Next month, Simon & Schuster will release After in the UK. After is the first book in a series by Anna Todd, and the cover boasts that the novel has already had ‘1 billion reads’. How has this book already achieved such fame? The answer is Wattpad, an online writing community Todd joined as a teenager with a passion for the boyband One Direction.
On Wattpad, Todd writes explicitly about Harry Styles, a member of One Direction, but in her published novel, the love interest of her protagonist is a moody British student with piercings and tattoos. Wattpad is an extremely popular forum for fan fiction, and, interestingly, Nazia Khan, Wattpad’s communications manager, estimates that around 100 Wattpad writers ‘have landed a publishing deal after sharing their story on Wattpad.’ Sites like Wattpad are clearly extremely valuable resources for the publisher, and are a way for authors to get book deals without going through via the traditional route with a book agent.
I read a sample of After on the Simon & Schuster website and found Todd’s writing to be dull and simplistic. The first chapter begins with Tessa, the main character, getting ready for her first day of college. The account is unoriginal and badly written, and made me question whether it is right that reputable publishing houses publish this sort of work.
On one hand, the publisher is giving the reader what they want. Todd’s work is very popular on the internet, and so there is a clear market for the novel. The book is also sure to be a great seller, so there is little risk involved in the release. On the other hand, I would expect a publisher like Simon & Schuster to focus on publishing high quality literature by established or impressive new authors. I think that if publishing houses continue to give book deals to fan fiction authors who are not also talented writers, then some respect will be lost by the consumer who prefers only to read books of a certain standard. I think that other publishing routes, for example commercial self-publishing as E. L. James did, are perhaps more appropriate in Todd’s case.