Tag Archives: fan fiction

One more thing about publishing and fandom in general

Because I think it’s important, and it actually has only a limited amount to do with Interlude Press specifically. This is a point that’s far more general, and it’s been bugging me for a while.

Yesterday I listed some of my initial concerns about a fandom-focused publisher, but it wasn’t until I was getting in bed last night that I realized what really troubled me about this whole thing. It’s very small, it’s not the most extreme instance of it that I’ve ever seen, but it’s there and I want to mention it specifically.

In their intro and in their FAQ both, Interlude mentions a particular justification (or rather two related but slightly conflicting justifications) for why they exist:

We believe, deeply, that authors exist in the fan world who deserve a chance to be published. These are authors who might otherwise be ignored by the traditional publishing industry, and who would likely be discouraged from acknowledging their fan fiction roots and receive little marketing support were they ever to sign a contract with a big name publishing house.

Unlike publishers who have recently begun to “recruit” authors of fan fiction, only to discourage them from acknowledging their roots, Interlude Press was developed to honor both the creators of fan works as well as the gift culture they represent.

I just.

Okay, look. One of the things I often have to work especially hard to get my Sociology intro students to understand is that an n of you is not a representative sample of the population, and while your anecdote can serve as a datapoint, it’s by no means one upon which you should lean very heavily. That said: I’ve been active in various fandoms way longer than I’ve been getting paid to tell stories. My fandom identity and my writer identity enjoy a very slim separation, if any at all. I still write fic, and I’m very open about it. I’ve sold five novels, two novellas, and somewhere between 40 and 50 short stories. I’m a member of SFWA at the Active level. I’m very comfortable calling myself a professional writer.

Never in my own experience have I found my fandom affiliations  to be harmful or to block my way, nor has anyone else I know, at least not my knowledge. I’ve heard of publishers “recruiting” from fandom, though I don’t think that word really accurately describes those situations, and as far as I know it still happens rarely enough to be the exception rather than the rule, and if being “ignored” equates to not being “recruited” and that’s the problem at hand, guess what: would that being “recruited” happened to any of us. And there is an increasingly long list of successful authors who write original stuff and are very, very open about where they come from, as well as continuing to be active.

I’m not saying fandom getting in the way doesn’t happen. I’m saying that if it was a common thing, a trend that generally held true, I have to think I would have noticed by now.

This is not the first time I’ve seen a publishing house say something like this, and it’s never good when one does. They may very well be sincere in what they’re saying, but as far as my knowledge goes they’re also sincerely wrong, and this is not the first time I’ve run into this kind of misinformation being slung around regarding what’s involved in actually selling your book. It’s that misinformation that I want to focus on now.

People say “you need the right connections.” They say “you need the right profile.” And people also say that if you’re active in fandom, the mean prejudicial gatekeepers will lock you out, unless you write the next Fifty Shades, in which case come on in, but pretend it wasn’t fic before or something. Interlude is – though their language is not particularly strong – implying this, that the authors they’re working with would be largely unable to sell books elsewhere, despite their talent, because fandom.

People, I have some hard truth for you. If you’re in fandom and you’re shopping around a book, trying to break into the business, and people keep shutting doors on you, it’s not that you don’t have the right connections, it’s not that there’s some super secret publishing code word that you’re missing, and it’s almost certainly not that you’re in fandom. It’s that they don’t want what you’re selling.

I need to emphasize this: There is no big secret to getting published. There is no shadowy cabal of industry gatekeepers locking out the undesirables. If you want to become a professional writer, write good stories and submit them. If you write a great book, fandom will not hold you back. If you write a bad book – or at least, a book that publishers don’t think they can sell – no power in the ‘verse will help you. You also need to be clear on what sector of the industry you’re willing to count as “breaking in”; if you’re content with small presses, there are so damn many options that, if what you have is good, you can often find a publisher relatively quickly (say within a year or so). If you want to get picked up by one of the big NYC houses, guess what: It’s fucking hard for everyone.

