You only have to take one look in Waterstones to realise the effect that EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey had made in the trade publishing industry.
Bared to You… Reflected in You… Entwined with You… a trilogy by Sylvia Day.
Eighty Days Yellow… Eighty Days Blue… Eighty Days Red… a trilogy by Vina Jackson.
Erotic fiction, mummy porn – whatever you want to call it – has undeniably taken off. No longer does that category refer to the obscure titles secreted on a top shelf, but to world-known titles that unashamedly smack you in the face when you enter any high street bookstore.
First, 50 Shades made a striking appearance, selling over half a million copies per week at its peak. Then, Bared to You by Sylvia Day became Penguin’s fastest selling paperback for a decade. And now, Day’s second installation, Reflected in You, sells at an even faster pace, surpassing the first week sales of 50 Shades with ease. I question how such irrefutably mediocre literature has had such achievements. The success of EL James’ (or should I say Snowqueens Icedragon’s) Twilight fan-fictionseemed surprising enough, so how have subsequently inspired publications enjoyed even more success?
Is it that James has opened a door onto the complex issue of female sexuality that requires further exploration? In a way, yes. But also, in a way, no. She has simply turned a huge spotlight on something that has been there all along. She has turned the unspeakable into one of the hottest topics of 2012.
So where do Sylvia Day and Vina Jackson fit into this? They might be taking the opportunity to further explore the issues that James has brought to light. Or they might just be proactive individuals who know a good opportunity when they see one and don’t mind setting pen to paper to make a bit (understatement) of money.
In reference to the impressive sales of Day’s e-books (75,000 digital pre-orders), Tom Weldon, the c.e.o of Penguin UK, who publish Day’s novels, argues ‘This is not copycat publishing. In a digital age, this is giving readers what they want straight away.”
But just because they are supplying a new and heavy demand does not mean that this doesn’t qualify as ‘copycat publishing’. Yes, they’re giving the readers what they want as fast as they can, but what the reader wants – and probably won’t deny – is more of the same. They want to continue the 50 Shades experience, just in the same way that EL James wanted to continue the Twilight experience (with a side order of BDSM).
And the authors and publishers are clearly aware that they are getting in on the demand created by EL James. Just look at the titles. Smell the reek of associative marketing. All three examples I have given are trilogies, with titles only changing slightly – by one key word – each time. In Jackson’s case, Eighty has replaced Fifty (because Fourty would just be too obvious). To stretch it, there is an undeniable rhyme between Days/Day and Grey and Shade. And finally, the use of colours: yellow/red/blue… grey. I may be overanalysing, but it all seems a bit suspicious. The covers are also suspiciously comparable to those of the 50 Shades trilogy… and Twilight for that matter.
While James owes her success to Twilight, an imagination I don’t wish to analyse, and a dash of bravery, Day and Jackson owe theirs to common sense and the market already established by James. The publicity received by 50 Shades not only boosted its own sales, but also those of future erotic fiction books. 50 Shades created hype as well as an audience, and books from the likes of Day and Jackson simply take advantage of this. It just goes to show that even bad publicity is publicity nonetheless.
As a final note, and disclaimer, I would just like to say that this article is not based on the contents of the books, but a reflection on the current trend. I have not yet had the privilege of reading the books in question for the purpose of criticism, as I am still recovering from trawling through the Twilight series for that very reason… three years ago.