Earlier this year, I was asked to answer some questions about my thoughts regarding the Pull to Publish (P2P) debate that is ever present online as part of a dissertation by a woman studing for her MA in Publishing. She very kindly gave me permission to post my responses here on my blog as I thought some people may be interested. It’s a bit lengthy, but here they are:
Writing Fan Fiction
1. Please talk a bit about your background as a fan fiction writer. What inspired you to begin writing fan fiction? How many stories have you written in total, and where did you initially publish them? Are they mostly canon or AU? Had you written stories before you started writing fanfic?
I discovered fanfiction completely by accident after I had been sucked into the Twilight vortex. I had joined a few Facebook groups looking for others who’d enjoyed the books and found a link to a story someone had written and posted up onto fanfiction.net. I read it, curious and realized it was really bad. I’d always written stories, but hadn’t written anything for almost 15 years, but thought I could do better, so I started to write a New Moon from Edward’s point of view. It was TERRIBLE and was deleted.
I ended up writing a number of stories that are posted up on fanfiction.net. They are mostly canon (with a couple non-canon) and are all AU/AH as I would have forgotten that Meyer’s vampires don’t eat or sleep, plus I felt I had more creative freedom with writing the characters as human.
I had over 20 stories posted at one point, mainly one shots (one chapter stories), but I have pulled a number from the site, but those that I would never consider reworking for publishing are still up for people to read.
2. Besides writing fan fiction, are you otherwise actively participating in the fandom (e.g. running/reading blogs, going to fan events, etc.)?
I used to be. I used to review and recommend fanfiction for a couple of blogs that are now defunct. I actually met one of my now best friends via one of these blogs as we were the only 2 Brits that ‘worked’ for the one site.
The Twilight fandom actually led me to another fandom. 100 Monkeys was a band that one of the actors from the film, Jackson Rathbone (Jasper) was part of. I was extremely active in this fandom by working on an update account with a friend which afforded me the opportunity to interview the band in December 2012 whilst they were in Europe touring. Unfortunately, the band broke up shortly after, but I am still a huge fan of their music.
I actually walked away from the Twilight fandom and fanfiction almost 2 years ago once I decided to stick to writing original fiction.
3. What has your fan fiction writing experience been like so far? Do you interact a lot with your readers and other writers? Do you participate in forums? (How) has this influenced your writing? Do you use social media to promote your stories or engage with readers?
Fanfiction was an amazing stepping stone. It not only got me writing creatively again, but it also gave me the confidence to share my work with complete strangers. I was glad, at first, to hide behind my username online.
I never had a huge reader base or following, but the readers I did have were wonderful. The reviews I did get were always positive and, if needed, constructive. I was what would be classed within the fandom as ‘small-fry’, but looking back, I’m happy about that. I don’t think I could have coped with the attention that ff writers who have thousands upon thousands of readers clamouring for the next update. Yes, the review count would have been wonderful, but I was able to write and update my stories as and when I wanted to.
I used to be a member of many fanfiction groups on Facebook (it astounded me just how many there are. Specific groups for different kinds of stories, character, and genre – it’s overwhelming) and I used to post the link to stories in there and I was involved with contests and discussions with other writers/readers.
4. Are there any other fan fiction stories/writers which have fundamentally influenced or inspired your writing?
I wouldn’t say any particular stories have impacted on my writing, but I have made a few good friends who have influenced my writing. In particular a friend in Australia, who I am still in daily contact with, helped me begin to realize and accept that I’m actually quite a good writer and she gave me the confidence to put myself out there a little more.
Other friends gave me the courage to move away from cliché and predictable storylines which is quite possibly the best thing that could have ever happened. The amount of fanfiction (and original fiction) out there that is a rehash of something I’ve read many times before makes me want to cry (not literally) because it seems as if people are unable to think for themselves and have an original idea or even put an original twist on a common story idea.
5. Do you include disclaimers in every chapter? Have you thought about issues relating to copyright infringement and possible legal repercussions? Do you personally consider internet fan fiction to count as copyright infringement/violation of moral rights or as fair use, why?