You do not need one specific boutique publisher to realize your dream, and if that boutique publisher is suggesting that they’re one of the very few – if not the only – avenues that talented fandom authors have to professional publication, I would be highly skeptical of that claim.

I’m not suggesting that Interlude is lying. I am suggesting that they’re misrepresenting how publishing works. I’m not saying they’re doing that intentionally, but in my opinion that’s what they’re doing.

I realize that at this point it might seem like I’m going on and on about something that really isn’t a big deal, but Interlude represents something that I think we’ll be seeing more and more of, and even where fandom isn’t concerned, I’ve seen these claims floating around, and I don’t like it when authors buy into them, because all too often it results in them getting screwed over, by themselves or someone else or a combination of the two.

If you want to work with a publisher that’s specifically fandom-friendly, it sounds like Interlude might be a great fit for you, so I’d say follow your bliss, man (though I would seriously hold off to see if they’re for real). But if you’re convinced that you’ll never get published elsewhere because of fandom stigma or whatever and therefore have no other good options… Basically don’t think that way because by and large it just ain’t true.

The secret to getting published is to write a good book and submit it. That’s all. It’s not rocket magic. So do it however you want, but do not ever buy into the idea that there’s only one way.

More about Interlude Press: I have some (very preliminary) concerns

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Okay, as promised earlier, here are my general initial concerns about the concept behind Interlude Press. Because yes, I do have some. They’re just mine, and they may be and in fact probably are poorly informed – because, as I said, we just don’t know a whole lot for sure right now – but here they are.

  • If this is – in part – an attempt to de-stigmatize fanfiction in mainstream circles, I’m not sure it will work. I actually think it might be counterproductive. The thing is that, as it seems to me, part of the stigma associated with fic in non-fic circles comes down to the idea that it’s done by people who can’t be bothered to think up their own stuff, who are imaginatively lazy, and when things like Fifty Shades and The Mortal Instruments happen, part of the scoffing from certain circles amounts to well what do you expect, they had to pull-to-publish/be highly derivative because they couldn’t think of anything original. You know and I know that that’s total bullshit, but it’s still floating around, and I perceive a distinct possibility that Interlude – to the degree that anyone outside fandom will know or care about it – will not assist in erasing that misconception. I perceive a distinct possibility that it will only reinforce it. And yeah, okay, why should we give a fuck what ignorant fools think about our sandbox, but if this stigma does bother you, I don’t know that Interlude will do much to help make it go away. What will help de-stigmatize fanfiction? Authors of fully original works who also write fic/cut their teeth on fic being very open about it. That’s why I try to do so.
  • I’m troubled by the idea of exploiting an existing fandom audience. Let’s be clear on something from the get-go: “exploitation” isn’t necessarily a bad or a negative or an evil thing. It’s seeing an opportunity for gain and jumping on it. We all do it, to some degree. Interlude seems to view this as a good platform, and they’re also very explicit about respecting the fandom gift economy. I don’t think they’re evil conniving capitalists or anything. I also recognize that there is probably a large contingent of fic readers who would jump at the chance to financially support their favorite authors, and that’s great. But I also think I have to point out that one of the major components of the anger in the Twilight fandom over Fifty Shades was that James was seen to be making use of a good faith fandom gift economy audience for her own personal gain. I am not saying that that’s what would be happening here, just that I think this has the potential to piss people off and create issues for the publisher, among a lot of other things. I’m sure they’re smart people and they’re aware of that, it’s just something that I see with potential for wank. And I’m also just kind of uncomfortable with it for a number of poorly articulated reasons.
  • Crossover between fandom and non-fandom readers is problematic. Again, I’m sure that there will be a lot of fandom readers who would love to be able to support their authors in this way. But I’m not so sure about non-fandom readers. A while ago, it came out that it at least appeared that a relatively well-known name in M/M romance had essentially filed the serial numbers off their Supernatural AU and published it as original stuff. Now, whether or not you think this was okay, it made a number of readers very vocally angry – they felt cheated and insulted. Additionally, there are certain publishers in M/M romance that have dealt with a fair amount of stigma regarding the amount of reworked fic they publish, to the point where some large review sites simply refuse to touch their stuff. While I may very well not be giving them enough credit, I think there’s a sizable contingent who will be actively turned off by this kind of product. Again, why care what ignorant jerks think? Because if you’re a publisher, especially a new publisher, you need money and you need people to buy your books. I just don’t entirely believe that a publisher can survive on fandom alone, though it would be cool if I was wrong (remember Kindle Worlds? Yeah.). And I don’t see a whole lot of crossover readership happening here, though again, could be totally wrong. Yes, Interlude could establish a track record of truly stellar work and change minds that way, but that would take time, and again, that first year or so is crucial in terms of determining whether or not a publisher will stick around. So this could be trouble in a number of ways for a number of people.
  • Copyright. I’m sure this is a concern on people’s minds besides mine, and I’m sure Interlude is in touch with some good legal council. They’re very clear about avoiding problems here. I’m just… I can see it potentially creating issues. Fifty Shades got away with it, but Fifty Shades was a bit of a different situation in a number of ways, and all it takes is one person/entity who’s enough of a jerk to make it a Thing, especially given that Interlude is a new kid on the block and a little kid to boot, and therefore easy to stomp on and thereby make an example of. I’m not saying that I think this is likely or would be successful if it happened, and again, I’m not suggesting that it hasn’t occurred to Interlude, just that it’s yet another thing that makes me leery of the whole situation.

