The Twilight Fan-Fiction That Became a Worldwide Sensation

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Now and then, a publishing phenomenon would arrive and capture the imagination – and wallets – of millions of readers worldwide. The Harry Potter series indeed comes to mind. As well as the Twilight novels, to some extent. But no one expected that an erotic romance novel like Fifty Shades of Grey (and its subsequent sequels) would achieve similar success.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy started out as author E.L. James’ tribute to the aforementioned Twilight series. Using the characters Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, James’ online fan fiction pushed the envelope by incorporating explicit sexual scenes between the leads. When Twilight fans expressed their disapproval, the budding author eventually reworked the story. She made significant changes to her characters and renamed them Anastasia Steele, a virginal college student, and Christian Grey, a wealthy businessman. A romantic relationship between these characters is explored just like in any romance novel – except that this one involves lots of original elements that include bondage, dominance, and submission, as well as sadomasochism.

Free download of Fifty Shades of Grey

The reworked piece was divided into three parts. In May 2011, James launched the first installment entitled 50 Shades of Grey as an e-book and as a paperback through print on demand. The second part, Fifty Shades Darker, followed in September 2011 while the third, Fifty Shades Freed came out in January 2012. Australian virtual publishing firm The Writers’ Coffee Shop was responsible for the initial release of the three books. Due to the limited marketing budget, the author had to rely on book blog reviews to gain publicity. Massive word-of-mouth recommendations soon followed, providing the necessary boost to achieve high sales and catch the attention of major publishers and eventually, Hollywood.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy gained widespread success in spite (or more like because of) of the controversial sexual themes that E.L James explored in its pages. The demand was so high that, upon acquiring publishing license for the trilogy, Vintage Books released new and revised editions in April 2012. As an additional testament to the books’ popularity, a bidding war for the film rights was sparked among significant film studios. Univeral Pictures and Focus Features eventually emerged as the winners in securing the rights to turn the trilogy into a film franchise.

In December 2012, Fifty Shades of Grey was named “Popular Fiction” as well as the “Book of the Year” by the UK National Book Awards. Publishers Weekly also awarded the “Publishing Person of the Year” to E.L. James. However, these citations didn’t come without much criticism. Although the trilogy was able to gain countless fans (especially among married women over thirty), critics are dismissive of the author’s work. Generally describing the books as guilty fun and pure escapism, many critics cited the author’s use of awful descriptions, clunky prose, and limited vocabulary to be her glaring weaknesses. It also didn’t help that the book was peppered with British idioms, which contrasted with the characters’ American voice.

But still, no one can deny the impact that Fifty Shades of Grey has created in the publishing industry. From being a poster child of viral marketing to revive people’s interest in erotic literature, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has certainly left an indelible mark comparable to the Harry Potter novels and, ironically, the Twilight series. To experience the novel for yourself, head on over to and get your free digital audio copy.