NEW YORK - E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy, a word-of-mouth romance smash so erotic it's sometimes labeled "mommy porn," has been signed up by a paperback division of Random House Inc.
Vintage Books announced Saturday that it had acquired the three books - "Fifty Shades of Grey," "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed." E-book editions will be out Monday and paperbacks are expected in early April.
The novels had been distributed by an Australia-based publisher, the Writer's Coffee Shop Publishing House. The trilogy follows the romance between a young billionaire, Christian Grey, and a college student, Anastasia Steele. It has sold more than 250,000 copies, and on Saturday, the first volume was No. 1 on both Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
"'Fifty' has taken me on an extraordinary and wholly unexpected adventure, and I'm thrilled to be continuing it with Vintage," James, a former television executive based in London, said in a statement issued Saturday by Vintage. "I've heard from so many readers trying to find these books in their local bookshops and libraries. It is gratifying to know that they will soon become widely available in the U.S. and around the world."
James' trilogy began as fan fiction, a thriving genre online in which fans write variations of their favorite books and characters, stories usually intended solely for fellow aficionados. James used the vampire Edward and teen Bella from Stephenie Meyers' mega-selling "Twilight" and placed them in Seattle. First called "Master of the Universe" and published two years ago on the website http://www.fanfiction.net, James' stories attracted a strong following and were released commercially in 2011 by Writer's Coffee Shop.
The books' success has set off a strong debate online. On a chat room for NBC's "Today" show, which ran a segment on the trilogy earlier this month, several negative messages were posted, saying it was wrong for readers to pay for a trilogy originally available for free and that Christian and Anastasia were stand-ins for Edward and Bella.
In an email Saturday, romance author and blogger Sarah Wendell said similarities to "Twilight" included "the hero's `long hands,'" the "klutzy heroine with auburn hair" and the narrative being "told from the heroine's very deep first-person point of view."
"The themes of `Twilight' are very much repeated," she added, "innocent heroine, dark, emotionally unavailable hero with a secret, isolation of the heroine from the rest of the world while with the hero, and the hero's overwhelming ability to care for and provide for the heroine with limitless wealth. It's a wealth fantasy as well as an erotic fantasy."
Vintage defended "50 Shades" as an original creation with a passionate following.
"It is widely known that E.L James began to capture a following as a writer shortly after she posted her second fan fiction story," Vintage said in a statement. "She subsequently took that story and re-wrote the work, with new characters and situations. That was the beginning of the `Fifty Shades' trilogy. The great majority of readers, including fan fiction aficionados, have found `Fifty Shades' deeply immersive and incredibly satisfying."