When I was still writing fanfiction, I would include a disclaimer in an author’s note at the beginning of every story/chapter I posted. I think this was more because it was expected rather than a way to cover my own stories.
Since leaving fanfiction and moving into the writing of original fiction, I have begun to consider copyright much more. I’m starting to see legal repercussions around every corner and have to be very careful with the use of anything that is trademarked.
In my own personal opinion, internet fanfiction is a huge grey area. Many authors have placed a complete ban on any of their books being used, such as Anne Rice, and they will physically seek legal advice if anything is found online, whereas authors such as JK Rowling actively encourage fanfiction. Personally, I don’t see it as wrong either legally or morally whilst it remains for fun. As soon as it is being used for monetary gains, as fanfiction, then that is when things can get a bit dangerous.
6. Please talk a bit about the story which you ended up publishing. What is it about? What was it called? Does it contain explicit sexual content? When did you start writing it? How big was its following at the time?
The story I decided to P2P, Just Like in the Movies, came about when I was ill. I was sat in bed watching the film Letters to Juliet, when I realized that most romance films like this follow a formula. Girl meets boy, they hate each other, begin to get on, get separated, then realize they actually love each other, get back together. It’s a formula that we all know and never seem to be bothered by the predictability of. I started to write a story following this formula using the pairing of Alice/Jasper with a couple of the others as backups.
It was about Alice, who was in a relationship that wasn’t satisfying her, going on holiday and meeting Jasper. They rub each other the wrong way and really don’t get on. There was no sexual content as that wasn’t, and still isn’t, something I felt comfortable writing. I’m no prude, but there’s only so many ways you can write ‘insert tab a into slot b’ without it reading like a sex ed manual. Also, I’m a big believer that plot is more important than sex.
As with all of my stories, it didn’t have a big following when it was posted online, and I stalled with the writing after posting 6 chapters.
4. What made you decide to “properly” publish it, and how far into the writing process did you make this decision?
When I decided to pull Movies from fanfiction.net, it was for various reasons. A) I knew I was never going to finish it as a fanfiction and it had been left online incomplete, B) I wanted to submit a novella to an open call based on stories with a beach theme, and C) I really wanted to see where the completed story would go.
It was a conscious decision from as soon as I decided to submit, and once I made that choice, I didn’t look back at all.
5. What feedback did you receive when you pulled your story/announced that you would publish it?
I only told a couple of people and they were all extremely supportive of my decision. I didn’t make a big song and dance production about it. I simply deleted it from my online account and began to work on it.
6. How extensive were the changes that you made to it after pulling it? Did you change the title?
Considering that there were only 6 chapters posted online, and each chapter was roughly 300 words I started in stages. Stage one was a basic find/replace of character names, stage two was to combine 2 chapter into one creating 3 chapters from the original 6 and then fill them out a bit, and stage 3 was to finish the story. As I always set my stories in the UK, I didn’t need to change any location which was a big help.
I decided to keep the original title as a working title whilst I wrote as I’m not the type of author who worries about a title before writing a story. Once I had finished, there wasn’t anything else that really fit the story so I kept the same title. I think that because I didn’t have a following of any decent size, it hasn’t been so much of an issue.
7. Did you self-publish or approach publishers? How did you experience this process of getting your story published? What were your hopes and concerns?
As I had already had a novella published previously as part of an anthology by a publishing house, I followed the same tack. As mentioned, Movies was pulled as I wanted to submit it for an open call hosted by the publishers I was already signed up with so the experience wasn’t a new one and the relationship I already had with the publishers was already established and was a decent working relationship as well as a growing friendship with them and the other authors.
8. Through which sales channels can your book be purchased? Did/Do you do any kind of marketing/promotion?
The book is available as a solo ebook and that is available on all the usual ebook channels such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords etc, the anthology is available as both an ebook and in print.
