Fan Fiction, Fan Fiction! It seems that’s all we hear about lately. But what is it exactly and why is it so popular? With the popularity of the latest “fan fiction phenomenon” FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, it seems people are more and more confused as to the genre and what it means to readers and writers. I went on a bit of a search to find out why it’s becoming so popular.
So, what IS fan fiction? In today’s world, it’s the ultimate mash up–something which fuses together ideas that are already popular with an original creation. Let’s use FIFTY SHADES as an example. This book came out of the popularity of the TWILIGHT series by Stephenie Meyer. The books about Edward and Bella and their vampire/human interaction brought about a whole league of fans, both teen and adult. The internet makes for easy dissemination of information, so a huge number of fan pages popped up. Some people decided they loved the books so much, they didn’t want them to end, and wrote their own continuations. Some took the characters and wrote new stories. And some just used the idea of vampires to write new stories. These stories became a part of what is known as “fan fiction”—fiction written by fans. (It can also be simply a book written and self-published that has found an enormous fan base because the story is so compelling.)
Most of these books never saw the light of day, while some probably went on to be self-published as ebooks. This is exactly what happened with FIFTY SHADES. The story E.L. James wrote took on such a fan base that the ebooks sold unprecedented numbers of copies. Eventually, James sold the rights to a traditional publisher and now you can find them in pretty much any bookstore you walk into. These are the ultimate Fan Fiction novels, because this author (and fan) is actually earning money from her adoration.
How is this legal? Should fan-fiction authors be able to profit from using something that wasn’t their “original” idea? The lines are really unclear right now. It seems obvious that if someone were to use characters in a new series of books without the original author’s permission, they would run into some legal troubles. But using an idea based on another….well, half of the stories ever written would be in trouble. James used the idea of vampires, but with a completely different spin than Meyer. And it worked.
Why is Fan Fiction suddenly so popular then? One possibility is that there’s a whole generation of kids who have grown up using computers, and access to information has always been unlimited to them. Why wouldn’t creativity be part of that access? The development of eBooks and self-publishing has made this all possible. In the past, one of the only ways fan fiction could be dispersed was through small self-published newsletters, for example. Now, a book can reach millions of people all over the world within minutes.
One thing to note, traditional publishing continues to produce superior works because of the process–works go through a myriad of editing before they go into print. Many self-published books (either in eBook or traditional format) do not have the luxury of that power editing (although authors can pay for the service), and therefore, we tend to hear that the books are poorly written or have many typos or grammatical errors. This isn’t to say ALL self-published books or fan fiction for that matter are of lesser quality than traditionally published books (I could name a few “regular” books that probably shouldn’t have seen the light of day, but went on to become best-sellers). It’s all about the story, in the end.
I haven’t read a lot of fan fiction, myself, and really can’t say if I love it or not, but it certainly is a new idea that is worth some exploration. Have you read any fan fiction and if so, did you enjoy it?