NOTE: In this article, “monetised fan fiction” does NOT refer to OFFICIALLY-LICENSED fan works. (eg. Star Trek has a spread of officially-licensed stories, as do Kindle Worlds – these are all fine.) In this article, “monetised fan fiction” refers to UNOFFICIAL monetised fan works.
(Meme from my Pinterest.)
I’m quite simple with my reading tastes: I just want to read original fiction that wasn’t fan fiction in a previous incarnation. If something used to be fan fiction – however heavily revised, expanded, and changed since then – it should be clearly labelled as such, so consumers aren’t led astray.
But it’s not just the reading public being cheated: Authors of the fiction that inspired the fan fiction are being robbed of a cut of the profits that should rightfully be theirs.
Welcome to the world of “pulled-to-publish” (P2P) fiction.
Fanlore.org says, “Filing off the serial numbers refers to taking a piece of existing fan fiction and removing any details that tie it to a copyrighted source. At the very least this involves renaming places and characters or replacing them with analogues. This is done by a fan trying to turn pro, trying to sell the work as a piece of original fiction…”
My thoughts on fan fiction are simple:
Writing/sharing your fan fiction is fine.
Selling your ORIGINAL fiction is fine.
Selling your UNOFFICIAL FAN FICTION is NOT fine.
Some claim there’s nothing black-and-white about P2P; that it’s all shades of grey. Which brings us to E. L. James’s novels: Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. They originally appeared as Master of the Universe I and II by Snowqueens Icedragon – and they were fan fiction of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga. Now, the story of Ana Steele and Christian Grey is the most high-profile P2P in the world.
“But it’s original!” you may claim. “There are no vampires in the Fifty Shades ‘verse.” But can you honestly claim that Ana Steele has NOTHING in common with Bella Swan, and that Christian Grey has NOTHING in common with Edward Cullen?
To put it bluntly: P2P authors make money off another author’s characterisations, plotlines, and/or worlds. They may put their own “spin/twist” on it, but at the crux of it, the characters will be overwhelmingly familiar to those with even a vague knowledge of the original work that sparked the fan fiction.
“But it’s legal!” you may claim. “Stephenie Meyer would have sued E. L. James if Fifty Shades infringed on her intellectual property. Random House wouldn’t have bought the rights and published it widely.”
It may not be entirely illegal – that’s why the character names are different. But is it moral or ethical? P2P makes its writer money from another author’s creation, but parades it as one’s own. But E. L. James clearly doesn’t have a problem with it, and neither do other P2P authors.
Here is a blog post by an author who was frustrated that her original works weren’t selling as well as P2P books. So she expanded one of her Twilight fan fics, and published it under a different name. She hasn’t “pulled” her fic from the Internet, so technically she hasn’t “pulled to publish,” but it’s still based on Ms. Meyer’s work. I reiterate: Fan fiction is fine. It’s only when you monetise your unofficial fan fiction that we have a problem.
Two friends of that blog author contacted her with concern that someone had ripped off her fan fic, so she outed her P2P identity. A cynical view (mine) suggests she may have revealed to get readers of her original works and fan fics to buy her P2P stories. (I have screenshots of that blog post: 1, 2, and 3.)
Never mind that she’s making money from Ms. Meyer’s creation, this author – who used to be against it – is now all for P2P, and is unashamed of it (note that she blogged about it). However, she doesn’t take kindly to criticism of her actions (she and her friends refer to the “P2P police”), which makes one of her replies to the thread’s comments rather odd:
“And YES, p2p is not my favorite thing, and i wish all authors would write their own original material.”
“[A]ll authors” except for her, apparently.
But what most grinds my gears is a line from one of the author’s defenders:
“Oh and what happened to women empowering other women to succeed?”
Feminism and “sisterhood” are NOT get-out-of-criticism-free cards. There are plenty of women who do terrible things, and I definitely do NOT support them. Some women burgle homes, businesses, and properties. Some women abuse children. And you know what? Some of those victims, burgled or abused…might actually be WOMEN.
Correct me if I’m wrong about her gender, but the author of that blog post is a woman. Her fan fiction was based on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight ‘verse. And Ms. Meyer is a WOMAN.
Yes, I empower other women to succeed – but only those women who don’t rip off another woman’s work. I support ORIGINAL fiction, NOT P2P.
It’s been a long time since Ms. Meyer last published fiction (Twilight graphic novels excluded). Her most recent release was The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner in 2009 – that’s FIVE YEARS AGO. She’s since turned her career focus to film production, and who could blame her? If she writes more original fiction, there will be unscrupulous authors who’ll monetise their unofficial fan fiction based on her creations.
According to TwiFanfictionRecs, here’s a partial (many more at the source) list of Twilight fan fics, the usernames of those who wrote them, and who and what they’re most recently published under:
Clipped Wings and Inked Armor by hunterhunting
Published as Cupcakes and Ink, Clipped Wings, Between the Cracks, Inked Armor, and Cracks in the Armor by Helena Hunting
Edward Wallbanger by feathersmmmm
Published as Wallbanger, Rusty Nailed and Last Call by Alice Clayton
Master of the Universe I and II by Snowqueens Icedragon
Published as Fifty Shades, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed by E. L. James
Million Dollar Baby by clpsuperstar
Published as A Million Dirty Secrets and A Million Guilty Pleasures by C. L. Parker
Sub Plans by SnowWhiteHeart
Published as How To Discipline Your Vampire by Mina Vaughn
The Office by tby789
Published as Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren
The Submissive, The Dominant and The Training by tara sue me
Published as The Submissive, The Dominant and The Training by Tara Sue Me
The University of Edward Masen by Sebastien Robichaud
Published as Gabriel’s Inferno, Gabriel’s Rapture and Gabriel’s Redemption by Sylvain Reynard
Twi Fanfiction Recs: Published Fics
Fan Fiction Turned Traditional: Why It Hurts Authors and Readers – by Megan at Book Brats, 14th November 2012
Why Pulled-to-Publish Fanfiction Does Not Work – by Christina Wilder at The Book Lantern, 6th January 2013