If you follow publishing news at all – or picked up last week’s Game of Thrones issue of Entertainment Weekly – you’ve probably heard about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a vanity-published erotic novel that’s sold more than 250,000 copies,and got author E L James a seven-figure book deal with Vintage, a division of Random House. It just became a a New York Times bestseller. So, yes, it’s incredibly popular.
Taking a fanfic and reworking it as an original piece is nothing new – I’m fairly sure one of my favorite space opera sagas started out as a Star Wars story way back in the day, for instance. Cassandra Clare and Naomi Novak may be the best known these days, but they were far from the first to cross over and go pro. It happens, and it’s been happening for a long time.
But it can strike an uncomfortable chord, particularly in cases such as this. Not because of the porn, per say, but because it skirts violating the most sacred – perhaps only – rule of fan fiction: Thou shall not make money off it. (Remember Lori Jareo?) And to boot, the incredible yet completely unsurprising success (yes, ladies do sometimes like porn, deal with it) of this particular case is shining a big, mainstream light on fan fiction in general… One I’m not sure the community wants or needs.
Given the deeply AU nature of her original fanfic, I think it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing James in court. But if the attention continues to spread to fan fiction and the community, if this just is the beginning of a trend, who knows what else will come to light? But only time will tell.