Thursday, 5 September 2013

Book Talk: Fanfiction to real fiction

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. 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 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


  1. I've read a little bit of fanfic and, as an author, I think it's great that fans get excited about certain novels and want to write side stories to them utilizing the characters and worlds they love. And it's great that they want to share their stories with others. But from a publishing standpoint, I have to agree that I would prefer to see work published that is original and not based on something that's already out there. Be unique and come up with your own story from's more challenging and, at least in my opinion, much more rewarding. I would never discourage others from pursuing a passion of's a beautiful thing. And I can see how reading fanfic can give a publisher a good feel for whether that writer has real talent or not. But I'm convinced, as an avid reader and writer, that originality is still the path to take when embarking on writing and publishing a full-length novel or even a book of short stories.

    Great topic and great speaking points!

    Wendy @ Escape Into Fiction

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I completely agree with all the points you raised. I would never discourage people from writting either but also think originality and imagination is what makes the book world so special.

  2. I have read a ton of fanfic and sometimes the fanfic is better than the original story or absolutely nothing like it. A lot of times it is just character names and qualities like hair color that make it fanfic. The story is completely original when you think that most of those fanfics turned published fiction are Alternate Universe stories

    1. I agree. I have read so many Fanfics that are nothing like the original story it is based on. My issue is that it is still fanfic even if you change the name it was still originally someone else's. It is such an interesting debate and I totally see where you are coming from.

  3. Great post and such a relevant article to right now! I have not explored the realms of fan fiction myself, but I have also noticed that it has become a popularized thing. And not just literature fanfiction, but fanfiction based on Japanese Anime has also been big for a while now.
    I agree with you that originality should still be the path to take when coming up with new content, however, I think it travels that fine line between "based on" and "inspired by". I am not a fan of 50 Shades (I couldn't even get through the first book), nor have I read the original fanfiction. But I assume that there must have been a lot of revision between what was posted on the internet versus the end result in what's published. I don't think that fan fiction to fiction writers are exempt from any re-writing processes which is why titles change, characters (at least in name) change, and ultimately the story changes. As far as charging for something that could be read for free, I think that will depend on how the site is run and how they otherwise intend on keeping their funding to operate. It seems that like most things, the addition of fanfiction as a money making genre is all about what is marketable. Self-publishing has its shortcomings too, and while I don't think every fanfiction author should expect to be like E.L James (I also think that was a fluke), I think there are elements of originality and imagination in fanfiction writing. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be such a large variety of fanfiction out there. Even if they are inspired by, or meant to be a continuation of a preexisting plot.
    Thanks for sharing!

    ~Aspen @ Inner Aspen

    1. I agree there is a ton of originality in fanfiction, some of it blows my mind and I cannot believe someone thought of something so amazing and original.

  4. What a fascinating discussion. I used to read Harry Potter fanfiction while I was waiting for the last two books to be released. I stopped reading it because it wasn't "the real thing" meaning that it wasn't what the original author wrote (if that makes sense). I knew fanfiction was still popular but I had no idea that many fanfiction stories ended up being published. I had no idea that 50 shades of Gray was actually a Twilight fanfiction story. That's actually quite hilarious. (I never read 50 shades & I NEVER will) I agree with you. I don't think fanfiction should be published because it is in a way is stealing from the original author, just changing the characters names and other things.

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I'll continue to follow your discussions. I'm probably going to be doing some of my own discussions soon on my blog.

    -Emily @ Emily Hearts Books

    1. Thank you so much for commenting and for the compliment. I will check out the discussions on your blog when you start!

  5. I have read many Twilight fanfiction stories, and also written a few myself.
    I have a very strong negative feelings about stories on fanfiction becoming published books by simply changing a few names and executing a few edits (as with 50 Shades)Some may argue that numerous edits take place - I have yet to see this happen to any great degree. I will never sit comfortably with the idea of writing something as fanfiction only to pull it from the site and publish it. In my opinion you are stealing the characters from the original author. It doesn't matter that you thought up the plot, because at the end of the day, the characters ARE the creation of somebody else. How many times do characters run their hands through their hair (Edward Cullen), bite their lip (Bella Swan), have a best male friend who never quite measures up even though he's very attractive (Jake). These stories fall under the category of Alternative Universe, but really, we are kidding ourselves if we think they are completely original. It's not right.
    I wholeheartedly agree that if a writer wants feedback for her/his writing style, explore writing erotica, or anything else, then the fanfiction world is a great place to start, even to build a small fan base, but please step away from this world and create your own original world, with your own characters if you want to publish it as your own.
    I'm still waiting for one of the main authors to hit back at the fanfiction world and start legal action against any author who had made a profit from her/his characters.
    If you have the talent, and are committed to working with your own amazing characters in your original world then you should seriously step out of the comfort of fanfiction and try to make it work for you in the world of publishing. It's far more satisfying, but also incredibly frightening!
    Good luck to all that try!

