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This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
No one had more of an impact on publishing in 2012 than E.L. James.
The shy 49-year-old author hardly seems as if she could be the creator of the biggest erotic hit in decades or the rebel who upended the publishing world. But it was this suburban British mom who penned the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, selling more than 65 million copies and sparking a massive chase in Hollywood for movie rights (won by Universal and Focus for $5 million in March).
“I haven’t slept since January,” says the former TV exec of her whirlwind year.
The series, which centers on the romance between a virginal college student and a kinky billionaire, has netted James more than $100 million and become a social phenomenon (launching countless imitators and satires and providing endless fodder for late-night comedians).
Now, any rumor of a possible casting tops online news feeds and causes a frenzy of fan reaction. At least a dozen other “mommy porn” books have scored big advances in James’ wake.
The books’ success got publishers to take fan fiction and the threat of self-publishing seriously. (Grey began as a Twilight-inspired online story before snagging a seven-figure advance from Vintage.)
“I didn’t go through an agent and wait six weeks while they decided,” says the married mother of two teenage sons of her nontraditional path. The great thing about being an author, confesses James — even a best-selling one — is that “I can still get on the Tube without being recognized.”
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