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Unknown British author tops US bestseller list with erotic novel

19 March 2012

It's a sign of the times that previously unknown British author E L James has topped the New York Times bestseller list with an erotic romance, Fifty Shades of Grey. The book was published in a print edition but the vast majority of sales were in ebook. Vintage US are releasing new ebook versions of the trilogy on Monday while their first print in paperback will be 750,000.

The novels sold more than 250,000 copies for small virtual Australian publisher The Writer's Coffee House before being taken up by Random House in the US and going straight to the top of the bestseller list. The rights have now been sold in the UK to Century and Arrow, who will presumably be rushing them out.

The author is a TV executive and mother of two from west London, and hopes (perhaps vainly) to preserve her anonymity behind her initials. The book - which is part of a trilogy - has a rather unusual origin too. The novel started life as a "fan fiction" story posted online about lovers Edward and Bella - the lead characters in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books which went on to become hugely successful films starring Robert Pattinson.The trilogy of stories - Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed - tells the tale of a steamy romance between 'successful young entrepreneur' Christian Grey and 'unworldly, innocent' literature student Anastasia Steele.

Vintage said that, after that story become popular, James 're-wrote the work with new characters and situations'.

Selina Walker, her publisher at Century/Arrow said: 'These truly are the books everyone is talking about - pretty much around the world. They are romantic, liberating, and utterly page-turning, and have sparked more round-the-table conversation than any books I can remember.'

They have been dubbed part of a new category - 'mummy porn'. Perhaps it is their unfamiliarity which is making them so popular. Julia Bosman of the New York Time said the books had been credited with 'introducing women who usually read run-of-the-mill literary or commercial fiction to graphic, heavy-breathing erotica'.