Promotion tends to consist of social media. I have a Facebook page that I use on a regular basis, not just to advertise my books, but also to attempt to build a rapport with any readers I may have. This page is linked to my twitter account and also to a Tumblr account (which I don’t use that often).
As someone who reads a lot, I refuse to spam people with constant posts that link to where my books can be bought as when I see that, I tend to unfollow or hide that person’s posts as it irritates me. This is quite possibly detrimental to my own sales, but it is simply something I can’t do.
Also, upon release, there is a blog tour during which anyone who has a blog or website is able to host an author for a day. This can either be a review, a guest post written by the author, a promo post (which details the summary, info about the author and an excerpt from the book), or an author interview. These blog tours can be very effective as some blogs have a huge amount of followers and those followers may just become a reader.
9. Are you considering publishing again, either fan fiction or an original story? Is there anything that you would do differently?
I am currently working on an anthology of my own short stories which are themed around the military. I am self publishing this as I not only want to test those waters, but also because the entire thing is still quite short and not many publishers would consider it. These stories are a mix of original pieces and pulled fanfiction one shots that I have reworked.
I’m also drawn to the self publishing side as I feel a little tethered by a publishing house as I have no control over being able to view my own sales in detail and then I have to wait every three months for any royalties I have earned. I will probably still submit novellas to the house, but I may keep up a mix of traditional publishing and self publishing if this goes well.
10. With regards to publishing and selling your story in book-form, has copyright infringement and potential legal action been a concern?
It hasn’t been a concern as I have done a complete rework of the story so that it retains very little similarities to the original fanfiction. Also, my editor used to work as a legal clerk and still has contacts in the law firm she used to work at so she is able to steer us authors in the right direction when dealing with copyright.
The Pulled-to-Publish Trend
11. In the past year, many fan fiction authors have (self-)published their stories. Three of the Big Six (Random House, Penguin and Simon & Schuster have) have picked up stories which originated as fan fiction. Do you think this is a sign that fan fiction is moving more into the mainstream and gaining credibility, or a momentary trend? Do you know other authors who have published their stories?
This is a subject I have discussed with friends and fellow authors quite a lot in the last 12 months or so. There are many fanfic authors that I either know or know of who have P2P their fanfiction. Most have either gone with indie publishing houses that are known for signing ff authors, or they have self published. I think that those who go about it without creating a fuss are doing it simply because they have always wanted to be a published author and are perfectly happy plodding along. Then there are those authors who want the attention that comes with P2P. These are, in my opinion, the authors who are jumping on a bandwagon to make a quick buck.
12. With regards to the increasing popularity of pulled-to-publish fan fiction, what role, do you think, does Fifty Shades of Grey play in all this?
As mentioned in the previous question, there is a current trend when it comes to P2P. BDSM stories are the current flavor of the month, and while I have no problem with authors writing about the subject, it truly doesn’t appeal to me. I have a good friend who is in the middle of releasing a BDSM trilogy which started out as fanfiction. She has reworked it so much that the 1stand 3rd books have nothing from what was posted online in them at all. She has taken a lot of time to ensure the characters, locations and other details have no relation to anything from Twilight. I feel that she is in the minority.
The erotica market is being flooded by books with BDSM-esque books that are cobbled together from an original fanfiction, with a quick find/replace of names and locations before being self published. These authors have seen the success that EL James and the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy have had and want in on the action. I have seen books started and then within 2-3 months are for sale. They haven’t been edited properly and the authors simply don’t care. This is aggravating to someone who works hard and takes their time to get things right.
Then, success is handed to the author who cuts corners rather than the author who takes pride in their work. This is something James is responsible for.
13. Why do you think, is it almost exclusively Twilight fan fiction that is currently being pulled to publish?
As I haven’t really read much fanfiction from other fandoms, I don’t know of any other fandoms going through P2P. I think the Twilight fandom has become bigger that Twilight itself and many of the fanfiction writers feel as if they deserve a publishing deal because their fanfiction had lots of readers/reviews. These are the authors that, after being turned down from a publishing house who then self publish without the help of an editor.
