2.11.2007

Stealing prose

miss snark,

Do you have a position on fanfiction? Fights between authors and fans insistent on this activity are ongoing. See Lee Goldberg versus Cathy Young.

The latter, a fanfiction writer and a columnist at Reason magazine, who like all fanficcers, defends this unauthorized use of copyrighted characters, which frankly, are used in bizarre ways, some openly perverse. A handful have translated this activity into book deals. What say you on the matter? I'm with Goldberg: it's illegal and stealing. Even if authorized, it's tacky and pathetic. Write your own and take your chances. That's the honorable way to write.


I don't care what you write.
I don't care if you use Mr. Monk in unspeakable ways or give Darth Vader a sex change operation. I don't even care if you have Jack Reacher get in touch with his feminine side and start shooting pink bullets (Oh geeze, I just heard Lee Child faint dead away). Keep your hands off John Rain of course, but even then...I don't care.

I don't care as long as you don't try to publish it, sell it or send it to me. What you do in the privacy of your own den of iniquity concerns me not one bit.

In fact, some of the fanfic stuff is probably a good writing exercise.

Where the monk leaves the monastery and the rain falls off the plane is when you take these little exercises out for a public stroll. It's one thing to be inspired by Lee Child, Barry Eisler or Laura Lippman; it's another thing entirely to start writing about Omar's backstory in Charm City.

I can't sell that stuff and I'm not much interested in derivative work. I don't read it (but I know Miss Genoese does so it must have some sort of redeeming value) and I reject it instantly so from my perspective it's a waste of time. That more than anything else is why you shouldn't bother writing it if you want your work to be published...and thus fanficced itself one of these days.



38 comments:

Krista said...

I'm always amused at how we the fans scare the hell out of writers. Yes people, we appropriate the text and the characters. We play with them in our heads. And then, sometimes, we do this on paper and share it. You're going to have to cope.

Of course my brand of fanfic is focused on tv shows, not books, but I've read some wonderful Harry Potter fanfics (and I don't even *like* the HP books). When I finally jump the fence and publish a book, I'm going to be begging for fanfic. If you can't even get any fanfic, your book probably isn't that good anyway.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Miss Genoese *writes* fanfic on top of reading it. I am not familiar with all the shows she writes for, but she's good.

I think I want to be Miss Genoese.

Marva said...

Ah, you read my favorite comic strip, too. Gotta love Bucky. For Better, For Worse is running an arc on Michael selling his book to a publisher!!! Fool didn't even ask a contract lawyer before signing.

angie said...

"If you can't even get any fanfic, your book probably isn't that good anyway."

Hahahahahahahaha! That's one of the more idiotic statements I've heard lately. Typical silliness from fanficdom.

I am not a fan of fan fiction on any level. I understand that it will continue whether or not I agree with it. Write your little hearts out, have a little fun, please keep the kiddie porn/slash out of children's reach & let's leave it at that.

If you want to write original fiction, then your time would likely be better spent in other pursuits. However, it's your time & energy, so have at it. Preferably without the defensive "oh yeah?! well, if I'm not appropriating your book, then it sux!" Ridiculous and unnecessary continuation of the friction between fan ficcers and the rest of the writers in the world.

Mac said...

Sadly - the product placement cartoon has happened.

The German publisher of the popular 'Discworld' series decided to insert an advertisement in the middle of the text, pointing out that the characters were enjoying a nice cup of (insert brand name here) soup.

Seriously. Pratchett decided to withdraw the German rights from this publisher after that.

You can still see scans of the pages if you google carefully ...

Mac

Anonymous said...

There's plenty of authors and television people who love their fanfic community and see them as giving the fic free advertising.

If some author doesn't like fanfic about his work, he's legally in the right, so don't bother and write about a book whose author deserves the attention.

Mark said...

Brilliant answer! And Dead on as usual, with a cartoon to boot. Now prepare for the onslaught.

Michele Lee said...

