A wave of erotic fiction in every shape, size and hue swept the halls of the Frankfurt book fair this week in the wake of EL James’s record-breaking success with Fifty Shades of Grey, but one British publisher was hoping it had found an antidote to the deluge with the acquisition of Fifty Shades of Feminism.
One of the most talked-about books at the world’s biggest international book fair, which takes places annually in Frankfurt and sees thousands of publishers and literary agents hammering out deals for the hottest new titles, was S.E.C.R.E.T, an erotic story written under a pseudonym by a Canadian author and TV producer. LM Adeline’s tale of a young widow who joins a secret society “that recruits women to help them realise their sexual fantasies and liberate their sexual selves” is understood to have sold for a high six-figure sum in America, with offers pouring in from other publishers around the world.
With James’s sado-masochistic trilogy riding high in international markets as well as the UK and US, publishers are reporting being swamped by erotic fiction. The Welsh publisher Xcite Press was even selling rights to an interactive version of the Kama Sutra, the Kama Xcitra, “a sexual position guide with 3D hologram illustrations”.
“We’ve seen loads of erotica on offer – Scandinavian erotica, Japanese erotica, every sort,” said David Shelley, publisher at Little, Brown.
Lee Brackstone at Faber & Faber said: “My friend Chris Herschdorfer from Ambo Anthos says there is tonnes of erotica around. The latest being apparently zombie erotica. I, thankfully, have seen nothing.
“But that’s one of the many advantages and pleasures of being an editor at Faber.”
In response, Lennie Goodings at Virago has found what she calls “just the antidote needed”. Out next March, Fifty Shades of Feminism will be edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach, bringing together the stories of 50 women, from politicians to actors to scientists, as they reflect on “the shades that inspired them and what being a woman means to them today”.
“I think a lot of women find the image of femaleness – currently all about desire, even masochistic desire – just too reductive and frankly a bit perplexing,” said Goodings. “I think that’s why Caitlin Moran’s book did so well. There are many powerful ways to be female. And we are still in a casually misogynist world. Look at how Julia Gillard’s fabulous riposte went viral. We need more shades of woman: of course sexually happy but also not afraid to be bolshy, brave, thoughtful, intelligent, serious, stylish and witty. I think this book is absolutely the right thing for now.”
Shelley also pointed to the appetite among publishers in Frankfurt for successful self-published material, in part because “it’s market-tested already”. Penguin is understood to have paid a six-figure sum for James Oswald’s self-published crime novel Natural Causes, while HarperCollins has acquired Mark Sennen’s self-published crime series and Random House has signed the formerly self-published writer Mary Fitzgerald.
Another book causing a huge amount of buzz at the fair was the South African author Sarah Lotz’s high concept thriller The Three, which follows the survivors of different plane crashes and which was snapped up for a high six-figure sum in the UK, with deals following around the world. Its UK publisher, Hodder, bought the novel on the basis of a 33-page partial manuscript. “It was on the market for less than a day. I knew it was great but the speed everything moved surprised even me,” said the agent Oliver Munson.
Lotz said: “When I first got the news I started shaking. I went next door to my nan and she gave me a brandy. I keep going: ‘Seriously? No. Seriously? No. I can’t get it into my head. I’ve been scraping from book to book, just getting by, and this gives me the freedom to write.”
The Frankfurt book fair also saw Ranulph Fiennes’s memoir about his forthcoming trip to the Antarctic sold to Simon & Schuster. The publishing director Suzanne Baboneau had also acquired a new novel from the Pulitzer winner Elizabeth Strout, The Burgess Boys, which she compared to Anita Shreve and Siri Hustvedt. Also on the literary side, Little, Brown paid six figures for J Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements, a “big literary novel” about four women linked by an engagement ring.
“There’s been huge amounts of money flying around,” said Shelley. “The bidding on the really good books has been going very high … It’s been quite a good fair all round.”
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