If there is anything that I have learned being online is that many, many authors are in need of a readership. Peter Watts, a critically aclaimed science fiction novelist, is giving his book away as a last ditch effort to rescue flagging sales. At least once a week, at All About Romance, readers post questions about missing authors. Often the reply is that the author is without a writing contract. Few authors are able to write for a living. 2004 Bookscan numbers revealed these statistics:
- Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies.
- Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies.
Whether the problem lies within publishing business models, failed publicity, the decline of independent bookstores, selling to the net, greater market fragmentation due to increasing variety of entertainment options, the unmistakable truth is that its tough business these days.
I got to thinking about fan fiction after reading the interview answers I received from Cindy Hwang, executive editor for Berkley Publishing. The interview will be posted on January 1, 2007(!). Two of the authors she signed and who will be published in 2007 are Meljean Brook and Jean Johnson. Both are paranormal writers who have inventive worlds and both are former fan fiction authors. They are not the only authors who found fan fiction writing as a training ground of sorts, for writing.
Meg Cabot (upon whom I have previously confessed to having a girl crush) has recently come out as said that she was a fan fiction writer. Author of the famed Temeraire series which was recently optioned by the even more famous Peter Jackson, Naomi Novik, wrote fan fiction for years before publication. Jacqueline Lichtenberg, an author of 18 published novels, wrote the first Kraith Star Wars fan fiction in 1969.
I spoke with a friend of mine who is involved in the Japanese manga fan fiction. Said friend told me:
But consider that the Japanese have made anime/manga/game fanworks an institution (even though they’re not legal), even putting situations and characters into their products to encourage this practice, because they know that a dedicated fan community will keep a series alive for a long time. You can see it on the net. The series with large numbers of fangirls dedicated to writing fics are the ones that make tons of money from all kinds of merchandise, and from selling new versions of the DVDs, and additional CDs, and making musicals, etc.
I mean for God’s sake, look at Star Trek. Do you think all those books and stories hurt anything? They’re even encouraging a new series now, the new Voyages, which is made completely by fans and is available for free on the internet.
The beginnings of fan fiction may go back to the publication of Sherlock Holmes. Apparently there have been many pastiches devoted to Holmes and Watson. What is a pastiche? Well, it sounds like its the same thing as fan fiction only nicer. Isn’t Laurie B. King’s The Beekeeper’s Daughter and all its sequels published fan fiction? Or Darcy’s Story by Janet Alymer? what about Pulitzer Prize Winner, Geraldine Brooks’ March? It’s a story about the life of the father of the March girls created by Louisa May Alcott. Or Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett?
I have only read Janet Evanovich fan fiction. That was when I was in the throes of my love affair with Evanovich. Ironically, since my interest in Evanovich has died, so has my interest in fan fiction. As an aside, did Donna B ever finish her Ranger and Stephanie story? It was my favorite. As for writing fan fiction, not interested. I would much rather be the reader in that relationship.
During my research I found that there are some very violent opposers of fan fiction. One of its most outspoken critics is professional writer, Lee Goldberg. Mr. Goldberg is the author of television tie-ins such as Diagnosis Murder and Monk and 4 standalone books. I have to confess that when I first saw Mr. Goldberg’s body of work, I thought that what he did was fan fiction and wondered why he held fan fiction writers in such contempt.
Fan fiction, according to novelist Robin Hobb, defines fan fiction as “Fan fiction is fiction written by a ‘fan’ or reader, without the consent of the original author, yet using that author’s characters and world.”* Oxford English Dictionary’s 2004 edition defines it as
fiction, usually fantasy or science fiction, written by a fan rather than a professional author, esp. that based on already-existing characters from a television series, book, film, etc.; (also) a piece of such writing.
Lee Goldberg, Robin Hobb and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn have been, to varying degrees, been forceful outspoken critics of the practice. Hobb described it as a form of creative identity theft. Chelsea Yarbro Quinn stated she has “no sense of humor . . . about copyright infringement” and that fans who engage in it “show a profound disrespect” for the work and the author.
There is not a lot of romance fiction derivative works unless you count Christina Dodd’s homage to Sabrina and her maybe unintentional homage to Linda Howard’s White Lies. But paranormal romances are on the rise and who is to say that there won’t be Butch/Vishous slash fiction written (they clearly are hot for each other**).
I would love for people to put up posters and make costumes and invent their own stories and fantasize about my characters. If they did, that would mean I was doing something fundamentally right — that I was creating characters that people wanted to make part of the shared culture by which we communicate with one another.
I came away thinking that fan fiction is really a good thing for authors and readers. It provides a way for fans to immerse themselves in the author’s work and keeps the world alive between publications; thereby solidifying the fan devotion. I do understand the right of an author to control derivative works, but I wonder if speaking out against your most devoted fans does more harm than good because frankly, who else is writing fan fiction but the most devoted of fans. Isn’t encouraging it like Naomi Novik does just really good business sense in the tough world of publishing.
*Hobb’s original rant against fan fiction is not available at her website but can be viewed in its entirety here. The rebuttal is in bold. Hobb’s original statement is in plain text.
**As another aside, Ned and I have been watching the TNT replaying of the LOTR series. I asked him if he didn’t now see the homoerotic undertones between Frodo and Sam. The conversation went like this:
Jane: See, seeeeee. They love each other.
Ned: Sam had the hots for the barmaid.
Jane: He could swing both ways.
Ned: He didn’t. He wanted the barmaid.
Jane: How many straight guys do you know that go around saying “My Sam. My Frodo.”
Ned: I don’t know any Frodos.