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A few months ago, an old school friend confessed that she’d been reading a lot of “AO3”—Archive of Our Own, the world’s most popular fan fiction website. I assured her that she wasn’t alone. Fan fiction—stories about fictional characters or real-life celebrities, written by the fans, for the fans—long assumed to be the hobby of awkward fangirls, has escaped from its niche. AO3 receives up to two billion visits per month (the number of visits increased during the pandemic), more than Netflix, and hosts more than 12.8 million works and 64,000 “fandoms,” the top three being Marvel, Harry Potter, and the DC Universe.

Though fan fiction—or “fanfic”—has been around for a while, the sweeping pervasiveness of the internet is making it more accessible than ever: 97 percent of AO3 readers access the site from their smartphones. It was only a matter of time before fanfic influenced mainstream culture, which is becoming increasingly subservient to the internet. In 2019, AO3 (taken as a whole) won “Best Related Work” at the Hugo Awards, the science fiction Oscars. It is a decade since the novelist Lev Grossman, in his introduction to Anne Jamison’s 2013 Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, observed: “Fanfiction is the madwoman in mainstream culture’s attic, but the attic won’t contain it forever.” That prediction has been vindicated. Jamison, an English professor at the University of Utah, was invited to teach a course on fan fiction at Princeton University in the spring of 2015. By that time, E. L. James’s steamy Fifty Shades trilogy, originally posted online as Twilight fan fiction, was gaining extraordinary popularity. The novels were published by Vintage Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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