Fifty Shades of Grey

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Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Creator: E L James
Date(s): January 2012
Medium: ebook and paperback
Fandom: Original novel based on a Twilight fanfic
Language: English
External Links: for the fanfic see Master of the Universe at ePuB Bud
Fifty Shades of Grey.jpg

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Fifty Shades of Grey is the first in a trilogy of novels by E.L. James.

It started out as the Twilight BDSM AU Master of the Universe. The author filed off the serial numbers and republished it as original fiction. It sold so well that mainstream media frequently discussed it and its fanfic origins. A film adaptation was released in February 2015.[1]

In the mid 2010s, Fifty Shades of Grey became the representation of fan fiction in mainstream culture.

Many fans feel it’s bad fan fiction, is used to ridicule women while making millions off women readers and viewers, encourages lazy journalism and mainstream interest, simplifies female sexuality, perpetrates damaging stereotypes, is an example of a fan throwing other fans under the bus, and more.

Other fans enjoy the positive attention paid to fandom, and like the idea that a fan can "be noticed" and make millions of dollars.

Fannish Discussion

So, to recap a recent hooplah in the world of English language books: a woman publishes a book for teenagers that become popular with loads and loads and loads of women (and men, but that part is skipped over by everyone, because as soon as it's popular with women that becomes the angle and the spin), young and old. Coming out of the massive fan culture for this book, a woman writes a hardcore porn novel based on the first novel's plot and characters, essentially creating a version of the first novel with lots and lots of sex in it. This novel then becomes immensely popular and, despite the publisher having no budget for promotion, becomes a New York Times bestseller.[2]
For a book that started out as fanfiction and ended up number three on the New York Times bestseller list, I've personally encountered preciously little talk about "50 Shades of Grey" in fandom circles. Ironically, I've heard it mentioned a lot outside fandom, though, and wasn't even aware of the fandom angle until I downloaded it from Amazon and a comment said 'I already loved this when it was Twilight fic'.[3]
[excerpt, see footnote for link to full article and fan comments]: By 2010, probably a good 75% of Twilight fanfic being produced was All-Human. It was literally a chore to find a fanfic that had anything to do with vampires.

Fifty Shades was part of this. A lot of people here are saying it's ripping off Secretary, but it's not. It's ripping off another really popular Twilight AH-AU called "The Submissive", written by TaraSueMe. It was the first very popular BDSM Twilight fic (and frankly, so much better)....

So basically, The Submissive spawned off tons of BDSM fic. Fifty Shades was one of them. This is really important because it indicates a very strong practice of collective collaboration in the community at the time that would later be at the root of a lot anger when Erika published. Just about everything in her books is derivative... and not derivative of other media, and not even just derivitave of Twilight, but directly derivative of other Twilight fanfics. Sure, you could say it was ripping off Secretary, but considering intent, Fifty Shades is actually a ripoff The Submissive and dozens of other insanely popular Twilight fanfics.

In reddit-speak, think of these kinds of stories as reposts. It's generally frowned upon to repost without giving credit here, but reposts can still get a shitload of karma, because some people hadn't seen the original, or other people liked the content more than they disliked reposts. We're all sitting here going, "Oh that's kind of lame they're getting karma from someone else's idea," but no one really cares too much. This is what Twilight fanfic was like.

FSOG got a shitload of karma. Ask me how! Well, the short of it: Erika is a marketing professional. The long of it:

Erika made reposts of already-proven-popular content
Erika posted short updates to the story very frequently, keeping it at the top of the story search list
Since people could give 'karma' (reviews) for every single chapter/update, the more chapters a story had, the more karma it had

FSOG had 80 [edit: was actually 110] chapters. That means that a lot of people actually reviewed that fucking thing EIGHTY times. So even if she had only 100 super loyal readers, that's 8,000 11,000 reviews (think upvotes). People see a story with 8,000 reviews and want to click it to see what all the fuss is about. I think it had something like 20,000 reviews when it was pulled down for publishing.

Hence, FSOG went viral.

