Reading Fanfiction

This year the teen council at my public library held a fanfiction writing contest. Though I was not a voting member, I did read all of the entries. This was my first foray into the fanfiction world, a world that absorbs many of the teens that I work closely with on a regular basis. Through this, I learned a lot about fanfiction and its appeals, and I had to check some of my assumptions at the door.

Fanfiction Wordle

In the 2014 August issue of School Library Journal, Chelsey Philpot took an extensive look at fanfiction and teens. This highlights the creative outlet that writing fanfiction can be, and how it can be a place to explore emotions, sexuality, and identity for teen writers. One thing that surprised me through this process was that even though a lot of teens had written some fanfiction at some point, a lot of them just like to read it, and would like others to write it for them. This got me curious as to what were the major platforms they were accessing fanfiction on, especially as I will see mobile devices being passed around with a “have you seen this one?”

First thing I had to learn was some basic terminology of the types of fanfiction that there are, and how it is referred to:

  • Canon  – this is written in the world that the fanfiction is about and is something that could happen.
  • AU – “Alternative Universe” – this is where we are in the canon world but a few elements have been changed.
  • AU divergent – “Alternate Universe – Canon Divergence” – The story is set in a different universe from where the original takes place.
  • Crossover  – There are characters from different fandoms in a story.
  • One-Shot – There is only one body of text, usually a short story that is complete.


Most teens seem to be reading fanfiction on a mobile devices through apps. These are a few of the most common:

fanfictiondotnetMost of the teens I talked to felt that this was a starter site for young readers to access fanfiction. They said that this site “can be a bit sketchy,” and felt dated because of its “bad 90s graphics.” There were some ways to filter and narrow results to whether something was “in-process” or “complete,” word count, and with ratings:

  • K  Suitable for most ages
  • K+ Some content may not be suitable for small children
  • T Contains content not suitable for children
  • M Contains content suitable for mature teens and older
  • MA Contain explicit content for mature adults only


Wattpad Rebecca O’Neil’s fantastic piece on Wattpad for The Hub earlier this year shows what a great tool this is for writers. For avid readers, this doesn’t offer the easy access that they enjoy elsewhere, and seems to be a least favorite site among the teen readers I interviewed. It is a site where you need to create an account to access most of the content, and it is not as easy to filter to find desired content. However, they report that those that both avidly write and read fanfiction use this to build a writer’s community.


tumblrOf the apps, Tumblr is by far the favorite, and where most teens seem to be accessing their fanfiction. The favorite feature of Tumblr is that there are libraries and catalogs housing links to fanfiction pertaining to a particular fandom. An example of this is Phanfic, a catalog of fanfiction relating to YouTube stars Dan Howell and Phil Lester (Phil+Dan=Phan). Favorite features include “fic tags” where you can look for fiction by feels, smut levels and types of smut (smut is a very popular vocab word in the fanfic group), length, relationships, themes, and more. There are also options to submit prompts for those that would prefer to read than to write, but would like something very specific.


Not every fandom has its own catalog on Tumblr though, but teens really like the ability to sort out the type of fanfiction that they are reading. Some of this is easier done through a web browser than through an app.

Archive of Our Own or AO3

AO3logoThis is the most popular site among the teens that I talked to, but doesn’t have an official app. The teens felt that this site had the best selection of fanfiction, and they really appreciated the many ways to filter by ratings (if and how explicit), warnings (how angsty and what types of angst), categories (relationship types), crossover, characters, relationships, and whether is was canon, AU, or canon divergence. You can also filter by word count, if it is a one-shot or if it has chapters, and if it is complete or in-progress. They appreciated that the site gave summaries of the fanfiction, and also liked that you could keep narrowing down by searching tags.


quotev_logoThis is a website that many of the teens I talked with said they first started with, and seems to be the most child friendly. Many said this is where they first posted their first fanfictions that they wrote when they were 10-years-old or younger. Some say they still go there to read as it is easier to stay away from the “smut.”

One thing that I see being a big draw for teens to reading fanfiction, and the sites that seem to be the most popular are,  that it offers them the opportunity to manage their own reader’s advisory experience through filters. There is a lot of romance happening in fanfiction, and this allows them to read about very specific situations with characters they know and love.

A lot of the teens that I work with identify as queer, and have mentioned that they mostly seek out queer fanfiction. Fanfiction is filling a hole that publishing hasn’t caught up with yet offering more variety of relationships being represented. Fanfiction seems to encourage more reading, and though a teen may read mostly fanfic it is not replacing published works and they still crave novels. Just the other day  a teen came up looking for reading suggestions of new queer books, saying, “I have been reading so much gay fanfic, I feel that I should read a real book now.”

There are other fanfiction apps and websites out there that weren’t discussed such as Kindle Worlds, Pocket Fiction, AsianFanFics, devianART, ficWad, Facebook, Goodreads, Live Journal, and some apps specific to particular fandoms such as Justin Beiber, One Direction, etc.

What are the teens in your area using? What are their favorites?

3 thoughts on “Reading Fanfiction”

  1. Glad to see a primer for librarians who aren’t familiar with the world of fanfic! It’s a huge culture in and of itself rather than just a bank of stories, and I know it influences a lot of teens, particularly those underserved by publishers. I did want to let you know, though, that those definitions of AU and AU Divergent are kinda switched. AU actually tends to refer to stories that take the characters and maybe a few of the plot elements and plop them into an entirely new setting – hence the ever present “coffee shop AU” fics. Doesn’t matter if the characters were original spies, aliens, superheroes or werewolves, eventually all of them will end up in a story where they work in a coffee shop. Canon divergent AUs are the ones that take place in the same world as canon and then diverge from the canon plot, or change a single element – i.e. a Harry Potter AU where Harry isn’t chosen as a Triwizard champion, or one where Harry is a girl.

    1. Thank you so much Rachel for the clarification! As you can tell, I am just learning.

  2. I want to do an update on another recent article from School Library Journal on the impact that writing fanfiction is having on teen writers.

    This is a brief synopsis of a study done by University of Washington researchers about teens that write fanfiction. It is a very exciting study that they note, “three themes emerged: fan fiction authors are learning 1) about writing, 2) about life, and 3) how to give and receive mentorship.”

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