'Fifty Shades of Grey' Author Earns $50 Million

"Fifty Shades of Grey"

E.L. James, author of the "Fifty Shades" trilogy, has become the literary world’s unlikely superstar.

U.S. sales of the "mommy porn" trilogy hit 20 million copies.

The Fifty Shades juggernaut keeps on going. 

Publisher Vintage, a division of Random House, reports U.S. sales of the trilogy are expected to cross 20 million copies this week.

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As of July 2, sales stood at 9.8 million paperbacks and 9.6 million ebooks for a total of 19.4 million copies sold. Add in another 12 million books sold abroad, and worldwide sales top 31 million copies since Vintage published the three-book series in March.

Such sales figures for a hit series are not unusual -- the Twilight series saw similar sales figures by the publication of the fourth and last book in series -- but what is shocking is the speed at which Fifty Shades has hit the 20 million-copy plateau. It took Twilight more than three years to hit that mark; Fifty Shades did it in less than six months.

The sales are producing enormous earnings for author E.L. James. Using roughly standard royalty rates of 7 percent for paperbacks and 25 percent for ebooks James has earned $35 million on U.S. book sales alone. Add in the $5 million she received for the movie rights from Focus Features, and her take is up to $40 million. International royalties are harder to assess, but even a conservative assessment of $1 per book puts James’ international earnings at more than $11 million.

James’ total take for Fifty Shades in less than six months? At least $50 million and counting. 

Not bad for a project that started as a takeoff on Twilight posted to a fan fiction site and written to help James deal with her “midlife crisis.”