Fanfiction Famous: Why Were Anna Todd’s Books and Fanfiction So Popular?

After series by Anna Todd

Fanfiction is term you probably mostly associate with the internet, but the term and the practice has been around for decades. The first “self-insert” fanfiction, in which authors would insert themselves into a fictional setting, was published in 1952.

Since then, fanfiction has boomed, with some fanfiction writers getting published paperbacks, turning into hit franchises and even getting movie adaptations. Some of the most popular works of fanfiction to do so are Anna Todd’s books, the “After” series, which started as Wattpad fanfiction. Her surge in popularity and publication have started many discourses in the reading community. Namely, are fanfiction writers legitimate authors?

Today, let’s take a dive into Anna Todd’s books, how Wattpad fanfiction gets published and whether fanfiction writers are “real” authors.

What were Anna Todd’s Books About?

High school couple
Anna Todd’s books follows the turbulent relationship between two college students.

Anna Todd started her career writing RPF fanfiction. This means that her works involved fictional events regarding people in real, usually celebrities. For example, a fanfiction writer may put their favorite actors in a “Black Swan” situation. In her case, she made fanfiction about One Direction singer Harry Styles. She uploaded her work on popular fanfiction website Wattpad, which has over 90 million active users.

Her fanfiction, “After,” follows a college freshman as she pursues a relationship with a fictionalized version of Harry Styles. The fanfiction and Anna Todd’s books, which were edited and improved versions of her original work, has been compared to E.L. James’ ”50 Shades of Gray” novels. Aside from both of them starting off as fanfiction writers, both their novels showcase heroines who are in a toxic, if not downright abusive relationships with very attractive men. Both works have also been criticized for romanticizing toxic relationships, with Anna Todd’s books aiming for a tween to teenaged demographic.

In 2014, Todd’s fanfiction was picked up Simon and Schuster, turning it into published books. The story spans a total of four books, with Todd writing a prequel novella. They even received a 2019 film adaptation based on the first books, with a sequel movie released the following year.

The “After” series is one of the most successful pieces of “Wattpad” fanfiction out there, but what made it so publishable? What sets apart Anna Todd’s books from the millions of fanfiction in the market?

How are Fanfiction Writers Getting Published?

Most fanfiction writers have no aspirations of getting published and instead write for sheer pleasure. However, there are a few who have been swept up by publishing houses and have become successes. So how does Wattpad fanfiction become a million-dollar franchise?

Publishing houses on the look-out for turning fanfiction have a set of metrics they monitor.

Some of the most important consideration include the following:

  • Readership

If a piece of fanfiction has garnered enough readership online, it’s more likely that a publisher may approach the author and turn it into a real book. This is because it guarantees that the work has an audience. It also means that these readers have been actively sharing and promoting the fanfic, which could mean they will do the same for any book counterpart. Anna Todd’s books would never have been published if the fanfic it was based on didn’t have millions of views.

  • Trends

Publishers keep an eye on what’s popular with readers and these tends will affect which fanfiction writers they offer deals to. When “After” was published, the reading world was in the throes of the young adult genre, but it was also still in the grip of E.L. James’ work. “After” provided a great confluence of both, not to mention that One Direction, upon whom many of the characters were based on, was still a big deal at the time.

  • Style

Trends come from the audience while style comes from the author. The way a piece of fanfiction is written is still a major consideration for publishing houses. For example, Cassandra Clare began her “Shadowhunters” series as Harry Potter fanfiction, but her writing style shone through. Anna Todd’s books have been criticized as lacking style, but clearly her work resonates with people, especially younger readers, due to the sheer number of views her fanfiction received.

When all three of these factors are present and accounted for, a fanfiction writer has a great chance becoming published. However, despite being published, fanfiction authors are still discriminated against.

Are they real writers or not?

Are Fanfiction Writers Real Authors?

Anna Todd with her books
Anna Todd’s books make her a published and professional writer.

The definition of “author” and “writer” simply states that someone has to write something, hopefully an original piece, to be considered as such. Fanfiction writers are often derided as unoriginal because for the most part they are using someone else’s characters and setting. It’s sort of like claiming to be a carpenter when you just assembled a piece of prefab furniture.

But there are fanfiction writers who go the extra mile, reimagining characters and putting them in original settings and situations, a process that no doubt needs considerable talent to pull off properly.

You also need to consider whether you mean to say if they’re professional or not, a term that means they get paid to write. Majority of fanfiction are unsolicited and free for consumption, but that does not mean their creators aren’t writers. When a fanfiction writer gets headhunted by a publishing house, then they become professional writers.

In the end, fanfiction authors are definitely writers. It’s just that a lot of them aren’t good writers or paid to write for a living.

No matter what you feel about Anna Todd’s books, it’s undeniable that fanfiction isn’t a lesser form of literature. For millions of people around the world, fanfiction can have the same emotional and intellectual resonance of works you find on shelves. If you don’t understand how this can be, perhaps you just need to read the right piece of fanfiction to broaden your horizon.

Scroll to Top