The only things I’ll say on the issue of publishing fan fiction.

I had a reader come up to me at an event this past weekend and ask me how I’d feel about someone taking THE ARCHIVED and continuing the story once I’m done.

“Like fan fiction?” I asked.

She shook her head. “No,” she said, “I mean, like, write more books with Mac and Wes. To sell.”

“Well,” I tried to explain, “I hope the story will feel done. And in the end, those are *my* characters. I’m happy for people to write fan fiction, but I wouldn’t want to see it on shelves.”

“But if other people want the story to continue,” she said, “and you don’t want to write more, why not give the world to someone else?”

This question is indicative of a mental state being developed not only by writers, but readers in the current book climate.

It’s no secret that the hottest books selling right now started out as fan fiction. It’s no secret because it’s plastered all over the internet, and in the stores. Some books own it, and some books would rather not. The latter claim that while they might have had the seeds of their story in another (and really, aren’t most books inspired by elements of one sort or another) their stories no longer resemble their inspiration.

But if the fan fiction truly no longer bears resemblance to the original work, then why call it fan fiction? The answer insofar as I can tell is to capitalize on the fan fiction’s *audience*. But then, if you want the audience, you must also take the stigma. You can’t capitalize on the audience without being attached to it.

By glorifying a story’s origins in fan fiction, we are encouraging a creative world without clear delineation, where an author’s characters no longer belong to them.

And I think it’s being complicated by other endeavors–such as the Cassie Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson collaboration–that encourage the communal nature of a story. It’s so hard because we as writers WANT people to feel they are a part of our worlds, that those worlds belong as much to them as us, but at the end of the day, we are the creators of them, and the intellectual property owners (I’m actually fascinated by that collaboration, but the primary difference at the end of the day is that Clare is collaborating WITH the other two, and has given them permission).

Back to the topic of fan fiction being pulled to print…

I don’t take issue with the stories themselves. I take issue with the glorification of their ORIGIN stories.

If the stories themselves are well-written and appeal to the masses, then let them do those things on their own merit. But the continuing emphasis on how those stories got started blurs what I still consider to be a very important line.

Fan fiction is fan fiction.

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21 thoughts on “The only things I’ll say on the issue of publishing fan fiction.

  1. Well said. But don’t worry. We all know no fan fiction can be as good as the original.

  2. Agreed. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Cate Hart says:

    Wonderful post! I agree with this ever growing blur of fan fiction and how with the ease of self-publishing and the Internet people are taking advantage. I will admit to my fair share of writing it. I might even admit to which characters I “borrowed” for my own evil designs, BUT those handwritten pages tucked in my closet will never see the light of day. They were for my own growth as a writer and for my enjoyment alone. 🙂

  4. Katie L says:

    I think writing fanfiction can be a great exercise (I’ve been meaning to blog on this for ages). But, even if you change a character’s name and you move it from Seattle to LA, if you’re publicly saying “This is fanfiction based on X,” then that’s courting legal trouble. From a very basic legal standpoint, you’re stealing characters. Characters in the eyes of the law belong to the author. Aside from all of the “readers make the story come alive, readers are the ones that own the story” argument, the legal issues this brings up with copyright are immense and scary.
    I think fanfiction is fun to write, occasionally fun to read, and can exist on the internet WITHOUT MONEY CHANGING HANDS with no harm done. If anything, it’s likely to increase readership of the original story which can’t hurt the author.
    But like Neil Gaiman’s always said, the line is money. You can’t financially benefit off of someone else’s idea, in any way, written or invented or otherwise.
    I wish there was a way to generate almost a peer-reviewed (mandated beta reading or something) quality fanfiction community online, multi-fandom, where these stories could exist and membership to the community cost $ so the fanfic writers were paying for the ability to publish their (hopefully well written and well edited) fanfiction online because it’s a privilege to write fanfiction and not get sued, not a right to write.

  5. dustwrites says:

    It’s a great point and I couldn’t agree more. I think this has roots even down to the query process itself. Writers are encouraged to do this to get the attention of agents. Agents have used it to shortcut description and appeal to editors, and editors/publishers use it to find audience. I think you’ve described this perfectly, however, I have a strange feeling – it’s going to blossom becuase for driving sales – it works.

  6. ewein2412 says:

    Not only have some of the hottest books started out as fanfiction, but there’s also a HUGE trend just now for rewriting classics, which amounts to the same thing, if you ask me… a really fine line there. Another one just popped up in my twitter feed today – Wuthering Heights set in a post-apocalyptic future (if I remember correctly). I *know* it’s “not the same,” but I don’t really understand *why*.

    • JN says:

      Those classic rewrites are allowed because the books are in public domain. That’s just what makes it legal (as compared to fanfiction which technically isn’t), not taking morality into consideration.

