Anna, an artist in Georgia who didn’t want to reveal her last name lest her fan-fic identity be blown, had a similar experience. After writing fan fiction for several years, she won a contest for original fiction and self-published two books for young adults under the pen name Angel Larson. “It hasn’t been excessively successful for me,” she says.

James was able to make it big, Anna says, because she had a large fan club called the Bunker Babes who blogged about her work and reviewed it on after it was published as an e-book. When Vintage bought the rights to the franchise, there was a ready-made audience. Many fan-fic writers are opposed to the commercialization of what are essentially heartfelt homages to an original source, calling it a “gift culture.” They’re angry with James for betraying that creed and profiting in part off the many reviewers who helped shape her prose.

“When you write that fan fiction and post it online and [categorize it as] Twilight or Harry Potter or Sailor Moon, you are saying, ‘I am writing this story in celebration of this other piece of work that I was inspired by,’ ” Anna says. “When you change the characters’ names and stick a dollar sign next to it, you’re basically flipping your finger at everybody.”

Not everyone agrees. Big publishing houses often overlook a lot of talented authors because their work doesn’t fit into mainstream culture, says Pedroza of The Writer’s Coffee Shop, which published 32 e-books last year — mostly from writers who got their start in the fan-fiction world. “We saw all these women and men who were pouring out their hearts in these stories and not getting any recognition,” she says.

Like Pedroza’s group, Omnific often publishes writers who’ve received a significant number of reviews from satisfied readers on its fan-fiction site and pays them a percentage of sales as opposed to a traditional advance. In the high-towered world of publishing, where unsolicited manuscripts rarely make it through the door, this new model democratizes the literary process, says Harper, noting that 50 percent of the books Omnific published last year had roots in fan fiction. That includes the blockbuster Gabriel’s Inferno, which Penguin’s Berkley imprint recently acquired. Says Harper: “It’s letting the readers decide.”

Kathleen Parrish is a freelance writer from Bethlehem, Pa., who invites readers to reimagine the author of this piece as a surfing Ninja princess with a trust fund.