There's this weird little prickle in the
community every time there's the mention of someone "publishing." It's almost like a bad word. You can almost feel the collective shivering as someone exits the hobby closet and comes out as wanting to be a serious writer. It's pretty much frowned upon or something. The ultimate wank. The worst possible show of egotism. Pomposity in a showy box.
Which makes me wrinkle my brow.
One of my long time acquaintances happens to be a successful book agent. The bulk of his stuff is non-fiction, but recently, he asked me to review a novel he was considering. The author of said book had been published before, but the agent was unsure about this new book. So, needless to say, I read this book, and it made me... um... realize just how good some fan fiction is?
At the heart of any story, there are basic elements: characterization, plot and pacing, originality, and writing. I think it's pretty easy to say that there are a sizable numbers of fan fiction authors who excel in these criteria. We've read their stuff. We've fallen in love with their words, and wouldn't it be the greatest if some of them could possibly become professional authors? I think so.
So, let’s end the age of “OMG. I'd never think about publishing!” coming out of authors’ mouths. Humility is well and good, but it’s also important to realize that there are thousands of authors out there who do think they can get published—and who do get published—who aren’t as talented as writers who’ve spent years putting themselves out for free on fan fiction, getting feedback, and improving themselves. Fan Fiction is a hobby, yes, but like any sport or interest, it has the potential to produce professionals.
Why You Should Consider It
In other fandoms, authors have been published. Notably, in the Harry Potter fandom, Cassandra Claire left the world of fanfic writing to promote her best-selling young adult series The Mortal Instruments. Sarah Rhees Brennan, who wrote under the pseudonym Maya (who is my favorite FF author ever) published a young adult novel The Demon’s Lexicon in May. I gleefully went to the store and bought that book. Moreover, in most fandoms, including our own, there are several professional authors who write fan fiction for relief and recreation.
So, like, with most fiction you need to be sorta original, but with romance… less so. There’s a reason Bridget Jones is based off Pride and Prejudice—just like half of all romance novels—originality isn’t necessarily the point. Also, romance novels as a market in the book industry tend to sell consistently well. Women buy romance novels if they like the front and back cover. It’s pretty simple. Romance and sex—they sell. We like them. Therefore, there’s no reason that Twilight FF authors shouldn’t dive in there and make bank on that.
Practice Makes Perfect
Writing fan fiction is publishing fiction—you’re just not getting paid for it (because you're free loading on someone else's copyright). But what you do get is feedback. Honestly, a lot of the feedback isn’t particularly helpful. It is the rare reader who actually offers constructive feedback, but there are betas and a community of writers who can be interrogated. (This is my method of getting feedback.) For more on getting involved in the community see here.
What I think is really cool is when authors consistently challenge themselves to try new genres and writing styles. There have been some cool contests in the past (in other fandoms) where authors challenged themselves to write dialog-only pieces. I know that some readers don’t like to feel like “guinea pigs,” but dudes, SERIOUSLY it’s free. There’s tried and tested stuff at the book store. You can pay money for that and feel safer.
So, Now You’re Thinking 'bout Getting Published
Uh, first things first, try to find an agent. Expect rejection.
If you get an agent, go you!
It may take them forever to sell your book.
Your agent may not sell it.
He sold it! Don’t expect a big advance.
Oh, and don’t quit your job after it hits stores. Your publisher, besides providing national distribution, may do zilch to promote your book. You’ll have to do it. Also, most writers don’t make back their publisher’s advances to them. Maybe, mild success after your third book? Maybe?
…okay. Yeah. Sorta depressing, but really, the book business is an odd bear. It’s based entirely on marketability. Let's take the Devil Wears Prada as an example. I bought that book. I read it. The writing sucked. I still liked it. The scary looking cartoon-red heels yanked me in, and the movie was awesome.
Some categories will be nigh impossible to sell. High school NC-17 won’t sell unless it’s written in a literary style for the adult crowd. Slash gets “inserted” into the middle of some romance series (think The Black Dagger Brotherhood), but otherwise gets relegated to the LGBT section, which for whatever reason, straight women are terrified to enter in real life.
A final option, of course, is self-publishing. Self-publishing can be problematic, however. When you self-publish, for all intents and purposes you are creating a business. Some printers will try to rip you off. Local book stores will be asswipes to you and refuse to stock your book. You will have to deal with customer complaints. Finally, most people (especially in the book industry) will not take you seriously. They call self-publishing “vanity publishing” in the industry.
Then again, everyone acknowledges that there have been some great successes in self-publishing. Marc Jeffrey is an immediate example (who has/had an AWESOME business plan, btw), and then MJ Rose did really successful marketing for her erotic thrillers via self-publishing. Especially for “unmarketable” categories, self-publishing offers a unique opportunity.
I'm stealing an analogy from gallantcorkscrews' momma:
If you’re an author, seriously think about publishing. You don't need to be God's gift. You don't even need to be a collegiate-level writer. You just need to have a story to tell. Thus, if you're inspired, you might consider asking your friends to point out your greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses. Be super open to constructive criticism. Try writing in some original characters. In your spare time, dabble on your own (non-fan fiction) story for fun. It may amount to nothing, but it might just… well, you never know right?
Pastiche Pen is an unhinged wanker that wrote an entire story about wanking. (Seriously.) You can ignore every thing she says, including this message—and yes, she also thinks circular logic is quite funny.