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From fan to famous: 8 authors who started out writing fanfiction

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi
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Think fanfiction is just for amateur writers? Think again…

Fanfiction has a long history, predating the internet: it originated via fans of Star Trek, with fan written works appearing in zines about the show.

With the internet, fanfiction exploded, although for years was seen as nerdy and something to be talked about in hushed voices. It has also sometimes proved controversial, with some authors saying they don’t like people writing fanfiction of their books.

But in recent years, fanfiction has become more accepted, especially as a number of authors who started out writing fanfiction have gone on to be traditionally published. Here are eight writers who have dabbled in fanfiction, in some surprising fandoms…

EL James

EL James

Before Fifty Shades of Grey was a multi-million copy selling series about shy student Anastasia Steele and multi-millionaire Christian Grey, it featured characters called Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.

Yes, Fifty Shades started life as a Twilight fanfiction, with James writing under the penname Snowqueens Icedragon. It was originally called Master of the Universe, and was published between 2009 and 2011.

James deleted it in 2011 so that she could rework it into what would become Fifty Shades of Grey and its subsequent books, although it is still available as a PDF if you know where to look.

Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare

The author of The Mortal Instruments, plus its various spin off books, was a Big Name Fan – the name given to someone in a fandom who is particularly well known.

She wrote in the Lord of the Rings fandom, but it was her work in the Harry Potter fandom – particularly a series called The Draco Trilogy written under the name Cassandra Claire – where she really found fame.

That series featured a love triangle between Harry, Hermione and Draco. In the first story, Draco Dormiens, Harry and Draco become bodyswapped, and have to keep it a secret while they find an antidote.

None of her fanfiction is now available to read online.

Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot. Image: Ali Smith

Meg Cabot’s greatest creation, Mia Thermopolis, would definitely write fanfiction if she were a real teenager, so it’s no surprise that Cabot herself used to dabble in fanfic.

But if you know Cabot’s work at all, you might be surprised about the fandom she wrote in: Star Wars.

In a post on her website Cabot, whose novels include The Princess Diaries, says she wrote’ fanfic as a tween, and that overall she thinks fanfiction is a good thing.

She says: “I think writing fan fiction is a good way for new writers to learn to tell a story. The good thing about writing fan fiction is that the characters and basic plot are already set up, so new writers can concentrate on dialogue, or further plot development. Basically, the author has already created a world for the new writer to play around in, and that is a great way for new writers to learn the skills they will need in order to create their OWN universe (which I hope they will do someday, because the world needs more good stories, and it would be a shame if someone who might have some decent stories of her own to tell was depriving us of them because she was spending all her time writing, for example, Star Wars fan fics. Ahem).”

But she says she would never read fanfiction based on her books, because they’re not her vision and because she’s worried that if an idea similar to that found in a fanfic ever turned up in one of her books, she could be sued.

Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik. Image: Beth Gwinn

Science fiction and fantasy writer Naomi Novik is well known for having written fan fiction before being published for her original works, although her penname is not widely known.

But she is such a fan of fanfiction that she co-founded the Organization of Transformative Works, a group which provides access to and preserves the history of fanworks and fan cultures. Among its projects is fanfiction website Archive of Our Own.

Novik is the author of the Temeraire series, a series of nine novels that are a fantasy reimagining of the Napoleonic Wars with an air force of dragons. 

Sophie Jackson

Sophie Jackson

Like EL James, Sophie Jackson is an author known for erotic fiction who started out writing Twilight fanfiction.

Under the handle Jaxon22 she wrote A Pound of Flesh, the summary for which says: “To pay a debt she owes her father, Isabella Swan starts a new job as a prison tutor. Edward Cullen, with his own debts, is the Punk Ass inmate in her class. Can they fight the odds and their dangerous attraction to learn from each other?”

A Pound of Flesh has since been published, and is now a series, with Bella Swan and Edward Cullen replaced by characters called Kat Lane and Wesley Carter.

Anna Todd

Anna Todd

In recent years, Wattpad has become the go-to place for fanfiction writers; there are in excess of 500 million works on the platform.

In 2014, Simon & Schuster paid six figures to acquire the rights to After and other novels by Anna Todd, which were originally written as One Direction fanfiction and reportedly racked up 1 billion reads.

In After, 18-year-old Tessa meets Harry, a “rude boy” who has “too many tattoos and piercings”. As well as Harry Styles, the Wattpad story also contains characters who share names and likenesses with the other members of One Direction.

After is still available to read on Wattpad its original form, under Todd’s penname imaginator1D.

The published book, which is now the first in a five-book series, has kept Tessa, but has replaced Harry Styles with a character called Hardin, and changed the names of other characters as well.

Marissa Meyer

Marissa-Meyer-c-Julia-Scott-close-up

Meyer is the author of The Lunar Chronicles, a futuristic retelling of the fairytales Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White.

Before she wrote the bestselling quadrilogy, Meyer wrote 39 fanfics set in the world of Sailor Moon, the Japanese manga in which a schoolgirl called Usagi Tsukino transforms into Sailor Moon to search for a magical artefact.

Meyer’s Sailor Moon fanfiction, written under the name Alicia Blade, is still available on fanfiction.net, with a note from Meyer identifying herself and talking about her traditionally published novels.

Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell. Image: Augusten Burroughs

It’s no secret that Attachments’ author Rainbow Rowell is a fan of both Harry Potter and fandom.

Her novel Fangirl is about fanfiction writing twins who drift apart at university when one of them becomes less interested in fandom, and her YA novel Carry On is a Harry Potter-esque story involving magic, vampires and more at an English boarding school.

She’s admitted to writing Harry Potter fanfiction when she was between writing two of her own novels. The fanfic focused on Harry and Draco, who are often romantically paired together in Harry Potter fanfiction.

Rowell has never published the work online, but has read from it at a fan convention.

Images: Unsplash, Getty, Kelly Campbell/SSInc, Ali Smith/Pan Macmillan, Beth Gwinn/Pan Macmillan, Headline, Simon & Schuster, Julia Scott, Augusten Burroughs/Pan Macmillan

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