Could You Write the Next ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?

    Could you write a raunchy novel?

    It’s titillating, it’s full of taboo subjects, and it doesn’t even come with brown paper wrapping.

    I’m not referring to the latest issue of Penthouse – I’m talking about Fifty Shades of Grey.

    The Fifty Shades trilogy has certainly shifted our perceptions of housewives – rather than fitting neatly inside the June Cleaver mold, today’s women are confidently talking about a book filled with S&M. What’s more shocking than this shift is the fact that many didn’t see it coming. Many were instead asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

    Creating a Product for People Who Don’t Think They’d Want It

    In a society full of polar opposites – the U.S., for example, is home to both conservative Christians and liberals fighting for gay marriage reform – it wasn’t expected that a series on erotica would find such mainstream appeal. Fifty Shades of Grey is credited with boosting Barnes & Noble’s sales, setting new records in Britain, and launching lines of everything from sex toys to cookbooks.

    Oscar Wilde said, “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book; books are well-written or badly written.” This is the distinction many publishers and reviewers failed to make. People have always been interested in things considered inappropriate for polite society. The presentation is what piques consumers’ interest. It’s debatable whether the book sold because of its eloquent writing, but immoral it is not. E.L. James has simply made talk of hardcore sex a little more acceptable in common conversation; a frowned-upon act has become a little less dirty.

    B. Cameron Lee, a writer of horror fiction, admits, “People may be scandalized, or pretend it, but still, they have interest. If you want to write something that really sells, you wrap it in ‘mummy’ porn.” Even if people were embarrassed about reading it, they did it anyway – or at least did so behind the cover of a magazine.

    Easing Yourself in

    It’s easy to understand that people will gobble up dirty subjects; it’s another thing to write about such subjects. If you venture down this path, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself confronting some of your own discomforts. Are you comfortable writing a play-by-play of oral sex in a bathtub? Here are some simple ways to ease yourself into the process so you can write what you know:

      • Use humor: Everyone laughs about sex. It’s a topic we find funny at 13, and it still amuses us at 50. “Humor allows you to relax with the subject,” says Dr. Jacobo Schifter, who’s written more than 20 books on sexuality. The more relaxed you are, the more honest and relatable your writing will be.
      • Make it easy-to-read: Academic jargon, although comfortable to fall back on, turns readers off. Including facts is important, but make them relevant. Don’t insert data that pulls away from your story – tell your story. The author of Fifty Shades doesn’t use flowery language, but writes in the simplest of terms: “Grey gives me a wicked grin, the effects of which I feel all the way down there,” Ana says when she and Christian discuss having sex for the first time.
      • Become the character: Slide in and become the character, as Lee does. What would you do if you were Ana, experiencing her first sexual encounter with someone more experienced than she was, 15 times over? Arrange the story to fit your morals, experiences, or imagination.
      • The point is not that you need to be comfortable with a topic, but to become comfortable with the concept of research. Many readers don’t know what it feels like to be whipped by a flogger, and in order to describe that successfully, we imagine that James had to do some “research”. Don’t let yourself be stiff with the subject – no pun intended – or your audience will have a hard time relating.

    Writing to Your Audience

    Half the writing journey is about what you have to share – but the other half is about the people who will read your work. How do you find a Fifty Shades of Grey-caliber audience? How do you talk to them? What would they like to read about? In this case, it’s something they don’t know much about or have little experience with: dominatrix-oriented sex.

    Try to speak to them as individuals. While this is always a good idea, it’s particularly vital when touching on taboo subjects. “Write as if you are having a conversation,” says Diane Carter, a digital publisher and marketer. “Make a connection, one person at a time. In reality, you are connecting one-on-one; everyone who reads your book reads it differently.” Ana is a shy, inexperienced and caring character, making it easy for readers to relate to – and connect with – her.

    You don’t have to dilute your message to appeal to a large group. What makes work appealing is its ability to confront what we find awkward, cringe-inducing, sexy or exciting. You can unload your deepest thoughts on dirty talk – if you’re thinking it, someone else is too.

    Selling Yourself

    One thing that set Fifty Shades of Grey apart was its willingness to find an audience. To accomplish the same goal, you need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur, not just a writer.

    Research your competition via Amazon or Barnes & Noble, as Carter advises: What other books have Fifty Shades’ readers purchased? What did reviewers like – or dislike – about the series? Who are similar authors? Assessing the marketplace will help you develop a niche in both writing and marketing.

