Where Does Fan Fiction Belong?

Fan Fiction isn’t an entirely new genre, but the debate over where sits in the hierarchy of Publishing has only recently began to see in-depth academic attention. This surge of Academic interest, coincides with the phenomenal success of ‘Twilight’ (James, E. L, 2012) which paved the way for Fan Fiction authors such as Todd. Fan Fiction author of ‘After’ (2014) Anna Todd, received over one billion views for her Fan Fiction based on Boy band One Direction’s Harry Styles, many media analyst are dismissive, of this new approach to storytelling. The general opinion among advocates of the traditional fiction book, is that they ‘often lack cohesion’, (A. Holpuch, 2014), and that they stem from teenage girls obsessive fantasies about their idols, be they fictional characters from books, television and film or celebrities – Real Person Fiction (R.P.F).

Todd, a Texan wife of an American soldier admits that she was embarrassed, at first about writing Fan Fiction, due to it’s juvenile reputation being twenty five herself she did not fit the stereotype, (A. Holpuch, 2014) that those who write Fan Fiction are just immature super fans. Though Arrow comments that ‘83 percent were over sixteen, and 35% over 21’ have been found to write R.P.F. It is surprising that the most popular age range is considerably older than is perceived by the media. Though this ‘study’ was only carried out with ‘One Direction fans’, therefore it is only valid with regards to assessing One Direction fandom, while this selective group does not represent all Fan Fiction writers. (Arrow. V, pp. 463) Not only the writer’s community was offended by Todd’s six-figure deal, after news broke of Simon and Schuster signing her up, the One Direction fandom with which Todd founded her popularity started a campaign on twitter against her. With ‘the hashtag suspend Anna Todd trending worldwide on twitter’, worried about how Harry Styles will be ‘represented’ (Ross, 2014) While Fan Fiction attracts criticism for the quality of these works that ‘lack cohesion’, ethical issues are also brought up, as this genre is inspired by real people. Whilst Todd’s works have been a sensation online, perhaps publishing ‘After’ (A.Todd, 2014) makes it seem too official, and opens up more opportunities for peers of the industry to criticize the genre, that these super fans want to protect.

‘Everyone wants more of something’, (Todd. A, 2014) Todd emphasises whilst she reflects on the new online publishing platforms, such as Wattpad a site where she published most of her fan fiction. A vast ‘85% of Todd’s viewers were from mobile devices’ (Ross. C, The Independent), which correlates with her confession, that much of ‘After’ (Todd. A, 2014) was written on her phone and at the time she didn’t see an issue with having typos; seeing it as a ‘creative outlet with no intention of publishing’. (Gannes. L – Todd, 2014) considering this it seems an apt response that Todd has had to her works in this case. As you could say if a book is written on a mobile without much consideration of grammar, editing and coherence, and is knowingly self published online with these mistakes; the audience will not attach the same value that is given to the experience of reading a fictional novel.  However, Stasi argues that he finds Fan Fiction ‘resonant with Postmodern textually ‘(B. Thomas – Stasi, 2006) Many modern authors admit to indulging in Fan Fiction style writing. Miss Novik bestselling author of the Temraire professes; that when considering her Fan Fiction she is ‘as proud of it as The Temraire’ (Miss. Novik – A. Alter, WSJ), as some writers see no harm in delving into the genre as ‘sugar-spun fun’ (Minkel, 2014). Whilst peers like Diana Gabaldon, spout that ‘they’re (Fan Fiction authors) ‘stealing an audience that they’re not entitled to’ (D. Gabaldon – A. Alter, 2013).

