Released in 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey quickly became the book everyone was talking about. The trilogy and a fourth book, which tells the events of the first book from the perspective of Christian Grey, have collectively sold over 125 million copies worldwide. The first book in the series has even become the biggest selling book in Britain since records began. Even though the critics weren’t exactly favourable to the books, they still managed to become one of the biggest literary success in recent years. So just how did Fifty Shades of Grey become so successful?
Word of mouth
Fifty Shades of Grey was initially released as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback through Australian publishers The Writers’ Coffee Shop. The next two books in the trilogy followed and the first one especially started becoming popular because of word of mouth. The Writers’ Coffee Shop didn’t have a large marketing budget so it relied on blogs and independent book reviews for publicity. Fifty Shades of Grey got people talking and they would tell their friends about it and they would tell their friends.
As the first book was gaining in popularity (many noted it was a good example of viral marketing), e-readers were becoming the latest must-have. The novel and e-readers went well together: people could read the raunchy novel on their e-reader and no one would have a clue what they were reading. A lot of people would have been put off by the thought of being seen reading erotic fiction in public, but thanks to e-readers, they could read whatever they wanted – a considerable portion of the trilogy’s sales happened because of the existence of e-readers.
The Twilight books were a huge success and the Fifty Shades of Grey books were modelled after the Twilight ones, albeit reworked for a more mature audience. E.L. James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey as Twilight fanfic called Master of the Universe, which was later rewritten to become the novel it is today. Many attribute the novel’s success to the fact that it uses the same template as Twilight: both Bella and Ana are shy and awkward and they don’t really try to attract their men, it just happens; both Edward and Christian are insanely attractive and powerful and become obsessed and fall madly in love with Bella and Ana respectively. Because the character of Ana is quite plain and unremarkable, this means that readers can easily put themselves in her shoes and experience the thrill of having Christian become obsessed with them.