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An Erotic Publishing Person of the Year!?!

by on December 18, 2012

Each year, Publishers Weekly (PW) names an individual they feel has had a notable impact on the field of publishing. On November 30, PW announced the 2012 Publishing Person of the Year. Their choice? E. L. James, author of the Fifty Shades trilogy. These two PW articles addressed the topic: E.L. James Named PW’s Publishing Person of the Year,” Publishers Weekly, accessed December 7, 2012, http://bit.ly/Qvfh9q and Rachel Deahl, “E.L. James: PW’s Publishing Person of the Year,” Publishers Weekly, accessed December 7, 2012, http://bit.ly/11c55pq.

Some think this is a poor choice. It certainly seems to be stirring up yet again the controversy surrounding the erotic subject matter of James’ trilogy. Her books also had an impact on libraries and librarians although that is not addressed in the articles posted by Publishers Weekly. They are only interested in the impression she had on the publishing industry.

But if you read the comments from readers of either post, you will see that opinion among people in the field of literature, including librarians, is contentious. Some appear downright outraged at PW’s choice of James as the Publishing Person of the Year.

But it doesn’t matter if you read Fifty Shades of Grey or the entire trilogy. It doesn’t matter if you liked the books or not. It also doesn’t matter what opinion you have on the literary merits of her writing. E. L. James did have a significant impact on publishing in 2012. She followed an untraditional path to get her work published and became, according to Publishers Weekly, “the author of the fastest-selling adult series of all time…” and garnered Random House more than $200 million in revenue.

James took a Twilight fan fiction title, originally posted online, and had it released digitally and as a Print On Demand (POD) title by a small company called the Writer’s Coffee Shop. Due to strong online word-of-mouth, interest in her book jumped quickly and reached beyond the capability of the Writer’s Coffee Shop. Then Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House, stepped forward, taking what many in the publishing industry considered a huge chance, and offered James a seven-figure deal. For a trilogy of erotic literature!

But the impact of her books just keeps going. The readers of the Fifty Shades titles are a diverse group and do not fit the stereotype expected for fans of erotic literature.  “Fifty Shades Illuminated: Who Is Actually Reading the Book in the U.S. and UK?,” Digital Book World, accessed December 7, 2012, http://bit.ly/QsquaK.

Some libraries went so far as to pull Fifty Shades of Grey off their shelves but customer demand quickly changed their minds. Lisa Orkin Emmanual, “Brevard County Bans “Fifty Shades of Grey” Trilogy from Library Shelves,” NBC Miami, accessed December 7, 2012, http://bit.ly/KfYGRI.

Britt Kennerly and Dave Berman, Florida Today ““Fifty Shades of Grey” To Return to Florida Library Shelves,” USA Today, accessed December 7, 2012, http://usat.ly/UKmink.

Her books have proven to be so popular that parents are  naming their newborns after the main characters! Tara Fowler, “Meet Babies Grey and Anastasia” ‘Fifty Shades of Grey” Inspires Baby Names,” Entertainment Weekly, accessed December 7, 2012, http://bit.ly/TytuC6

And last, but far from least, the employees of Random House will receive a nice Christmas bonus this year. Leslie Kaufman, “At Random House, Employees Will Enjoy 5,000 Shades of Green,” The New York Times, accessed December 7, 2012, http://nyti.ms/UhjaLa

Say what you will about the writing or the money, E. L. James has made an impression on the publishing trade and beyond.