What can we learn from the Fifty Shades of Grey Phenomenon?

Firstly for those of you who haven’t read or heard of the books which have sold in their millions, please read the following Wikipedia link to find out what the first book in E L James’s trilogy ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is all about:


The Wikipedia article covers in summary form the Fifty Shades of Grey book content and some of this authors’ history.

In class this week we discussed about how successful E L James (Erika) has been with her writing and apparently anyone can try to do what she did, it isn’t plagiarism, it’s a phenomenon.

Please read the following link to learn about plagiarism:


Originally Erika joined a fan site for Twilight fans and wrote fiction for her fellow members depicting the Twilight characters in her own scenes; many fellow fan fiction members loved it.  It is not plagiarism to write scenes for other fans about known fictional characters that you love on fan-fiction websites; it is just purely fan entertainment.  Wikipedia states that the fan-fiction site had ‘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.’  So she took the story away with her and changed the characters names, it was in a totally different genre to Twilight anyway and when she set it up as her own e-book, it sold like crazy.

It’s a great idea to tap into a fan based site to get them to read your work.  Then get the fans to fall in love with your work and have them follow you when you remove your stories and set up your own website.  Then sell your writing in the form of a book to them that they loved previously as other fan-fiction.

E L James did not copy the writing or take the plot from Twilight so therefore she did not commit plagiarism.  She merely fell in love with the characters from Twilight and used their names for her own entertainment, with her own writing on a fan-fiction website. When her writing received amazing feedback from other fan-fiction Twilight fans she immediately changed the character names in her writing and moved her work to her own website.

After writing her e-book and doing very well from it, Erika then published her books via print on demand.  Luckily for her the rights for her books were optioned to be made into films:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Option_(filmmaking) .

Many others rode on the wave of her success in the weeks and months to come after the publication of her books and sold their books with similar titles to her own original title Fifty Shades of Grey.


It is exciting and important to think about if you could use characters that you already know; by putting them into a different genre, changing their names and possibly adjusting their appearance and/or situation.  By doing this, a lot of the hard work of characterisation has already been done as you know and understand the characters well.  You may decide to use a similar infrastructure to the book you would like to model your own off, but it is vital that you divorce it from its original origins by moving genre and use a different motivation for a different market to avoid plagiarism.

I have been told that soft porn in books were quite popular back in the 1960’s, the release of the Fifty Shades trilogy has now given soft porn the comeback in the form of a new classification ‘Mummy Porn’ for married women over 30.

If you were an artist it would be good practice for you to try and paint or draw in the style of a famous master.  So why not try to write in the style that you love, then by practising over and over again in your own voice you may become a much stronger writer in your own right.

If you have enjoyed this article then please feel free to share, any comments are most welcome.  🙂


2 thoughts on “What can we learn from the Fifty Shades of Grey Phenomenon?

  1. I did not know that was how she started. I love Fifty Shades and I think it was written very well I think.
    Lee thank you for sharing this, it was very informative and will hopefully inspire someone else to follow in E L James footsteps.

    • I bought the trilogy over the summer and read the books in two weeks. After picking up one I couldn’t put it down, I had to find out what happened next. I wish that I had been the person to have written the trilogy. 🙂 Thank you for your thoughts and have a nice weekend Cheree. 🙂

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