Anne Messitte, the publisher of Vintage Books, said the overwhelming response to James' second book signing, and the first in her tour, was unprecedented for a new writer.
"I think at the heart of it, these are wonderful, modern stories that engross the reader," she said.
James herself is at a loss to explain why the books have become so popular, so quickly. Fans who have written or spoken with her at events have had different reactions; some say their sex lives have improved, while others have said the book helped them in dealing with an adopted child. The fictional character Christian Grey was adopted at a young age.
Dressed casually in a jean jacket and with an arm full of silver bracelets, James sipped a glass of water at a quiet bar on the bottom floor of the Biltmore before her appearance. The hotel has hosted several presidents; President Barack Obama held a fundraiser there recently. It's also a popular choice for weddings, with a church just across the street.
Seven-hundred women — many in designer dresses, high heels and skinny jeans — filled a stately room with high, wooden ceilings at the hotel on Sunday. Many came in book clubs — one said they call themselves the "Shady Ladies" — and a handful of men showed up with their wives.
Jorge Forte, 39, a lobbyist, said he read "Fifty Shades of Grey" after his wife, a stay-at-home mom, became a fan. Now he's telling all his work colleagues about it.
"It was definitely not boring," Forte said with a smile.
The crowd burst into a standing applause and took out cell phones to take photos when James entered the room. They asked when there would be a follow-up and how long it had taken her to write. But mostly their questions boiled down to two topics: Who is Christian based off and how much of the stuff described in the book has she actually tried?
James said Christian was based on several people. As for whether she's had experiences like those in the book, she said: "Some yes, some no, some I just used my imagination."
"Fifty Shades of Grey" is slated to be translated into more than 30 languages, and James will be stopping in eight other cities along the East coast. When she goes out now, she's asked for photographs. Time Magazine recently named her one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World."
She's tried not to let too many things change in her life: She's still doing laundry, she says, and there are at least two people by her side who have not read the books — her sons.
"Good God," she says. "I would be mortified."
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