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Published: Tuesday August 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday August 20, 2013 MYT 8:17:53 AM

Fifty shades richer

The erotic trilogy has made author E.L. James the world’s top earning author this year. — AFP

The erotic trilogy has made author E.L. James the world’s top earning author this year. — AFP

Fan fiction writer turned print author rules global book sales.

 

SHE began writing just four years ago, and famously started out with fan fiction, posted on the Internet and inspired by the vampire romance series Twilight. But E.L. James, the author of Fifty Shades Of Grey, who once described her work as a “mid-life crisis writ large” has become the highest earning author in the world.

According to figures published by Forbes magazine, the author, who has popularised erotica as a genre, earned US$95mil (RM311.3mil) in the 12 months to June, beating James Patterson who was the second highest-earning author (US$91mil or RM298.2mil), and The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins, who made US$55mil (RM180.2mil).

Fifty Shades Of Grey, which tells of an erotically charged affair between 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey and college student Anastasia Steele, has tapped into readers’ saucy side at a time when the anonymity of e-book purchasing has “enabled people to widen their tastes under the wire”, Philip Jones, editor of book industry magazine The Bookseller, says.

“You might think that a big, blockbuster bonkbuster is no great surprise, but no one could have predicted the scale of the Fifty Shades phenomenon.”

James, 50, whose real name is Erika Leonard, had already begun connecting to an enthusiastic audience online when Random House signed her up to a traditional publishing deal in Britain and the United States, taking her from relative obscurity and turning her into an international publishing sensation almost overnight.

She had previously worked for TV production companies, only leaving her last job at the start of last year.

Sales of all three books in the Fifty Shades series worldwide have topped 32 million copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, the official book charts company.

“Big bestsellers are now more rewarding for authors than even 10 years ago because there are so many more options – there are TV rights, film rights, subsidiary rights and translation rights. The world is more connected and the rewards are larger and more diverse for brand authors,” Jones says.

A film adaptation of Fifty Shades Of Grey, to be directed by the visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who made the film Nowhere Boy, opens in cinemas worldwide on Aug 1, 2014.

James told British newspaper The Observer last year that the erotic Twilight story gave her the idea for a novel, at which point, she found that she could think of nothing else.

“I became obsessed,” she said. “Absolutely obsessed. I didn’t watch television, I didn’t go to the cinema. My friends would ring and say: what are you doing? And I would say: I’ve just got to finish this chapter.”

In 2011, less than a year after starting the novel, she published the book online and over a period of weeks, it went viral.

The top-earning authors list is compiled annually by Forbes magazine in the United States, based on best estimates using sales data, published figures and information from industry sources.

Between June 2012 and June 2013, its figures show James’s supercharged bestseller sold faster than any other author in history – more than 70 million books in the first eight months on sale in America.

James’s earnings from her erotic novel, which seduced a vast readership with its combination of breathless romance and sado-masochism, saw her leapfrog top-earning stalwarts Danielle Steel and Stephen King. Steel and King have been fixtures of the list since Steel’s Going Home and King’s Carrie first came out 40 years ago.

Writers of literary fiction, perhaps unsurprisingly, are notable by their absence in a list dominated by crime, romance, and – since the advent of Potter – fantasy fiction for young readers that has crossover appeal to the adult market.

Jones says that “young adult” is now “very much established” as a genre market for fiction, and is generating its own sub-genres, such as new adult (NA) for 18- to 25-year-olds, and “clean teen”, defined as “sophisticated stories for the NA market but without the sexualised content”.

At No.5, children’s author Jeff Kinney, who first published his Diary Of A Wimpy Kid in digital form, puts in a strong show. He, like James, initially found his audience through self-publishing, rather than the traditional route of literary agents and conventional print publishers. – Guardian News & Media

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle

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