After: From Wattpad to The New York Times

The comments section on Goodreads is rife with arguments about Anna Todd’s After. ‘This is garbage’ reads one, and ‘Emily Brontë would be choking herself to death if she were alive’ reads another (Goodreads 2014:‘ha-ha-nope’). It is almost universally agreed among critics that the lack of character progression and Todd’s unimaginative writing style makes the novel a nightmare of a read. Still, it remains wildly popular. 

After, a 2014 novel published by Simon & Schuster, has become a worldwide phenomenon, proclaiming itself to be the ‘internet’s most talked about book’ (Simon & Schuster 2020:para.2). However, After did not begin its life as a traditionally published novel. It has had a peculiar publishing history, having originally been posted as fanfiction surrounding One Direction star, Harry Styles. As a result of choosing to feature a celebrity such as Styles, After gained most of its fans from readers simply looking to read about the singer. This format allows fans to imagine themselves in the written scenarios with Styles, giving them a sort of ‘imaginary sandbox’. In acquiring this demographic as a fanbase, Todd has unfortunately alienated many critics who critique the writing itself and don’t care for the celebrity-inspired characters. Nonetheless, After retains its growing fanbase who love the book, simply because they also love Harry.

After began its rise on the popular fanfiction website Wattpad, which allows its users to write and upload user-generated content with the click of a button (The Literary Platform 2012:para.3). It was originally written by Todd under the pseudonym ‘imaginator1D’. Todd has commented that when she writes, she ‘barely ever reread(s) the chapter before posting’ and that she ‘just put(s) headphones in and type(s)’ then uploads it straight away without editing the chapter (Faircloth 2014:para.6-7). After’s popularity grew to the point where it boasted over a billion reads, which led to Simon & Schuster offering Todd a six-figure deal to publish her book, along with a movie deal (Kircher 2015:para.1). In 2014, Simon & Schuster published the book as a four-part series, which has gone on to become a New York Times bestseller. Kircher (2015:para.4) adds that this is not a fluke and that publishing houses are ‘increasingly looking online for fresh stories that have a built-in fan base’. 

As fanfiction, After was originally written for fans of Harry Styles. This has shaped the book’s central demographic. Being originally published on a website that has over 65 million users worldwide, the novel was easily circulated amongst these fans, contributing to its quick success (Bold 2016:p117). Even following its publication as a novel, After remains available on Wattpad and as it is so easily accessible and free to use—any Harry Styles fan with an internet connection can read the story online. Though not directly related to the publishing of fiction, a similar idea is brought forth by Harnard et al. (1999:p3) who write that publishing works online would make the content ‘freely available to everyone, twenty-four hours a day, everywhere, forever’. As a result of making After available to everyone, it has gained a huge fanbase of people who may not have paid for the book. Due to this exposure, the primary fanbase for After is fans of Harry Styles who enjoy the book simply because it surrounds their favourite popstar and not because of the quality of the writing, as acknowledged by Alexandra Alter (2014:para.7) in her article for The New York Times, where she writes about Todd’s experience writing After. 

On the other end of this are the literary critics, who do not care that it is about Harry Styles and who do care for the quality of the writing. Critic Sara Dobie Bauer (2014:para.2) wrote that ‘Anna Todd isn’t much of a writer. Not only is she lacking in style, she has little imagination, and her prose makes me want to move to a cabin in the woods because if After is getting picked up by Simon & Schuster (and Paramount Pictures), the apocalypse is upon us and fire will soon rain from the sky’. Dobie Bauer goes on to say, ‘The dialogue is stilted, like some high schooler decided to write an after-school special about the drama, drama, drama of drinking vodka’ (Dobie Bauer 2014: para 8). This is only one example of many critics who have similar views about After. The quality of the writing is undeniable. It is not well written and as Todd has admitted, she doesn’t edit her work before posting it online (Faircloth 2014: para.6). However, the stigma that comes along with novels that began as fanfiction can also instil a dislike of the book in the critic’s mind before they have read it. This is evident in Faircloth’s review, where in the title of her review she claims that After is just sloppy fanfiction. It is this assumption that fanfiction is lesser than other forms of writing that Wattpad is now trying to challenge.

As it is primarily used for writing fanfiction, Wattpad has embraced the genre and is trying to promote it as a legitimate form of writing. This idea is brought up by Thompson who writes, ‘Although many literature fanatics do not often consider fanfiction to be as legitimate as commercially published work, there are many examples of how Wattpad has legitimized this particular type of writing’ (Thompson 2014:6). Wattpad features a dedicated section of the site for fanfiction writers and holds annual awards for writers of the genre. Since its creation in 2006, Wattpad has also established many partnerships within the entertainment and publishing industries. The idea behind the partnerships is that the contract is altered to ‘allow books to remain on the Wattpad site in their original form—unedited, but still free to users on the site—and [the publishing company] would go through the traditional publishing process with the author’ (Thompson 2014:6). This allows a publishing company to acquire a new author who already has a highly engaged fanbase while also motivating these existing fans to purchase the book with additional materials and extra scenes. Unfortunately, this model of publishing has led critics to inherently dislike the book because it started out as fanfiction, regardless of the quality of writing. Although there is no denying that After is not well written or conceptually sound according to critics, Wattpad is doing what it can to legitimise fanfiction and change the stigma around it being less genuine than other forms of writing.

After’s road to becoming the New York Times bestseller it is today has been anything but traditional. Even though the writing is careless and it is simply, according to critics, not a good book, After remains popular due to its origins in fanfiction and online publication. Through online publication websites such as Wattpad, authors are able to get their work out there quickly, and thanks to Wattpad’s dedication to connecting popular writers on their site with publishers, Wattpad continues to work towards changing critics view of fanfiction being a lesser form of writing.


REFERENCES

Alter A (21 October 2014) ‘Fantasizing on the Famous’, The New York Times, accessed 10 September 2020.

Bold M (2016) ‘The Return of the Social Author: Negotiating Authority and Influence on Wattpad’, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 21(2):117- 136.

Dobie Bauer S (24 October 2014) ‘We admit: Anna Todd’s After is pretty bad — here’s why’, SheKnows, accessed 10 September 2020.

Faircloth K (18 April 2014) ‘Book Is Supposedly New 50 Shades, But Is Really Just Sloppy Fanfic’, Jezebel, accessed 10 September 2020.

GoodReads (2014) After, accessed 8 September 2020.

Harnad S, Varian H and Parks B (2000) ‘Academic publishing in the online era’, Culture machine, 2(1):1-20.

Kircher M (19 July 2015) ‘This woman wrote One Direction fanfic on her phone and ended up with a major book deal’, Business Insider, accessed 11 September 2020.

The Literary Platform (October 2012) Wattpad: Building the World’s Biggest Reader and Writer Community, The Literary Platform, retrieved 12 September 2020.

Simon & Schuster (2020) After: About the Book, Simon & Schuster Publishing, retrieved 12 September 2020.

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One thought on “After: From Wattpad to The New York Times

  1. As a short story writer, it is fascinating to see the success of a novel like After, which began its life as fanfiction on Wattpad. The idea that a book with a built-in fanbase can be picked up by a major publishing house and become a New York Times bestseller is intriguing, and it’s clear that the internet and social media are playing a huge role in the publishing industry. However, it’s also important to note the divide between readers who are drawn to the book because of its connection to Harry Styles and those who critique the writing itself. It’s a reminder that success can come from many different avenues, and that writing is a subjective art.

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