Does putting your fan fic up on websites count as publishing (since, of course that's probably the only way anyone is going to get their fan fic read outside of friends)? I used to write fan fiction, long ago, before I realized "Hey, these plots are decent. Maybe I should do something publishable with them." but I have thought of freshening up the old fan fic and trying to use it to dazzle some people toward my original fiction. Good idea/bad idea snarklings?

Krista said...

"oh yeah?! well, if I'm not appropriating your book, then it sux!"

That's not what I meant. More like 'If a book does not make people go nuts over it and its characters, it's probably not something good enough for me.' I can't buy many books so I only go after the stuff I know has something really gripping in it, so gripping people want to write fanfic for it. It seems to be a good way to go about it so far.

Mark said...

"Does putting your fan fic up on websites count as publishing"

Yup. And if your "plots are worthy of publication," along with the trimmings, someone in power will tell you. Until then...

angie said...

"...I only go after the stuff I know has something really gripping in it, so gripping people want to write fanfic for it. It seems to be a good way to go about it so far."

Okay. Whatever works for you. My fav's don't have fan fiction (that I know of...it's a big web out there). Never heard of fan fic for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or THE SOUND AND THE FURY, or (for a more contemporary offering) any of Ken Bruen's books, but if you're going for pop culture books, then maybe that's a good rule of thumb for you.

BTW, if you'd like to expand a bit, there's always the library - I can completely relate to the limited book budget issue & use the library & used book store options when I have to.

However, the whole "can't even get fanfic" thing is still just silly and vaguely insulting, IMO. I've heard it used as a slam against other writers who are not proponents of fanfic, so perhaps it carries some loaded connotations for me.

As I said, ya'll are gonna do what ya'll are gonna do and picking over it is pointless and divisive. I still maintain serious writers might well put their time and effort to better use in other pursuits, but that's up to the individual.

Anonymous said...

If a writer wants to refuse to let anyone borrow his/her characters for the writing of fanfiction, I support that. Absolutely. It's their copyright.

However, I don't understand this impulse. Why would you want to curtail the enthusiasm of people who love your work - people for whom your characters are so powerful that they came to life in that person's head?

The writers who forbid their characters to be used in fanfiction occasionally say publicly why they forbid it. Every single one of these justifications that I've read made the writer sound like a bile-hearted control freak or a pathetic narcissist. I have yet to read any compelling reason for forbidding fanfiction to exist.

Once the book is published, the story lives in the heads of the people who read it. If you don't want the story to come alive in another person's head, then don't seek publication. That's the point of sharing your words with others, after all. They don't read your book just to undersign what a genius you are.

And you don't own the contents of another person's head. Ever. Not even if you inspired those contents with your words.

Heather said...

Michele Lee said...

Does putting your fan fic up on websites count as publishing (since, of course that's probably the only way anyone is going to get their fan fic read outside of friends)? I used to write fan fiction, long ago, before I realized "Hey, these plots are decent. Maybe I should do something publishable with them." but I have thought of freshening up the old fan fic and trying to use it to dazzle some people toward my original fiction. Good idea/bad idea snarklings?


For the purposes of fanfic, yes, online counts as "published". An author can go to the host of that website, and insist that the fanfic in question be removed. Used to happen all the time with Anne McCaffrey before she lifted her restrictions.

It's why fanfiction dot net doesn't allow work based on certain authors to be placed on their servers.

Regardless of the "free"ness of it, it's still technically illegal.

With that said, the vast majority of writers don't care, and won't pursue it. Some will, but others (J.K. Rowling comes to mind) have figured out it's good for sales, rather than bad, and turn a blind eye. Legally, though, they are advised never to read it. (Although I bet that they do. I'd be willing to bet Rowling sits back on off days reading bad Snape/Harry slash. I would.)

Heather said...

Krista

People write teletubbies fanfic. Nothing gripping about that. ;)

randomsome1 said...

I agree that fanfic is a good writing exercise--if you understand that and try to use it as a tool to improve your work. In this way it's more of a pure art form--you're not worrying about whether or not the publisher's gonna like it or how it's gonna sell. (Granted, it's nice to think of it in terms of reviewer approval, but some of the best-written stories on ff.net don't have many reviews.)