Although considering the issue of Fan Fiction authors stealing original ideas, thus not being entitled to the original authors audience, we must look at where literature begun. Historians suggest that Fan Fiction dates back to Virgil and Sophocles, whom ‘spun stories out of old legends’ (A. Alter, 2013) with this in mind, the interpretation that Fan Fiction, ‘files off the serial numbers’  (E. Minkle, 2014) from original Fiction. Though this seems to be an uninformed criticism, when put into context with playwright father Sophocles. Considering that Sophocles is recognized as one of the earliest authors and fathers of play write, it could be argued that he was one of the earliest Fan Fiction authors. This may seem abstract to contemporary Fan Fiction debate; though fellow Literary figure William Thackeray amused himself by writing Fan Fiction. Particularly in response to Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’ (Walter. S, 1995) writing his own response ‘determined to set things straight’ (L. Miller, 2013) If we accept A.Gabaldon, it could be suggested that Sophocles and Thackeray aren’t ‘entitled’ to their audience either. Though there are suggestions that Fan Fiction has always existed in Literature, when it remained a ‘fairly underground’ genre until the ‘advent of digital technologies’ (B. Thomas, 2011). Where it would have been mainly retrieved in fanzines (A. Alter, WSJ).  Granting all these newly emerging platforms online now allows Fan Fiction authors to self publish their work, and much of the content is free to view thus maximizing the genres exposure. Considering this, you cannot ‘fault publishers’ (E. Minkle, 2014) for recognizing this as an opportunity to maximize profits, from this thriving genre.

Advocates for both Fan Fiction and Fiction, often emphasise that the publishing market is simply evolving, and that there is now room for everyone. Though when sales are referred to original Fiction seems to sit alongside Fan Fiction with both ‘Twilight’ and ’50 Shades of grey’ (E. L James, 2012) selling over 100 million copies worldwide. Much to the of dismay of fans that EL James’ earnings mirror that of Stephanie Meyer, as of course James based her series upon her ‘Twilight’  (S. Meyer, 2007) Some authors who have experienced similar reconstructions of their original stories, see this as a labour of love, and a compliment. As they take an existing original story to a ‘new, sometimes bizarre direction’ (B.Thomas, Project Muse).  A compliment indeed to the author, similarly to the celebrity of whom Real Person Fan Fiction is based upon, as when a Fan Fiction story becomes popular it is evident that the audience is fascinated with a character or person, as Todd recognizes  ‘everyone wants more’ (A.Todd, 2014)

The phrase ‘any press is good press’ compliments the benefits of Fan Fiction being a device that celebrities and authors can use, as it keep their audience interested and entertained, with ‘regular emotionally involved consumption’ (B. Thomas – C. Sandvoss, 2011) To refer to D. Gabaldon’s statement – that Fan Fiction steals an audience – the genre could be interpreted as the fans creating their own audience, as a response to original fiction.  With sites such as Wattpad the audience determines the exposure of particular Fan Fictions, as creators depend on views. Amazon have recently launched, ‘Kindle worlds’, where Fan Fiction authors can self publish their works. Though authors of such content will be limited to ‘35% of profits,’ when over 10,000 words. Which is ‘half of the standard’ (C. Scott, 2013) received from self published original work, this could be interpreted as Kindle meddling with this emerging genre, and hoping to cash in. As the media excitement over Fan Fiction, seems to derive from the idea that there could be any topic involved in these stories; these can now be sanctioned and controlled in ‘draconian content guidelines’. Though considering Kindle worlds, it appears the issue of stealing an audience, will soon be something that Fan Fiction authors will accuse others of. As, the contract prevents authors from profiting outside of Kindle worlds with their work, on the other hand Time Warner could do so and ‘not owe you a dime’. (R. Edidin, 2013) Therefor the wails of D. Gabalon, claiming that Fan Fiction steals an audience, ‘they’re not entitled to’, (D. Gabalon, 2012) can be identified as a concern for artists, authors and celebrities of all genres – even Fan Fiction authors.

Yes: the Fan Fiction phenomena is seeing a record breaking level of interest in comparison to the original works that they are based upon. From and Illustrator’s perspective, this is fulfilling in itself for the artist, author and celebrity that there is such a level of interest and obsession with their work and lives. Admittedly the phenomenal success of Fan Fiction novels such as ’50 Shades of grey’  (James. E.L, 2012) and ‘After’ (Todd. A, 2014), has blurred the lines of Fan Fiction and Fiction, that has angered the many defenders of traditional Fiction. The concept of ‘stealing an audience that they’re not entitled to’ (D. Gabaldon, 2012) seems to be a comment made in hast and bitterness. To declare such a statement, involves the entire concept of literature being questioned. Whereas the image of a literary master like Thackeray enjoying Fan Fiction seems to contradict Gabaldon. As the old saying goes imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, though the paradox of this is whether you consider you’re glass half full or half empty.


Nadine Smoczynski