    You also need to have some minimal marketing tools:

    • A blog or website, particularly one with a specialty URL
    • A Facebook fan page
    • A Twitter account
    • A LinkedIn account

    These tools will help you connect with existing readers, garner new ones, and inspire conversations. (You’d be surprised how vocal people will be when they can talk about taboo subjects behind a computer screen.)

    It’s not hard to establish a Fifty Shades of Grey-worthy reputation; it’s harder to get out of your own way and really delve into the topic so what you say has resonance. Break down your own barriers, reach out to your audience, and start thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur. You may not sell as many copies of your book, but you’ll likely develop just as loyal a following.

    What are your thought about this? Please share in the comments.


    About the author:

    Nicolas Gremion is the CEO of Paradise Publishers, Inc., and founder of, a social publishing network where members get support writing their books from peers and connect directly with readers.

    Image: Woman courtesy of

    About the author

      Nicolas Gremion

      Nicolas Gremion is the CEO of Free-eBooks, the #1 online source for free e-book downloads, resources, and authors. Nicolas is a culturally curious traveler and entrepreneur who lives in Costa Rica with his wife, and dog Frankie.

    • himagain says:

      Could I Write it?
      Almost anyone could. It offers nothing that the “Story of O” and thousands of others did for thousands of years.
      What is interesting – as a male – and a very old one – from the last century is how it all became public.
      Of course, in most other societies, the attitude to sex is nothing like what we think of as “Western”.

      I grew up in a vastly different world to this one.

      Despite being born and raised in a Catholic country, Australia, I was always adventurous and travelled widely while young. I learned that the female of the species was privately different, very early. I was lucky. I was a “swinger” before the word was invented. It was a secret world. Worldwide and interconnected, but secret and not for the poor. (‘T’was ever thus..)

      I still react badly to hearing the modern foul language used by young and older females. Public drunkenness appalls me, but young females…. and I was sickened to see a recent TV show based on parents spying on their teenage children on unsupervised holidays in Thailand. The show is presented as funny.

      Something has broken.
      Always the female of the species was the guardian of the Society of whatever group.

      Even to continuing the horrors of female “circumcision”/mutilation in some societies.( A bizarre extreme “copy” of the Mid-Eastern/Islamic test of the male – originally at initiation as a man)

      Can we blame DR Spock et al?
      Was there a specific “tipping point” at which society crumbled into the state it is in?

      Extreme sado masochistic sex as normal?
      Matrons sporting sickening tatoos?
      Movies displaying animalistic sex in standup positions in public toilets by “stars”?
      The use of utterly vulgar words in public? On TV?

      Was it at the weird time of “female liberation”?
      Was it the Pill?

      Books such as this “Best Seller” have always been there. Under cover. Behind the counter. Part of the front of Society, part of woman’s power.
      The power to force the male to conform to “civilised rites of decency”.

      Who would have believed, just two generations ago, that females would be LEADING the disintegration?

    • himagain says:

      WOOPS! It looks as though my response was for Margot Reine. Definitely not!
      It was praise intended for Kelly Lawrence for a thoughtful, intelligent response.
      I will add a further comment below.

    • Margot, I have to completely disagree. Although E L James does the BDSM lifestyle a dis-service by painting Christian as a sadist, I think talking about sexual abuse and women being murdered is totally over the top. And that’s not just an opinion; I do extensive work for my local womens refuge and regularly campaign for Women’s Aid; I also write erotica and myself and my partner often include SnM practices in the bedroom. The two are COMPLETELY unrelated. There are certain ‘rules’ if you like within the BDSM relationship. For example, the safe word is to be adhered to at all times (which conversely gives the submissive partner the ultimate power) and the dominant is expected to always be mindful of the needs of the sub; knowing their limits, ensuring they are comfortable etc. I agree with others who have commented here that EL James has given the impression that BDSM is almost a dysfunction, and this has given rise to attitudes such as yours. Sexual abuse is horrific, murder is horrific. Does that mean fans of less vanilla sex should not be allowed to indulge in case they are somehow promoting abuse? How silly. The key word is consensual. Women are not murdered through having a liking for rough sex. Abuse and rape are not rough sex, they are abuse and rape. I do find the characters in Fifty Shades shallow and not well drawn, but the heroine does give her consent, repeatedly. In fact, if there is any sexual abuse in the book it has been suffered by the male, Christian, at the hands of a woman! To connect a fiction novel to the families of murdered women is in my opinion much more insensitive than the books content. There are crime novels featuring graphic and brutal scenes of abuse and rape that are often blatantly designed to be titillating, why do you not aim your argument at them?

