After 'Fifty Shades,' Could This Be The Next Big Online Hit? After is an epic, erotic fan fiction loosely based on the British boy band One Direction. It's being republished by Simon & Schuster, which is hoping the story's online fans will buy it in book form.
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After 'Fifty Shades,' Could This Be The Next Big Online Hit?

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After 'Fifty Shades,' Could This Be The Next Big Online Hit?

After 'Fifty Shades,' Could This Be The Next Big Online Hit?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is being touted as the next "Fifty Shades Of Grey," "After" began as a work of erotic online fan fiction loosely based on the hugely popular British boy band, One Direction. The first volume of "After" just hit stores, as NPR's Petra Mayer reports.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Let's rewind a little to those words fan fiction because I know half of you heard it and turned off the radio, in which case, you can't hear me now so maybe the next car over is tuned to NPR. Anyhow, fan fiction is what happens when you love something - a TV show, a book, a movie - so much that you want to spend more time with it. You want to fill in the gaps in the story, figure out the home life of that guy in the background, rewrite the endings that you don't like - or imagine what would happen, say, if you were going to college with your favorite boy band.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) Don't cry, Tess, Harry whispers. I hadn't realized I was. He brings his hand up and I fight the urge to flinch away. What is he doing? The pad of his thumb captures the tear before it rolls down my cheek. My lips part in surprise from his gentle touch. Who is this guy, and where is the snarky, rude Harry?

MAYER: "After" is set at a small state college, where innocent heroine Tessa falls in with a wild crowd. Tattooed, bad boy Harry Styles, a fictional version of the real singer, and his One Direction bandmates, who serve as the backup cast of rowdy frat brothers - though author Anna Todd swears she's not Tessa herself.

ANNA TODD: But as my readers got to know me, and my friends started reading it, they were like, you are Tessa. You're a less annoying version of Tessa (laughter).

MAYER: Harry and Tessa - the fans call them Hessa - fight and breakup, makeup and make out, and their saga has proven incredibly popular with readers.

TODD: They would catch on to clues I was dropping. I have some plot twists in the story and so whenever they would get too close, to know what's going on, I would throw in something to kind of throw them off, and kind of pull the strings as they were reading.

MAYER: As she went along, Todd included notes to her readers at the top of new chapters, pointing out fan art or promising extra chunks of story if more people commented. Fan fiction gets sneered at a lot for ripping off other stories, for being badly written, but like any other genre, there's good fanfic and bad - and before you turn your nose up, consider this...

ANNE JAMISON: This is no different, I think, from people telling stories around a campfire, back when you had a common mythology, say Arthurian legend, and people would tell stories about it.

MAYER: That's Anne Jamison, a literature professor at the University of Utah, who's actually teaching a class on fanfic. Jamison says even Shakespeare lifted other people's characters for his plays. Now, I'm not sure how much farther you can take that parallel, but like Shakespeare in his day, fan fiction today is massively popular entertainment. Ashleigh Gardner is the head of content at Wattpad, the site where Todd originally posted her work.

ASHLEIGH GARDNER: I think it was one of the biggest stories we've ever seen on Wattpad. I think that what really impressed us was the fan engagement around it.

MAYER: And she's not kidding. The cover of the paperback version of "After" boasts of one billion online reads. Again, Ashleigh Gardner.

GARDNER: I was regularly seeing photos on Instagram that would be pictures of Harry Styles and his girlfriend, and one of our marketing team pointed out to me that that was not his girlfriend, that was a character from the book that fans were Photoshopping in.

MAYER: Wattpad knew they had a hit on their hands. They took the book to gallery, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, who signed Todd to a reported six-figure deal earlier this year and turned "After" into a four-book series. But it's not all sunshine and hashtags. Though Harry and his bandmates have been renamed to avoid copyright issues, many One Direction fans are incensed at the book's depiction of him as a callous, but compelling creep. And since the original story is staying up online, there's no guarantee that Todd's readers will buy the paperback version - even with cleaned-up paragraphs and more sex.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THROUGH THE DARK")

ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) You tell me that you're sad and lost your way. You tell me that your tears are here to stay.

MAYER: But no matter which version of "After" you're reading, Anna Todd has this soundtrack recommendation.

TODD: "Through The Dark," for sure, that's my favorite One Direction song.

MAYER: As for One Direction themselves, a representative for the band gave a resounding no comment. Petra Mayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THROUGH THE DARK")

ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) We will find a way through the dark.

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