FanFiction – When Is It Original Fiction?

Recently there has been a spate of fanfiction stories being released as original fiction, not only as self published books, but also through reputable epublishers. This creates two issues for purchasers and reviewers. Many of these authors do not indicate that the books were originally fanfiction; and also, some of them do not withdraw the stories from their fandom, so they are still available free on the Internet while you pay the going rate if you buy a copy.

The fanfiction debate has been ongoing for years in multiple genres. Additionally, many well known M/M authors who got their start writing fanfiction seem to be ashamed of their “roots” 🙂 which upsets some “fanficcers”. There’s nothing wrong with fanfiction, and an excellent example of taking the “fan” out of “fanfiction” and turning it into a New York Times bestseller is the het BDSM romance Fifty Shades of Grey. Posted originally as an Edward/Bella A/U story from Twilight fandom, this trilogy, written by E.L. James a London mother and former TV producer, is all the rage in “literary” circles despite being labelled as mommy porn. Ms James just signed a movie and book deal that apparently is worth 5 million dollars, which should see her set for life. The lesson? Fanfiction sells. This is probably why so many new and experienced authors are recycling their fanfiction stories and palming them off as original works.

Why do I care about this? Because it creates several problems for us on this site. First, several of the reviewers who never read fanfiction are reviewing stories that they believe are original fiction, but when they post their reviews or talk to other readers about the books, they find out that they were originally fanfiction that was converted. Moreover, we had two blatant cases last week where the authors didn’t even attempt to hide it and the similarities were so glaring it was fairly obvious to the reviewers where the stories originated. Reviewers on the site need to know which stories are original fiction unconnected to a fandom — and vice versa — before we post our reviews. However, since we’re not detectives many of these books will be reviewed without a notation that they were originally fanfic, and it will be up to readers to let us know if they are original or recycled fanfiction.

Which brings us to a question: Should these books be labeled “previously published in another format?” I think yes, and that they should go even one step further and indicate the “other format” (i.e. that these books were previously published as fanfiction) so that purchasers and reviewers alike would be aware that the work was not original fiction.

My other issue is, when does fanfiction, which is free, become “original” fiction and released for sale? I think that at least 50% of a book should be new content (i.e. original material) if it was previously fanfiction so purchasers don’t feel that they are being ripped off. So for example, in a 250 page novel I would expect that 125 pages should be new, original content. Is that unreasonable? What do you think or do you care at all? Of course a much better solution would be to write an original story, but what the heck, that’s probably too much creative work. 🙁

Several years ago Erastes wrote a post on this site about fanfiction being regurgitated and recycled as original fiction and I have linked it. Two questions she asked were:

Should publishers allow easily recognisable fanfic to be published?

How do you feel about paying money out for fanfic you could read free on archived sites?

My question is, how do we review recycled fanfiction? I assume your problem is that you shouldn’t be paying for a book that’s free elsewhere if the author has not removed his/her stories from fandom sites before peddling it to publishers. Should publishers be more vigilant and ask the right questions before they accept a manuscript? This problem is going to get worse because it seems that the flood gates have been opened and many authors are releasing fanfic and their publishers (maybe they are unaware?) are not indicating when a book is recycled fanfic or if it is original fiction, so you take your chances when you buy. Can you get your money back from the publisher if you can prove it was fanfic? IDK

So many questions and not many answers.

Comments?

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

96 comments

  • What do you think or do you care at all? Of course a much better solution would be to write an original story, but what the heck, that’s probably too much creative work

    Well, thanks for the insult, Wave. Writing a good fanfic is every bit as much “creative work” as writing anything else, because a good fanfic IS an original story… inspired usually by a film or tv sseries. And the trick to taking fanfic to pro is that the characters need to be re-created, because the reader won’t have the TV series as a background.

    I know this because my roots are in fanfic and I am not ashamed of it. Before con-crit became considered ‘flaming,’ fandom was a superb writers’ workshop. (Now, it’s mostly a mutual flattery society, which I think is why we see so much awful fan fiction from prima donnas who don’t want to learn to write decent English.)

    As far as ‘previous editions,’ my publishers were informed of the early versions and included in the contract that any previous editions were taken down. That’s only fair.

