A story in the Sunday Times claims that bestselling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey was turned down by two different London literary agents…
It’s not known which agents rejected the book, which has become the fastest selling paperback of all time, and they have not been named.
But the article quotes the agent that did sign author EL James – real name Erika Leonard – Valerie Hoskins as saying: “She felt hurt at the time and stopped looking.”
While some critics have lambasted the writing – we did not rate some aspects of this novel in our Fifty Shades of Grey Review ourselves – we believe (and said at the time) that the first chapter is incredibly compelling. As the first chapter is usually what a wannabe author sends to a literary agent, what could the reasons have been for the rejection?
Of course it might have been read properly, even discussed, and then rejected. Perhaps the agents felt there wasn’t a market for a ‘mummy porn’ book (although I doubt they thought of that clever marketing description at the time…). It’s likely they underestimated how much women would enjoy reading a sexier and more erotic book. Or they might have decided it wasn’t erotic enough – there isn’t as much very erotic sex in it as in some ‘erotic novels’ and in fact (and probably a reason for its success) in many ways it is more Mills and Boon.
But commonly books are rejected simply because no-one bothered to actually pick up the manuscript and read it properly. It might be when the manuscript was sent in the main reader was away, or too busy – it could even have been one on an enormous slush pile passed to an Intern to look at. And therefore it was simply ‘missed’.
Sometimes, too, following a rejection, a novelist will revisit their work and tweak it. Sometimes this comes after they’ve received some constructive criticism which they have rightly decided to listen to. It is these tweaks that can sometimes elevate from not being that good to one that ends up getting a deal.
Whatever happened, in May 2011 James released Fifty Shades of Grey as an e-book and print-on demand paperback via The Writer’s Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher in Australia. They are set up so writers can post online chapters to see if people wanted to read them. Readers can then make comments and if they enjoy reading the chapters, ask for more.
The second volume in the trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker, followed in January 2012 and sales relied mostly on readers recommending to their friends to read it. In fact it was particularly successful in America – and the books were creating such a buzz there was even talk of a movie version of the first book.
However shortly before the publication of the third volume, Fifty Shades Freed, James’s husband, Niall Leonard – a long-time client of Valerie Hoskins Associates (which concentrates on TV and film writers and doesn’t usually take on new books or new authors) – spoke to Valerie.
Leonard, who wrotes Hornblower and Wild at Heart for ITV, said his wife needed some advice. “We met and go on very well immediately,” recalls Valerie Hoskins, who signed James up.
James and Hoskins discovered very fast that New York publishers were keen and by February this year half a dozen were talking to them seriously. In March a multi-million pound contract materialised with Vintage.
The rest as they say is history with a revised edition of the first book released in April 2012. The series has so far sold 40 million copies worldwide and a movie is now being planned.
What the Fifty Shades of Grey story tells any other author is how the world of publishing has changed beyond all recognition.
The usual publishing cycle is traditional literary agent, hardback, paperback and e-book. During this a mainstream publisher will launch a marketing and PR campaign to try to drum up interest and sales in the new book. Launching a new author can be particularly challenging and costly and why it can be so hard these days for any new writer to get a start.
Yet, Fifty Shades of Grey went on e-book first (with very limited budget) and James didn’t even have an agent at first.
It is indeed an inspirational story for any new author that feel daunted by the traditional publishing route. And it goes to show these days, the rules of publishing are being rewritten and anything is possible…