EL James, author of erotic trilogy 50 Shades of Grey, has topped the richest authors list this year beating Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins who came in at number 3. Ms James has grossed £65 million ($95) from her novel, which follows the sadomasochistic relationship between billionaire Christian Grey and college student Anastasia Steele. The novels, which became a word of mouth phenomenon, smashed sales records to become the best-selling book of all time in Britain and shifted a staggering 5.3 million copies. With the announcement of a film also in the pipeline, James looks set to cash in even more from her successful franchise.
Although it is empowering to have a woman dominating the pay ladder of the book world, it is James’ pen name that has proved so interesting in how she marketed herself and her work. By hiding her first name behind a set of initials, James was deliberately marketed as a gender-less or gender-ambiguous author. With a set of books that is focused upon the complete domination of its female protagonist, surely it would have been more empowering for female readers to learn at the very beginning that E L James was in fact Erika Leonard James.
It can be argued that perhaps the fluid pen name offers a subversive power to its female author, as James can comment openly and confidently on aspects of female sexuality whilst avoiding the usual ignorant comments by male journalists. However, in an age when author’s identities are so easily discovered, more recently seen with J.K Rowling’s recent outing as Robert Galbraith, is there anything to be gained from female authors adopting a male name to get work published? A 2010 Guardian article revealed that alarming levels of sexism still prevail in the publishing world today. In the London Review of Books 195 books written by men were reviewed in comparison to the meagre 68 books that were written by women. Now in 2013, prolific female writers are still negating to portray themselves through revealing their full name and are selling thousands of copies by doing so. Would the name Joanne Rowling have sold as many copies as Harry Potter as J.K Rowling did? Would Erika Leonard James have had her work published if she had not been E L James?
Unfortunately these are questions we will never know the answers to, but it does offer us a shocking insight into the sexist mind-set of the publishing industry. Women are still not seen as vehicles for commercial success, unless they publish under a cryptic pseudonym that tricks the reader into thinking the written world is still dominated by male voices. Hopefully, with the success of authors such as J.K Rowling and E L James, women writers can eventually set a precedent for publishers to sell work without hiding female identity.
 Benecdite Page, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/04/research-male-writers-dominate-books-world, [accessed 14th August 2013]
- ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ author E.L James tops Forbes list of world’s top-earning authors with $95 million – beating J.K Rowling AND James Patterson (thisismoney.co.uk)
- Fifty shades of pay: erotica yarn sends EL James to top spot in earnings list (theguardian.com)