    How do you review former fanfic? Same as you’d review anything else. Is it a good story? Does it make sense? Because, believe me, probably half the books you’ve reviewed ARE recycled fanfic.

    To use an example of how a fanfic idea can become an original story, consider the TV series Alias Smith and Jones. It was fanfic, of a sort, based on Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. At least, that was according to an interview with its creator which I read decades ago.

    When people start promoting their work AS FANFIC, and asking for money? That’s when the lawyers come in, because that’s someone horning in on an established reputation to sell their own stuff. And when people take classics of literature and rewrite them — I’m thinking of the glut of butchered Austen novels — then I’ll decline to read, because I think that’s plagiarism, plain and simple.

    But if you’ve never been inspired by someone’s story to write a story of your own, with a little “what if” twist… you may be rushing to judgement on this issue.

    I learned to write in fanzines. That was before the Internet existed, so you won’t see much of my early work, unless I decide to mine the zines for plots. But if I do, I doubt you’ll recognize the characters because I never did fanfic in the Sentinel or Buffy universes — which I think is where most of the paranormals are coming from.

    This reminds me of that stupid quarrel over whether women can write men and vice versa. It’s all about the writing. Is the writing any good?

    • Lee

      I’m not trying to insult anyone who wrote or still writes fan fic and if I did I apologise.

      I do understand that fan fiction is an art form of its own but I wish it could be kept in the fandoms rather than being sold as pro fic which I’m told goes against the principles of the fandoms. Many members of the fandoms are upset because they helped write these stories which the authors are now peddling as pro fic, and they feel used by the writers.

      However the reason I’m trying to stay away from converted fanfic as much as I can (and I know that we have reviewed many fan fic turn pro stories on this site) is exactly the example I gave to Luce. The author I mentioned, (and she’s not that different from other former fan fic authors who have released pro fic recently), didn’t even bother to alter the plot, names and characterizations from those in the television series where she had lifted the entire story. If I weren’t a fan of the television series Stargate Atlantis I wouldn’t have recognized that it was not her original work. This is the problem that we’re having when we review former fanfic – some of it is outright plagiarism and we’re expected to review these stories. We find out afterwards that these books are not the writer’s original work – that she has stolen not just the idea but the guts of the story. I’m not talking about taking the germ of an idea from television or someone else’s books and massaging it into a new story, I’m referring to stealing entire plots and characterizions – the only difference being the names of the stories.

      I thought that this fan fic issue was beaten into the ground with all the differing opinions expressed when I posted it on May 4 and everyone had a kick at the can – both pro and con. Obviously someone is now using my post to write her own essay. I wish she had done so when this topic was live.

      I’ll repeat what I said before: I wish that the book blurbs would indicate which stories were former fan fic, since I’m tired of having this pointed out time and again by other readers who don’t want to buy these recycled stories.

      • The author I mentioned, (and she’s not that different from other former fan fic authors who have released pro fic recently), didn’t even bother to alter the plot, names and characterizations from those in the television series where she had lifted the entire story.

        Exactly. That’s bad writing and plagiarism to boot.

        When members of a fan group actually help write a story then the author has no right to sell it without her co-authors’ permission. But there’s a big difference between discussing a story idea and helping to write it. I know someone who was royally miffed that I did not give her co-author credit (on a fanfiction, not a published story) because I had lunch with her one afternoon and told her about the story idea. She actually considered her “input” the same as collaboration. It’s NOT. No writers’ group could ever function if every person who discussed a story idea had earned a byline. “Oh, it’d be so sexay if you got Jack, Daniel, and Sam into bed together!” is not a significant story contribution.

        It’s been my experience that fanfic writers who are most helpful and supportive are the ones least likely to try to drag the crab who wants to move out into the wider world back into the bucket — that’s a reference to Terry Pratchett’s “Unseen Academicals.” Nobody is obligated to keep fan fiction up forever. Fanfic was originally published in fanzines, most of which are out of print.

        Bad fan fiction is bad writing, and publishers who accept it should require editors who know the fandom and won’t let the writers get away with laziness.

