I love reading. In fact, my other “hobby”, positioned right next to writing blog posts for this very blog, is running a street team for my friend Karen Booth, who is an author. I enjoy running the street team, although I am definitely in the learning curve of finding what works and what does not, but it’s a good challenge, and I’m also learning a lot about the world of publication. What does it really take to sell a book? How do books end up on the New York Times Bestseller List? Like anything in life, it’s complicated…but this blog isn’t about me, so keep reading.
Time and time again here on the blog I’ve attempted to skip lightly across the waters of fan fiction. It is not an area that I’ve spent a ton of time examining, particularly because just as in other fandoms, our fan fiction seems to have gone underground. Just as some see writing a blog about a particular band to be something that I should have grown out of by now; others see fan fiction as something that psycho people do. There’s the whole “You’re writing about an actual person!” thing, coupled with the whole “You’re writing about your own fantasies, aren’t you?” question. The funny thing is that fan fiction is huge business in fandom these days. Pick a subject, TV show, band, video game, book series, etc…and there are entire websites devoted to such delights. To many people in the academic world, fan fiction IS fandom. Any literary agent with half a brain would likely be staking out such places to find the “next best thing”. My point? Many will scoff at fan fiction, point and call names; but you can’t really deny the marketability if you’ve spent any time at all looking into the subject.
A friend of mine tagged an article for me that ran on Billboard.com about Anna Todd. She is a One Direction fan who has written fan fiction in a series called After. It’s gotten a staggering amount views and follows (something like a billion reads??), and earned Todd both book and screenplay deals. The fiction is based on Harry Styles (whose name has obviously now been changed in the books. Legalities, you know.) and a few of his buddies. They are marketed as New Adult fiction, with plenty of sex scenes (in fact Simon and Schuster asked Todd to include more for publication), and are large books at about 550 pages. Todd went from fan to published author in the blink of an eye, so it may seem.
To hear Anna’s story, it might sound remarkably familiar, if we erase the part about being offered a $500,000 book deal and screenplay, of course. She liked reading, found that she enjoyed One Direction, stumbled onto a fan fiction website (iPhone app Wattpad) where she spent her time reading (amongst sending out resumes and looking for a job). One day nothing was being updated and she decided to write her own story. Something about that story resonated with someone, who told her friends, and so on and so on. A billion reads later and she’s got her OWN fandom. She spends her time writing, responding to her own fans, creating her own community. Her participation in 1D fandom has really become participating in her own fandom at this point. And result? A very vocal (and not quite so small “minority) of fans hate her.
Here’s the thing, not all fans want to see great things happen to other fans. It’s a fact of life. Jealousy easily flows and divides. 1D fans who originally liked her story now swear they hated it from day one. As Anna Todd has evolved from fan to celebrity, a certain faction within the One Direction community that once supported has turned against her. They don’t believe she was ever truly a fan and argue that she’s simply using the band’s success in order to cash in.
Todd herself claims that she was never, “psychotic obsessed with One Direction”. As someone who studies fandom, I find this particular characterization and description interesting. There’s always this need to equate the sort of passion that fans exhibit with crazy behavior; as though since 1D fans question the validity of her fandom, they are crazy. It is a mechanism designed to dismiss their concerns, whether valid or otherwise, one we see used in fandom debates over and over again.
Fans particularly do not appreciate the “bad boy” characterization Todd has given to Styles, even though at this point Harry was simply the beginning “muse”. The character in the book is now named “Hardin”, and all other band member names and/or likenesses have been changed. This is something that I’ve seen mentioned across all fandoms with regard to fan fiction. Fellow writers and readers forget that this is fan fiction. The band, the subject of interest, etc, are used purely as muses. They are starting “platforms” and those characters are typically expanded to be something quite different than how they began. Besides, who is to really know what Styles or any other band member is really like? This type of argument, over what is or is not “canon”, is common. I can only imagine what Twilight fans must have said regarding 50 Shades…
Jealousy flows readily within even our own fan community when stories of success are told. Rumors fly. Some may be valid, others couldn’t be farther from the truth. The bottom line is that it’s all fine and good until somebody gets an extra hug from LeBon and Co…and we’re in our forties at this point. The demographic of One Direction fans is decidedly younger, in more of the teen-range. Oh, the drama!
I have no way of determining whether Anna Todd is in fact a real fan or someone with enough marketing genius to see that if she could get her stories read, followed and supported by the legion of 1D fans out there, she’d have half a shot of getting a book deal. In the end, I really doubt it matters much. Someone commented to me earlier on Facebook, “Too bad the subject of our fanfic probably wouldn’t garner quite that many readers!“, and that’s really the truth, as much as I dislike admitting it. That’s really more than half of the equation here. It might not even be that her writing or the story is that compelling – it’s that she got it read by a billion people before it ever became a printed publication. In the short time that I’ve dabbled amongst street teams and have witnessed the victories and defeats of fiction authors, talent rarely has anything to do with getting published. It’s who you know, who saw your work, and in the case of Anna Todd…building a community of people willing to support you. Billboard characterizes Todd as a lifelong fan. Perhaps a fan of many things, although we all know that One Direction has not been around quite that long. Anna Todd has gotten a billion people to read her work. How many of us can say that?
Fan or marketing genius….we may never really know.