      • Your last sentence Kelly Lawrence baffles me. This question was about ’50 shades of grey’. And this book glorified it as she consentually kept on going back to it, just because he was rich and he was good looking – sick puppy!!!!! In some cases – just ask the police on this – ‘rough sex’ which is also in the category of rape and sex whether you like to hear it or not, leads to brutal attacks on women, which ends up being non-consentual. There are too many murders of women where attacks on them have lead to murder, and many of these attacks, as the police will also tell you, often take place by people who are known.There was nothing insensitive about my comment – I wrote it as it is. It is foolish for anyone to ignore it.

    • Margot Reine says:

      Bit difficult to give the money to the women murdered, I know, but their families…

    • Margot Reine says:

      I wonder if the publishers and the author are willing to give the money they’ve earned from this book to women throughout the world who are abused and in some cases murdered because of ‘rough’ sex, whether it is concentual or non-consentual, not contractual sex. This book defined ‘rough’ sex as normal because she kept on going back for it. It also showed her as a callow, money seeking goddess, because that was all the first book was about – sex and money – he was rich beyond belief and preferred contractual sex. I couldn’t read any more. I found it disturbing that a woman could write about sexual abuse. And I find it so tedious the way radio stations, TV commenters and the like keep on referring to it in whatever context, promoting the book even further. Sad really.

      • himagain says:

        Well, I was just about to have my say when I find you have said it so very well.
        And you are only a female….. (joke! joke!)
        So I will post separately for a different point.

    • Interesting conversation…highly relevant to me as my book, ‘Wicked Games’ comes out next year published by Random House UK, the same publisher responsible for Fifty Shades in the UK. My book is a memoir of a dom/sub relationship, which I had started writing before Fifty Shades hit the shelves…regardless of this, every current erotica writer on the planet will find Fifty Shades mentioned in conjunction with their own work, whether they like it or not. I can hardly complain, as my book may not have been picked up by such a big publisher without E L James bringing erotica into the mainstream. However, I detest the term ‘mummy porn’ and also, women reading erotica is not new, it’s not a case of we didn’t know we wanted it until it was available; it has always been available. Its just that titles such as Exit To Eden, The Story of O or the Black Lace books would be tucked around a corner in the bookshops rather than prominently on display. But the market for women’s erotica has been thriving for many years before Fifty Shades, and will continue to do so when Fifty Shades has been forgotten. I certainly wouldn’t recommend writers trying to emulate the trilogy unless they are already or already seeking to be writers of erotica; in the same way that a horror author is hardly likely to switch to chick lit just because of the success of Sophie Kinsella’s latest book.
      As for Oscar Wildes quotes and the reactions to it – Fifty Shades is hardly immoral. Its about a monogamous relationship which ends with marriage and babies. The two main characters get up to some kinky sex, but essentially it reads like a Mills and Boon with a lot of spanking. You may not share the sexual tastes it describes, but I don’t find anything repugnant in it. I also don’t think its particularly well written, which makes its success a double edged sword for erotica writers, as some erotic novels are incredibly well written. Anais Nin, anyone? Anne Rice? Erotica has an impressive literary history that goes way beyond E L James. That being said, she has achieved what all writers aim for whether they admit it or not – a huge readership.
      Aleister Crowley – is certainly repugnant. Neither are his books well written. However, we have a free press in the West which should be upheld, and if something offends us, we can easily throw it in the bin. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

    • The content was nearly as inspiring as the image. Thanks for kick-starting my morning! Love…

    • Nila says:

      Nice analysis. But I do not write books – I mean, I don’t see myself writing a book even in the near future. I’m more comfortable writing on subjects that are closest to my heart.

      Green Christmas

    • Beth Havey says:

      Nope. I’ll continue to write about subjects that truly interest me. I write for content, though money and success are great. But despite James’ success, I still believe my interests, the things I have to say are the best course to take.

    • Amandah says:

      More power to E.L. James for her success. Who doesn’t want to be a successful author? Most of us do. However, “50 Shades of Grey” isn’t the only book in the erotica market. For whatever reason, the book took off and was an instant hit. But… I wouldn’t be comfortable writing and publishing a book based on ‘fan fiction.’ It’s widely known that the “50 Shades of Grey” series is based on fan fiction, more importantly, based on “Twilight” fan fiction. I read excerpts of the fan fiction after I read the books; I had to see what the hype was about. One main difference is that Bella from “Twilight” actually gets a backbone towards the end of the series (My niece filled me in on the series.) whereas Anastasia still seems naive and immature and annoying as hell.

