With the success of Fifty Shades of Grey (originally Twilight fanfiction) and the Mortal Instruments series (which allegedly began as Harry Potter fanfiction), the success of Anna Todd’s After series should come as no surprise. Originally published on Wattpad as fanfiction of British boyband One Direction, After received millions of views and was eventually picked up by Simon and Schuster for traditional publishing.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet Anna in the Indigo Green Room before her signing last Wednesday. I hadn’t read the After series on Wattpad and new little beyond the fact that it starred Harry Styles and had millions of fans online, and I was interested in finding out more.
In brief, After is about innocent college freshman Tessa falling in love with bad boy older student Hardin. Their relationship is a classic good girl/bad boy romance, with Tessa’s goodness making Hardin want to reform.
Fellow blogger Hayley commented that the relationship between Tessa and Hardin was “so toxic, but I couldn’t stop reading!” Anna admitted that their relationship was indeed toxic, but pointed out that it’s fiction. She brought up an interesting point about what we look for in book boyfriends versus real life boyfriends. Readers want some level of difficulty in book boyfriends, she says, without necessarily wanting it in real life. She spoke about the popularity of the bad boy trope and pointed out that the idea of a boy wanting to change for the better, for the sake of a girl he loves, is attractive. Anna was quick to point out that most readers distinguish between the fantasy of this within fiction, and what we actually look for in real life. “I wouldn’t want my husband to treat me like [Hardin treats Tessa],” she said. Yet fiction is a safe place to indulge these fantasies, and allow ourselves to fall for a boy who would be better for no reason other than love for us, and us alone.
Anna says that After is “a combination of all these things I love.” Beyond the hero being originally inspired by Harry Styles, Anna’s love of the Fifty Shades trilogy is also reflected in Hardin and Tessa’s romance. Another influences include Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice (an early scene between Hardin and Tessa closely resembles Elizabeth and Darcy’s first encounter at a party).
The transition from Wattpad fanfiction to published novels was very smooth, which Anna credits to her editor at Simon and Schuster. She views the published version as a definite improvement to the unpolished original. Awkward phrases and grammatical errors were smoothed out, and the story expanded to add complexity to certain characters.
Despite her positive experience with traditional publishing, Anna maintains loyalty to the Wattpad community, and asserts her thankfulness at the support of the online community. She particularly loves the constant stream of feedback from readers that Wattpad provides. When working with her Simon and Schuster editor, Anna admits the switch from crowdsourced editing to editing by a single person felt odd, and that, in order to mimic the Wattpad environment, her editor gave more detailed edits than he usually would.
After has since been picked up for a movie deal, and we naturally asked Anna about who she sees in the roles. She says Indiana Evans is far and away the definitive choice for Tessa in her mind. For Hardin, she thinks Douglas Booth would be a great choice, and she would love to see Ansel Elgort as Landon (a classic good boy and friend to Tessa). For Zed (a friend of Hardin’s whom fellow blogger Hayley describes as “the Wickham” in the series), Anna admits that he was originally based on Zane from One Direction, and in her mind, she still can’t think of anyone else in the role.
What’s Anna working on now? Other than publicity for this title and writing the fourth book in the series, she’s also expanding on a story about Landon’s romance with someone (I can’t remember the name and can’t find it on Google, but Hayley, who’d read the entire series on Wattpad, was really excited to hear this, so I think fans of the series will be thrilled). The next two books will be published by Simon and Schuster over the next couple of months, and Anna highly recommends waiting for the published versions — Simon and Schuster’s editing has smoothed out the rough edges, and the stories have been expanded for print. As well, Anna says that she may change the ending of the entire series for the print version, just because of the way the characters and storylines have developed in print.
As an aside and possibly minor, but to my mind important, note about my feelings on celebrity fanfiction in general: while I have few reservations about fanfiction on fictional characters getting mainstream recognition, the idea of fanfiction about real people does make me very uncomfortable. Not that I’ve never fantasized about celebrities, but to actually make these fantasies public seems to me somehow a violation of those celebrities’ boundaries. All that to say that the origin of After makes me uncomfortable not because of its plot or any pre-formed opinion about the quality of fanfiction, but because of its use of a real celebrity as the hero.
I did receive a copy of this book for review, and will put aside my reservations about its origin and celebrity fanfiction in general as I read it. Just a thought, and if celebrity fanfiction becomes more of a trend, I’d love to know what the rest of you think about it.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for the opportunity to meet and speak with Anna Todd.