasies. If you get me drunk enough, I’ll share the Turkish border guard one. The fact that the book has sold a gazillion copies has more to do with a failure of creativity in the mind of the middle-aged woman than anything else.

    • No, the fact that the book has sold a gazillion copies has nothing to do with “the failure of creativity in the mind of the middle aged woman”. 50 Shades of Gray has sold a gazillion copies because it gives something to women that is missing in contemporary culture (Western, Eastern, Southern — the book has sold all over the world). Women want this book because it gives them — what? I don’t know. If I could figure that out, I’d write my own damn 50 Shades of Gray.

      But one thing 50 Shades of Gray does NOT do is make the middle aged woman, already an easy target for ridicule in cultures all over the world, fell ridiculous.

      • Fast food is sold all over the developed world too. Can we really conclude that a big Mac is better tasting and nutritionally valuable by virtue of sales alone? No. Still, I agree its popularity is telling of more than bad taste. Slow food and slow reads appeal to a leisure class quickly disappearing no matter the take home pay. The weakened will look for ways to feel powerful. It’s no accident that a millionaire holds the whip and a woman sees dollar signs. It’s all about poverty and powerlessness. 

  15. There are a couple of vibrators in my book. But if I really wanted S&M I’d just go back to reading the Story of O. I’ll be waiting for Averil’s thanks.

  16. I haven’t read “Grey” so I’m not allowed to join in the stoning. I do have a story: A gentleman senior cannot take Viagra or its cousins because of a circulatory issue. He seeks ways to avoid the impotence he feels is coming any day.

  17. The house next door has been empty for a year and I’m terrified that a family with a bunch of noisy kids will move in.

  18. It must be tough to be an agent, esp. in this fickle market. As a writer, I don’t even think about these things.

  19. Scared by: Conservative, self-righteous motherfuckers and self appointed defenders of all things holy who would rail against a book because it contains images and ideas of what scares them.

    • Except a lot of them are reading it too. And at least some of them aren’t scared. I googled Christian responses to the book (not so easy to get clear results, being that the male lead’s name is Christian), and found an an interesting take on it, more thoughtful and thought-provoking than a lot of other stuff I’ve read on the subject: http://thinkchristian.net/do-women-really-want-50-shades-of-grey

      • Thank you, Tulasi-Priya. That was an interesting take on the subject; anything that encourages discussion on controversial or uncomfortable topics will hopefully lead to a better understanding. I don’t agree with everything Julia Stronks had to say in her article, but it is encouraging to read an open minded, Christian response to the novel.

  20. I was just thinking of pitching erotic Hunger Games fan fiction to my agent.

  21. Betsy-you could just publish all your blog posts and compete with 50 Shades.
    I’m afraid I’ve got nothing. Not a Notebook or Hunger Games or Tales of a 4th Grader or Story of O or The Help or War and Peace or Cider House Rules or Cats Eyes or Sex in the City or Wind in the Willows. What if I’ve really got nothing?

  22. Averil Dean, of course. And she has a true talent with words. Like WOW. But I think she’s already taken, as of five minutes ago.

    • She’s been too modest (and too busy revising), to pipe up here. But she’s got the goods, all right.

  23. I, too, have a hard time believing that women are so starved for sex, or affection, as is probably the case. I wrote all my thoughts down here: http://ravingmadscientists.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/a-kiss-with-a-fist-is-better-than-none/ if you’re interested.

    Women have always read over-sexed, cheesy romance novels and that’s okay. Some women have always been (and will always be) attracted to domineering men, which is all right, too. What scares me is that publishers, who are already scared shitless to take risks on new authors, will only further narrow the books they’re willing to take chances on in favor of schlock like this.

    I LOVE the term “clit lit,” by the way.

  24. So, my 9 year old looks over at my 11 year old a few minutes ago and says, “You’re reading SHADES OF GREY?????? Mom!!! She’s reading SHADES OF GREY!!!!” I don’t tell her that I had the same reaction the other morning as I was packing up her sister’s knapsack. It took me a few seconds to realize that the 50 was missing from the title. “Yeah, my 11 year old says to my 9 year old, “it’s not 50 SHADES OF GREY.” Okay, fine. She’s reading a book about a boy in the Civil War but it’s clear to me now that they both know about the other SHADES OF GREY. People, I’m here to tell you that clit lit has made its way into elementary school. Calgon, take me the fuck away.

    • See? That’s my fear, right there.

      I’ve been waiting to have The Talk with my older kid, armed with a copy of Where did I Come From? like paratrooper clutching a St. Christopher’s medal in front of the open hatch . . . and the basic nightmare would be the discovery that the rest of the squad has already made the jump miles back on the basis of questionable intel, in parachutes that weren’t checklisted . . .

      (though not, please God, in fifty shades of gray— it would be bad enough if they jumped at Twilight . . . )

    • Scary the things they pick up in 4th grade. Pretty soon Calgon won’t cut it. I am reading Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Not quite the same subject matter.

  25. I don’t think this has anything to do what women want, or need, or wish they had but don’t, it’s all about the crowd. Once sales get to a certain tipping point everybody jumps on because they feel if they don’t, they are missing out on something.

    My daughter raced through the Greys right after she raced through all three Hunger books. She has a new Kindle and since the last Grey she hasn’t raced through anything else because there is nothing else out there being gobbled by the masses and telling her by its phenomenal sales performance, ‘read me’ or you miss out.

    Personally, I’ll probably borrow her copy and read it on my PC Kindle or wait for the movie. I won’t be seeing it in a theater though; I’ll wait for On Demand. That way I can watch it in the comfort of my own home, with my husband and my small collection of electrical devices. Sex with a Keurig and a waffle maker could get interesting. I’ll have to fight Judge Judy for the TV time, he loves Judge Judy. Maybe if I dressed up in a black robe with a little lace coll…

  26. All this talk is causing me flashbacks. Does anybody remember Marabel Morgan and The Total Woman? Greeting your husband at the door when he comes home from work dressed in Saran Wrap®? Isn’t 50SoG just the fictional incarnation of that, updated for a 21st century more sexually literate (jaded?) America?

    And then there’s Taken in Hand, a website that celebrates “unequal relationships.” It’s not Christian, per se, it’s just how some people like it. The FAQs are hilarious! All right, I’m sorry for being overactive here, but frankly, I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of 50SoG on multiple levels. I’ll go away now.

  27. No question here, so I’ll just ask for support.

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