Quit Baaa-ing and Read a Real Book

Guest Post: Tiffany Nichols Weighs in on Publishing Trends

Publishing trends

© Tjommy | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

It has come to my attention that a certain author (who shall remain nameless) of derivative fiction was recently spotlighted on Perez Hilton.

This makes my blood boil.

First of all: Really? People let Perez Hilton influence their reading choices?

I digress. Let’s get to what really makes me want to kick people in the kneecaps: the way people are raving about yet another fan fiction-turned-bestseller.

On its surface, this doesn’t sound like such a horrible thing. I won’t go the route others go and complain that publishing what was once derivative fiction is plagiarism, because in most cases, it’s not. Let’s take, oh, say, Twilight for example.

Duh.

The “pulled-to-publish” pieces of…fic…that have recently been published fall under fair use because they don’t actually have very much to do with Twilight. There isn’t a vampire or a werewolf in sight. Their settings are in “alternate universes,” and their characters are all human. Many people fail to see how a story like that can even be labeled as derivative, but basing a story on someone else’s characters alone is, in fact, fan fiction. In the cases of many of these “pulled-to-publish” novels, authors pull the story from fan fiction websites and do a “find and replace” to change the names of recognizable characters who weren’t theirs in the first place. Maybe they change a distinct physical feature here or there. Maybe they delete or revise a specific quote or trademark saying (ex: changing “Holy crow!” to “Holy cow!”). Normally, little else is done to change the story.

In a way, I can understand the desire to capitalize.  If these stories receive tens of thousands of reviews on the Internet, who’s to say they wouldn’t sell tens of thousands of copies in stores? I get it. I do. Money and fame and all that.

But the fact of the matter is that these stories were written with specific characters in mind. Changing their names doesn’t do much.

One of the hardest things about writing is creating memorable, relatable characters.  People who read fan fiction understand that they’re reading about established characters. They know these characters. They understand that Edward Cullen, for example, is sort of dominating, manipulative, and gorgeous, and that Bella Swan is klutzy, intuitive, and likes to read. This makes it easy for them to relate to the story, which the author’s job somewhat easier. He or she doesn’t have to dream up a new character from scratch. They don’t need to do the framework, because it’s already provided for them. Edward’s habit of running his hand through his messy hair is built in. Bella’s tendency to bite her lip has been established. So guess what? These “new, reworked” characters have the same habits.

The danger of using someone else’s characters and simply changing the names is that they end up being one-dimensional. A character needs to grow and develop in some way. Some readers might not care about that. Some people live for lots of witty, snarky dialogue. Others want erotic scenes that would make even Jenna Jameson blush. This is all well and good, but for me (and many, many others), flat characters kill a book. All the witty dialogue and hot lovin’ in the world can’t keep my attention if I can’t relate to the characters.

So my beef isn’t with the fact that people are pulling their fan fiction down from the Internet to rework and publish them. The issue is that these authors aren’t putting their time in. They’re relying on the fact that they have an established base of suckers—er, followers—within whatever fandom they write for. That’s built-in marketing right there, folks. Word of mouth is still #1. They’re counting on those fans to buy their book(s) and pass the word on to other sheeple—I mean readers. Then they sell eleventy billion books.

And they end up on Perez Hilton. For fark’s sake. I still can’t believe people take reading advice from that blog. Again, I digress.

I have to wonder whether these authors are actually able to craft memorable characters on their own. A review of one such fic-turned-novel on Amazon includes this tidbit:  “I also had a hard time connecting with the characters and overall the story was very one-dimensional.”

See?!

Now. All of this is not to say that there are not some truly talented writers of derivative fiction out there. In fact, there are quite a few writers whom I wish had published their stories as original fiction instead of posting them as derivative works. There are also authors who have taken a general idea from their fan fiction and spun it into an entirely different story with completely new, well-developed characters. This is a totally different side of the coin. I have complete respect for these writers.

