50 Shades of Gray has spawned numerous spoofs and imitations, but 50 Shades of Gay by Jeffrey Self, an actor who has appeared on shows like 30 Rock and Desperate Housewives, has the unique angle of being published quickly without sacrificing quality. PWxyz talked with Don Weise of Magnus/Riverdale Avenue Books, 50 Shades of Gay‘s publisher, to see the e-book’s recipe for success.
PW: Talk about the formation of the e-book–how quickly did this all come together?
Donald Weise: It was faster than anyone would guess. 50 Shades of Gay was submitted by agent Scott Mendel of Mendel Media in December and I read it over the holidays. I was totally charmed by the book, both the sex and the humor, so I made an offer around the first of the year. The contract was signed on January 11th, and I started edits that afternoon. They were mailed to Jeffery three days later, only it took a month for him to actually incorporate my edits because the post office failed to deliver them not once but twice. Finally on February 12th, the first package was returned to me, so Jeffery and I made the edits over the phone the next day. Two days later, the 15th, he handed in the revised book and over the weekend of February 16th we made final revisions. The manuscript was typeset on February 19th (cover art came in on the 14th and the final cover was approved that same day), with the book published on February 20th. The following day 50 Shades of Gay debuted at #1 on Amazon’s gay erotica bestseller list. So in less than a week, we went from final edits to #1 bestseller.
What were your expectations for the book initially?
It was hard to know for sure how the book would perform. Obviously the 50 Shades phenomenon is known by everyone, including people who don’t usually read erotic romance, and the world is rife with imitators. What appealed to me about Jeffery’s novel and I felt set it apart from the crowded field was that he wasn’t just retelling 50 Shades of Grey with gay characters. There’s a lot of humor and a lot of pop culture in the storytelling—references as varied as Katy Perry, The Real Housewives, and Suzanne Somers. The book takes place in Hollywood, where Jeffery himself is an actor on TV shows like 30 Rock and Hot in Cleveland, so it’s also an insider’s look at the movie world and the closet some actors feel forced into. Ultimately it’s a hot, sweet in its way, erotic romance that works I think for gay men and straight women alike.
What happened when the book published?
On the day a Magnus/Riverdale Avenue Book is published, we roll out the in-house PR from hourly tweets and Facebook news, cover reveals and a press release (usually that morning or the day before, which is what we did for 50 Shades of Gay). We also sent the press release to Jeffery and his agent, who blasted it out to their people. We wrote about the publication on our blogs on our site, Riveraleavebooks.com, and on Goodreads.
As soon as the book went live on Amazon, we were selling copies. It was amazing. With e-books, you can track your sales by the minute and the books were flying off the e-shelf. By the end of the night, we knew we had a winner, and by midnight we were starting to track on the gay & Lesbian erotica best-seller list. When I woke up the next morning, we were #1!
But we also got a lot of nontraditional press, and we know that helped draw attention to the book.
My publisher, Lori Perkins, comes from the erotic romance side of publishing, and we were able to aim our publicity at the two markets simultaneously – gay readers and M/M erotic romance – which is often hard to do in traditional publishing. This was definitely part of the book’s success.
What was the most surprising thing about the reception 50 Shades of Gay received?
It’s been just a few days since the book was published so it’s still early to really weigh in on the book’s reception. But the most surprising thing of course is that a book could go from edits one weekend to the bestseller list by the next. I’ve not seen speed like this in the book world and I imagine most other industry veterans haven’t either. Had I published the novel the traditional method—meaning, cataloged it with a distributor, had the sales force go out with it, printed hundreds of copies that may or may not sold—I would have had the book out sometime next year, when everyone likely will have moved from the 50 Shades trilogy and on to the next hot trend. Releasing the book just ahead of the Oscars was also advantageous because we’ve used the book’s Hollywood angle to get media attention in places that don’t typically cover novels. I’d really love to see more books like 50 Shades of Gay. As someone who all his career took the traditional, year-long or more route of getting books out to readers, I’m thrilled by the freedom this new model offers. Suddenly there’s so much opportunity for breaking out of the old-fashioned and out of date constraints of the past.