        Fandom is a marvelous place to play. But it’s hardly fair to expect everyone to stay there for their entire lives. The world changes. People change. People move on. It’s understandable that some folks want to keep their fannish community a stable center in the changing world, but that is just not realistic.

        I was looking through my old Trek zines recently, and realizing that I would never read them again and should probably sell them off – let someone else enjoy them. Because I don’t read much fanfic anymore, I don’t write it, unless it’s a quickie 100-word joke piece. I’d beta for a friend, but as someone remarked recently — someone who knew the fandom a couple of my stories are based on — the characters changed when I wrote the pro version, and are no longer the guys who inspired me. They’ve moved on, too.

        • I’m not interested in having the reviewers on this site spending most of their time reviewing plagiarised books and movies, which is what we seem to be getting from a lot of the authors who are transforming their fanfic into pro fic. As I said before, I would like some indication in the blurbs that these books were previously fan fiction as this would give us the opportunity to decide before whether we should review them or not. We have very few resources and I would like to ensure that we use those resources to review as many “original” stories as we can. When we find pro fic that doesn’t appear to stolen from someone else’s intellectual property we would review them as time permits.

          You could be right that a lot of books already reviewed on the site are fan fiction, but the number of new M/M books being released every week has passed beyond the point where we can review even a fraction of new releases, and I would like to see most of the reviews dedicated to what I consider to be “original” work, not something rehashed from fan fiction. The majority of readers who are regulars on this site have expressed this opinion since it pisses them off to buy a book we recommend only to find out later that it was rehashed fan fiction and that some of the stories are still available free on the Internet.

          I think I have said all that I can about fan fiction and nothing useful can be served by keeping this post open. It seems that someone has recently used my post as a springboard to writing her own post; this has resulted in a spate of new comments over the past couple of days. If readers want to comment on her post I’m sure they know where to find it and it would probably be a good thing if the comments stay on her blog or site, rather than spilling over here. I don’t have the time to respond to new comments and everything has been said on this topic 6 weeks ago IMO that’s relevant to my post. I’m also going on vacation and I don’t want to return to 25 or more new comments on this post which I would have to answer. So, much as I’m interested in everyone’s views on this topic, this post is now closed to comments.

  • Hm, I could have swore that amongst several comments that came to my mail box yesterday on this thread was the comment about Shakespeare being just like fanfiction writers taking the plots from other writers. I am trying to read all the comments again but just cant find this comment, sorry. I want to respond anyway, because I kid you not, I was *waiting* till somebody would bring up Shakespeare. I stopped waiting, but yesterday this thread suddenly got some traffic again, so here I am :).

    So, I just want to say this – please tell me that people are not seriously comparing what Shakespeare did to what several people on this thread including myself seem to find objectionable in taking NOT AU fanfic, changing the names, barely, not even trying to change the plot and publishing it as its original work.
    I had seen Shakespeare being brought up in the previous round of this discussion elsewhere inspired by the infamous comments of teaching writers how to turn their fanfiction in the original work and headdesk was my only response to that.

  • I’ve published a fanfic with the numbers filed off. However, the fanfic in question was an original storywhich I’ve turned into a wildly AU fanfic, because back in the days, I didn’t have the self-confidence to publish anything original. Original-turned-fanfic-turned original.

    — Can you get your money back from the publisher if you can prove it was fanfic?

    If the published work does not infringe any copyrights and can therefore be sold legally, then why should (general) you? If the original creator of the work the fanfic was based on doesn’t claim any compensation, then why should a reader? Because it used to be available for free on the internet once? Because you feel it’s unethical? I don’t think so.

    — Reviewers on the site need to know which stories are original fiction unconnected to a fandom — and vice versa — before we post our reviews.

    Fair enough; why not just put up a disclaimer that you’ll only review books that are absolutely original and not connected with fanfic or fandom in any way? I think most authors would be honest about it (at least I hope so). You’d have fewer books to sift through; you’d be surprised just how many authors and their work have a fanfic/fandom connection.

    I wrote LOTR fanfic, and by doing so, I taught myself the basic skills of writing dialogue and creating characters. The feedback from my readers and my beta helped me to avoid stereotypes and tropes.

