Some women, according to Jenny Pedroza, manager for the marketing and public relations department at The Writer's Coffee Shop, don't want to be seen buying a sexually explicit book such as E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey. They want to read it, they just don't want to be seen standing in line to buy it. That's where e-books come in.
"Having to go to a bookstore, wait in line and then hand the clerk the book -- sometimes that leaves you kinda cringing. Or even in a library," says Pendroza. "It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with it, but I think women in general have a hard time going out there and purchasing something that might be considered risqué. But no one really has to know about it if they have the book on their laptop or reader."
Of course, Fifty Shades, which features lots of bondage and S&M scenes, has now sold ten bazillion copies, so carrying the steamy novel around these days is an indication of how hip and cool you are.
Before being picked up by Random House's Vintage imprint earlier this year, Fifty Shades was published by The Writer's Coffee Shop publishing house in 2011. The novel's success was almost overwhelming for the then-tiny TWCS. The publishing house couldn't keep up with the demand for physical copies once the book took off.
The company was started when a group of friends, including Pendroza, wanted an online forum for their fan fiction (aka derivative fiction). "We wrote stories based on Twilight and other stories that we loved, and we became a close group of friends. We saw these women that were writing some amazing stories, and we said, 'You know, there could be a niche for this.' We started the publishing house about two years ago and talked E.L. James into publishing 50 Shades of Grey.
"She was writing online and had a huge fan base. We were part of that fan base. It was a wonderful story, we loved it. We decided that it would be a great story to have, and [TWCS owner] Amanda [Hayward] in Australia spent several months talking to her and working out the details. That process took about 18 months, from talking to her to getting her signed and then getting the book edited. By January of this year, we were on The New York Times bestseller list. That was a great moment. It was like, 'Man, we've found the golden ticket here!' It also really was a shock. We didn't expect all that to happen quite so quickly."
The success of Fifty Shades has resulted in several things. Besides making author E. L. James really, really rich, it made bondage mainstream. And it popularized the term "mommy porn."
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"We call it romantica," says Pedroza, not sounding the least bit defensive. "It's got a romance element along with being erotic. It's not just purely erotic. Erotica, for me, is the physical description of the act of sex. It's a play-by-play. In romance, you get an idea of what's going on, but when it comes time for the actual sex act, it fades to black. Romance is about the two people finding love. Romantica is about people finding love and having some steamy sex while they do it."
So what's next for TWCS and its now expanded stable of writers? More mommy porn, of course, and a few other things. "Our main genre is defiantly romance, but we do have other things," says Pedroza. There's the fantasy book that features a 60,000-year-old male alcoholic that's getting some attention, for example.
TWCS has a few Texas writers on the roster. There's Michael Schneider (Blind Faith), who lives just outside of Austin, S L Scott (Naturally, Charlie) who lives in the Hill Country, and Alexandra Allred, based in Corsicana. Allred's book, Damaged Goods, is set to be released in October. According to the TWCS website, the Texas A&M alum's novel features "a stripper-turned-Mormon, a one-legged woman thanks to a loose tiger, and a dirty-minded troublemaker."
We're hoping it's a comedy.