To put into perspective the social power of the Twilight fanfic community, consider this: There was a fandom-run charity auction to benefit pediatric cancer research. These auctions, held annually, lasted 1 week. That's it. Just 7 days. Mostly authors would auction off stories. So if you donated in my name, I'd write you 10,000 words of porn in my Tattward universe, or something new, etc. That's how it worked.

The 2009 auction raised $80,000.
The 2010 auction raised $140,000.
The 2011 auction raised $20,00.

This charity has raised more than $230,000 in 3 weeks. Erika participated in the 2010 auction. A story from her fanfic (FSOG) raised $30,000 of that, all by itself. In some chats made public by another author (that's some quality drama:, Erika freely admits to not wanting to participate in the charity at all, but felt pressured to do so by her readers. (Fun fact: a signed copy of Eclipse only went for like $100. Twilight fandom; where no fans of Twilight go!) (Edit: Another fun fact! Erika's going to publish that story she wrote for the charity auction, for profit.)

But now, with the ability to connect the social power of the community with a monetary sum of her story's worth, Erika shortly thereafter decided to publish.

She then leveraged the community's sense of nostalgia and loyalty, urging everyone to buy the book and give it good ratings, so as to see 'one of their own succeed in the publishing world'. There were multiple campaigns from her friends (tens of thousands of what she only saw herself as 'fans') to blast her Amazon page and send the book up the ranks. It of course worked.

Once a (genre fiction) book gets to #1 on Amazon's bestseller list, you're done. Mission accomplished. Book and movie deals to follow. Enjoy your money.

Erika never looked back. She actually has blocked every single person I still know from fandom on her twitter account. She used the community to get her book (most ideas created by the community itself) to #1 then essentially shut the door on them all.

Pretty brilliant, really.[4]
50 Shades of Grey should be leaving of plenty of people on this website with a bad taste in their mouth as is. Not to say you can't take fanfiction and completely change it into an original story and then publish it; however, taking your fanfiction then thinly veiling it as an original story when it's not really and making loads of profit off of it and using the impetus of Twilight and encouraging the others to do the same is wrong. As much as I dislike Twilight, Stephanie Meyer should have sued because this is going to end up coming back biting us all in the butt, mark my words, especially since other people really are doing the same thing. Someone is going to get lawyer happy and super sue someone else and then this website and other individuals in fan communities are going to get cease and desist letters. Thus as a lover of fanfiction I'm not supporting that kind of behavior. I do what I do because I love the stories and want to come play in the universe for a while, but it's for fun and not supposed to hurt the author so that is my two cents there. [5]

For more fannish discussion of the origins of the book and the circumstances surrounding its later publication as original fanfic, see Whoa. Twilight at Fandom Wank.[6] See also GentleBlaze at the Fail fandomanon wiki.

Controversy Around the Portrayal of BDSM

As with Twilight, many individuals involved in fandom have criticized the book for romanticizing an abusive relationship. Though there's plenty of criticism from people who are generally opposed to erotica or BDSM, there's also a lot of criticism from sex positive individuals, who explain that the book glorifies improper and unsafe BDSM practices, as well as a mentally and emotionally (as well as physically) abusive relationship. Laci Green addressed this issue in a video series:

Fifty Shades Fandom

Fanworks have been created for Fifty Shades:

More Fannish Discussion and Meta


The book has been discussed frequently by the mainstream media (print, radio, television, blogs). See the following articles for discussion of the novel:


  1. Fifty Shades of Grey (film). Wikipedia. (Accessed 3 August 2014)
  2. marina. We're overdue for a porn related entry, right? Right. 06 April 2012. (Accessed 08 April 2012)
  3. sandrine. E L James: "50 Shades of Grey", 08 April 2012. (Accessed 08 April 2012)
  4. from Fifty Shades of Grey: The Reddit Origins Essay, see this page for the entire essay, as well as some fan comments
  5. comment at talkfictions] at [[], March 11, 2005 (beware, there are some dodgy pop-ups at this link
  6. WebCite for Too Much Wank to Name dated May 10, 2011.