Nov 29, 2012

Published fanfiction and the foam finger of shame.

There’s been quite the buzz surrounding fan-fictions crossing into the mainstream recently and I thought I’d rant a bit for you lovely, sexy WORD readers. It’s been far too long.

I weighed in on the Fifty Shades fiasco a while back, another book series adapted from a fan-fiction and I’m always incredibly skeptical of these kinds of stories; it’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel, isn’t it?

First up, we have sixteen year old Emily Baker who was discovered on the online fiction site Movellas by Penguin’s senior fiction editor, later commissioned to adapt her story “Loving The Band” for publication. Her story was a fictionalized love story between an original character and members of the UK boy band One Direction and the new version will, with names changed to further fictionalize the based-on-real -people characters, pretty much remain the same thing.

Junior High School Counselor Christina Hobbs and neuroscientist Lauren Billings teamed up to re-work Hobbs Twilight fan-fiction “The Office” depicting a problematic romance between an executive and an intern for publication. The story “Beautiful Bastard” is billed as the predecessor for Fifty Shades of Grey and other “Porn as Plot” novels published in the past year.

As a rule, fan-fiction is bad. There are a couple diamonds in the rough seeded throughout the internet, but for the most part these are chaptered installments of pre and post pubescent fantasy. The goal of fan-fiction is to expand on the canon someone else created. That’s my first problem. The raw character development just isn’t there and often times the authors get to rely on the fandom’s knowledge of the characters rather than doing the work to fully create them.

If we get into the more taboo sub-genre (albeit not that taboo) of fan-fiction, we also lose more of the fictional elements when the featured characters are based off living, breathing people (like boy band members). These stories are generally frowned upon more within the fan-fiction world since they’re more likely to get hit with lawsuits for defamation of character.

I find real person fiction to be terribly creepy. While I’m sure it comes from the most loving (albeit terrifyingly psychotic) corner of the writer’s heart, it still comes down to taking away a bit of the subject’s self-ownership, humanity and privacy.

While I’m sort of sure the members of One Direction can just cry into their piles of money and groupies when they’re upset over this sort of thing, I still don’t think it’s okay.

But I’m not here to criticize those who write fan-fictions. The writing isn’t the problem. In fact, I think it’s great that young writers have found communities on the internet that allow them to workshop pieces and gain positive, negative feedback. It’s all a part of the process, a really important part.

Instead, I’m here to criticize the publishing houses for tearing down the fourth wall on fan-fiction to make money, interrupting the process of young writers and likely thrusting them toward literary ridicule.

I think today’s young writers are in a really uncomfortable position. These talented and ambitious people don’t see the point in waiting and working when they can have something (like a published novel) right now. The desire for instant gratification is just too strong. But pulling the unfinished, fan-fiction-adapted works from the internet and feeding them to the masses is like finger painting a portrait and shoving it in a museum frame — it’s setting them up for disaster.

When I was younger, I wanted to be published pretty badly. I sent my work to a few different web publications and I was accepted by some, rejected by a few others: the typical young writer’s tale.

But now, when I look back at those pieces, I just cringe. It’s not that they were bad (a few of them were), but more so that I really wasn’t done cooking as a person yet. At sixteen, my musings on life, love and literature were vastly different than they are today; at sixteen, I wrote what I thought would please an audience instead of what would please myself; at sixteen, I was a pretentious motherfucker. It doesn’t mean my thoughts and feelings didn’t have merit or weren’t fully formed and important in their own ways, but it does mean that there were plenty of experiences I’d yet to have.

Now, these pieces will not all be part of my future resume and I will probably shy away from them for certain job applications. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be attached to my name for as long as the websites choose to keep them. This doesn’t mean that a future employer won’t stumble on my article about watching “My Sister’s Keeper” and participating in hate hook-ups and either love it or hate it.

I wish someone would’ve told me to slow down and let my writing mature before reaching out into the online ether. Maybe it would’ve saved me quite a bit of cringe energy.

I can only imagine that these young people, many of whom have serious literary aspirations, will be laughed out of an agency when they submit later, more matured works, because they published a Twilight or One Direction fan-fiction when they were young.

It’s because of this that I’m breaking out my oversized foam finger of shame to start a'wagging at the guilty parties in this lose/lose scenario.

To the publishers: Shame! Not only are you plaguing your readerships with skeletal intellectual theft that 9/10 is awful, but you’re also failing a demographic of writers who still have a lot to learn.