  7. I think it’s all quite fascinating. I write the occasional fanfiction (I think I usually make it to four chapter before the bug dies). I find I use it to try out scenarios that are mine with an already-established world.

    It’s interesting, because Cassie Clare’s Mortal Instruments has many of the same themes recycled from her Harry Potter fanfiction. These themes are her creations, but just tried out first in an established world.

    It always makes me wonder how many other books out there might have started out as fanfiction at one point in time. As a writer, it can be good exercise to write FF, especially for those just starting out.

    Selling fanfiction is a different story altogether, though. Obviously a lot of *good* fanfiction is quite original and could easily be its own entity. These are usually Alternate Universe fics that really only use names. The key is transforming what was once an inspiration into something that truly belongs to the writer.

    Thanks for posting this! Good food for thought.

  8. Laura says:

    Fan fiction is fine if it is kept in it’s own category with no money or publishers involved, but when someone makes money off of characters they copied, I call shenanigans. You were very diplomatic with that fan. If it were me, I would have said, “No, and if someone tried it, I would get lawyers involved. It’s plagiarism.” Cuz that’s what I think, yo. And I’m not even published yet!

  9. Danielle Nguyen says:

    I still don’t understand how 50 Shades got published. I don’t work in publishing so I guess I’m not an expert, but it just seems so wrong to me. I keep waiting to hear about a lawsuit from Stephenie Meyer, but it doesn’t look like that’s ever going to happen. I would be sick if someone made a profit off of my characters like that.

  10. Marthapao says:

    I have read loads of fanfiction including the original 50 shades and two of the new ones that are about to come out. I read them when they were still on the fanfic website and I loved them. BUT it was fanfic! I can not fathom paying money to them now for those same stories when, even if they were Alternate Universe, they were based on characters made up by another published author. These characters all had the same mannerisms and personality of Bella and Edward.
    I think a morality line is being crossed.

  11. I am right with you, V.

    I think writing fanfiction can be a great writing exercise. But like most exercises…it exists to help improve one’s writing, not to make money. I wrote fanfiction in high school (back when I’m not certain fanfiction even had a name yet…) and it was fun. I think my writing benefited from the practice. Still, if anyone ever tried to read those pages, I would have them out the door and down the street so fast, they wouldn’t know what happened to them. It is not for other people, it is for me. I would never dream of trying to capitalize on it. The characters I wrote about were (for the most part–I added a few) the invention of someone else, so the credit and money those characters generate belong to the author that created them.

  12. I refuse to buy books that were previously fanfics. I come from that culture, and it helped me develop as a writer, but I would NEVER take someone else’s characters and profit. It is THEIR blood, sweat, and tears. It doesn’t matter if an idea is 100% unique. Maybe the fact that a character has blue eyes or red hair or a younger brother is still there, and that’s development that the fanfic writer never had to do. That comes over. I don’t care if you tell me that the story is different aside from these small things. I can’t–won’t–read it. And maybe only one book in your series was like that, and the rest were unique, and your new books will be unique in the feature. I morally can’t support you.

    Those are my feelings on the matter, though I might not explain them well!

    I applaud you for bringing this up and think more people need to. There shouldn’t be such acclaim for people who have built their stories on top of another’s foundation.

  13. sarah says:

    I love what you wrote here, thank you for going ahead and posting it.

  14. […] Schwab shared her opinions on publishing fanfiction, and it prompted me to revisit my own feelings on the subject. You all know I love me some […]

  15. SweetMarie83 says:

    I can’t imagine someone having the nerve to basically ask you how you’d feel about someone stealing your world and characters. This whole fan fiction thing is getting out of hand – what happened to original ideas, worlds, characters, and plots? I have no issue with people WRITING fan fic – go nuts – but then publishing it and capitalizing on someone else’s ideas? Where’s the line? And who draws it?

  16. Fanfiction allows the fans of a type of art or media to engage with it in a different way. I think it definitely has a place and I appreciate you for writing this. I wonder what the fan who asked you this was thinking and specifically what they saw as the distinction between fanfiction and published continuations and why this person saw a need for the presumably “endorsed” or “more legitimate” continuation.

    I think what should be mentioned here, and Neil Gaiman has spoken on this, is the importance as a creator of art (be it books or movies or television, these kinds of characters and worlds and creative endeavors) of knowing what legally will happen to your worlds and characters you own if you die. It seems terrible to think about but who wants a situation like Margaret Mitchell, whose family published posthumously sequels to her work written by another author despite Ms. Mitchell’s clear intentions never to continue the story herself?

  17. I haven’t been sure about how I feel about fan fiction getting published, actually. I think your thoughts are very well-said and interesting, and I actually really agree. You expressed yourself very well 🙂

  18. Someone had to say this, and you’ve done an excellent job of it. Well said. Where is the line, and who is going to draw it?

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