I was more than a little surprised when I heard how many authors view fan fiction in a negative light. Although I’m not suggesting that anyone might be thinking of writing something based in one of the worlds I have built, I am certainly completely on board if they do. It was during one of the many regular conversations we have about books and publishing that Dawn brought up some of the points she has heard authors bring up, when they cast that light on fan fiction. I found a lot of it weird, and wondered if maybe I was the one being weird. Again.
Let me tell you what I think, and you can feel free to let me know why you think my thinking is wrong on this. Or, if you are a writer that’s considering writing a story in one of my worlds…well, read on with delight.
“It’s a carefully built world, and any disturbance in the force of that world could mess up the story arc!”
Uh, no it can’t; unless you write it.
If a writer decided to write fan fiction about a trilogy while the original author is working on the second or third book, they might take things in an entirely different direction…and why not? Any author who has done a little research knows about alternate universes…many of us think that our stories come from worlds that are as real or as illusory as this one. We can’t help but think of how many times our own story has broken off in an infinite number of directions, and wonder about those alternate versions of ourselves. Why shouldn’t our characters have the same opportunity, and take a different path in some alternate reality? It’s someone else’s name on the cover, so you don’t have to be held accountable for what happens in their version of things. But why be upset that it exists? Why not just be super flattered?
“Well, maybe the fan fiction takes things in a different direction in a completely different way. Maybe my story is horror, but the fan fiction story is erotica. That’s shining a light on these characters that I don’t want to see, and that I don’t think the characters would exist in.”
First of all, read the whole ‘alternate realities’ paragraph again if you have to; it applies here as well. Second, I do realize that much of what we call fan fiction is a romantic or erotic take on an otherwise sexless story. In defense of the characters in your book, maybe they like sex. Maybe they knew that they couldn’t come to you if they wanted to get in touch with their sexual selves, so they went to someone else. There’s only something wrong with sex if you decide there’s something wrong with sex, and that wrongness only exists in your mind. The fact that it also exists in many other minds in many other forms doesn’t validate those feelings; it just shows us how ugly the human mind can make a beautiful thing look, when it sees things the wrong way.
If someone wants to make a story that shows your asexual character in a sexual light, you can also remember that Your Books Are Your Babies. It’s probably hard for a lot of parents to imagine their kids having a healthy and happy sex life, and it’s highly doubtful that even the most open and caring parent will want all the details of that life. If they are a good parent, they still want happiness for their kid, and they realize that their children have to have their own lives to have their own happiness. Someone else will come along to fill in those details the parent doesn’t need to hear, and another someone else may be interested in the specifics of those details. Maybe many other someones.
What kind of parent doesn’t want their kid to have their own life, their own desires, and their own sexual preferences and proclivities? What kind of parent is bothered by the thought of their kid learning or exploring things that they never would have explored or learned? A bad parent, that’s who. I’ll give you that they’re well-intentioned, but only if you will acknowledge that good intentions are only a small part of the recipe that is good parenting. Mixed with the wrong ingredients, good intentions create some of the worst circumstances the world has ever seen. Bad parenting is one of the most obvious outcomes, and certainly one of the most common. Although I have no desire to parent any little humans, I fully intend to parent a whole lot of books. Like a good parent, I want my books to live the life they want for themselves. If they spark some desire in someone that creates new life for them, that’s beautiful.
If someone makes a character gay or bisexual or unusually kinky, that doesn’t ruin anyone’s image of your otherwise straight or prude character; remember, the name on the cover of the book is different than yours, so you don’t have to explain for them. Once again, see the ‘alternate dimensions’ paragraph.
There’s only one more concern that I have heard, and I am a little loath to address it; but it’s a concern, so here it goes:
What if they sell more books than me? Even if they don’t sell more, what if they sell a significant amount? Don’t I deserve a piece of that, since it’s my idea?
The arrogance of any author claiming full credit for their ideas blows my mind a little. I’m super grateful that the muse has no financial stake or interest in my stories, because she could lay claim to a pretty big chunk if she wanted to. The least I can do is acknowledge her part in my writing, and trust her to keep being okay with only my name being on the covers of our books. I won’t ever claim that my books are not a cooperative effort, or that I could write them without her; why shouldn’t I trust her to take the characters I love so much to other places they want to go? I can’t take them there, or I won’t take the time to; why shouldn’t someone else?
If someone sells more books than you by writing stories based in a world you created, you should do what you ought to do any time an author sells books. Be happy for them. Green doesn’t look good on authors; it’s a color reserved for small-minded people, and authors hurt themselves and their books by being small-minded. The fact that anyone ever sold a bunch of books is reason for us to celebrate, and be happy for them. The author who makes it a practice to resent other authors when they do well runs the risk of programming themselves for failure. When we expect success to breed resentment, by practicing that formula, we may just avoid our own success. Who wants to be resented? Not me, says the author who rejoices in the success of others; we expect others to rejoice in our success when it comes as well.
Some people won’t rejoice, of course; but those are the people stuck in the mindset that prevents their success or welcomes others to resent it if it comes. They aren’t really worth worrying about, either way.
That fan fiction book based in your world might lead to one person reading your books, to find out the origins of the story. That’s one more reader than you had without that other book, and it might be more than that. The more popular that other book is, the more likely you are to have those crossovers. Those are readers you didn’t have to do anything to get, except write those origin books. How can that ever be a bad thing, even if it’s just one more reader than you had before? How is it bad that someone else sold a thousand books when you sold just one? Would you have gotten that one sale if it weren’t for them selling a thousand? If anything, them selling a lot of books should be seen as a reason to rejoice even more than when other authors do it; your world just got bigger!
The last thing I’ll say about this is that there is a way for fan fiction authors to work with the origin author. Actually, there are a bunch of ways, and I’m always impressed with the author who invites cooperation. I won’t hold any contests just yet, or attempt to entice fan fiction authors to write in one of my worlds with cash prizes or anthology ideas. I will say that if someone wrote fan fiction in one of my worlds, I would definitely consider publishing it. Sudden Insight Publishing would treat it like any other book, as far as rights and profits, and let the author have the bulk of both; but it would have that extra validation of being published by the same company as the origin books. Cool, right?
Of course, I would be picky about what we publish; and Dawn would likely be even more picky. Those erotica authors would do best to eschew what might be their natural instinct, and submit to me rather than her; Dawn has no interest in romance or erotica novels, and has not read in either genre nearly as much as I have. But no one is writing fan fiction about my stuff anyways, so it remains a moot point at this point. I’ll keep chasing great ideas and greater success, and I’ll keep wishing all the best for everyone else out there making their dream of being just the kind of author they want to be a reality. Even if they want to paint themselves green, or indulge in recreational outrage, or disagree with me about fan fiction…the only way I get to be any way I want to be is if they get to be any way they want to be, so I wish them the best in being it.
Is any of that wrong? Let me know, if you think so.
Thanks for reading!