    1. Agreed in every way. Thanks for commenting.

    2. I think Lizzylillyrose's answer here has perfectly expressed my opinion on published fanfictions. I'm a fanfic reader myself and I agree that there are lots of fanfic authors that are great at writing a story (I sometimes think some of the fanfic authors write better than SM),but to publish the fanfic by only changing characters' name or minor details is quite not right. It's a great place to start and receive feedbacks about your works, and if you're really talented I think people will consider to publish it even without the 'fanfiction embellishments'. :)

      Tirta @ I Prefer Reading

  6. You've raised some good points! Admittedly, I never gave much thought to what books from were like, before they were published, so you definitely opened my eyes to these issues, and I agree with you. I wouldn't count Fifty Shades as a fanfic anymore, because (a) it stars a different cast of characters altogether, (b) the plot isn't even remotely the same anymore, (c) it doesn't have any major or averagely major similarities... based on what I've read. Which isn't much. (Erotica isn't my thing.)

    But if copyright laws are such a huge issue, which they are, then what I can't understand is why publishers would even want to publish fanfics. E.L. James and the other self-pub authors are different, but what about those books that used to be on FF, and were scouted out by a publisher and published (like Dinner with a Vampire by Abigail Gibbs, published by Harper Voyager)? Dinner with a Vampire was (is?) a fanfic of Twilight. I've read it, and there ARE some similarities, but nothing too major. Does that mean that Harper pays Stephenie Meyer to use all these? Then again, I guess the authors have already given their consent for books to even be written on FF, right? So maybe all these doesn't even matter at all!

    This was a great discussion post, though!

  7. I actually started reading The Office fanfic about Jim and Pam, before they got together on the show. I had no idea about fanfics before this, I couldn't get enough of them. Before them, I never read for enjoyment, just for college. But I found myself glued to these lengthy stories on my laptop...and I kept seeing comments about this Edward Cullen guy in the Office fanfic comments. I became interested. One thing led to another, and I was fully ensconced in the world of YA lit. Then after the Twilight and Harry Potter series were complete, I started to read their fanfictions, trying to prolong the characters that I fell in love with. There were very few canon stories that I felt truly captured the original characters. Those that did were amazing though. But with OOC stories or alternate universe stories, I didn't really associate Stephanie Meyer or JK's original characters with these fanfics. They might have a few quirks, as stated like hair pulling and biting of lips, but I approached these stories as separate stories. You know, I didn't want to taint the original source work.

    And after the movies came out, the characters in my head might have been defined by the actors. But I actually find in every book I read, regardless of description, I project my own image of the characters.

    I've gone back and forth about fanfics to published works. I can see where writers would be angry for others embellishing on their world and characters, not to mention the monetary gains. If I had more skin in the game, I would probably have a stronger opinion. But as a reader, I am just looking for an entertaining story. If a story was originally presented as a fanfic, I think it is kind of crazy to then sell it. If there was an interest to publish the fanfic, there must be some good writing behind it. These writers should take the notoriety found from fanfics and write their own stories.

    But on the other side, I've read some really good stories, not knowing they were fanfics. My opinions didn't change after learning that. So I think it goes back to the fact that I separated fanfics from the original source work to begin with. Even knowing prior to reading, doesn't really change my opinion of the book, but I might try to find little hints of the original characters.

    Great post! I was actually thinking about this topic this afternoon. There is a place for fanfiction (among the most avid of fans), but its that step into the masses where the gray area appears.

  8. You forgot to mention The Mortal Instruments by Cassie Clare which started as a HP fanfic. I don't mind reading fanfic. In fact, there's this HP fanfic I've read years ago that I loved so much. Not to mention that I enjoyed TMI and TID a lot. Yes, you can spot some glaring similarities here and there when you think of HP but I can overlook them. Cassie Clare was able to weave a story very different from HP. And I'd seen that Cassie really improved her writing with each published book.

    My point is, publishing a book that started as fanfic is okay as long as the author tries her damnedest to make the book as original as possible.

    As for Fifty Shades, I can't really consider that it's fanfic because it's different from Twilight but still, you can see Bella and Edward on Ana and Christian respectively. I hate the book though.


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