When is a book not a book?
I recently came across a competition where an author was offering free publication for the winner, where the entrant can write a novel using the characters mentioned in his trilogy, with exception of the main characters.
While it sounds like a fun and exciting opportunity; a great way to expand the universe of a series you loved and get published. (Because, I gather you wouldn’t enter the competition if you did not like the series.) I even entertained the possibility for a moment. And then I realised that even if you get credit for the writing, you don’t own the intellectual property. The characters belong to someone else. And I’m sure the publishing deal would recoup the publishing costs and goodwill from the sales.
Which I hate to say, reduces the work you’ve put your blood sweat and tears into as simply fan fiction.
There is still a bit of stigma in the writing and publishing world around this kind of writing. It is slowly merging into a genre in its own right, but there are still legal issues around copyright, plagiarism, intellectual property and distribution rights that keep the waters muddy. Arrangements have to be made each step of the way with the author of the fan fiction and the creator or the source material for it to step into ‘big girl pants’ and become a real source of income from writing.
Maybe the author running the competition is looking for a co-writer to inspire him and keep the series alive, or grow the universe much like Marvel or DC Comics? I praise his ingenuity, but at the same time can see major pitfalls for emerging authors. Especially as a debut author. You’re not likely to get another traditional publishing deal when you have already pigeon-holed yourself as a fanfic writer.
That’s the information I’ve gotten back from many of the publishers I’ve questioned.
Having said that, many well-known authors are now writing in someone else’s intellectual landscape: Margaret Stohl with the Black Widow series, Leigh Bardugo with Wonder Woman, James Luceno within the Star Wars Universe, and I could continue listing more and more. Franchises are becoming larger and more lucrative, and writing fan fiction, is becoming a legitimate career. But, this would only be true for established, cult, and large franchises. Small and mostly unknown (like in the competition that sparked this blog) end up doing a huge disservice to an emerging author if they plan on releasing their own work in the future.
There’s a lot to be said for ghost writing, or releasing work under a pseudonym in these areas to protect your brand and credibility. But in a landscape that is in a major state of flux, the publishing industry struggling to catch up with technology and pop culture, claims professionals have made today, may change tomorrow.
In the end, it is the readers who hold all the power. Their decisions on what to buy and read will determine the future. Whether it be growing and expanding the fan fiction genre or not – remember YA and NA are only new genres specifically created from market trends in the last 5 or so years after the popularity of series like Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, and The Hunger Games.
We even see this dilemma play out in Rainbow Rowells ‘Fangirl,’ as the protagonist, Kath, struggles to find a voice with her writing and her professors deeming fanfic not a real form of writing… Like Kath’s world, fan fiction is massive on the internet in real life. Even Amazon.com have recognised this growing market and launched its own Fan Fiction Publishing division, splitting royalties between the company, the original author, and the fanfic writer. Though all that time and effort only reaps you a 20% cut, compared to a 90% share for original work in e-book format. It’s certainly food for thought, and at the end of the day you need to be passionate about your work; and maybe the monetary recompense, or credibility, pale in the enjoyment you get from your creative outlet.
In any event, I’m fascinated to see where this phenomenon will go now that a wave of franchises and cross-media events are taking place in popular culture right now.
In the meantime, happy writing.
© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.