The Market of Published Fanfiction

Even the title I just wrote gives me the willies a little bit. It suggests ‘the act of making money from fanfiction.’ What is fanfiction? Well, according to Dictionary.com it’s:

Fanfic definition

The key part there is “using existing characters and situations to develop new plots.” Now let’s get down to that little disclaimer some of you would recognize at the beginnings of so many online fics. It’s the “cover your ass” disclaimer. And an example of one would be “I don’t own _____. _____ is the property of _____, and are not my intellectual property. There is no financial gain made from this nor will any be sought. This is for entertainment purposes only.” Not all fanfic writers add that disclaimer, and it’s not *really* required, but it is something that has always been assumed in the online fiction world that you don’t make any money off the characters you’re writing about, because the characters belong to someone else.

Ok what about uber aka AU (alternate universe) fiction? According to Wikipedia, it is “the occurrence of canonical facts about the setting or characterization of a particular fictional universe being explored in a non-canonical way.” So basically, you are taking these characters and putting them into a new world that the writer created, with new circumstances and settings. Now this is where it gets tricky. How alternate can a universe be before you can justify making money from these fanfictions? The delineation of that line appears to be shifting after the publication of Fifty Shades of Gray. Now, I never read the Twilight books, but it is widely known that Fifty Shades started as an AU fanfic of Edward and Bella. Are the characters different enough from the original narrative to keep E.L. James from getting sued? Apparently, as I don’t recall her being sued.

In the world of lesbian fiction, fanfiction is rampant. This stems from the fact that LGBT people have been woefully under-represented in TV and film, so had to create their own world themselves. This is completely fine and understandable. It’s also how a lot of lesbian fiction writers got their start, practicing and honing their craft online before attempting to put their efforts into the world for a hopeful eventual profit. As expected, many lesfic publishing houses drew from their uber roots, which explains the vast number of tall, dark-haired brooding dames and their short blonde girlfriends in so many lesbian romances. Welcome to lesfic, Xena!

I honestly don’t have a problem paying for a book where I can not see the characters or settings from the TV show in the story. I imagine it as it’s presented to me, adding things in my own mind. For these types of stories, when someone tells me “you know, that started as fanfic,” I think “huh, well that’s not how I picture them, I never would have known if you hadn’t told me!” That is the sign of a book that has successfully separated itself from the show or characters they do not own.

So then where do we draw the line when publishing existing fanfiction as original works? Looking at today’s market, I’d say that line has virtually disappeared. I have read at least 5 books in the past year that were thinly veiled AU works of existing TV characters. One I read last year didn’t even bother changing the character’s name. Same mannerisms, same secondary characters, same personalities. They added new things for these people to experience, but it doesn’t change the fact that the author is making money from characters they did not create. That is legitimately illegal. And if the show creators felt like prosecuting authors, there are plenty of books out there right now that are so blatantly based off their shows it wouldn’t even be a question. They would win.

This is a problem. I don’t know if I’m getting more sensitive to it, or if there really are so many more instances of this happening in the last few years, but it upsets me. It’s not simply the act of charging people for something you offered them for free a few months ago; people can spend their money however they see fit. But it’s the blatant disregard of the disclaimer I have such a difficult time with. It’s using a character’s attributes and personalities that YOU did not create. That is plagiarism. Want the exact definition?

an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author

Read that very carefully. If you have published a novel, made money from that novel, using characters that are blatant representations of those from a TV show that you do not own, without permission or crediting the original script author/show creator, you are plagiarizing. It’s only a matter of time before someone decides enough is enough and sues you, and they are well within their rights for doing so. Publishers? Please stop actively allowing this to happen. If a writer shows promise, encourage them to create original work. Use their fanfiction as a portfolio instead of a quick easy way to make a buck from someone with an established online fanbase. It’s the right thing to do.

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The Market of Published Fanfiction

Reviews are good for you

I semi-regularly review books on the internets and am also fairly active in the Facebook lesfic community. The lesfic community itself is kind of fascinating. There’s this lovely supportive feeling to it, likely because it’s such a small niche and a lot of people are gung ho in their loyalty to their favorite authors. Which is GREAT! It helps people get books sold and helps foster an environment of regular sales and keeps those authors writing! All good things!

However, there is a downside to this that I think needs to be addressed loudly and regularly. This loyalty can result in a flood of positive reviews for books that are objectively terrible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Amazon, taken a  gander at the best selling lists, saw glowing reviews for a book with a decent blurb and thought “oh this looks great, I will read it!” Then I drop 8 bucks, start reading and am appalled at what I am seeing. Tons of errors, inabilities to use commas, poor sentence structure, etc. Then I think I must be crazy because so many people think it’s the greatest book ever.

