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'Fifty Shades of Grey' proves sex sells, so publishers want more

9:59 AM, Jun 21, 2012   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- If 1967 was the summer of love, will 2012 be the summer of sex - at least on bookshelves?

Readers are snapping up E.L. James' Fifty Shades erotic trilogy faster than billionaire Christian Grey can handcuff his innocent young mistress Ana.

No surprise, then, that mainstream publishers are eager to pounce on the next hot new erotic romance.

Berkley has already scored with Bared to You, Sylvia Day's tale of erotic obsession, which climbs this week to No. 10 from No. 36 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list. Originally self-published, Bared was snapped up and repackaged with a Shades-like cover featuring silver and gold cufflinks.

"Everyone in publishing was trying to figure out what the Fifty Shades of Grey fans would read next," says Berkley Books publisher Leslie Gelbman. "When we discovered Bared to You, we knew it had the potential to be the next erotic romance breakthrough."

The Berkley paperback edition of Bared had a first printing of half a million copies, and 100,000 e-books have been sold since Berkley assumed distribution on May 24. Berkley will follow Bared to You's success with Because You Are Mine by Beth Kery, a serialized erotic romance e-book to be released over eight weeks starting July 31.

Judith Curr, publisher of Atria Books, agrees there will be an "explosion of erotica titles because everyone will want to catch that wave. But not all of them will make it onto the best-seller lists."

Although E.L. James perhaps qualifies as the most popular erotic fiction writer, she certainly did not invent the genre.

In 2001, Curr signed up a single mother who was self-publishing erotica under the pseudonym Zane. Today Zane has a publishing empire which includes her own imprint at Atria, Strebor Books, and a Cinemax TV series, Zane's Sex Chronicles.

In August, Atria will publish Z-Rated: Chocolate Flava III, an erotic fiction anthology edited by Zane and featuring erotica by 26 other authors.

May Chen, a senior editor at HarperCollins who specializes in romance, is delighted Fifty Shades is helping new readers discover erotic romance.

But can publishers replicate the runaway success of Fifty Shades? No more than they have been able to repeat the success of Twilight and Harry Potter, Chen says.

"James hit a nerve," she says. "It was an amazing moment, and it worked perfectly."

Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY

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