Anna Todd on 'Before,' One Direction's Hiatus, Meeting EL James

The fan-fiction writer turned novelist's latest book hits shelves Dec. 8.
Courtesy of JD Witkowski; Book Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Anna Todd started out writing One Direction-inspired fan fiction on the site Wattpad  and then she become a phenomenon. After her work hit more than 800 million reads in summer 2014, Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books won a bidding war for the publishing rights in a mid-six-figure deal. Todd released three books in the After series, which follows a romance between a Harry Styles-inspired bad boy and a sweet college girl.

On Dec. 8, her next book, Before, hits shelves, also via Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books, bringing readers back into the world of After but focusing on male protagonist Hardin's viewpoint, along with those of a few other characters.

Todd, whose After series is also in development for a film at Paramount, speaks with THR about her latest book, her plans for the future and what she thinks of One Direction's hiatus.

How do you feel about Before being released?

I’m really excited because this one is my favorite. I say that every single time, but this one really is my favorite. I feel like, this one, I’ve been waiting even longer for because I started writing this before I ever had a publishing deal or anything. I told my readers that I would give them Hardin’s point of view or, at the time, Harry’s point of view from the beginning  before I ever had a deal  so I feel like we have just been waiting so long for this.

What's been your favorite fan interaction?

I went to Argentina in the spring of last year. I was on this six-week-long tour of going to South America and Europe, and every place was really packed. But then in Argentina, they said that this was going to be the biggest signing of the whole book fair. When I got there, there was this huge line wrapped around the building and all the way down the street, and my cab was driving past this line of people. Then when we got closer, I started seeing that the books in their hands were my books. The line was six blocks down the street; the police had to come and monitor the end of the line because people were fighting each other to get into the line. In South America, they have a really, really low reading level, and people are not buying books. It was one of the best moments.

Are you ever bothered by online criticism of your books?

It’s not really easy to stay away from, but it’s easy to not really get bothered. I think I’m lucky, in a way, because with the criticism I get online, it’s mostly from really young girls that are fans of One Direction, and they're kind of already known for being mean online. So the things that they insult me with are things that don’t really bother me. In the beginning, I remember people were saying things about my husband and things that bothered me, but then I thought, "Why do I care? It’s the Internet."

You used to write After on your phone. Did you still do that?

Yeah, I still do write on my phone. Not nearly as much. Now I would probably say only maybe 10 percent of the story comes off of my phone, but when I was writing After, it was about 50 to 60 percent, but now I have an editor who has to edit my stuff, so I feel bad for him. But I still really do like to write on my phone; I can text faster than I can type, so it’s just so convenient.

What's your writing process like?

Lately I’ve been writing with a friend of mine who’s also an author. She’s self-published though, and she writes romance, way more rated X than mine. We both live in Austin, so lately what we’ve been doing is, we both have a book that we want to finish within a week, so every day this week we’re going to a different coffee shop just to try to figure out where the cool places are. We both make playlists every night, and then we share them with each other because we have the same taste in music. I’ve come to find that I am definitely not cut out for the isolated writer thing, locking myself away and writing and bleeding over words alone. I’d rather share my pain with people.

What kind of music is on these playlists?

Lots of angsty stuff like Banks  "Waiting Game" is the No. 1 song we’ve been playing. Also Little Mix is on there, Bastille, Bon Iver.

How's the movie going?

She actually just submitted the script a few days ago, so now we’re just waiting, waiting, waiting. But it feels like, from what I can say, that things are going to happen very quickly from then on.

How much are you participating in the movie? Are you helping with casting?

When I signed my movie contract, I thought I could never even have an opinion on a movie. But now I've realized, I have a lot of opinions. I’m very lucky to have the producers that I do have and knowing that this is a fan-driven thing, so they are totally open to me. They keep in contact with me about everything that they’re doing. I’m trying to think of how to say without getting anyone in trouble. They’ve been including me a lot in casting. We have met with someone.

How do you feel about your work being compared to EL James' Fifty Shades of Grey?

I personally love it. For one, love Fifty Shades or hate it, she did a lot for reading. I know so many women who just stopped reading or they didn’t read, and now they read or they read and write. Now I’ve talked to her, so it’s really cool. But it’s a little misleading because the storyline isn’t the same. A few weeks ago, this woman sent me this email because she was pissed because she bought After, and it doesn’t have any BDSM. But at the same time, it’s also really cool for me to even be mentioned with EL James because she’s the queen of fan fiction. Well, she’s really the queen of all things — except for J.K. Rowling, of course.

So you've met her?

Yes, I’ve met her a few times. The first time I met her was a surprise, so I was eating a bag of Cheez-Its, and no one told me that she was around the corner. I literally threw the bag into a thing of flowers. I don't know why I did that. It just made it even weirder because there were Cheez-Its everywhere.

And you saw her again after that?

Yeah. She reached out to me recently, and then my husband and I actually got pretty drunk with her and her husband about a month ago in L.A.

You've been asked this before, but have you met One Direction yet?

I have not. I keep waiting for them to show up at my house, but they haven’t done it yet.

What do you think of their hiatus?

I’m actually really glad. As much as I would love to keep having music from them, they have way, way overworked themselves. They are so young  they need to take a break and enjoy all the things they’ve been working for. I just think they’ve been doing way too much. They need to just stop for a little bit.

How do you measure success? Are book sales important to you?

Just for me  obviously, not all writers think this  but for me, I feel like seeing my book in Target and Barnes & Noble is pretty successful. So I feel like living a comfortable life off of doing what I love is success for me. I don’t really care about book sales.

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