Publishing trends change all the time, it is part of what makes the publishing industry so interesting and vibrant and is part of the reason I love reading books. It the past few years we have seen a wide array of new trends in the industry, from the rise of genre’s like New Adult, the sudden arrival of self-publishing on a large scale to the rapid boom in erotic fiction. But the one trend that has interested me the most is the fanfiction to fiction debate. It interests me for several reasons, one of which is because I used to be a fanfiction writer but my interest comes mainly because of the heated debates it creates.
People outside of certain fandoms may not really know exactly what fanfiction is or why it is important to publishing at the moment. Fanfiction is pretty much what the name implies, it is fans writing fiction based on what they love to read/watch/play and it is huge. Fanfiction.net hosts literally thousands of stories written by thousands of authors. The three books with the most stories written about them are unsurprisingly Harry Potter (657 thousand stories) Twilight (213 thousand) and Lord of the Rings (49 thousand). Fanfiction is a place where you can read a love story between Edward Cullen and Jack Sparrow (if crossovers are your thing) or 4000 cute stories about How to Train your Dragon. It is massive and in Fandom circles it is important.
Years ago when I was about 14 (and going through my awkward Legolas faze) I stumbled across fan fiction and I suddenly became inspired (some might say obsessed) by it. I started reading and writing and I was full of ideas and it was awesome. Back then it was a fairly small community, there was no facebook, and there was no Twitter or Blogger. Then the Internet evolved it got bigger and then the two biggest book series (in fandom terms) come out and the world of fanfiction and fandom changed forever.
Harry Potter and Twilight changed not only fandom but popular culture. Fanfiction was something people used to do as a complement to fandom but suddenly it became the very thing fandom revolved around. In the fandoms I have moved in recently fanfiction is everything. The most popular authors almost became super stars of the Internet and if they reviewed your fanfiction it was something to get excited about. These authors were getting literally thousands of reviews per chapter and fanfiction review blogs were popping up everywhere to review and talk about the stories that dominated the fanfiction world. Some of these stories were pretty bad but some were exceptional and it didn’t take long for people outside fandom to notice this popularity.
Suddenly authors were removing their stories and self-publishing and after one book (50 Shades) became extremely popular publishers got involved. 50 Shades of Grey was originally a Twilight fanfiction. I was never a fan but in the Twilight fandom it was massive and it broke out.
50 Shades of Grey is not alone and it is not the only big book to have come from Fanfiction. There are others too Gabriel’s Inferno (Sylvain Reynard), Sempre (J M Darhower), Wallbanger (Alice Clayton), Poughkeepsie (Debra Anastasia), Boycots andBarflies (Victoria Michaels) and Beautiful Bastards (Christina Lauren) are just a few of the books that started life as twilight fanfiction.
I remember seeing some pretty intense debates when 50 Shades came out. Some readers were angry and hurt others were proud of E.L James. There seemed to be a massive divide that still carries on today.
So what are the issues?
The first question has to be who does the work belong to? If a story started on the Internet and used a popular authors book setting, back ground and characters and then changed the name and the setting and released that book as their own is it intellectually theirs? I honestly do not know the answer to this question. Copyright law is a hard to understand place full of loops and back doors.
Another issue is why ask people to pay for what you can read for free? Once something is on the Internet it is always on the Internet. If you look up Master of the Universe (50 shades original name) you will be able to find a PDF of the fan fiction with Bella and Edward staring. You can read it on your PC, send it to your kindle and read it just like a normal book. Is it right to charge someone for that? I guess that is down to the reader.
So if there are some grey areas why is it happening? I think it comes down to money. In my opinion 50 Shades of Grey was a fluke, it was an unpredicted success and it opened the door to other fan fiction authors who thought that if E.L James could do it they could to.
For publishers I think fanfiction is a great way to see if something is popular. If a story on fanfiction.net has over 10,000 reviews then the author must be doing something right. It is a way of trying before buying and gives them an idea of what is popular and what is not.
Even Amazon is getting in on it and has created Kindle World a place where fanfiction authors can publish their work (mostly Warner Brother TV shows like the Vampire Diaries are allowed at the moment) AND earn royalties. Amazon is not the only big names getting involved Sony and others have used fanfiction to publicise their artists and work.
Fanfiction and published fanfiction is not going away anytime soon. It is something I predict will continue for the time being. Will it get bigger? I don’t know, maybe the rise of self-publishing will dampen its appeal. Will an author have enough and sue? Maybe, we will have to wait and see.
My opinion? I fully support fanfiction authors and their published books IF their work is original. I would not want to publish my fanfictions because I would prefer to write something from scratch and then put that out to publishers and a wider audience. Publishing fanfiction is not for me but it is for some people so each to their own.
If you haven’t tried fanfiction I suggest you go have a look. There are some scary stories out there but so seriously good ones as well. A lot of the author’s work really hard on their work and it can be of a really high standard. It is also free which cannot be a bad thing.
Book talk is a book related discussion post that features anything relating to the publishing industry.
By Kate Phillips
By Kate Phillips