By Emma Regan and Jordan Maxwell Ridgway
Love it or hate it, it is hard to deny that the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer has been a global phenomenon over the past two decades. From the release of the first novel which shares the same name to the last novel in the series, Breaking Dawn, the Twilight series gained immense success across the world, receiving multiple awards, critical acclaim, spin-off novels and illustrated versions including a manga and graphic novels and a blockbuster movie franchise which dominated box offices around the globe.
Hardcore fans also came with the series, supporting it from when it hit the bookshop shelves to camping outside for the movie premiere nights, to getting Twilight-inspired tattoos. Like most fandoms in the past two decades, the fans also took to writing fanfiction regarding the main couple in the franchise, Bella and Edward. Yet, Twilight fanfiction has had a surprisingly different effect compared to most fanfiction publications out there and took on a life of its own.
Publishing fanfiction into novels is fast becoming a popular trend within publishing companies, most recently with The Love Hypothesis, which we have discussed in detail in another article. However, one of the biggest fanfiction turned novel successes and a book that has certainly helped fanfiction become more credible was originally a Twilight fanfiction.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James was originally titled Master of the Universe on fanfiction sites, but the author decided to change it into an original work after receiving concerns about the nature of the erotic relationship between the two principal characters who were later known as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. The fanfiction was then split into three separate parts, with the first book being turned into an e-book and print-on-demand by The Writers Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher in Australia, in 2011. By 2012, Vintage Books licensed the trilogy in a new revised edition and became one of the biggest book series of all time, with the first book setting a record for the fastest sales of a paperback in the UK, receiving fifty-two translations around the world. Twilight received thirty-seven.
However, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t the only book that originated as Twilight fanfiction. According to a list on Goodreads, there are over fifty books that are considered published Twilight fanfiction.
To say that Twilight has something of a thriving afterlife is something to consider. And now that a large part of its target audience has grown up, the effect those vampire novels had is becoming clearer.
Twilight readers have grown into writers in their own right, cutting their teeth on fanfiction sites. Stephenie Meyer has also supported her fellow writers in the past, posting links on her website to fanfiction sites based on her Twilight characters. It can’t be overstated how fast fanfiction and other forms of digital content are growing. Take Wattpad’s acquisition last year by the South Korean company Naver (also known as the founders of Webtoon) for $600 million as an example that there is only a growing market for creative digital content.
Did Twilight start the fanfiction trend? No, not even close, but it had a longer-lasting effect than it may have originally been given credit for when it was first published and helped to give a boost to an already flourishing community.
This is because Twilight also feels indicative of a cultural swing that we are still feeling the effects of. Yes, of course, there were vampires, but more importantly, it was a major franchise that focused on a heroine and the female gaze (even if its gender politics weren’t all that progressive – cue Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined trying its best to show otherwise).
For a few years, Twilight seemingly dominated a cultural discourse on popularity versus quality, a discourse which, with hindsight, was fuelled by and large by sexism and a strange but vehement need to dismiss anything liked by teenage girls. But the industry is changing. Again, this is not to say that Twilight serves as a standard to hold up all proceeding love stories to, quite the contrary. It can only be hoped that more diverse representations of classic love stories can arise as a result of what Twilight managed to achieve. The demand for the romance genre isn’t disappearing any time soon, but it could better reflect the unique stories the world truly holds, and diversity is indeed something that Twilight is sorely lacking.
The publishing industry has changed a lot since Twilight was first published. Its own story of publication illustrates how people weren’t willing to take a risk and invest in a strange love story aimed at girls and how mistaken that dismissal proved to be. Now It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is topping bestselling charts as a romance that also explores a young woman’s trauma, thanks to BookTok. Here’s hoping the industry keeps recognising the importance of these stories’ audiences.