Food for Thought: Is Published Fanfiction Fine?

So awhile back I opined that fan works are a boon to the creative process. For instance, fan art is a great means to practice the art of character design by drawing on the successes of other artists/working within current trends. In fact, some big name animators dabbled in fan art before their careers took off–or continue to dabble in fan art today as a way to unwind and to exercise those artistic muscles.

You know it's terrible and all -- but did you know this all started as a "Twilight" AU fic? Pretty ew, but again, who knows where fanfic can take you

You know it’s terrible and all — but did you know this all started as a “Twilight” AU fic? Pretty ew, but again, who knows where fanfic can take you

But fan art is just one of the many ways that fans can contribute to the monster collaborative that is fandom. Just as popular as fan art is its written counterpart, fanfiction, allows the imagination to run wild in any and every direction possible. And with the success of works of fanfiction–notably that train-wreck known as Fifty Shades of Gray or the parody works such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies–in the mainstream media, should fanfics be considered the next step towards a coveted publishing contract?

Fifty Shades aside, much like fan art, there’s a time and place for fanfiction. After all, fanfiction is a unique bit of fan labor that literally speaks to a person–it creates its own culture, its own language, that a fan is able to navigate and speak back, turning personal thought into an easily consumable product. Fanfiction satisfies the unsatisfied, provides closure, or offers other options for something finite (arguably) but through the magic that is the simple act of storytelling supports creative life.

And the majority of fanfiction writers do all of this for free.

The logo for Archive of Our Own--a non-profit archive that preserves a number of fanmade work and the culture that surrounds it. Pretty nifty stuff tbqh

The logo for Archive of Our Own–a non-profit archive that preserves a number of fanmade work and the culture that surrounds it. Pretty nifty stuff to be quite honest

The “free” nature of fanfiction is a bit different from fan art–ask any casual con goer and of course they’re all aware of the proverbial Artist Alley where fan art is sold and passed around happily. Not so much with fanfiction, with works “self-published” on open sites, such as Fanfiction.net or Archive of Our Own. And yes, while you can commission a fanfic writer for a written work, the fact remains that most sites that showcase fanfiction come for free–whereas there may be some more incentive for an artist to add commission info, or for art sites to partner with/create print-making options.

But then we have those E.L James moments where something that is/was fanfiction is suddenly published–maybe not to such unprecedented success, but the possibility is still there.

So does that make fanfiction a viable career path for the budding author?

As a budding young publisher working the industry, I will have to say that while fan art can very well be a door-opener for young artists… the same can’t so easily be said about fanfiction. In fact, Fifty Shades is unsurprisingly a bit of an office joke — both for its content and its published status.

After all,  fanfiction is an interestingly gray entity when it comes under US Law. As it stands fanfic can count as a derivative work, which basically means that it is its own separate identity from the original work and hence gets the benefit of its own copyright. However, only the copyright owner has the permission to authorize the creation of a derivative work. Anne Rice, author of The Vampire Chronicles, is pretty famous for her stance against fanfiction, and free-to-use sites have consequently pulled and or forbid the publication of fanfic of Anne Rice’s works.

Anne Rice and her work is pretty much "no touch" for fanfic writers--or at least, "no publish"

Anne Rice and her work is pretty much “no touch” for fanfic writers–or at least, “no publish”

Most authors are pretty cool with it, though, however the fact remains that there is a gray line about fanfiction when it comes to publishing. A free-to-use, public site? Sure no problem. Try to profit off of it, fool fans into thinking it’s an “official” book and part of the franchise? Probably not such a good idea. After all, the copyright holders do have the authority to give permission for official knock-off works–see the bajillions of Star Wars novellas running around; if you’re not on their “good” list then it’s probably not a good idea to try to get it published.

Still, published fanfiction may not be that far-fetched.

amazonkindleworlds

Bane to the publishing world, but a boon to students and deal-seekers everywhere–Amazon.com released an interesting digital, self-publishing platform known as Kindle Worlds, which basically allows authors to publish fanfiction under official licenses. Currently, it seems like only Warner Bros. is on board with this interesting experiment with its Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, and Pretty Little Liars series amongst others free game for an aspiring fanfic writer with an imagination.

