Why E.L. James Is Still Surprised Fifty Shades Has Been So Popular

steamy and naked red room scene in Fifty Shades of Grey

E.L. James is an author with a popular franchise, Fifty Shades, and a popular one-off bestseller, The Mister, under her belt. She’s known for writing provocative fantasy, but at the end of the day the storyteller may have mastered scenes set in the red room, but she’s still grappling with why Fifty Shades Of Grey has been so popular.

Admitting she likes it when “things get steamy,” E.L. James was candid in an interview with ET about her place in the literary world and how she’s only one of many voices writing in her genre. She talked a little bit about Fifty Shades’ trajectory on both page and screen, noting that while the average person might find Christian Grey and Ana Steele’s behavior to be quite risqué, those genre readers should be very used to their sexual dynamic. She noted:

Well, there are thousands and thousands of women writing in this genre, so it’s not as if anyone who is writing and reading in [this genre], it’s what they are used to. It’s just because Fifty went so mainstream, for reasons that still mystify me. Then, I think there’s so much attention given to this. But there’s plenty of books out there with steaminess.

I appreciate E.L. James’ modesty here, but her books are behemoths and have far outsold the average erotic romance. In fact, last year, Fifty Shades Of Grey was marked down as the most popular book of the last decade. It outsold the likes of The Hunger Games and The Help, which were the fourth and fifth bestselling books of the decade. Number 2 and 3? Well, those spots went to Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

There’s been a lot of speculation over the years about why Fifty Shades has resonated so strongly with the fanbase. Sometimes a project will develop a small fanbase and then fan out due to good marketing or strong word of mouth, as happened with Schitt’s Creek in its later seasons on TV. But Fifty Shades of Grey also may have benefited from coming after Twilight but being based on the formula of that vampire series. Also true is the fact that BDSM fiction had not been widely marketed in the way Fifty Shades has been, at least at the time of its release.

Whatever the reason, the “big naked franchise” brought a lot of attention to E.L. James. Her subsequent book The Mister also landed some interest from movies studios and back in February we learned that Universal had signed on the dotted line to potentially bring the other book to the big screen. There hasn’t been a ton of public traction on that project in the months since, but as we know a lot of movie projects are in some stage of limbo right now as the global pandemic still rears its ugly head.

We’ll keep you posted if The Mister moves forward or if the author ever gets around to that fourth Fifty book. Meanwhile, E.L. James also said she “never considered Fifty Shades to be a BDSM book” in the same interview, which is a comment that's worth chewing on a little. It’s usually interesting to hear from an author’s point of view on a popular subject and in this case that certainly holds true.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Jessica Rawden is Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. She’s been kicking out news stories since 2007 and joined the full-time staff in 2014. She oversees news content, hiring and training for the site, and her areas of expertise include theme parks, rom-coms, Hallmark (particularly Christmas movie season), reality TV, celebrity interviews and primetime. She loves a good animated movie. Jessica has a Masters in Library Science degree from Indiana University, and used to be found behind a reference desk most definitely not shushing people. She now uses those skills in researching and tracking down information in very different ways.