Many of the young writers you’re harvesting are inexperienced and doe-eyed in the face of being published, noticed or even just complimented. Even if they are talented 14-18 year olds, short-cutting them through the process by “discovering” them on the internet will ultimately do them world’s more harm than good.

A very important part of writing is sucking and living through that suck. You’re robbing these kids of that necessary experience that could stunt them as writers for a very long time. And that’s a real no-no.

Katherine Speller is lucky to be Nicole's friend because she is allowed to occasionally rant about grammar and feminism on her blog. She likes hairless cats, bearded men and journalism. Her writing can be found on her blog If Only He Had A Beard.


  1. Very well-thought out and explained points -- and we're not just saying that because we agree with pretty much all of them! ;P

    But seriously, YES:

    - "I think today’s young writers are in a really uncomfortable position. These talented and ambitious people don’t see the point in waiting and working when they can have something (like a published novel) right now."

    - "Not only are you plaguing your readerships with skeletal intellectual theft that 9/10 is awful, but you’re also failing a demographic of writers who still have a lot to learn."

    - "A very important part of writing is sucking and living through that suck."

    We totally get it, because all 4 of us are aspiring writers ourselves, and 3 of us have wanted it since girlhood. But part of being a kid/teen (as anyone who reads/writes/publishes YA should know!!) is wanting things you're not ready for yet, and growing so that you can become ready for them.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I agree with you that above and beyond everything else, publishing fan fiction as though its as original as, well, whatever it's inspired by is incredibly problematic. I know that at the end of the day, there are only so many stories to be told, and "all great artists steal," etc., but treating fan fiction as though it is original enough not to owe great debt to the original work that inspired it is ridiculous.

    At the same time, I'm not against writers being discovered via fan fiction communities. I think that it's a great entry point for people who will go on to develop and write more original stories. Plus, writers in fan fiction communities tend to come with already established fan bases and audiences of their own (much like, for example, book bloggers).

    That said, I nevertheless agree with you that publishers are failing both these writers and the reading community by not reaching out to writers of fan fiction with requests for ORIGINAL work. That is, instead of taking the easy route of repackaging already written (and probably not as good as it could be) fan fiction, publishers should look for writers of fan fiction who show skill and promise, and solicit original manuscripts. Then it's up to the writers to try to deliver.

  3. Of the recent fanfiction that's been published EJ James is a middle-aged woman and the two chicks that wrote that new Twilight trash that was picked up, I thought were both a decent amount over the age of majority. Even that One Direction author I thought was in college. Maybe now that I think about it I remember her being 17. Regardless I still agree with what you're saying about fanfiction being published but I don't think publishers are preying on the young, at least not maliciously. They want dollars and all of that fan praise will get them dollars. At least they're anticipating. I don't think being young and having a pub release your fanfiction would have a negative effect on future attempts at publishing, especially if later work stands on its own. Besides, that's what pseudonyms are for.


    I've definitely been disturbed by the height in fanfiction publication. One reason is obviously because it's basically stealing someone elses characters and then "making them your own" and two because for every fan fiction story that gets published there is one REALLY good author with their own unique and wonderful story that isn't getting recognized. I can't believe that the publishing industry has started to bend so low that they're putting profits ahead of quality. It's just like the movie industry where things get made for money and not for the good of the audience and it SUCKS. Plus it's not fair to aspiring writers with true talent. Not to say that fan fiction writers don't have talent, but it's also teaching them that it's okay to continue to write fan fiction and not branch out and create and craft their own stories and characters. It's just sad. :(

  5. +JMJ+

    While I agree with what you say about needing to mature as a writer--and having that essential stage in one's growth irreparably stunted through being "discovered" too early--I also think the phenomenon you describe is a mark of our age that we all have to live with. Serious musicians could say as much about the insta-stardom from televised talent competitions, which have been correctly compared to karaoke--which is like musical fan fiction. LOL!

    Although I had known about Fifty Shades of Grey, the other examples you mentioned are news to me. But they are not really surprising. I don't think publishers have really valued originality or development from scratch for a while. Look at all the "original" vampire romances that came out after the smashing success of Twilight. They were followed by the fallen angels books. Then there was the Dystopian trend, thanks to The Hunger Games. It's like one big writing prompt party! This harvesting of "green" FF writers was something we should have seen coming a long time ago.


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