Someone has come a long way from fangirling over a boyband and writing a million-word fan-fiction about them. Her name is Anna Todd, the novel is After and its subject: British pop superstars One Direction.
Todd was going to college, working different jobs when she discovered Wattpad. The online reading and publishing platform got her hooked that she eventually dared to write her own story. Her readers, who were also part of the fandom, grew and, soon enough, publishers were bidding to put her 1D-inspired erotic romance on print.
Currently she has five titles in her After series, two new titles in a new saga, and a book that will come out next fall called The Spring Girls, which is a modern retelling of Little Women. On Wattpad, Todd (whose username is @imaginator1D) has amassed 1.1M followers and counting.
For someone who, in her words, “bounced from thing to thing trying to figure out what to do for a career,” Anna Todd hasn’t done so bad. “I didn’t have anything I wanted and the idea of doing something I hated was awful,” she says — not until now, of course, that she has found her one true direction: writing.
GIST: What drew you into Wattpad?
ANNA TODD: The idea of millions of people writing just for the love of it. They tell stories that sometimes publishers wouldn’t pick up because they’re too different — too this, too that. On Wattpad you can put anything and I love that.
Before Wattpad, where did you channel your creative ideas?
I’ve always been in love with reading, but I’ve never really thought about writing. And then I fell in love with Wattpad,
with reading all these stories from people of different ages and (background). I thought maybe I’ll write something to entertain myself. Then I wrote the first chapter of After and felt in an instant something (akin to) obsession and relief. This is how it feels to write something. So I kept writing and writing and writing.
Where did the germ of After’s plot-line come from?
I was reading a lot of fan-fiction and I was like, ‘Oh I’ll write my own.’ I didn’t want One Direction to be the actual characters. All the 1D fan-fic I’ve read and loved don’t have anything to do with them. They look like them but they are totally different people — like in some they are vampires. I knew I wanted it to be AU — alternate universe — so it’s completely fiction.
And I love college-age stories. That time when you’re supposed to be an adult but you’re really not, and you’re figuring out who you are. But I didn’t have any idea what was gonna happen, where I was gonna go. I didn’t even think when I started it that I’d finish it.
Among all the One Direction fan-fction out there, what do you think made After stand out and get the attention of publishing houses?
My theory is that, one, it’s longer. Most people on Wattpad have jobs and other things to do. I had a job, too, but I spent every second writing this book. And it’s written by an older person. I’ve read 1D fan-fiction written by people older than me, but most of them are by younger ones. So there’s only so much experience they’ve had. And I updated it all the
Before publication, a manuscript has to go through editing — something that doesn’t happen on Wattpad. Did you feel like your original work’s integrity had been sacrificed during the editing process?
The grammar, of course, definitely needed editing. But there wasn’t a ton of actual changes. They knew my readers loved it the way it was. There were things that were changed to make it shorter, because on Wattpad it’s over a million words. But my editor was so great, he trusted me.
Since your first book is also your first attempt at writing, how do you teach yourself to become better at it? Do you now take classes and have mentors?
I learned that if you sit down and write a story, you’re a writer. I don’t know if it’s necessary to take all these workshops — I’d much rather be a storyteller than a writer. I just learn to write by doing it. I have some authors that I look up to, like Cassandra Clare and EL James; but I don’t necessarily follow them. I loved their stories so much and they wrote books that really changed me as a person. If I hadn’t read 50 Shades of Grey, I wouldn’t have written any romance. I loved her story, too, how she came from fan-fiction and now she’s one of the biggest authors in the world.
What’s your response to Wattpad and fan-fiction critics who don’t take the medium and the genre seriously?
It’s kind of sad, especially when it’s the media or other writers talking negatively about something somebody else is doing. Even for me, you can say, ‘Oh she just wrote a One Direction fan-fiction.’ But do you know how many thousands of teenagers who never read before have gotten into reading (because of it)? Maybe we should focus on that.
What’s the worst criticism you’ve received?
People wishing that I die — stuff like that. It’s the internet. Everyone loved Twilight but when it became so big everybody hated it. I knew I would face that, but I didn’t really care. I’ve heard everything, like me stealing the story from some girl on Wattpad. There are all kinds of craziness on the internet but nothing has been (bad enough) to make me consider not writing.
To anyone who’s new to Wattpad, whether as a reader, writer or both, where do you suggest they start?
Start with whatever your favorite thing is. It doesn’t have to be fan-fiction. Wattpad has millions of stories. If you like romance, just type in romance and Wattpad does a great job of curating. The best thing about it is if you don’t care for one story, you just swipe to the next one. (For writers), I would definitely recommend using Wattpad. It’s good to have an audience already. I hope that the days when publishers control everything we read will be over soon. If we give more opportunities to writers who just want to write, that will change things.
What was you reaction when Zayn Malik left One Direction?
I was happy for him but I didn’t like the way he did it. My husband’s favorite is Zayn and he always said that he should do music by himself, and I was like, ‘Don’t ever say that.’ But I liked his music. So I’m glad that he did it and I’m happy that they’ve all moved on.