I know I’ll have “made it” as a writer when there’s fanfiction of my work.
For those of you who might be unaware, fanfiction is, well, exactly what it sounds like. Fiction produced by fans, relating to the thing they are a fan of. There’s fanfiction for books, movies, television series, anime, comics, the list goes on. Some of it is bad, some of it is good, some of it is even published. (For example Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald is Cthulhu/Sherlock crossover fanfic, and I say that because well he said it first.) There has been endless e-ink spilled about fanfiction, either slamming the practice and mocking the practitioners, or rushing to its defense and calling it appreciative art in the highest form. And author responses vary along those same lines, from the enthusiastic to the litigious.
If you’re an author and thinking about openly slamming fanfic and hunting down fan writers, I suggest you think again.
Fanfic Is Awesome, Fanfic Writers Are Awesome
So, confession, I totally wrote fanfic in high school. (I know, let us all gasp and clutch our pearls.) In particular Harry Potter, but other fandoms as well. I was a huge fan, and I let that fannishness all hang out. I could go into a lot of details about fandom and my personal experiences, but I’ll go into the part that is relevant to authors: money.
As a result of being a huge turbo fan zomg, I bought books. Plural. I have Harry Potter in hardcover, paperback, and a set from England. I have the little supplement books, you know the ones, Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Tales of Beadle the Bard. I’m the one there in line waiting for the book to come out at midnight, staying up all night to read it.
You know what other books I hunted down on their release dates? Recently, the Hunger Games series. The Curse Worker series. Everything by Neil Gaiman. Everything our own Robert Bennett puts out, on release date. Because why? Because fangirl.
And when I wasn’t buying these books, I was convincing others to buy them. I was buying copies and thrusting them into my friends’ hands, shouting, “Read this thing, it will consume you.” I have carefully lured many friends towards series and writers now they stand in those midnight book lines with me, wearing the licensed t-shirts.
Fan’s like this? We are not people you want to alienate.
I feel like this point should be fairly self-evident, but in case it isn’t: when someone is a fan and inspired by your work to create things within your world, that is usually not where it stops. Fans like this are usually involved in communities, and are usually quite evangelical about the work they are a fan of. And as a result, they help your bottom line.
Personally, I would think it would be quite humbling to have fans like that, to have inspired others to create something based on your world. Regardless of the result, that spark is something very special. But if you don’t feel that way, if you see fanfiction as something negative, if you are repulsed by the idea, well, I would suggest you be a little more pragmatic about things.
Okay Sometimes Fanfic Is Not Awesome
So it’s not all sunshine and roses. I’m not talking about the resulting product, the varied levels of writing ability, the romantic pairings that might break your brain, et cetera. I mean when fans cross the line, legally.
The first two are quite clear-cut: a fan wrote a work set in someone else’s universe, and then tried to sell it, violating US copyright law. The fan writers were sued, and the fandoms largely backed the creators, and justice was done. The third, however, is a little foggier.
From what I’m gathering, the response to MZB’s situation was to suggest that authors completely disengage from fans and to disallow fanfiction of their work. While I can appreciate the reasons behind this response, I feel it’s a little strong. MZB’s reaction is her own, and I believe she is one hundred and ten percent justified to feel how she felt, given the situation.
But I might caution other authors on the outside, like myself, to take a different lesson: Support fanfic, but for the love of God, don’t read it.
When someone is attempting to make money off your intellectual property, you have every right to step in with lawyers and say Please Stop. But if money is not being made, simply look the other way. While it might be tempting to engage fans in what they create, you have to protect yourself against any liability. The good thing is, I’ve found most fans are pretty sympathetic to that, and those who aren’t get shushed by fandom fairly quickly.
Appreciate Your Fans
To put it in mercenary terms, fans are what keep the money coming in. They buy your current book so that you can sell the next book. But they also support what you’ve created, and are excited to see the next thing, which can be a great emotional buoy. And, in my opinion, that’s kind of awesome. I mean, I’ve received one fan letter in my life, who am I to talk, but it was pretty uplifting. I know that being part of a passionate fandom was a great experience, and having the creator’s support of that fandom made it all the better. Just like how creators enjoy positive responses to their work, fans enjoy that positive response coming right back at them. It’s a feedback loop of good feels.
If you can’t let yourself just love the fact that there are fans of your work who feel inspired reading what you’ve created, then just smile and move on, no need to call the lawyers. If you love your fans and want to share in that awesome energy, make sure you don’t open yourself up to liability. Regardless of what you do, be sure to thank your fans. Without them, you wouldn’t have much of anything.