Recently published authors of this fanfic-turned-erotic-novel phenomenon are not included in that list.

I leave you with this. I recently saw a cartoon posted on a friend’s Facebook wall. It said something about loving Edward Cullen as a girl and loving Christian Grey as a woman. Same character. Different genre. Wildly different rating. Yet this person—who, incidentally, had no idea fan fiction even exists—made that connection. I rest my case.

Tiffany is a freelance editor and writer in Charleston, South Carolina. Her vices include coffee, wine, Turner Classic Movies, and being lazy. Sometimes she brings home stray dogs. Her husband humors her whims, bless his soul. Check out her website, Write Edit Repeat, for information on her editing and writing services.

This is a guest post. The opinions of J to tha M do not necessarily reflect those shared in this contribution. If you would like to share your opinion, please comment or send us a request for your own guest post. 
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About Jen Barry

Author of Young Adult novels. Reside in Nashville with my husband, a gorgeous Irishman. Drink too much coffee. Online way too much.

5 thoughts on “Quit Baaa-ing and Read a Real Book

  1. Eva says:

    The crusade against published fan-fiction is becoming trite, not because the issue has bled out, but because it is often fuelled by the wrong sentiments. Sometimes it’s envy (why is that published fic selling thousands of copies while I can’t even get a thousand reviews); sometimes it’s animosity (she didn’t follow me back on twitter when this was still a fic); sometimes it’s the misplaced notion that fan fiction can never be considered a proper form of writing; sometimes it’s the issue of plagiarism, which as this blog pointed out is true for some cases, but not for others, and as my personal experience with P2P fic have been related to Twilght, it has been an issue that has been blown out of proportion.

    There is good fan fiction and bad. There’s good original fiction and bad. “Fifty Shades of Grey” could have been fan fiction or not. I personally don’t much care for poorly structured purple prose of the SM persuasion, whether it floats Perez’s boat or not. And I don’t care that at one point it was fan fiction.

    The biggest issue I have with this whole ordeal is exactly what the author of this post pointed out. Fanfiction presumes that the reader knows the characters and as such the readers fill in the gaps in the story with their memories and interpretations from the original books and movies. Once you take that piece of work out of its environment though, you’re at danger to turn your characters in to onedimensional cardboard cut outs. With careful rebuilding this issue can be solved. Sadly, too often it is assumed that if one turns Edward and Bella in to Edgar and Ella, they magically grow three dimensional personalities.

    I try to not judge a book by its fan fiction but a changed name does not a character make.

    Great post!

  2. Yeah, I think we passed the repeatedly striking an expired equine point on this a while ago. 🙂

    The issue of p2p has come up often over the last little while for obvious reasons, but my views on it haven’t changed from the beginning. I say good for them (and mean it), process the information and my reactions, apply to my world, and move on.

  3. Jen Barry says:

    As someone who used a fic idea for a full novel, I definitely fall on the sympathetic side of the line. I do wish “publishing fic” meant more than putting a cover and a price tag on it. It’s frustrating to build a whole new world, create new characters, and then watch a book that simply changed the names rise to the top of the bestseller lists. Unfortunately, the trend will probably continue until people find something else to follow. :-\

  4. I can’t think of any commercially successful artist, writer, evangelist, poet, politician, musician or even automobile manufacturer in the past 100 years whose product hasn’t been copied, cheapened, bastardized and otherwise exploited by others for fortune and fame, however fleeting. This is not a new phenomenon. There has always been, and always will be, someone waiting and willing to exploit the success of others and take credit where none is deserved. Sometimes it’s done out of greed, yes, but sometimes it’s just a desire to be part of something wonderful. Whatever the motivation, it’s a fact of life. I say, don’t worry about it. We remember and honor Hemingway and Salinger, Rand and Kahlo and O’Keefe and others because they were original, and possessed masterful skill and greatness. How many of the authors and artists who sought to copy their greatness and capitalize on it do we remember now? Time will tell. Just be great, and let the others fade away.

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