Again, this won’t make a whole lot of sense unless you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2.
Check those out if you haven’t, then come on back here!
I was talking about the benefits of writing fanfic, like the fact that it’s like writing with training wheels (writing a novel or even a short story on your own is scary enough!), working with other authors for editing purposes, and that you get instant feedback through reviews.
Some of you may be wondering about the legality of it. The very nature of fanfic is taking someone else’s work (work that’s often not in the public domain already) and playing in it, making parts of it your own. Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, so the following is as I understand it. Fanfic is legal, as long as you’re not making any money off of it. It’s not for profit.
“But some people pull their fics from the online posting sites and publish it!” you may be saying. “Fifty Shades of Grey was one of those–it was a Twilight fanfic before it was a bestseller, and the author has made shitloads of money!”
Yep. But good news… I asked a friend, who actually IS a lawyer and works with issues like this, what her thoughts were. Here’s what she said:
The question asked is whether publishing a story that was originally written as fanfic is copyright infringement. It is certainly actionable to publish infringing material for commercial purposes. However, if a fanfic story was infringing, and those elements are modified or removed prior to publication, there is no viable claim. The fact is, curing infringement happens every day. There is no support whatsoever in either the word or spirit of the law for the concept of “once infringing, always infringing.” I believe such an approach would be highly disfavored because it serves no useful purpose and would result in new and improved products and expressions of creativity being discarded simply because at one time they contained an infringing element. The purpose of copyright is to “Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” and such a concept is wholly inconsistent with that purpose.
Likewise, the idea that simply because I was inspired by the work of another, I can never fix the infringing element, is without merit. We are almost always inspired by something when we write. In the words of Justice Story, “In truth, in literature…there are…few, if any, things, which in an abstract sense, are strictly new and original throughout. Every book in literature… borrows, and must necessarily borrow, and use much which was well known and used before.”
In a nutshell, according to what my friend said above, there’s nothing wrong with pulling your fic to publish it, so long as it’s far enough removed from the original source material. If E.L. James (author of Fifty Shades) had written it closer to the plot of Twilight, or if there were vampires, then there might be issues. But as it stood, all her characters were human, and, if I recall, there was no hardcore BDSM in any of the Twilight books. If James had left her characters called “Bella” and “Edward”, there might be problems, but don’t you think Stephenie Meyer’s lawyers probably looked at this from every angle already?
But this issue polarizes readers and writers in fandoms almost more than any other.
I’ve read many–many–fics that have been pulled from sites by their authors and subsequently turned into published works for profit. Some have been self-published by the authors, and some have been published by big New York publishers. I see them on the bookshelves in stores, and I smile, happy for the authors’ success. Most you would read these books and never in a million years guess that they were ever a Twilight fanfic (or from another fandom); even in their fic form, a lot of the similarities ended simply with the characters’ names and physical descriptions. The rest–places, family relations, etc., resemblance to Stephenie Meyer’s characters/story–are easily edit-able and changed, removing any Twi-fic-ness about them.
What’s amazing is that since I started writing fic in 2009, the stigma has been lifted to a huge degree.
See this poster here?
Sorry about the size; I wanted you to be able to read the names, which were tiny in the original. These are the attendees of an author event at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas at the end of October this year. And out of all these authors, I can count five…yes, five…that I recognize as Twilight fan fiction authors. There are possibly more on the poster, but I don’t know their names or pen names. These are all best-selling authors; some of their published work is former fanfic, some is completely original from their imaginations. Am I going to let you know who they are? No. If you don’t know already, then that’s fine…maybe they don’t want to be outed.
I’m a member of the Maryland Romance Writers RWA chapter, and they have a stage each year at the Baltimore Book Festival in Maryland. If you click here, you can see that this year there was even a panel titled “From Fanfic to Fiction”. The description is: “Join published authors who first cut their teeth writing fan fiction to discuss the transition.” I wished I could have been in the audience for this one, because I have a feeling they reviewed a lot of what I’ve mentioned over these past few posts, answering audience questions.
And in a huge turn of events, fan fiction is even being deliberately sought after by publishers. This article from the Washington Post mentions a few Twilight fanfics that have been successful in the publishing world, and also discusses a One Direction fic that was acquired by publishing giant Simon & Schuster and recently published. It’s worth a read.
You might be wondering how much fanfic did I write? I had probably 10+ short stories out there, along with 2 novel-length pieces. Do I still write fic? Between my editing and writing, I honestly don’t have time at the moment, but I can’t say I never would again. I’ve pulled most of my fic from the web, but there are a few still out there. I can’t say that they’re good–it’s mostly stuff that I did very early on, but that’s the idea, right? To practice and get better.
Do I read it? Occasionally, but not Twilight so much anymore. Other fandoms I’ve read fic in include Sherlock, Harry Potter, and Marvel comics. All are great in their own ways, and I’m always blown away by the writers’ creativity. I swear, some of the Harry Potter fic I’ve read could have been written by J.K. Rowling, it fits so nicely into her magical world. And the talent of some of these writers rivals some of the best published authors I’ve read as well…and who’s to say they’re not one in the same? I’m aware that there are plenty of best-selling and/or published authors who write fanfic in their spare time as a fun writing exercise when they’re not writing for themselves.
I’ve met some of my best friends and fellow writers through writing fanfic, and I had nothing but good experiences with it.
So, that’s how I got started writing again and discovered this was what I wanted to do.
I’d love to know what you guys think about fanfic…hit me up in the comments.