    I write RNotC fanfic; that’s how I discovered my love for writing historical m/m. Researching historical details for my fanfic helped be gain the knowledge which I now use for my original work. I don’t feel I ripped off J.R.R. Tolkien or Disney, though.

    My stories were always very much AU, so my original workwould probably slip under your radar. But I don’t want to slip under anybody’s radar: writing fanfic helped me to learn the trade, fandom gave me the platform to present my work and encouraged me to become a writer. So I feel a lot of gratitude, and I’ll stand by every story I’ve written, even the overly sappy and grammatically questionable ones.

  • Though I’m an infrequent lurker of your site, I felt compelled to give you my 0.02 regarding fic-turned-pro and how that may or may not affect the way you guys review books on this site.

    Full disclosure: I’ve been in Fandom for 20 years, more or less, both as a writer of fic as well as reader. At the present time, my ereader has about 530 “books” out of which 480 are novel-length fic. The remaining 50 are a mix of YA and M/M books.

    While I almost understand your confusion and frustration with M/M books that began as fanfic, I have to admit to feeling a little puzzled myself by this opinion (shared by several of the commenters as well.) Mostly because, well, whether or not you want to accept it, all fic is ORIGINAL fic. Yes. All of it. Mind you, I’m not saying that all of it is good (there are some pretty terrible-to-outright-bad stories out there), just that all of it is original. Even if the story is a by-the-numbers retelling of “official” canon.

    Why?

    Because fanfic is a tranformative work. That is, Transformative works are creative works about characters or settings created by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creators. The fact that people don’t sit down to write because they’re expecting monetary gain but because they want the idea of Male Character A from a police TV show smooching Male Character B from the same show.

    FWIW, I do know several fanfic writers who “turned pro” by taking down a story, filing off the numbers and selling it as an original novel. Am I bothered by this?

    Nope. The stories (again, even though they might or might not be based on canonical events) are theirs to do as their please. Just like with books that didn’t start as fic, I always have the choice to spend my money on those books or not.

    I don’t really care where a book originated from. Good stories are good stories, period.

    Besides, there are a LOT of classical and modern novels and stories that are nothing more than a transformative work or even professional-grade fanfic. Here are 3 examples: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (mash-up of a Jane Austen book), Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series (crossover and AU profic) and Foe (which is a twist on Robinson Crusoe).

    Listen, in the end, this is YOUR site and, like I said at the beginning of this admittedly long comment, I’m a sporadic lurker. I just wanted to voice my disappointment at your dismissal of M/M books because of their fannish beginnings.

    • Luce

      Thanks for writing.

      I do realize that there are many pros and cons on this issue as indicated by the widely disparate comments on this post, and the jury is out as to whether:

      1. Fanfic is original fiction

      2. Readers should pay for these books, some of which are still available free on the internet

      3. Reviewers should review these stories

      4. People in the fandoms should feel betrayed after helping to write stories only to see them taken down, the serial numbers filed off, and sold as pro.

      There are of course many other issues that have been addressed here by commenters who are much more knowledgeable about fan fic than I could ever be.

      My issue is simple. If a story was previously fan fic I think it should be noted in the blurb so that we know this BEFORE we decide to review it. Ofttimes we find out from other readers who were upset at paying for a book we recommend which turned out to be fan fic.

      Recently I myself realized, after reading a review, that the author of the book didn’t even bother to change the plot, names and characterizations from those in the television series where she had lifted the entire story. This story was previously fan fic. I understand that the rules in the fandoms are not the same as pro fiction, but if you’re selling someone else’s intellectual property as your own I call that plagiarism – not original work.

      BTW I have no problem with fan fiction if it’s a good story. I recently reviewed an AU book that I loved which was formerly fan fic, but it was the author’s original work and not attached to a fandom.

      There are hundreds of books that we can’t review on this site because of a lack of resources. Because the site is so popular we receive review requests for the majority of new releases. As more and more fan fic stories flood the market, if we review all of these books this reduces the number of books that I consider to be original (i.e. those that didn’t start out as fan fiction) that we can review. I’m not dismissing fan fiction – I’m simply stating that we have limited resources and the majority of readers prefer to read original stories, not fan fiction, (unless they are members of a fandom) just as I prefer to review original stories.

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