Friday, October 16, 2009

Admin Essay: On Publishing & FanFiction

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.

Uncreative Romance

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.

So, the real question is... does your book have a hook? Twilight sure did. Meyer’s agent was able to pitch the book to Little & Brown not just as a “book” but as the perfect, dark, hot marketing campaign to draw in teenage girls (which is why she had a $400,000 advance). It had all of the teenage angst and tension without the graphic content that would eliminate it from the teen market. It was about the marketing.

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.

No matter how you choose to move forward, just be sure to research the process and avoid the pitfalls.


I'm stealing an analogy from gallantcorkscrews' momma:

"When someone tries to get ahead, advance—its kinda like watching a barrel of crabs. One little crab tries to crawl out, and all the other crabs try to pull them back in."

Doesn't that make you sad?

(Pastiche is blubbering.)

And then Psymom makes all of us feel better with her words:

I feel passionately that many fanfiction writers are equally as talented as some of the top authors on the NYT Best Sellers' List. One of the reasons I started the Twilighted Original Fiction Writing Contests judged by published authors was to give fic writers the opportunity to see how their writing abilities transfer to the real world, and many have seen that they really do have what it takes. I think we have a unique situation among fantasy/scifi fandoms with our AH category of stories--many of them are so far removed from Twilight that they have little more in common with it than the names of the characters. These end up being contemporary fiction, from romance to mystery to chicklit, and there is no reason they cannot stand alone as novels in their own right. I think the Twilight fanfiction fandom has the power to be an incredible support system that can make an author very successful--if thousands of readers will follow a story and wait with baited breath for updates, they can't be wrong about the value and quality of that story. Why not support that author in sharing that with a larger audience?

If you’re a reader, wouldn’t you like to be part of a fandom that one day produces some really great writers? (The thought makes Pastiche warm and fuzzy…) and as I've pointed out, it's HARD to get published, so try to show some support.

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 messageand yes, she also thinks circular logic is quite funny.


  1. Just a quick note on this flawless article. I worked in publishing for 20 years, and you got it spot on.

    But technology moves forward. Self-publishing used to be an expensive alternative, but it no longer is. Print on Demand works beautifully, and many of the firms that provide the service will also handle linking your book on the Amazon and Borders web sites. For a percentage of the sale price, they print, provide those links, and ship to the customers.

    However, as you noted, the author is fully responsible for marketing.

    Unfortunately, it's still vanity publishing...but that term is disappearing, bit by bit.

  2. Thanks for saying this - it needed to be put out there.

    There are some amazingly talented writers in this fandom. We should support each other, encourage, and cultivate, not tear down. Call me a pollyanna if you will, I'll stick with my original statement :)

  3. Thanks for the article. I think a lot of fanfic authors don't feel confident enough about their own writing to feel they would stack up well in RL, but I agree that anyone who wants to try should be encouraged. That's why we're all here. Thanks for the article. :)

  4. I've been thinking a lot about this recently.

    I was having a debate with someone the other day about which is worse, trying and failing or never trying. I think this certainly can relate to the world of fanfiction/publishing. I personally encourage my children to try everything first before declaring they can't do something. Even when they do try and fail, I teach them their mistakes and try to help them get better. I see no reason why aspiring authors shouldn't be equally as encouraged.

    Regardless of whether or not *I* personally would buy this fic if it was on the market is neither here or there in the end. I've bought plenty of books that left me wanting or had me stopping them in disgust. I've also browsed bookstores and was called by unique covers by virtual unknown authors and decided to give them a try.

    The fact is, if these writers want to try to follow their dream, who cares? Does it affect me in any way? Well, I guess it does simply in the way I can no longer read their stuff for free, but if that upsets me so very much, then I guess perhaps I should pony up the dough and buy their work in the end? If I don't feel it was worth paying for, then I shouldn't be lamenting its loss either, right?

    So best of luck to you authors trying to get published. I hope to someday tell people I know "yes, I knew them when they wrote fanfiction and I read some of their first fics for free!"

    Writers: if you get discouraged, realize that life is a journey and with every journey, sometimes you stumble along the way, but that doesn't mean give up. Just get better shoes and maybe a few good people to walk with so you have someone to hold onto when things get difficult.

  5. Thanks, you guys.

    "Regardless of whether or not *I* personally would buy this fic if it was on the market is neither here or there in the end."

    This was really spot on. I do not like fluff unless its really funny, nor do I like mafia or true crime stuff, but that doesn't mean that I don't acknowledge that other people do. Same goes with fic. And I think its important to acknowledge that just because don't like a fic, that doesn't mean there are a whole lot of other people who won't.

