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Fanfiction & Idea Scarcity

This is going to be a quick and unedited post, but this topic has been on my mind.  Names omitted to protect the parties involved.

Here’s the situation, and I’m sure it has happened more than once.

Someone wrote a novel-length, pretty good fanfiction story in a well-established fandom.  When my friend went to look for it, years later, it was gone.  Not unusual, right?  Fanfiction archives come and go. But she rediscovered… it as original fiction!  The author had turned her fanfiction story into an original novel and is now selling it through one of the M/M niche presses.

Is this cool?

As I have discovered from my own efforts, some fanfiction is so far off from the original story that you can’t really say it’s fanfiction!  I couldn’t claim that my own story had any place whatsoever in the fandom (such as it is), but was only “inspired by” the original.  Many of the better AUs I’ve looked at fall into this category for sure.

I’ve always thought that fanfiction is 50% original, anyway.  FF writers bring their own ideas and life experience into the existing work, creating a synergy that is half theirs.  Is this part of why fanfiction is such a gray area?

Anyway, when I heard about this, my reaction wasn’t automatically, “OMG she’s trying to make money off fanfiction, that’s so wrong!” If the writer could sell the manuscript without her characters smelling like the originals, chances are, her story had very little in common with the parent work in the first place.

“I’m never going to have an idea as good as this one.”

I used to be a mass-market product marketer.  Now, I have become an art, entertainment, and info-tainment marketer.  I work with artists, and one of the biggest obstacles I run into is their belief in good idea scarcity.

They don’t want to give away anything for free because they’re afraid they will have nothing left.  Or that their next work may not be as good.  This is usually BS, of course, but that fear creates the reality.  One of the hardest parts of my job is convincing artists to offer free samples when possible… to give more of themselves and their work than they are comfortable with.

Writers are the worst offenders, but musicians are the coolest about this.  Some writers are totally cool, too, but they are usually the experienced ones used to deadlines.  The authors with the confidence and proof that their well will never run dry, even under adverse circumstances (like writing books “by committee” under a Big Name Publisher.)

My own reaction.

I don’t think it was morally wrong to turn what must have been a serious AU into original fiction.  And yanking what used to be a freely available story, making minor alterations, and putting it behind a pay wall… well, I would never do that, but I guess it was her right?  I’m not too sure about what I think about this — hopefully comments will help me clarify my own reaction.

What I felt the most was sorry. I don’t know the reality of the situation, but it smacks of “I will never write something as good as this again.”  If she were truly confident in her ability to write more good stories, would she have done that?

Dunno.  What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Fanfiction & Idea Scarcity

  1. I have certainly encountered this. Reading mostly original fiction, it’s difficult to spot them, but there was the one fanfic I remember reading and then, years later, reading some m/m sci-fi and finding the plot so bloody familiar it wasn’t funny. Sure enough, after some digging, I discovered it was the same author – and an “originalized” version of the story I had read years before. (We might even be talking about the same person here, for all I know… it was a major fandom.)

    I am not sure if this is a good idea, but for me it mostly depends on the author’s circumstances. On the one hand, someone new at publishing might find it easier to publish a former fanfic. On the other, if one is to embark upon a career path as a published author, would it not be easier to do so with a new story? Personally, I am in favour of the latter. Sure, world- and character-building is hard, but it is also great fun. Then again, I for one never did good with writing other people’s characters in the first place.

  2. Hi Alice! Good to hear from you.

    I had a hard time forming an opinion of this scenario as a writer because 1) I am hopeless at fanfiction, so I can’t put myself in the author’s shoes, and
    2) I’m a happy amateur with no intention of going commercial, so I’m not motivated by the same forces.

    What bothers me about this, I guess, is the idea scarcity thing, but also my “it’s not fair” instinct kicking in. If she made a fan novel and freely shared it, then decided it was “good enough” to get published and yanked it behind a paywall with only minor alteration (I’m assuming, since I haven’t read either version), it seems uncool. “Here guys, I made this for you… oops, now you have to pay for basically the exact same thing.”

    I don’t know what I would do in the same situation if it were me. Maybe the story was good enough that she thought it deserved to reach a bigger audience who wasn’t in the fandom.

    As a reader, if I were the one looking for that fanfiction again, I think I’d feel kind of cheated — both because I couldn’t get the story I wanted, but also because it’s like the author turned her back on the community that helped spawn the work in the first place.

    I guess the question to ask myself is: Would I buy an “originalized” novel if I knew it was previously fanfiction published freely for the community in an archive?

    I don’t know the answer to that!

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