The Fifty Shades trilogy was developed from a Twilight fan fiction series originally titled Master of the Universe and published episodically on fan-fiction websites under the pen name “Snowqueen’s Icedragon“. The piece featured characters named after Stephenie Meyer’s characters in Twilight, Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. After comments concerning the sexual nature of the material, James removed the story from the fan-fiction websites and published it on her own website, FiftyShades.com. Later she rewrote Master of the Universe as an original piece, with the principal characters renamed Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele and removed it from her website before publication. Meyer commented on the series, saying “that’s really not my genre, not my thing… Good on her—she’s doing well. That’s great!”
This reworked and extended version of Master of the Universe was split into three parts. The first, titled Fifty Shades of Grey, was released as an e-book and a print on demand paperback in May 2011 by The Writers’ Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher based in Australia. The second volume, Fifty Shades Darker, was released in September 2011; and the third, Fifty Shades Freed, followed in January 2012. The Writers’ Coffee Shop had a restricted marketing budget and relied largely on book blogs for early publicity, but sales of the novel were boosted by word-of-mouth recommendation.
The book’s erotic nature and perceived demographic of its fan base as being composed largely of married women over thirty led to the book being dubbed “Mommy Porn” by some news agencies. The book has also reportedly been popular among teenage girls and college women. By the release of the final volume in January 2012, news networks in the United States had begun to report on the Fifty Shades trilogy as an example of viral marketing and of the rise in popularity of female erotica, attributing its success to the discreet nature of e-reading devices. Due to the heightened interest in the series, the license to the Fifty Shades trilogy was picked up by Vintage Books for re-release in a new and revised edition in April 2012. The attention that the series has garnered has also helped to spark a renewed interest in erotic literature. Several popular works, such as Anne Rice’s The Sleeping Beauty trilogy and M.M. Majer’s Ero 4, have been republished to meet the higher demand.
On 1 August 2012, Amazon UK announced that it had sold more copies of Fifty Shades of Grey than it had the entire Harry Potter series combined, making E. L. James its best-selling author, replacing J. K. Rowling, though worldwide the Harry Potter series sold more than 450 million copies compared to Fifty Shades of Grey’s sales of 60 million copies. It was number one on USA Today’s best-selling books list for twenty weeks in a row, breaking a previous record of 16 weeks set by In the Kitchen with Rosie: Oprah’s Favorite Recipes by Rosie Daley and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
» Film adaptation:
A film adaptation of the book is to be produced by Universal Pictures, Focus Features, Michael De Luca Productions, and Trigger Street Productions. Universal is also the film’s distributor. The projected release date is February 13, 2015. Charlie Hunnam was cast in the role of Christian Grey alongside Dakota Johnson in the role of Anastasia Steele. Hunnam gave up the part on October 12, 2013, with Jamie Dornan announced for the role on October 23.
» Classical album:
An album of songs selected by James was released on September 11, 2012 by EMI Classics under the title Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album, and was number four on Billboard’s charts for classical music albums in October 2012. A Seattle PI reviewer favorably wrote that the album would appeal both to fans of the series and to “those who have no intention of reading any of the Grey Shades“.
The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has inspired many parodies in print, online, and on the stage. Amazon.com lists over fifty book parodies, ranging from Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin (a/k/a Andrew Shaffer) to Fifty Shades of Oy Vey by E.L. Jamesbergstein. Parodying the fan fiction origins of Fifty Shades of Grey, Ivy league MBA students have created Erotic FinFiction, a blog containing steamy entries written in business jargon. Numerous Internet meme collections contain comedic versions of the Fifty Shades of Grey book cover. Stage productions include Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody and Cuff Me: The Fifty Shades of Grey Musical Parody.