We love it when a series takes the booklover community by storm, and that’s certainly what E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey has done. Over the past few weeks these books have made international news for climbing the NYT and Amazon bestseller lists through word of mouth. So what is this series and why is it getting so much buzz?

Debut author E.L. James, the pseudonym for a British TV executive, writes the trilogy that includes Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. And to say that they are steamy, sultry and sizzling is an understatement. The positively volcanic books follow the evolution of a dominant-submissive relationship between Christian Grey, a good-looking “tycoon” and a naive college student named Anastasia Steele. RT Reviewer Nicole King says, “Readers will be hooked by Christian and Ana’s sizzling chemistry, witty repartee and increasingly complex relationship, as well as the hints about Christian’s dark past that explain his penchant for bondage.” (You can read the complete *Web Exclusive Review* of the first story in series here.)

The stories grew out of James’ serialized fan fiction, and were set in the Twilight series universe. But when James decided to find a traditional publisher, she pulled the stories off the Internet and did a light series of re-writes to eliminate any direct references to the popular paranormal YA story. The novels originally came out last May, published by the Australian publishing house Writer’s Coffee Shop, and since that time, over 250,000 copies have been sold in print and e-book format combined.

In America, the books took off through word of mouth, social networking and bloggers, quickly becoming a favorite with metropolitan moms. (Several media outlets have called the erotic romance “Mommy Porn.”) Fifty Shades of Grey has also been nominated for the Goodreads Best Romance Award of 2011. And the novel is so popular, you an even take a quiz to find out how much you know about the series starter!

This weekend it was announced that the rights to the Fifty Shades series were purchased by Vintage, an offshoot of Random House, for a seven-figure sum. The American publisher has released a newly re-copy edited e-version of Fifty Shades of Grey at $9.99 and will soon be re-publishing the book in traditional format for $15.99. With a starting print run of a staggering 750,000 copies, Vintage is banking that the buzz surrounding James’ work will continue.

However, the books are not without their detractors. The major complaint is that the series began its life as fan fiction, Twilight fan fiction, to be exact. An inauspicious start in many readers’ eyes, and one which is compounded by the fact that there is dissent over whether the stories have been changed enough to be considered original work. (To this, according to PW, Vintage Executive Vice President Anne Messite responded saying, “She was ‘aware of the narrative that [50 Shades] started as differently titled piece of fiction, but that they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.’”) Meanwhile, there are those who say that there’s no rhyme or reason to the success of these stories, as they aren’t particularly well written. In her piece in the New York Times, Julie Bosman characterizes the story as “built on the purple prose typical of pulp novels.” And in her blog post about the story, blogger Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell points out that the series treats BDSM as a fetish that needs to be cured.

Despite the series’ detractors, this tale is a true success story for E.L. James and erotica romance. In one fell swoop the author’s work has won a loyal fan base and introduced new readers to the erotica genre. Additionally, with these discreet non-racy covers and e-availability, the story’s widespread popularity has also lead to increased acceptance, or at the very least, discussion about BDSM within pockets of people who might otherwise never talk about these topics.

With all this controversy — and the books flying off of shelves (both traditional and digital ones) like hotcakes — we’d love to hear your take! And if you have a recommendation for a similar story, shoot our new Features Editor Mala an email here with the subject line “50 Shades Recommendations.” For more steamy stories stop by our Everything Erotica Page.

Tags: Erotica
4COMMENTS SUBSCRIBE TO RSS FEED EMAIL PRINT SHARE PERMALINK