E.L. James is somewhat of an oddity: she appears to have “made it” as a novelist by writing fan fiction.
I started out by writing fan fiction. When I was in eighth grade, I wrote a sprawling, meandering “novel” (it was something like 50 handwritten loose leaf sheets of paper and it was divided in to four “books”, each shorter than the previous). It was first person, so of course the main character was a self-insert. The “love interest” was the girl I was crushing on at the time, and it was otherwise the plot of the TV series “Captain N: the Game Master.”
That never went anywhere, and I’ve lost the manuscript (thank God; I’m sure I would be mortified that I ever wrote anything like it). I’ve continued to write fan fiction, with my more recent endeavors here. But I’ve never made any money from it.
No one has.
Until E.L. James.