However, all these perks do come at some cost. Unlike free-to-use fanfiction sites, there are interesting content guidelines for Kindle Worlds–so don’t assume your PWP one-shot will be accepted. And on top of that, there’s also the whole issue with the fact that it might be your fanfic, but you pretty much just sold your rights to the story and its content to Amazon and whoever Amazon in turn decides to sell it to. Which is kind of a bummer, really, if some exec thinks what you wrote as a cool fanfic would be brilliant to profit off of and refuse to offer you a single cent in return.

And yet there is the allure of being published–that sense of accomplishment, the adventure that comes with being known. If Fifty Shades could do it, why can’t someone who has the same drive and ambition, right?

But honestly–all I can really say on this topic is: never stop writing. Whether its your own personal manuscript, or a series of drabbles, fanfics, that tragic Steve Rogers x Tony Stark thing you’ve been working on for forever–never stop writing! Always be inspired, even if that inspiration kicks in because you happen to like these two characters and want them to now kiss or something; go for it, write it, enjoy it!

Still, do realize that when it comes to a viable source of income, fanfiction is, if anything, a risky bit of business. There is great potential to practice the art of writing by borrowing from an established world and mythos, with a cast of established characters to work with–but when you only have one shot to impress a publisher, or even convince an agent to take you on, it might behoove you to have your own, original ideas on display instead.

After all, you’re competing with a pretty big fish tank of manuscripts of all shapes and sizes–why not put your best work, your *original work forward?

…. Annnnnd that’s all there is to this rather rambly bit of some food for thought! I sincerely encourage everyone to keep writing what inspires them and ignites them–yes, even that Crookshanks x Miss Norris OTP you’ve got going on–but to also weigh the pros and cons about that arduous process that is “publishing”. Tune in next time when we ramble about other aspects of that collective that is fandom, or well, whatever else is on the mind!

*There is something to be said about parody in here, too, but alas, we shall save that chat for another evening!

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Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

Latest posts by Fenrir (see all)

Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

7 Comments:

  1. If it’s published, how is it fanfiction? There’s no hard and fast difference between fanfics and licensed stories in terms of quality or content, the greatest and easiest way to distinguish the two is that one is paid for and the other isn’t.

    And as for published writers, Lev Grossman reads fanfics and I don’t see how he could not have tried writing it at some point. And I know for a fact N.K. Jamison has fanfics out there, they’re mostly Naruto fics and one from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

    They obviously have to keep mum about their own possible works but I’m sure there are many more professional writers who post fanfics anonymously.

    • :0 Woops I think I should have been clearer in my thesis — I'm referring to the phenomenon when manuscripts start in life as fanfics, but are then wiped of official character names and substituted. Of course, that's not a usual Thing — but it still needs to be said that fanfic is in a strange gray area where you don't see as many people profiting off of it the same way that fan artists seem to be able to.

      I don't doubt that professional writers write fanfic but keep mum about it. But what I don't see many people do or try to do is profit off of a fanfiction published in an anthology/distributed by a major publisher–and from my experience it's a not kosher to do so. :0

  2. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this, but while FFN is free to use the site’s owners do profit from it in ad sales. So someone actually is making money from fanfics, just not the people worrying them. I believe there was fan debate about this aspect of the site back when it was a new thing.

    • :0 Oooh yeah that's another gray area on top of an otherwise gray area–I don't remember the debates myself but that is a bit of a cause for concern… * A *;; Oh dear maybe this topic is larger than I thought.

  3. Sorry, the people writing the stories aren’t profiting, I meant to say.

  4. Aside from fanfiction, a dozen of published literature works can also be found in NaNoWriMo, if one is looking to write original ideas instead of ones with a borrowed world and settings, it is a good place to go for. Chances are, it might even had a higher possibility for your novels to get published, since everything there is your own ideas, copyrights might be a lesser issue. Then again, it's all speculation on my part here.

    • NaNoWriMo is actually a great way to help people meet novel quotas and set goals for themselves o wo Sometimes writers have brilliant ideas but kind of languish without the proper motivation–plus NaNoWriMo has a bustling community that IS willing to help!

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