Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fanfiction Can Jump-start A Professional Career

I finally got my lazy butt in gear and started reading again. To be fair, I was also knocked on said butt with a nasty cold, and so it was far easier to curl up in bed reading for hours on end than it was sitting up and doing anything else. I have yet to finish the book, but I have a nice chunk taken out of it. I should be done in another few days or so, depending on how frequently I stop to read.

So, I'm well on my way to get two novels read this month to make up for my slacking last month. YAY!

The only downside is that reading means not writing, which means not much to talk about here. Although, I have been slowly whittling away at Please, Let Me Explain at about a paragraph at a time. I also started seriously thinking about possible titles for my X-Future reboot project; I can't keep calling it that. I have some researching that I want to do to maybe spark some title ideas.

Phfylburt or Ronoxym, if either of you come up with any ideas, please feel free to shoot them my way.

Since I don't have any of my own writing to really talk about this week, I decided I'm going to have another article reaction post. This time it will be about fanfiction being a viable means to professional writing.

This whole thing started when a member on Writers’ Huddle posted this article: How Fangirls Changed the Future of Publishing

I went on a nice tangent about my thoughts on the subject. Something I know people love reading while going through forum threads...

I also know I've touched upon this at least once before in my A Most Grateful Author post back in 2012, but here's my further feelings about the matter.

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I found this article very interesting and reassuring; mainly because I am a fanfiction writer attempting to transition in to original writing. Specifically, I'm of course talking about my X-Future reboot idea. The whole concept of my project is to find a way to "transform" the world of Marvel's X-Men in to an original tale.

You guys know that for the past year I've been working hard on rewriting/restructuring canon characters so that they are originals for me to fairly use. It's a bit more involved than the "filing off the serial numbers" - FOSN - that the article references. In fact, I'm trying my best to evolve my story specifically so that I'm not simply FOSN. Although, it would be easy enough to do just that given how vaguely we use the Marvel source material anyway. That doesn't matter to me though. I am trying my best to transform X-Future in to something that might seem familiar to X-Men fans, but keep it different enough that people won't shout out "Who are you kidding? That's Wolverine!" It's a hard and long process, but one I'm purposely doing.

There's many reasons why I'm going this route. First and foremost is that the story and the main characters are all original anyway, and so it's hard for me to call it a fanfiction since none of the source's fans would recognize any of it. However, it IS still in the world built by Marvel for the X-Men franchise, and we do have a few X-Men characters ingrained in the story; too much for me to just drop them. I can't very well call it an original story with these blatant elements of "playing in someone else's sandbox". So, for my own integrity, I want all elements to be of my design so that it truly is an original story.

Secondly, I fear the backlash otherwise. People calling me out that my "original story" is just X-Men fanfiction without giving Marvel any credits. I mean, I'm nervous enough about my work without the fear of haters raining down on me. This is another reason I don't want to just file off the serial numbers. Again, I want my work to feel familiar, but not feel like a rip-off. I don't want my story to be like that Barbie knock-off you buy from a discount store somewhere.

My final reason for trying to change as much as I can - but still not TOO much, at the same time - is because I don't know how sensitive Marvel is when it comes to fanfiction. Especially if I want to market this story someday, I don't want to put all this time and effort in to something that will end up with a cease and desist order.

On the flipside, though, there IS that gray area dealing with the fact that I am just barely using the X-Men world. Would it be so bad to create a webcomic loosely based on the world of X-Men? I mean, there are D&D-inspired works such as the webcomic Order of the Stick which does essentially that. Everyone knows that it's a story about a D&D campaign as if the characters were real. It even makes reference to the Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and leveling up. Yet no one seems to have an issue with that. No one seems to care that the established characters in D&D are missing - in fact, there's some jokes where it's blatant FOSN in order to sneak in characters. There's re-occurring characters that are lawyers for "The wizards that live on the coast" - for those who don't know, Wizards of the Coast is the company that owns D&D. So, in that regards, I just might be able to get away with my X-Men fanfic without all of this extra "convert to original work" headache. Still, I want to put in the effort, just for my own integrity and peace of mind.

There is a bit in this article that I never thought of before. Namely, the concept of copyrighting the OCs - or Original Characters - and titles of stories, even if they are still fanfics. I can see why it would enrage some, but at most it just irks me that I didn't think of it first. True fanfiction - like the ones I write for Hey Arnold - are basically "playing in someone else's sandbox with their toys." All you need to do is sit there and come up with the story. I mean, creating the story is a hard part in and of itself. It's just not the HARDEST part. So, if you're just using the pre-established environment why not copyright your OCs? They're yours. They're original. You put the time and effort in to building and cultivating them until they feel like real people. Besides, I've seen at least on DeviantArt how people tend to fall in love with fanfiction OCs. There's a Hey Arnold group dedicated to fanart not of the original show, but of the original characters introduced in a Hey Arnold fanfiction. Given that, I might go the extra mile myself and register Willow, Lia, and Trish - my three main characters from X-Future - as well as my D&D/High Fantasy character Amara. Finally, the Terms of Service of must have been changed since the start of the copyright controversy started, because as of today the ToS has absolutely nothing about members not being able to copyright their OCs, titles, and/or story concepts. If anything, the ToS stresses the copyright of the authors that post to the site.

