James Brown may forever be known as the hardest working man in show business; but, when it comes to bestselling authors, the intrepid business woman behind the nom de plume Zane might very well be the hardest working woman in erotic fiction.

With her newest title, Busy Bodies (an anthology of steamy short stories) set for release on July 16, two seasons of the Cinemax series Zane’s Sex Chronicles under her belt, and the Lionsgate adaptation of her second novel Addicted wrapped and awaiting a premiere date, you might wonder when Zane sleeps!

Between work on her formidable list of upcoming projects, theGrio caught up with the plucky author, whose faithful following of readers has landed her on the New York Times bestseller list an astounding 26 times.

Zane shared her personal recipe for success, advice for young, black writers and her top tips for entrepreneurs.

How a research assistant became “Zane”

You might be surprised to learn the mega-author (who assumed her pseudonym when she was a part-time research assistant for her theologian father) got her start sharing a few short stories on AOL chat rooms. (Remember those!)

“I had always loved books and had a very vivid imagination as a child, but as far as becoming ‘Zane,’ that wasn’t until November 1997,” Zane told theGrio. “I wrote a short story and shared it with a few people I’d met online. I self-published three more stories online and got about 8,000 hits by word of mouth alone.”

Over the next three years, Zane’s popularity grew online and she was contacted by several major publishers, offering book deals she ultimately turned down.

“They were asking me to tone down my material. They said it was too graphic,” she said. “That wasn’t something I was going to do; I’d received so many emails from readers thanking me for affirming that they were normal, who felt empowered by my material.”

A consummate business woman, with a marketing degree from Howard University, Zane then decided to run a test to gauge the viability of her product. She placed an ad on her website advertising her short stories for a nominal fee, and got an overwhelming response.

“Then I knew that I could sell a book,” she observed.

Zane self-publishes to great success

Soon, after self-publishing her first novel The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth, Zane decided to sign with Simon & Schuster in 2000, recognizing the limitations of self-publishing and her ability to manage the growing demands of her popularity.

Perhaps more surprising than her precocious use of the Internet –  harnessing it pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook to promote her writing –  is that the mogul behind the sex-soaked Zane brand did not set out to write erotic fiction at all.

“I had never read erotica,” Zane said. “I just knew that I wanted to write vivid stories. Stories that have romance and sex scenes. The reality is people don’t go from being active in their day-to-day lives to being silent in the bedroom. To me, the sex was always just another part of any story.”

Zane on 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon

Zane has achieved a sustained, slow-burning success in the billion-dollar romance novel industry over the course of a quarter century. What has distinguished her writing for all these years? And how does she feel about the sudden, explosive success of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise?

“I still don’t read erotic fiction,” Zane explained about this subsection of the romance books sector. But she knows enough about the business to recognize that 50 Shades of Grey was hardly the first book of its kind.

“I actually really love self-help books, but if I had to take a wild guess, I think what probably distinguishes my books is that, if you took the sex out, you would still have all of the building blocks of a compelling story: character development, good story lines,” Zane said. “I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’m very happy for the author. What amuses me, though, is that people act like erotica just went mainstream. Even if you took me out of the equation, there have been other major crossover successes.”