Tag Archives: publishing industry

Five Reasons to Write Fanfiction

stockvault-notebook-and-pen136687Fanfiction, while exceedingly popular, can often get a lot of scorn from authors. I think this is ridiculous. There’s a long history of re-imagining established stories and characters in literature. All the famous Greek playwrights wrote in one sense, fanfiction in that they took well known stories and characters and made them their own, creating new adventures or re-imagining older ones. In fact, I’m willing to go beyond just saying fanfiction is not a problem and people ought to write fanfiction (if they are inclined to).

With one caveat though: Always respect the authors’ copyrights. Don’t steal work and illegally sell stories based on their characters and worlds. Making money off other people’s work is wrong. But when done properly, there’s definitely five great reasons to consider writing fanfiction.

1) Learning Your Craft 

Fanfiction in some ways makes things easier for a beginning writer. It supplies the world building and the characters ready made. Sometimes it even provides plot, big events happening in the mainstream story that you can use in your own re-imagining. When trying to write for the first time, it can be overwhelming to create everything you need on your own. Trying fanfiction allows you to practice writing and gain skill in it with the support of elements you know are solid. I think of it a bit like tracing when learning to draw. Or copying masterpieces in learning to paint. These common exercise are used to educate beginning artists in how to do things right. It helps you learn to pick out elements in your own work that need further development when you compare them to your favorite stories.

Much of my earliest writing was Redwall or Star Wars fanfic. When I look at it, I can see ideas that I added to these worlds that were good strong ideas. Later on I kept some of those concepts and characters that originally came out of fanfiction and developed them further into original stories.

2) Keeping Enough Enthusiasm and Confidence in Your Story 

Another common problem beginning writers struggle with is believing your story is good enough to actually get to the end of it. Often writers will abandon a project because somewhere along the way they lost faith in it as a good idea. This can happen with any story, even fanfiction, but I’ve found that where fanfiction differs is you have the original story that excited you no matter what. You love something about this world or these characters, something about it got you so excited about it, you weren’t done when the story was over. You wanted more. Your brain is giving you more, filling in new ideas about what these characters are doing or how this world is changing. I find it easier to hold onto my confidence in the characters and the world when it’s so obvious popular with many people. This can help the writer stick with the story longer and thus learn more from writing it.

3) Feedback From People Who Care as Much as You

When you’re starting out as a writer, getting feedback on your work is essential. It’s the biggest way you learn and grow as a writer, to hear reader comments about how you can improve. However, as anyone who is a writer knows, it can be pretty difficult to get anyone to read your stuff. Friends and family get tired of you begging them to, and often don’t give good feedback. Joining critique groups is quite helpful, but sometimes you end up in groups where the people critiquing you don’t have the same interests in reading as you do. You might find what you’re critiquing in exchange just as boring back. While you’re all writers, you have different tastes.

With fanfiction you have an immediate community with other fans. These people are just as excited about this particular world and these characters are you are. They’re eager to read it. You’ll find their writing more exciting as well as it features the same things that excite you. On a fanfiction forum you can meat lots of people to share and connect with and to give you thoughts and reactions on your writing. It’s a fantastic way to grow as a writer.

4) Gaining Fans That Carry Over

If you have an active fanfiction community and fans who enjoy your work, sometimes that can carry over to your original work as well. These people know and love your fanfiction. They like your treatment of characters and find your style interesting. It’s also likely that your original work will have lots of the elements of the established worlds you love. I’m not saying copying, but more like they’d be in the same genre. My original books aren’t copies of Redwall or Star Wars anymore, but you can see the influences in things like animal characters, complicated family relationships, a hero on a quest to save his home or country, and other larger themes.

Many of the people read your fanfiction will likely enjoy your original work as well. Several authors have had success publishing original stories after having a large number of fans of their fanfiction work. It helps you to build up a platform from which you will eventually sell your own work.

5) You Can Make Money in Fanfiction 

Now, just to be clear, I mean LEGALLY, not trying to sell stories still under copyright. There’s several ways you can do this. First, some older properties are no longer under copyright. Notably, recently copyrights expired for Sherlock Holmes and Treasure Island. You can now legally write stories with those characters. There’s a lot of great older stuff like Alice in Wonderland or the Jungle Book. Just double check to make sure the property you’re selling actually is public domain before you charge money for it.

Sometimes, when a property is still under copyright, there are ways to get permission. If the owner of the copyright is willing to sell you or the publisher the rights, your story can be published. Peter Pan for example goes through the Children’s Hospital in the UK. Also, some larger publishers regularly put out books in various worlds like Star Trek and Star Wars. Someone has to write those books. If you’re good enough and they like your ideas, it could be you. Recently the Jim Henson Company held a contest to pick which author they’d hire for a Dark Chrystal prequel novel. If you really love the right fanfic universe, you just might be able to write in it. Just do your research about who holds the rights and the best way to legally write for them.

These days, you can even self-publish in a few established worlds. Amazon has purchased the right to sell fanfiction in several worlds through kindle publishing. These copyright holders receive a percentage of your story’s income. It’s worth checking out their list of allowed worlds to write in to see if any of them are worlds you enjoy. While it’s a limited list, it ranges from something as literary as Kurt Vonnegut’s novels to as pop culture as GI Joe. Each world has rules though that have to be followed before you can publish a story with it, so make sure your fanfiction follows the unique guidelines. Hopefully more copyright holders will be interested in joining the program in the future.

Now if only they got the rights to Redwall… and I might just return the field of fanfiction.

“A School for Villains” From Concept to Publication

Every book has a unique journey and I thought in the final stages of production, I’d share the one for “A School for Villains.”

