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Lessons of Success from E.L. James

EL James, photo courtesy of the London Book Fair 2019

E.L. James’ erotic franchise, “Fifty Shades of Grey”
has brought massive attention and success to her as an author. Considering the competitive nature of the self-publishing industry, you might wonder how and why E.L. James is successful.

Before we start listing some helpful factors, let’s begin with how her fanfiction became a bestselling series with a famous film adaptation.

How Fifty Shades of Grey Started

Many may not be aware that it began as Twilight fanfiction.

Twilight is a popular young adult series that chronicles the relationship between seventeen-year-old Bella Swan and the mysterious vampire Edward Cullen.

On the other hand, fanfiction is fiction written by a fan involving characters from a popular media piece. These can range from TV series, movies, books, etc.

E.L. James, whose fanfiction username is “Snowqueens Icedragon,” posted her work on her website. Fifty Shades of Grey was known as “Master of the Universe.” It has since gained popularity with various online users. James then published her story as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback to a publisher in Australia.

Since then, the book’s popularity spread quickly, eventually becoming a worldwide sensation with its film adaptations.

James is currently working on “The Mister” series. You can visit her website at www.eljamesauthor.com.

How E.L. James Achieved Success

Now that we know the story of how Fifty Shades of Grey started let’s look at how E.L. James achieved success:

1. People relate to her characters.

Controversial as the storylines were, the simple fact behind the success of Fifty Shades of Grey is one thing—it is, at its core, a love story with relatable characters. Anastasia is a regular girl compared to the leggy blondes and vixens in Christian’s world, making her the quintessential underdog for many women. Many readers also root for the two to end up together, hoping that Christian slowly opens himself up to love and commitment.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey filled a niche genre.

Erotica is a hugely popular genre; however, Fifty Shades of Grey has brought the reputation of erotica to the forefront. Its steamy scenes, compelling dialogue, and unforgettable characters made erotica a genre to watch out for.

3. She self-promotes her work.

Aside from posting through fanfiction, E.L. James promoted her new original work through book blogs. Book blogs are helpful for published authors who are looking to market on the digital platform.

Additionally, E.L. James also used Facebook, where she added fun tidbits of the FSoG universe while sharing related content.

4. She engages with her fans.

Fifty Shades of Grey started as a fanfiction work called “Master of the Universe,” which was a Twilight fanfiction. Fanfiction involves sharing your work with fellow fans who also like your work. Many of these sites include commenting on shared works, which is a great way to receive feedback on your work.

Additionally, E.L. James was also able to build a community of fans who loved her work and encouraged her to have it published with original characters instead.

5. She took the risk of self-publishing.

Self-publishing your work is a risk. Aside from not having your work marketed by famous publishers, you also risk doing most of the marketing yourself.

Nevertheless, E.L. James took the risk. After making it available as an e-Book and a print-on-demand paperback through The Writer’s Coffee Shop, she has proven that success is possible for new writers worldwide. As of 2023, EL James’ net worth is estimated to be around $95 million.


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