  6. I think all of those fiction authors having success with what they are writing may think about this at some poit, I know I did and I still believe I can do it but is always about the time of your life and as someone said before, giving it a try. I'm one of those that thinks dreams come true when you fight for them, so...give it a try people!.
    I don't know where else should I post this, but can someone read 'Save you' by socact and see if it is worth the recommendation?. I'm sure it is but I don't know if I'm allowed to actually do this kind of comment. Thanks!

  7. mentioning trying to get published is frowned upon? REALLY? Wow. I never realized, and I never got that vibe.

    I also didn't know Cassandra Clare was a fanfic writer before. That's seriously cool, it gives me so much hope! :)

    SM did NOT have the best writing style. She just had a great idea that was highly marketable. Like so many people have said before, I've read so many fanfics that were so much better than a great number of novels out in the bookstores. I seriously still don't see why some people will frown upon an author's dream to get published. I bet that a great number of these people have never attempted a fic of their own.

  8. excellent article P. thanks for sharing your insight and these ideas.

  9. Excellent article. I've had little inklings to get something published and have had people tell me my fanfic (Mary, Full of Grace) Like I said before, I'm just sorry it took so long; it wasn't fair for you or lambie to have the brunt of the work when there were five of us. The publishing process seems terrifying. I feel inspired now, however, and it might be something I set as goal for myself at some point next year (submitting, not necessarily getting published lol).

    Thanks for the great write up. :)

  10. I'm going to stick my head in the lion's mouth here and say this: the general hatred in the Twi-fandom isn't about authors who want to try and get published. It's about AU/AH authors who pull their stories, change the names of the characters, and try to get THAT published that really irks readers. If you have a great original idea, want to run with it, type up a manuscript and try your luck - that's great. But at least make it original. Don't post half some something from fandom and decided that it's ooc enough to sell on the market. Show some actual creativity and come up with a clever idea that's all yours. But if you're going to do the great fandom flounce to try and hit in big on the NY Times Best Sellers List, well don't expect your readers to be too thrilled with you.

  11. I'm going to agree with Stretch, and add my own head for the lion. I am one of those who cringe whenever I hear an author start talking about trying to get published.

    I have reasons. They are twofold.

    The first is kind of selfish, I will admit, and similar to what Stretch said about pulling fic. It seems like whenever authors try to go that route they disappear from the fic community a bit. Maybe I'm wrong. Some days it feels like our ff community is shrinking. Anyone else notice this? Or maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places.

    The second is really my bigger reason, and it's born out of my profession. I'm a painter. And I have seen the highs and lows of the art world. Nothing bugs me more than someone who splashes paint on a canvas and calls themselves an "artist" even though they couldn't paint an apple if you spotted them the sketch. There is nothing worse, imo, than pawning inexperience off as "style."

    Sure, people can be naturally talented. But that alone doesn't go very far. So if someone is interested in taking their hobby to the next level, I'm all for it, as long as they are truly serious about it. Pulling a fic for publication doesn't really sound serious to me.

    I'd be totes fine with it if they were taking a writing class, or reading every book on writing they could lay their hands on, and praciticing all the time. Maybe joining a writer's group and getting feedback. I just don't always hear about that side of it, and I can't help but think it just ain't happening.

    Anyhow, thems my pennies. I hope I don't rub anyone the wrong way.


  12. @sidekick and stretch - you know, i think part of it is that we feel like successful fan fic belong to the community as much as they belong to the author, which is a very different sentiment than with professional books.

    I think we should be fine with people pulling their fic. I think we should be okay with them sharing themselves for as long as they did. I think authors should be grateful as well, but I don't think one should feel guilty about a hobby one does for fun. It should remain fun. Putting rules on it... makes it sorta not fun.

  13. @Shannon - I'm all about the fun. That's what fic is about. But I was talking about publishing. I just think that if you want to publish, you should take it up seriously. It's just like any other career and should be studied for, too. That's all.

  14. Oh, I completely get you. Especially with your example with art from before. Skill (especially with storytelling) must be in place first.

    Of course, how that skill should come about is a totally separate discussion. Like a lot of people believe that formal training kills talent. Other believe that natural talent can be honed. For me, I think it depends on the individual. Some authors' first books are their best books. The one great idea. Others get better and better. I'm sort of rambling here, but I suppose I think it depends on the individual.

