Have you read the Harry Potter in which the boy wizard whacks wands with Ron Weasley? Or is adopted by his nemesis Voldemort? Or becomes a werewolf? JK Rowling obviously didn't write any of these storylines but they all exist online, in the form of fan fiction. According to The New Yorker, the Harry Potter novels have inspired more than 600,000 pieces of fan fiction, a total that increases by at least a thousand stories a week. And although fan fiction (or fanfic) predates the internet, the web has allowed the genre to flourish.
Whatever your view of the genre – some argue it's poorly executed nonsense written by (often) sex-obsessed geeks, while others insist it's a creative pastime that allows enthusiasts to explore their passion – there's no denying its current pulling power. Even the supposedly best-selling British book in history, 50 Shades of Grey, started life as Twilight fan fiction. Now the industry looks like it is waking up to the genre's commercial potential.
Penguin's teen imprint Razorbill is publishing its first book inspired by fan fiction next month. Loving the Band, by 16-year-old Emily Baker, is based on fanfic about One Direction that she uploaded to an online youth writing community called Movellas. To be published in ebook format, it follows a girl who meets the band before getting caught in a love triangle with two of its members.
"We're online all the time looking for new writers through various different means," says Lindsey Heaven, senior fiction editor at Razorbill. "With fan fiction there's already a fan base established, which is fantastic. I think people are generally more aware of the new channels that are opening up and any serious publisher would be completely open to writing from many different sources, and because fan fiction is more popular than ever, it's worth taking notice of."