I know of ff writers such as this. They are of the impression that because their fanfiction got a decent reaction, that they will be the next EL James. Sadly, they are often let down.
14. For a long time, one of the ground rules of fan fiction writing has been that it was for the fandom’s enjoyment only and should not be commercially published. What are your thoughts on this?
I’ve only ever seen this rule applied to RPFs (Real Person Fics). No one crosses the 4thwall by sending links to the person the fic is about or to family, friends, or anyone who knows that person. This is extremely monitored in the One Direction fandom. I can understand why, in these cases, this unwritten rule is policed so to speak, but I think with fanfiction revolving about books and TV programmes, it’s left down to the author and their discretion.
Obviously, as someone who has P2P, I’m not going to condemn anyone doing the same, but I do get a bit angry when someone doesn’t put in the work to transform from ff to of.
15. One of the things fan fiction is primarilycriticisedfor is its reliance on another author’s work and lack of originality. Where do you stand on this? What constitutes originality (in fan fiction writing) for you?
I think this is a fine line that blurs very often.
Many fanfiction stories are not original in that they are rehashes of the same thing over and over again. Edward and Bella meet in High school, fall in love after 5 minutes and so on… then there are the completely AU fanfiction.
A good example of this is a story called Emancipation Proclamation by Kharizzmatik. It had a HUGE following in the same way as Master of the Universe (Fifty Shades). It was all human, set in Chicago and was as far removed from Twilight as you could get. The author has since gone ahead and self published it under the title of Sempre and the published version is unrecognisable from the original fanfiction.
In this kind of instance, I believe it no longer relies on another author’s work as even when it was posted online, other than the descriptions and names, the characters were the author’s own truly and completely.
16. Right now, the legal consensus seems to be that as long as it is fairly transformative, meaning a writer takes several key elements from the original work and then subverts them or somehow adds to them; it is not considered copyright infringement. Would agree with this definition?
I would have to say I agree. As someone who really took their time to make Movies as unTwilight as possible, I feel that as long as a book isn’t simply published after a find/release of character names, it can be changed to something completely original.
There are still many people that disagree with P2P in its entirety, and I can understand why. I have read P2P that has simply gone through a name change and published via KDP. It still reads as fanfic, is set in fanfic locations and is basically a fanfic under a new name. (I’m looking at Fifty Shades here among many).
Then there are fanfics that are completely reworked and unless you know about them before publication, there is no way of knowing that it began life as a fanfic.
As long as any recognizable aspects are dealt with, copyright shouldn’t be so much of an issue, so as far as I believe it’s not an infringement.
17. As you may know, Amazon has launched Kindle Worlds, an online platform through which authors can publish their fan fiction legally, based on TV shows, books, movies, music, etc. to which Amazon has acquired the rights. Fan fiction authors as well as original rights owners are paid royalties (although these are lower than those paid when self-publishing with Amazon). Submitted stories need to be authorised and Amazon has introduces quite strict guidelines for authors, e.g. here are no crossovers possible, and sexually explicit or violent content is not permitted. What do you think of this business model? Do you think it will “work” for the fanfic community, and will be used by authors?
I haven’t looked much into Kindle Worlds, but I am personally staying away and when it was announced, I saw many friends who still write fanfiction who have said the same. This is when I get alarm bells ringing as people are making money from someone else’s work. Yes, these people have given permission for these stories to be written and the strict guidelines will put people off as many people got into fanfiction for the sexual content.
The idea of being paid royalties for fanfiction leaves a funny taste in my mouth, but I can’t seem to put my finger on why.
I want to say that I have nothing against about P2P even before I did my own, because at the end of the day, regardless of how the story came about, it is the author’s intellectual property. My issues are with those lazy authors who have seen the success of Fifty Shades of Grey and the newer Beautiful Bastard books. They pull their fic that had a) the most sex, b) the most reviews and c) the most buzz and decide to publish it. That is when, as an author who has pride in what I release, I get angry with both authors and readers for not wanting quality.