Those are just a few of the concerns that I can articulate right now – I have more and I might talk about them. I really, really don’t want to come across as hoping that Interlude will fail, because I don’t, though I’ll admit to having a lot of gut-level problems with it. But I’m seeing a lot of rapturous enthusiasm on Tumblr, among other places, and it’s like… Guys, hold off on that. Don’t be down on it, necessarily, but maybe be a tiny bit more cautious, because I think we could be treading into a bit of a minefield. There is so much that we don’t yet know and can’t yet know about how this will all shake out. Regular new publishers run into massive issues, and Interlude is potentially facing an entirely different set in addition to those. I’m not trying to be pessimistic here, just realistic.

And I’ll admit to being a bit worried about what this will mean for fandom as a whole. Which, again: so gut-level that I don’t really want to go there. I don’t want to talk about stuff that I can’t make at least something approaching a rational argument for.

So again, we’ll see what we see this summer.

WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS AMAZON

So Amazon is going to be selling fanfiction.

I have a lot of feelings about this, many of which haven’t gotten any further in articulating themselves than WHAAAATAAARRGGHHHFFFFFFFFF, so let me link to posts on the topic by John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig, both of whom have slightly different and equally important takes.

For myself, yeah, I’ve pretty much tipped my hand to the fact that I regard this as almost uniformly a bad thing. I regard it as such as someone with a long history in and a deep affection for fandom; totally aside from how monetizing fic for profit is a shit in the face of communities that thrive on free exchange of labor for sheer love of the product, I don’t like it when I feel like The Man is trying to make my people suckers. Which I honestly feel is a serious danger here.

I’m going out on a limb with this but I’m thinking most fic writers don’t have agents. I’m guessing that a lot of them have actually never seen a standard publishing contract. This isn’t to say that fic writers are stupid, but I do think that a lot of them are probably ignorant of a lot of the nuts and bolts of the publishing business – why wouldn’t they be, if they have no professional reason to not be so? – and Amazon is counting on that. Amazon is counting on fic writers not knowing that they should SPRINT TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CONTINENT when they see something like “Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.”

Amazon is not in this for you. Amazon is in this for Amazon. No duh; they’re a giant company that operates to maximize its profit. But it’s just important that we’re all on the same page here: Amazon is not in this because they love fandom. They don’t give a shit about fandom. Probably most of the IPs who have allowed licenses don’t give much of a shit about fandom. This is exploitation. Now, it’s totally fine to be okay with being exploited – welcome to capitalism – but at least be aware that that’s what’s going on.

