Whenever I see an author up in arms about how bad and horrible fanfic is, I can’t help but to scratch my head and ask, “But what is so wrong about it?”
Sure, the appearance and popularity of fanfic-turned-original-novel is meant to take some of the blame. Would 50 Shades of Grey be so popular if it hadn’t started out as Twilight fanfic first? Would EL James have gotten a huge following regardless? What about writers like Alice Clayton, Jamie McGuire, etc? Truth is, no one knows. But it opened the discussion of authors using their standing in fandom to garner a following, and whether was it right for them to pull-and-publish their fics with different characters.
Is it wrong? Unless someone’s lifting complete passages off your book, then no, not really, at least from a legal standpoint. Whether it’s morally wrong or not, jury’s still out on that one. But ask yourself: if you had a readership of millions, and got offered a book contract if you changed the names and setting, would you do it?
Personally, I don’t think I would. I think my fic is meant to stay in the confines of what inspired it, and it’s meant to be free. I may have created some original concepts in fic that I’ve then ported into original works, but those were original concepts. They were mine, and as such, I can use them as I see fit. At the time, I put them in fic to experiment, and those that worked, I decided to dedicate books to. So, in a way, fanfic helped me train. And if you ask writers, some of them will tell you the exact same thing.
A lot of the criticism for fanfic appeared during the 50SoG debacle. Before, some authors were vocal about their distaste for fic (such as Anne Rice and Robin Hobb) to the point sites like fanfiction.net forbade users from posting fic based off those writers’ comments. But the more 50SoG earned, the more comments I saw deriding fanfic, and the people who *gasp* like to write it in their free time.
Back in 2003, when Anne Rice told people not to write fanfic based on her work, do you think people stopped? You bet they didn’t. Some actually stopped buying her books, because they were mad. So, remember that every time you oppose fanfic, you may actually be alienating some of your own fans.
It’s not because they want to steal the characters. It’s not because they’re thinking about “oh, I’ll write this fic, become popular, then pull it, change names and get a million bucks!”
It’s because people love the work so much they feel inspired to write. They love the world, the characters so much, their heads won’t stop thinking about it. They will sit down and put said characters in situations the author didn’t. They devote time, put themselves out there in the fandom world, and hope others will like their spin on things.
And that is one of the highest compliments a writer can get.
You cannot keep people from writing whatever the hell they want. And if they’re choosing to write about your characters, for chocolate’s sake, let them.
“But if they become popular then they can make millions off a work that’s based on my work!”
Well, true. But so what?
If they make millions off a work based on yours, I’m sure it’s because you already have big recognition. All the “big” pulled-to-publish fanfics came from Twilight, and what did Twilight have already? That’s right, a huge following. Trust me, no fanfic of a small fandom is going to garner thousands of followers, much less a million-dollar-publishing contract. Not to mention EL James, Alice Clayton, and all the Twi-fic authors didn’t really steal readers from Stephenie Meyer. Meyer’s fans will still buy Meyer’s work. Meyer never really lost any readership from having people writing fanfic of her work.
And neither will you. Neither will anyone, really.
“But they should be spending time on their characters, not mine! They should be creating their world!”
People spend time doing whatever the fuck they want. If they want to write about your characters, they will do it. And the truth is, sometimes, people just want to write in a world’s that’s already set, with characters they already know. Believe it or not, it teaches them something. It teaches how to stay in character, how to use a world and follow its rules. Hell, even if it’s AU (Another Universe), it’s still a great training exercise, because you keep the characters but build a new world for them.
“People should be reading real books instead of fanfic!”
People should read whatever the hell they want. If it’s fanfic, then they are going to read fanfic. In fact, just last week, as I was playing Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, I found myself craving serious Phoenix/Maya fanfic. So, I went and read some. And it was glorious.
Just like when I’m playing a Bioware game (it happens with Bioware games 99% of the time), and my future game husband is being overdramatic about lyrium addiction, you bet your ass I’m going to spend however long I want writing about it. Because it’s fun. It’s liberating. And sometimes, it helps connect to like-minded people. Fanfic led me to meet amazing people who I’ve stayed friends with for over ten years.
“But knowing how to write fanfic doesn’t mean you’re ready to write books!”
Sure, there are many things you do in fanfic that you don’t do in books, because fanfic has no purpose other than what you want it. Ultimately, though, more than it harms, fanfic helps. I know it helped me.
Fanfic helped me realize I did want to become a writer. Fanfic helped me improve my English, my prose, my skills. Sticking to a fanfic for years even though people rarely left comments in it taught me discipline, and it taught me how to write just because I love writing.
And if you, as an author, are inspiring people to write, take it as a compliment, because it is one. Obviously, don’t police the fandom, or participate actively in it (look at what happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley when she did), and don’t tell them to stop, because you never know how important it might be to them.