The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 7, 2012

Lee Duran: "Fifth Shades" writer chosen as magazine's Person of the Year

By Lee Duran
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — No author has ever been named Publisher's Weekly's Person of the Year -- until 2012.

The annual award is given to publishing leaders "shaping and, sometimes, transforming, the publishing industry." This time, it's gone to the author of the fastest-selling adult series of all time.

Let that sink in for a moment -- fastest-selling adult series of all time. Could this be someone who has worked his or her way up the publishing ladder, building book after book, slogging away toward an impossible dream?

Nope. It is a previously unpublished author who began writing "Twilight" fan fiction and posting it online. From that humble beginning evolved an erotic series of three books that netted a seven-figure book deal for the author, quickly followed by a movie deal.

It's really an unbelievable story. This kind of success just doesn't happen in the real world, unless your name is E. L. James (pen name of London resident Erika Leonard) and you write erotica that people worldwide want to read.

We're talking BDSM here. Who knew that would appeal to massive numbers of the world's reading public?

As someone who has followed publishing with great interest since the sale of my first book to Harlequin in 1988, I am totally astounded -- not so much by the particular books that broke through, but by the fact that it all happened so fast.

I'm sure most people have at least heard about the three "Fifty Shades" books. Once they became massive hits on the Internet, Random House acquired the trilogy. More than 35 million print and digital copies have sold in the U.S. and 65 million copies in the world, bringing in more than $200 million and turning erotic fiction into a hot category.

The PW co-editorial director explained the magazine's choice: "From boosting sales of print books through bookstores to putting a spotlight on a genre that had received little publicity, E.L. James' impact on various parts of the book business cannot be overstated É She is well deserving of our Person of the Year award."

I'm blown away. I can't imagine how the author deals with all this. Such success reminds me of winning the lottery -- it's that unpredictable, unexpected and life-changing.

The author told an interviewer that she feels "embarrassed" when men read her books and that the publicity surrounding her success "isn't fun" and is "too exposing."

Speaking to the BBC, she said that the stories are "kind of my fantasies, and I never for a minute thought that this would happen." That, I completely believe. I don't think anyone just beginning a writing career thinks in those terms. If they do, they're in for a big disappointment.

James admitted there was no methodology, no outline and no structure when writing the book.

"I wrote it for fun," she said. "Not to do all of this. It just spilled out of me."

Do I hear groans from those who just finished the National Novel Writing Month that just finished? Participants attempted to write a 50,000-word novel in November, and I'll bet not many of them can say the words just spilled out onto their computer screens.

They're better writers for trying, though, and I applaud their efforts. I also applaud James for her achievements, which I doubt we'll see duplicated anytime soon. Although I could be wrong.

Information for this report came from Publisher's Weekly, GalleyCat, The London Guardian, the BBC and the author's website. The opinions came from me.

Best-seller turns to kid stuff

Suzanne Collins, who wrote the "Hunger Games" series, has a children's book set for publication next year. It won't be a typical feel-good story, however.

It's an autobiographical picture book for kids ages 4 and older called "Year of the Jungle." It deals with the year Collins was in first grade and her dad was a soldier in Vietnam.

In its news release about the book, publisher Scholastic states: "In 'Year of the Jungle', when young Suzy's father leaves for Vietnam, she struggles to deal with his absence É When will he return? The months slip by, marked by the passing of the familiar holidays and the postcards that her father sends É when he returns, Suzy must learn that even though war has changed him, he still loves her just the same."

That's certainly, um, heartwarming, commented The L.A. Times.

Before "Hunger Games," Collins published "The Underland Chronicles," a series for middle-school readers.

"Now she has done it for a younger age group, in a way that is sympathetic rather than scary, relatable rather than raw," a spokesman for the publisher said. "This is something that Suzanne, as a military child, lived with for many years, and it's something that all families will be able to share, whether they have a personal connection to the military or not."