Anna Todd was living in Fort Hood, Texas working odd jobs including a stint at a bakery, waitressing at Waffle House, working as a salesperson at Ulta and babysitting for friends. She also had an online life on storytelling platform Wattpad as user imaginator1D, the author of the One Direction fan fiction "After."
The 300-chapter story — which imagines the members of popular band One Direction as college students — soon became Wattpad's most popular story. To date, the chapters have been read almost 1.5 billion times -- yes billion. Its success has led to seven-figure deals, including a publishing contract with Simon & Schuster and Paramount acquiring the movie rights, said Todd.
Todd is convinced that her success would not have been possible without Wattpad.
"There's so many gatekeepers [in publishing]," Todd said. "It's just one random person that gets to choose all the books we read."
"Wattpad just feels like more of a community," she said.
Wattpad, which has raised about $67 million, is has become a source for budding fiction writers to post their stories — and for publishers, producers and brands to find source material. The platform allows people to upload their own stories chapter by chapter, and users can comment as the tales progress. Its mostly female readers have quickly become a hub for fan fiction and romance stories.
To find what stories may find a second life in film, TV or books, Wattpad looks at the number of reads, likes and user comments to figure out what's popular with readers. Writers retains story rights but Wattpad takes a split of the revenue if it facilitates a deal.
The company has helped facilitate more than 100 book deals internationally of stories which first appeared on its platform, including through HarperCollins and Macmillan. Paperback books based on Wattpad stories have more than 15 million copies in circulation and have been published in over 30 languages. It's also helped license dozens as TV shows, digital series or films, including 76 stories that were turned into TV episodes for the "Wattpad Presents" series in the Philippines. Another story called "No Capes" will soon be a digital series on Mashable, while "FANtasies" was a 10-episode series where social media influencers starred in the Wattpad stories inspired by then. It also has a development deal with Universal Cable Productions to turn stories into TV shows.
The company also makes money off sponsored deals and web ads. A project with Coca-Cola brought back characters from its top 10 most popular stories and had them "write" a letter to Santa as a bonus side story. Meanwhile, it also worked with SyFy's "The Magicians" for a short story contest to write material inspired by the show.
"One of the major factors that makes Wattpad Studios interesting to both Hollywood and the entertainment industry around the world is we have an audience… We know who is reading this today, how many people read it in the last 6 months and last 12 months. We can actually see that people liked this character more than that character, half the people think he's awful," said Aron Levitz, head of Wattpad Studios.