One of the things I love about fandom is the fierce resistance to monetization – fans in it for love of the thing of which they’re fans, in a community based not only around appreciation of a thing but around intense creativity regarding that thing. Transformative culture. I think not being in it for money is a lot of what’s made fandom so vibrant and wonderful. I’m torn in this, because I’m also a writer who gets paid and ideally I’d love to see all the producers of creative work get paid for good work… But Amazon?

Of course it would be Amazon.

And no, as Cecilia Tan pointed out on Twitter, I don’t expect the majority of fandom to embrace this. But the fact that a company like Amazon has formally recognized that there’s money to be made off the backs of fandom troubles me a lot. It troubles me as a writer of original fiction and fanfiction.

I have a lot more thoughts on this but as I said, they’re articulating themselves poorly because of RRAAAAAAAARRGHH and I need to get ready to fly to Madison tomorrow, so they’ll have to wait.

[ADDENDUM] I’ve seen a number of people laughing this whole thing off because, as I said above, most of fandom is unlikely to go for it (this is true), and previous similar enterprises have failed spectacularly (also true). Here’s why, although I’m not panicking, I’m not laughing anything off:

  • Scalzi and Wendig both raise some important, not-to-be-ignored points. Read what they have to say if you haven’t.
  • What worries me even more than the troubling contract terms is what this means in terms of precedent. Something doesn’t have to be a big deal at the time to be a big deal later. It doesn’t matter if Amazon’s venture is a failure; that they’ve done it at all matters a fuck of a lot in terms of how fandom is regarded by content-producing and distributing companies.
  • Personally, I envision the past relationship between fandom and the companies that produce canon as a bit like the separation of church and state: they constitute the same society and people may have places in both, but the separation of both is good for both and protects both. Or at least it protects fandom. But if companies start blurring the line between official/licensed and unofficial/fan-produced, I think that opens an immense can of worms, in terms of fandom culture, in terms of legalities, and in terms of what everyone is prepared to accept and expect as appropriate. Fandom has been so robust and done so well precisely because it has fiercely protected autonomy. Companies have – until now – mostly shied away from butting in there largely because fandom was this bizarre unexplainable force of nature that they didn’t really know how to handle. Fifty Shades, among other things, helped to demystify it somewhat. I do not regard that as a good trend.
  • It matters that it’s fucking Amazon. 
  • In my social theory classes in graduate school, I’ve been taught to ask one question above all others when considering something: Where’s the power? Put another way: Who benefits? Put another way: Where isn’t the power, and who doesn’t benefit? I think those are vitally important questions to consider here. And I don’t like the answers.

Five things fanfiction taught me about writing as a career and five things it didn’t

I got my start writing fanfiction.

Actually, that’s not completely true: I got my start in writing as a six-year-old by putting together a series of stapled colored-pencil picture books about a magic flower. Also by concocting long and extremely involved epic storylines with my model dinosaurs and my Lion King action figures. But after that: fanfiction.

I get the sense that writing fanfic – in one’s past and even more in one’s present – is still a somewhat stigmatized activity among professional fiction writers. Probably less so than it used to be – more and more authors are coming from backgrounds in fanfiction, or are at least willing to talk openly about it – but still, I feel like admitting that I’m one of those amounts to making a slightly uncomfortable confession. Oh, you’re one of THEM. Like it’s something that I should be embarrassed by.

The truth is, fanfiction taught me a lot. The truth is that fanfiction has probably played a huge contributing role in getting me where I am now. I met my Line and Orbit co-author through a pan-fandom roleplaying game on Livejournal; we learned to write together through playing with each other’s characters, and we learned that we enjoyed it enough to embark on something original and novel-length. So it hasn’t been a waste of time, and it hasn’t been without value.

But the truth is also that there are several very important things that fanfiction didn’t teach me. That it couldn’t teach me. And I think anytime we’re discussing the value of fanfiction in writing fiction in general, we also need to be very clear about its limitations.

So here’s some of what it taught me – and some of what I had to learn on my own.

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