    I certainly think that writing consistently builds skill and confidence, and I think fan fiction can be as good or better than writing classes or groups (having been to both - ugh) when you're surrounded by a network of really smart people. Like, I personally sort of see my ff author friends as the BEST writing club that I could ever assemble--the internet be praised! All together, it's sorta amazing when you think about it.

  15. I've had students who came to my classes worse for the wear of other teachers. I don't believe that training as a whole ruins talent, but that it is the wrong training that can do you in.

    Art (writing included) has basic information just like anything else. Maybe all that's needed is to read tons and tons of books. Study from the masters. Dissect plot and pacing, dialogue and description.

    I can get behind ff being practice, being a writer's group. It just depends on who you hook up with. In some circles it could just be the blind leading the blind.

    I will disagree with the fact that authors' first books are their best books. In fact, from what I understand, most authors' first books don't get published. I think that the first books that we see from authors perhaps can be their best work, because it is something that they spent so much time honing and making perfect before it got to see an editor's desk. After that, they have deadlines and contracts to uphold. Editors to fall back on. Hence the often "sophomore slump."

    I don't mean to be Debbie Downer. Sorry if it came off that way. I do love fic as a whole. I wouldn't write it if I didn't. :)

  16. I think you're right (and not a Debbie Downer). It probably has to do with finding the right environment.

  17. This may or may not be totally relevant to the current conversation but in fanfic I have noticed that the stories people tend to pull for publishing often seem to be the least likely ones I would personally pick.

    The ones I would choose are usually funny, humor types or pure romance-y ones...the kids i can visualize on the book shelf at my local Target or whatever. These are typically viewed though as less serious or even less reviewed or popular. But to me are actually more marketable.

    I fear people take the number of reviews or the amount of fangirling they may get too seriously in FF. I won't lie...there are so many stories out there that i try a chapter or two and i just do not get the hype yet they have THOUSANDS of reviews (btw, i definitely may own one of these myself).

    But then again, if it motivates people to do something new or fresh in their real lives who am i to judge.

  18. I'm not completely sure why some people seem to cringe when a fanfic author, who has been practicing and honing their technique for a years, decides to go public and write to publish. I have three friends of mine that used to write fanfiction. One became a public author, admired; the other two are drafting their first collaborative piece, which has been in the work for at least five years that I know of. Like you said in your article (which was splendidly written) people are practing their hobbies, their craft and once ready, might actually turn it into something. Those that play basketball on the weekends - some just play for fun and like shooting hoops. Others practice and get better until they decide to try out for a team. Who knows where they might go once they try-out? The could end up being the next Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. (sorry for the sports analogy, it's all I could think of.)
    I think even the same goes for those that practice techniques of manipulations and design with fanwork. I use those same techniques and ideas in my professional work, taking notice in colors, cultural ideas, themes, etc. Just because you're in a fandom does not mean that what you do or say may not help you along in the future.

  19. I think some fan fiction authors have an advantage over people who have never written fanfic when it comes to publishing books. As with Cassandra Claire, many people knew her as a fanfic writer and read her books because of it. Not everyone, but I know that's the reason I did and I'm pretty sure there's more out there that picked them up for that very reason.

    Most of the authors on this blog and countless others are known throughout the fandom, so there's your marketing right there! You write a book, I'm a fan of yours from the beginning, I tell my friends who tell their friends, etc etc. Fan fiction authors should definitely take advantage of that! I'm all for people getting published, I think it would be awesome. Good luck to anyone who is thinking about it, and fingers crossed that it happens for you! ^_^

  20. Pastiche, as a fan fiction writer who is attempting to have an original work published, I have to tell you I loved this article. I was very hesitant at first to tell anyone in the fandom that I had an original work entered in a contest to hopefully be published, not so much because I was afraid of my fans shunning me, but because I was afraid of being taken seriously in the literary world if I exposed my roots. Also, I will admit that I had a tiny fear that maybe I wasn't as good as people had convinced me I was. It wasn't until the story was recognized as an editor's pick on the site it's being published on that I felt comfortable letting my fans know it was there.

    I know of at least four fan fiction writers off the top of my head who are trying to get published or have decided to self-publish, and I can guarantee you that every one of their stories was better than half the stuff I check out of the library. I intend to support them in their efforts in any way I can.

    While my story was never published as fan fiction, I am torn by the differing opinions on the topic of pulling stories and un-Twilighting them for potential publication. On one hand, I can see where readers would feel used or disappointed if a story is pulled before they found out how the story ended. That happened to me on a story I was very hooked on and only about half the way through. But on the other hand, if the author realizes that what he/she is creating may have potential to be on the bookshelves at B&N, who are we to put them down for trying?