Honestly, the whole concept of publishing fanfiction is just such a smart move. People love these stories that are already out there, and so they are more likely to look up fanfiction than invest time in a new world and set of characters that they don't know; from an author they don't know to boot. If you have a skilled enough writer in a hot enough fandom you have a major hit on your hands that would EASILY be a New Yorker's Best Seller if it were published and sold. I again point towards the Hey Arnold fic I mentioned above. This is a very small fandom in the grand scheme of things, but "Life With The Shortmans" has blown up. It feels like everyone in the fandom knows about it and the OCs introduced in it. As I mentioned above, there's at least one group on DeviantArt dedicated to fanart about the fic. Heck, LWTS has its OWN fanfiction! Which is another reason to copyright the title and OCs you create. True, SuprSingr's not at the status that E.L. "Icy" James was at before MOTU got converted in to 50 Shades, but it's the same concept on a much smaller level.

I'm just shocked it kept so long for people to pick up on this. Ali Luke constantly points out that one of the big selling points for publishers is proof that you have a platform. Pointing out that you have thousands of people following your stories on is definitely a platform. The trick is then proving that you can write something original. Or at least something "loosely based" enough that you can FOSN to make it original.

In truth, I find this whole thing really refreshing, the idea of fanfiction writers getting published. Budding film makers and musicians make it big on YouTube or Vimeo without sending anything off to an agent/publicist/studio. They don't have to hit the pavement. If they're good enough and popular enough, the funds/opportunity to turn it in to a career practically knocks on their door. Same for artists. You have DeviantArt for one. There's Instagram and Tumblr as well. Pintrest; the list goes on. People are CONSTANTLY being noticed and picked up by being able to put their work online. But what about writers? Where is the "catch-all" site for us to post, get popular, and the publishers race to us? The fact that, and perhaps it's sister site for original works, seems to be a nice springboard for authors is fantastic to me.

Places like is also fantastic because you can get feedback right away. You can actually read the reviews and improve almost instantly. Someone thinks a character is too robotic? You can change that by the next chapter or so - or in another draft that you'll re-upload with. People SUPER love the way you write fight scenes, but can't stand your love scenes? You know what to work on; or what to avoid if possible. It's just such a great place! Love it! Also, since most people post Works In Progress, each chapter has to be fully polished before posting. There is hardly room for error unless you pull the whole thing down after you're done writing and re-post with the polished "final draft". On top of that, these stories are all self-edited. So I think fanfiction writers - or anyone who publishes for free online - are some of the best writers we have because they carry the full weight of publishing on their shoulders. Plus, they do it for the love of it, not the profit; at least, initially.

The article even points out something that was announced I believe a year ago. Kindle Worlds is just straight on publishing fanfiction; not even bothering to file off the serial numbers.

And what's wrong with that? There's TONS of source-sanctioned fanfiction publications. Any book you read that has the D&D symbol on it for one. All those Star Wars books that Disney is now claiming as "uncanon." Just about every show out there - mostly fantasy/sci-fi/monster/whatever-you'd-call-Vampire-Diaries - has at least one companion book. The ABC show Castle has a series of companion books. Whenever the show's character Castle - a mystery novelist - promotes his book in-show, the actual book is published for fans to enjoy. Back in I believe 2009, yet another Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was published - AFTER Douglas died, mind you. It was written by his protege, the author of the Artemis Foul books - by grace (and I think request) of Douglas' widow.

If I recall correctly, the main showrunner of the modern Dr. Who not only started out as a Dr. Who fanfiction writer himself, but openly admits to reading it to see what his viewers would like to see. Nerd icon Joss Whedon did a stint as an X-Men comic writer. He wrote a story arc for the Astonishing X-Men comics. He's not on Marvel's staff, and so THOSE are essentially fanfiction. Same goes for him working on the Avengers movies for Marvel Studios. Heck, ANY movie adaptation at its core is simply fanfiction. Then think about all of those twitter - and other social media - accounts claiming to be a fictional character. I mean, I follow "Barney Stinson" from How I Met Your Mother. It's all "published fanfiction" that someone is profiting off of. So why not just pull back the curtain and let "average joe smith" make a career out of it too?

The only true difference is that the above ARE - or at least were, in Star Wars' case - sanctioned by the source material's owners. They were approved to be included in that world; even if not considered canon. However, couldn't a publisher do that too? Reach out to the source material owner and ask for permission to ethically publish? And if the fanfiction so loosely resembles the inspiring source that serial numbers were easily filed - and therefore none of the readers could really pick out the source material - then what's the harm?

Yes, in all of my "source-sanctioned" examples above, the authors were all professional writers. That does make a world of difference. However, in most cases, they were simply fanfiction writers that happened to be professionals as well. There is a surprising amount of fanfiction authors that have that professional-quality skill, or pretty darn close to it. You just have to weed them out of the masses of 10-yr-olds writing horrible My Little Pony fanfics. Good rule of thumb is if it has a lot of views it's either near-professional quality writing, or something so horrible that it's passed around like a video of a guy getting hit in the nuts.

Honestly, I'd take a well-skilled fanfiction writer over a ghost writer any day if it continues on with an already established world/set of characters. Watch any movie adaptation when the studio just grabbed any big name director and high-quality writing team, and another one where the adaptation was done by people who all LOVED the source. The director, the writers, the editor, the costume designer, the actors, etc. The team made up of fans will make the better adaptation 10-1 because of that love. They put the time, care, and attention in to the project. If Nickelodeon had picked up a random, but still well skilled, person off of YouTube and/or that LOVED Avatar: the Last Airbender, instead of handing it over to M. Night Shyamalan... well, it wouldn't have been the disastrous laughing stock that is now; just another one of the many shames on the networks' head.

So, you do indeed that balance. Publishers still need to be picky on the skill-level the author displays. Plus, as I mentioned, you have to be careful that the owner of the source material doesn't cry "infringement". Otherwise, I still think published fanfiction for profit is a fantastic new venture!

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