I have a long history of writing satirical pieces for friends and family.  In college,  I won an English award for the satirical epic poem “The Chronicle of Sir Morseau de Fromage” written in fakely translated verse, complete with an un-scholarly introduction.  I’ve written several goofy and satirical short stories, several of which have been published in online magazines, and often my “serious” fiction also tended to have some satirical elements, such as the colored wizard names in “Chosen Sister” and the long troll names in the still under revision “Dragon Boy.”  However, I had yet to write a full length satirical work, until the idea of a magic school for villains that taught kids how to become Dark Lords came to me while joking around about Harry Potter.

I’m an avid Harry Potter fan.  The books already have some great humor in them, and a wonderful tone that’s a pleasure to read.  So, I had no intention of attacking or tearing them down, but rather wanted to use their conventions as a launching off pad for my own creative satire, poking fun at the whole “bad guy-good guy” dynamic in so many fantasy worlds.  I had already committed to writing “Chosen Sister” as a gift for my sister that year for Nanowrimo (2006) and decided at the same time to attempt to write “A School for Villains” as a fun joke gift for my brother.

I got horribly stuck.  Full length satire turned out a lot more difficult than I expected.  I got about 2/3 of the way through the book by the end of the month.  To motivate myself to keep playing with the idea and finish it, I made a plan.  Some people find working just for fun motivating, but I tend to want to write for an audience, so I planned to finish the book the next year, run it through my critique group, then submit it to agents as practice for facing rejection for my more serious work.  After 30 rejections (and hopefully with a new and serious project  ready) I would self-publish it on the web with print copies offered for sale.  If I sold 10,000 copies I would write a sequel.

Following through on the plan turned out a lot harder and more involved than I could have imagined, not to mention some major changes in me, the book, and the industry in these past five years.

First and foremost, I fell in love with my book as serious project at some point within the revision and critiquing process.  I found the characters were not just satirical, but also real people.  The plot wasn’t just mockery, but a true coming of age story, with room for a lot more in it.  The novel offered a humorous but very real world, rather similar to Patricia Wrede’s satirical “Enchanted Forest Chronicles” in tone.  A world that was self-aware of fairy tale conventions and thus bent on making people conform to them and their often ridiculous perspectives.

And then, when I started sending the book out, I got such positive reactions, despite the rejections.  Several times thanks to helpful comments from agents I reworked and deepened the book.  I really fell in love with the idea of seeing it out there entertaining people as well as actually saying something worth saying.  Taking my book seriously, however, had downsides.  I got wrapped up in the rejections.  They hurt and discouraged me.  They made me question myself and ask hard questions, despite their mostly positive tone.

Twenty five rejections in, I started noticing some trends.  Agents kept citing the economy being tight and the fact satire is a niche market.  They were concerned there weren’t many appropriate editors looking to acquire a book like this one, or if there were, they weren’t editors they knew or had connections to.

At this point, so much has also changed in the industry.  E-books have taken off and opened up niche markets.  I found on Amazon at least two other authors who had published Harry Potter satires and both looked like they were selling well.  After some hard thinking about my book, I decided to return to my original plan and go ahead and self-publish the novel.  After all, when I’d started out, this work was just for fun, something I wanted to share with fellow Harry Potter fans for a laugh.  And I felt looking at the other satirical offerings that my novel could offer something new and deeper to that audience.

Having had a deal with an online press with “Chosen Sister,” I also had considerable more experience than my early plans.  I now knew what having an editor could do for my work and how many times a novel has to get proofed in order to actually get all the typos out of it.  I knew that I had to have a commitment to a high quality product if I was going to do this and sign my name to it.  I considered finding a small press for the novel, but I wanted to follow my original plan and have more artistic control.  I wanted my novel to be properly illustrated like most traditional middle grade novels.

So, I hired an artist and editor, researched indie publishing, and now am in the final stages of proofing the book.  It’s been an amazing and very educational journey and in the next couple of weeks I’ll have a book I can be really proud of.  I don’t have a firm release date, since I’m still waiting on some of the art, but it’s definitely worth the wait.  I hope to have the book on sale sometime in the next couple weeks.

Through all of this, I’ve learned that sometimes humor can be serious business.  I’ve learned to believe in myself and face rejection. I’ve learned that making a plan and following it is useful, inspiring, and can help give me perspective on myself and life.  I still plan to pursue traditional publishing with my other work, both serious and humorous, but I’m also thrilled to be able to have the means to share a more niche work with readers.

And yes, if I sell 10,000 copies, in any format, I will write a sequel.

A fascinating article on e-books

My publisher sent me a link to this great article on e-books.  Being the author of an e-book, I’m quite interested in the future of the industry.  I was fascinated at the challenges to the market and the history presented in the article.  I hope we can all encourage the publishing of more material as e-books, because I think it can only encourage more people to read and write in the long run.  

Yes, I like hard-copy books as much as the next person.  Curling up with an e-book reader or a laptop just isn’t quite the same.  Yet, like most people, I do the majority of my reading on screen doing exactly that–curling up with the laptop.  Between blogs, e-mail, critques, writing, and catching up on my favorite websites and online magazines, I’m quite used to reading and having fun doing digitally.  When I need copies of older books, obscure French epic poetry and the like, I’m perfectly happy to find them online.  Despite my love of paperback, I’m also following the general trend and opening up my fiction enjoyment in other medium.

I really enjoyed this article’s thorough disecting of the common complaints and issues around e-books.  Electronic forms of novels only add to our flexibility as readers.  For example,  one of my very busy readers read my novel on her blackberry.  I’m encouraged by the growing interest in other ways of getting our daily doses of fiction.