    Publishing isn't something we should look down upon or fear may negatively impact the fandom. It is something we should embrace and support. These authors have already given us hours of entertainment at the click of a button. It's the least we can do.

  21. I have total respect for fanfic authors who are leaving us and going on to write and publish original works, but you gotta acknowledge the con side of the debate here. Writing a fanfic based on someone else's characters then changing the names and places and even most of the characterization is not original work. And of course readers are disappointed when they don't get the ending to a story they've been eagerly anticipating. As for Cassandra Clare, she plagiarized and essentially got paid to write fanfiction. If you're looking for authors who have moved from fanfic to publising to idolize there are many better.

  22. Excellent article with a lot of valid points. I've gotten mixed, but mostly favorable, comments when I've mentioned that I'm working on an original piece. FF pulled me back into writing, which I hadn't done since HS. I'm enjoying it. And if I can write something that someone might want to publish and I could make a little (notice I say 'a little') money at it, then that would be really fabulous. But FF has given me a place to practice my storytelling and see what kind of response I get.

    I applaud all those going out on a limb to give it a try. I think it takes courage, especially if there is negativity as you mention.

  23. Excellent article, tough question.

    As a reader, I am very disappointed when half-finished fics are pulled for publication. If you want to publish a story - yay, go you! Best of luck! Just don't use me as an unwitting guinea pig. I feel like I take time to give the author feedback, invest myself in the characters, say "thanks for writing" and then they're all, "Oh, so it IS good? Now you have to wait 24 mos. while I work it up and maybe, if it's published, you can finish the story. Maybe." I really hate it when this happens w/o warning. Authors write with an audience in mind, right? If you start writing for the fandom and don't expect to publish, but you get an overwhelmingly favorable response - at least respect the people from whom that came, and finish the story you started for the audience you intended. If you start writing for a broader audience and you're just looking for beta readers; if you know you'll pull it if the response is good - please let me know so I can avoid the letdown!

    That said, I have seen this handled well. I felt like that author did her level best to keep the readers informed, explained why she was taking the fic down before she did it, and cut the story off in as complete a state as possible. I understand that for legal reasons it may be necessary to pull a fic before it's done - just do it in a thoughtful way, please.

    It's a different question, for me, when the fic has been finished. The author has shown appreciation for the community's response and seen the story through. If there's a warning like "In 2 wks I'll be taking this down, so read now!" then I'm okay. Sad, but okay. It is their work, after all.

    I'm not so sure about marketing being easy w/in the fandom. I make an effort to forget about fics once they've been pulled for publication, honestly. I'm unhappy if I've been left in suspense, and I'm not going to remember to track an author down for the next year or so (it takes a long time to publish, no?) just so I can read their story. There doesn't seem to be a forum where authors can say "Hey, remember this? Read it again for $14.95!" or whatever.

  24. Wonderful article! I recently got some attention from an agent (it's probably not going to go anywhere but I'm keeping my fingers crossed) and I completely agree that there's a certain negative vibe about it. I was afraid to post the news to my readers but, so far, they've been pretty supportive about it. I just had to promise I wouldn’t give up writing fanfics which, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I could ever do.

    I've been writing novels since I was eight years old though so I've known many, many, many years of rejection. I know that the worst part is just trying to get the courage to finish something after someone says even the tiniest remark against the thing you just spent months writing, especially if it’s people close to you who probably have nothing to do with creative writing whatsoever. It's really all about taking the criticism and making something memorable out of it, which is why I'm such a supporter of fanfiction. I wouldn't have been able to evolve if it weren't for the devoted readers I got through and the actual constructive criticism I got from people who breathed in plots and exhaled epicness. Dear God, I could still be writing Mary Sues.

    It's also hard as hell out there and, just to rant a moment, I feel like so many beautiful novels are being turned down for the sake of something marketable and cheesy, ESPECIALLY in teen fiction. And, if someone manages to get a serious fic out there, it's either based on a true story or been over-dramatized to the point of horrific. Are after school specials the new literary fad? Seriously? I'm not speaking as part of the publishing world. I'm speaking as an avid reader who wants more memorable character, not cliched plots! Do they really think teens are stupid and can't handle any new, "controversial" information?


    Marketability sucks. *steps down off soapbox*
    Thank you so much for writing this though.

    (Oh! And cooper33, your comment made me rethink taking down my story so quickly without notice. I received a few PMs complaining they couldn't finish reading it so I'll probably be putting it up again with the two-week warning. Excellent idea. Thank you!)


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