    • Fifty Shades of Grey is a very good book but I can’t tell if I can write something as daring and titillating of that book. I must say it is very fearless. But I like reading it.

    • I don’t write books for a market, I am more of a Storyteller whose stories write themselves. ‘Diary of a Serial Killer’ wandered into an area of prurient interest which some people find utterly repulsive but others think should be more horrific. The point is, we are all becoming inured to violence, porn, horror and atrocities which hit us every day from media everywhere. The world is becoming a Colosseum.
      I do, however, have my own standard of ethics and will not write about many subjects repugnant to me just to grab an extra reader or two.
      The thing about writing is; are you writing to a market or do you write to tell a story?
      If you are writing to a market, remember, what is on the edge today will be the norm in a relatively short space of time.

    • Definitely not. Three pages and it went into the rubbish bin where it belonged.

    • Peter Buxton says:

      Aleister Crowley has been described as the “most wicked man who ever lived”, the “wickedest man in the world”, the “Father of Modern Satanism”, the “Beast 666” and the “Antimessiah of the Apocalypse”. He was a heroin-addicted, bisexual Satan worshipper. His disciples were accused of sacrificing human infants in occult rituals. It was said during one ritual he induced a he-goat to copulate with his mistress, then slit the animal’s throat at the moment of orgasm. Crowley was a sexual degenerate, mass child-killer and fiend; the enemy of mankind and God. He openly had sex with his wife in front of guests in their home; he openly committed all manner of homosexual acts; he filed two of his teeth into sharpened fangs and bit his lovers like a vampire; he ate a woman’s excrement during ritual group sex orgies. Whatever way you look at it, the guy had an impressive C.V.

      Before 50 Shades was published, I was reading “The Moonchild” by Aleister Crowley. In it a young woman is seduced by a magician, and persuaded to help him in a magical battle. The magician is attempting to raise the level of his force by impregnating the girl with the soul of an ethereal being called the Moonchild.

      To achieve this, she is kept in a secluded environment, and many preparatory “magical rituals” are carried out on her.

      The name of the magician was Cyril Grey. Could he have been Christian’s great grandfather? Could his sexual needs have been hereditary?

      Is this how to “confront what we find awkward, cringe-inducing, sexy or exciting”?

      You know, this research could turn out to be very interesting.

    • The moment a society, or an individual, or a group of people accepts Oscar Wilde’s idea that there’s no such thing as a moral or an immoral book, the door opens for the worst kinds of abuses to be perpetrated through the written word. For example, there are human beings—and I use the term with some hesitation—who believe that child pornography, pederasty, and the like are simply “lifestyle choices.” So, like it or not, even if you personally draw the line at certain activities or attitudes that YOU find unacceptable, Wilde’s philosophy obliges you to be tolerant of writing that reflects choices, preferences, and values (!) that are not just repugnant to you, but also are, by any sane measure of value, devastastingly damaging to other people.

      The argument that what two consenting adults do in private is not the same as horrific acts such as, say, sexual trafficking does not nullify my point. In fact, it’s a straw man, and would deflect any useful dialogue about the broader issue: whether there is such a thing as right and wrong in the domain of morality and ethics or whether we are obliged to accept the vast conglomeration of personal preferences that exist in the world in order not to be “judgmental.” Of all people, writers have some of the broadest and best opportunities to speak to this issue in a way that edifies the moral dilemmas we all face. To artificially make these vanish in service of making ourselves out to be, as writers, liberal sophisticates seems to me nothing more than a cop-out.

      Grist for the mill . . .

    • DrewMcArton says:

      Nice analysis. One question. Fifty Shades hit very fast. Did James use the ‘selling yourself’ tools you mention – blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – to push her book right at the start? Or was she the exception that proves the rule?

      • Hi Drew. She did! She worked in TV and had a strong background in PR. She also had a built a strong social media presence. Combine that and an ‘explosive’ subject matter (like Jevon says sex sells) which once people start talking about (and accepting it) others are drawn to and you have a recipe for success. Remember that publishing a book is not the finish line;getting people to read it is just as important and involves just as much work. But it can certainly be a lot of fun when your readership builds

    • Jevon says:

      Sex sells, that has always been a fact. It’s used to advertise everything from tiles to cars.

      I think people are always interested, but create a mental border to express based on society so I agree with the “Ease Yourself In” point.

      I’ll stick to fantasy fiction though.

    • Nope.

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