I think there are several problems we could discuss, but only one of which I can really focus on here. I think we need to continue the loyalty (yay support!) but we need to cease and desist immediately the notion of “blind loyalty.” This is the practice of “I love this author and she’s a nice person so even though this book is fundamentally flawed FIVE STARS!” I’m sure that author is super sweet. I’m sure you love her posts on Facebook and you feel like you know her and you really want to be the first to loudly decree “I love you and I will show you by pushing all your books everywhere, no matter the quality!”

We so desperately need more objectivity when we discuss books. We need to think first before reviewing things so we can say “wait, did I really love this book because it’s a good story that is well-developed with complex characters?” Or did I love it because I love everything this author does and “if you say anything critical about their books I hate you and you are mean!” Are there terrible reviewers out there that just give a “this book sux” one-star review? Absolutely. Are there reviewers that go on a long diatribe making accusations about an author’s life, bringing completely unnecessary things into the review? Most definitely! Does this mean that critical reviews should never be posted? FUCK NO.

The entire point of reviews is to let any normal person off the street be able to see if there are any glaring problems with the narrative that are on their “do not tolerate list.” Some people can not stand head-hopping POV’s. If the book does that, please say so. There’s a bunch of other people this doesn’t bother in the slightest, as long as the story is good. Those people will read that review and say “ok that’s fine” and move on. If the book needed more editing, say that. Some people (like me) will get so furious because they are reading a book that is full of grammatical errors, and would never have bought that book if that was apparent. There are other people who couldn’t care less if that’s the case, as long as there’s good sex in it. But the only way people can know that going in is from reviews. We need to stop the practice of using reviews as a way to stroke an author’s ego. Please stop doing that! You are not making reviews better, you are making lesfic WORSE. That practice makes people stop taking chances on new authors because they have been burned too many times.

Yes, there are vindictive authors and their blindly loyal followers that love going after reviewers. But let’s practice what we preach and not let their words bother us. It’s just their opinion, just as your review is just your opinion.

There are other problems, including authors that make a bunch of pseudonyms to upvote their own work. There are also companies on the internet where you can BUY five star Amazon reviews, which saddens me (if you are doing either of those things I hope karma pops your tires). But let’s all work toward making better, more objective reviews (whether they be positive or negative) and better books for us to read! The community benefits from it, I promise.

For another voice on reviews please see this very good blog that discusses a similar problem.

And if you want to see a well-known (and much more eloquent than I) author’s thoughts on critical reviews, hop over to Karin Kallmaker’s blog here.

Reviews are good for you

Readers and authors

I follow Andi Marquette‘s blog, where she posted a link to a bookriot rant titled: Readers Don’t Owe Authors Sh*tI’m guessing a lot of authors are gonna get pissed about that, but honestly, it’s the truth. The reader doesn’t owe you a damn thing. Say someone likes one of your books, and even said they liked it publicly. Well, they are in no way duty bound to pick up another one of your books ever again. That’s just the way it is.

I have found that the boundary between an author and their readers can become very blurry. I’ve particularly noticed this in lesbian fiction, where the community is much smaller than their mainstream counterparts. I also think this shady boundary leads to rabid fangirls who will pounce when they sniff negativity towards their author of choice, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

There have been times when I have mentioned a book on Goodreads  and said ‘eh, I’m not really interested in that book because the plot just doesn’t do it for me’. One was written by an author who’s books I had previously enjoyed and rated highly. I then received private messages from the author, where they tried to convince me to buy the book, even though I have no interest in reading it. I consider that an unacceptable level of harassment, not to mention awful salesmanship. In my opinion, if you want fans, you put out a quality product. If people like it, they will continue buying it, positively review it, and even yell from the rooftops that they think it’s great. But being in the business of writing (or movie making, or the construction of any consumer-based product whatsoever) there is an inherent risk that people won’t buy it, or like it.

And you take that risk, balancing it against how much you enjoy putting out said product. If it’s worth the risk, you go for it! But don’t go hassling people and begging them to read it, cause you just come off looking like an asshole.

Them’s my two cents. Take it or leave it, as you are under zero obligation to ‘like’, ‘share’, or agree with said post. Print it off and wipe your ass with it if you want! Free country, and all that.

Readers and authors