If anyone has revamped the idea of “novelist” for the 21st Century it’s Anna Todd.
Her first stories were fan fiction written on a mobile phone. She uploaded them for free on the story-sharing app Wattpad, amassing over 300 million reads. From there, she landed a four-book publishing deal with Simon & Schuster.
Today with six published books under her belt, and a seventh newly released–Nothing Less, the second book in her After spinoff series–Todd still straddles the line between the old-school and innovation. She works with an editor now, but still uploads her unedited writing to Wattpad for insight from fans. She does readings and tours, but also has her own app and a shop on her website that sells t-shirts, hoodies, and rings inspired by her characters.
The two of us talked sex scenes, fandom, her new writing process, and Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth Bennett.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Anna Todd: I have no idea. Seriously, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a career. I thought I wanted to work for the government, or maybe be a science teacher. I hadn’t decided. Now that I know about book blogging, I would have loved that job!
I love the modern way you became an author: first, posting your work for free on Wattpad, generating a following, then scoring a traditional publishing deal. How do you look back on this experience now? Was it truly unexpected or did you always want to be a writer when you grew up?
AT: Thank you! It was truly unexpected. When I started writing, I couldn’t have imagined a lot of people reading it, I had zero followers on Wattpad and I didn’t even have Twitter. I had no way besides Instagram to promote myself and I knew zero about the publishing world.
How have your writing rituals changed, now that you’re a published author in the traditional sense? Do you still write on a mobile phone?
AT: I don’t use my phone as much anymore because of the typos haha. But I use it a lot to take notes though. It’s easy when I’m traveling.
How have you been able to maintain the immediacy that you loved about writing for Wattpad—with very little re-tinkering or rethinking, giving it to readers the moment you’ve stopped typing—within your current editing process?
AT: It’s a little different now that I have an editor, but not too much has changed. My publisher still lets me post the chapters on Wattpad first so I still get that sense of unedited posting. I try not to overthink the chapters, but I do a little more now.
How does the ongoing conversation you had with your fans on Wattpad—a sort of live audience—play into your writing now? Do you still check in with fans about different storylines and characters?
AT: Yes! I still read the comments they post from After and Nothing More and Nothing Less. Since the last two are my newest works, I love reading their live feedback from those chapters.
So many working writers view the internet and social media as a hindrance to writing great stories. They crave invisibility and silence and go out of their way (noise canceling headphones, noise machines, never reading reviews) to keep out the world.
Clearly you don’t mind—even embrace—writing amid this din, so what would you say to them? Do you find your own version of this silence, but in a different way?
AT: I find it so fascinating how every writer has their own way or working, and their own preferences. I feel like the internet is silent because I can log off and it’s silent. Even when I’m posting my words publicly, it still feels as if there’s no pressure since everyone lives behind a screen. I’m not even sure if that makes sense, but I don’t know how else to explain it lol.
Your upcoming book The Spring Girls is a modern retelling of Little Women. What was it about this classic that spoke to you? What were the things you wanted to remain true to in the reimagining?
AT: I love this story for so many reasons. The main reason it spoke to me is because of the dynamic between the four sisters and the hardships they face while going through life together, trying to be “perfect little women.” Girls these days face the same problems and have to overcome so much. I wanted that tone to stay in my version, but I’ve also changed a lot of the story.
What is the one piece of art—a passage in a book, a monologue, character, image, anything—that struck you in such a powerful way it still serves as an endless source of inspiration?
AT: Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth Bennett is one of my favorite passages of all time. It has inspired so much of my stories and it says so much about love and learning how to love and express ourselves in our own way.
If you were to write fan fiction again today with what celebrity or famous book would you begin and why?
AT: Hmmmm. I would probably write Malec fanfic, from Cassandra Clare’s books. Or Tom Hanks fanfic 😉
What is the single most memorable encounter you ever had with a fan, good or bad?
AT: Ahhh this is hard to choose. The first that comes to mind is a girl in Spain who told me about her self esteem and shared with me how I’ve made her feel better about herself by being so confident. We cried together and it meant so much to me.
How do you approach writing a sex scene? Are there any lines you won’t cross?
AT: I don’t think there are any lines I wouldn’t cross, as long as it fits in the scene. I just write it, I don’t really think much about the approach, I just write what comes to my mind.
If you could sit down and have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be? What would you ask him or her?
AT: It would be Jane Austen for sure. I would love for her to know what she did for romance and women in fiction. She’s incredible and she opened so many doors for us.
What do readers want, above all else?
AT: I can’t speak for all readers, but I think that my readers want to read books about characters they can relate to and identify with. They want to escape into another world for a little while.
What are you always looking for?
AT: I’m always looking for happiness in the world.
Free Association Corner. Please answer with the first word that comes to mind.
First love: Leonardo DiCaprio
Harry Styles: Unicorn
Vampires: Edward Cullen
Prince Harry: Prince William
Plot twist: After
Jo March: Book
About Anna Todd
Anna Todd is a writer spending her days in Austin, Texas, with her husband. She has always been an avid reader and boy band and romance lover, so now that she’s found a way to combine the three she’s enjoying living a real-life dream come true. She now knows what life is like when you get to do what you love. She also has a thing for things that begin with T’s: Tom Hanks, TOMS, Target…
Find her at AnnaTodd.com, on Twitter at @imaginator1dx, on Instagram at @imaginator1d, and on Wattpad as Imaginator1D.