As far as I'm concerned, as long as you're not doing shitty/illegal things like trying to sell your fanfic, trying to sell merchandise for your fanfic, or using your fanfic to sell your original work, then why worry? If the author's gonna have a heart attack over someone writing badfic, then they need to step back and get a gin pail of their own. Or, y'know, stay off that corner of the internets.


Michele Lee: Right now, I'm coming off the godawful ARC of a book that features big recognizable chunks of the author's fanfic, and I'm inclined to tell you NO NO NO GOD NO.

Once I take a breath and step back and realize that yes, there are some authors who may have the drive to actually rework their cannibalizations instead of copying and pasting them, I'd tell you to walk carefully. Especially if it's something relatively well-known. But just remember that doing so will say--even if just to you--that you don't feel like using time and creativity to think of something new.

Don't try to use the fanfic to make people buy stuff from you, though. That's just really bad form. It's not about you. It's about the original author, this neat world they made to play in, and how much you appreciate their work (and that they allow you to play in their neat world).

And for Krista: I can't say that I've wanted to write fanfic for every series I fangirl at. For example: I'm perfectly happy with Blade of the Immortal as it stands, and though I'd love to write something for it I'm not sure I could do it justice.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Krista. If someone wrote fanfiction about my work I would be incredibly flattered. Not to mention the fact that it is indeed free advertising. I've started out reading fanfiction and the original creators have gotten money out of me because I liked the characters so much.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michele. Putting something on a website is publishing in the sense of 'making it available to the public' - see the 'login and publish' button on the bottom of this screen for an example. It's not a publishing credit, though. Publishing credits only count when they come from reputable publishing companies, and posting something yourself doesn't count.

I wouldn't recommend trying to impress an agent with fan fiction. As a phenomenon, it is a)too obscure to assume that all agents have heard of it and wouldn't be confused by the very idea, and b)of generally dreadful quality, meaning that if they have heard of it, they'll be thinking of you in company with a lot of thirteen-year-olds who can't spell. Either they'll think you're strange, or they'll think you're bad. If you're neither of those things, people should like your original fiction and you won't need to mention fan fiction at all.

On the other hand, if you've got a good plot that you used in a fan fiction piece, there's nothing to stop you from re-using it with your own characters and setting - assuming that you don't just do a Word search and change all the names, but actually do some reinventing. If that's what you mean by 'freshening up', that should work fine - but again, no need to mention that it was originally a piece of fan fiction, as after all the changes, it'll be all your own work.

Peni Griffin said...

There is such a thing as pro fanfic. Check out the "Star Trek" shelves at the megabookstores. Playing with other people's characters and tropes is not bad training for writing in an established series, whether a "house name" series like Nancy Drew, or a multiauthor series like Spider-Man, or a TV series. From an artistic point of view, writing any of these cannot be much different from writing a good fanfic.

Also, if you're practicing your storytelling skills, fanfic isn't functionally much different from other forms of imitation. My middle-school Tolkien pastiche didn't use copyrighted characters, but that's because I could already write characters and was busy imitating plot and style features to train myself in that. Other people have problems with characters, or settings, and imitate those. Nothing wrong with that.

A lot of fanfic is parody. Parody is fun.

But if you want a literary career of a certain type, build it on that type of literature. When fanfic isn't apprentice work or commercial hacking (nothing wrong with hacking if it pays the groceries and doesn't make you feel dirty), it's play. You wouldn't try to lure a music agent with a recording of your singing in the shower, would you?

And if an author you admire doesn't like people trailing after him aping his moves, why do you want to punish him for pleasing you by doing something you know he doesn't like? Who cares if you understand why he doesn't like it?

Miss Snark said...

That "pro fan fic" is licensed by the folks who own the rights. I've met a couple of those authors and they get a book with the "rules" for writing the novel.

You don't just write a fanfic novel about Star Trek and send it to Bantam.

Anonymous said...

I write fanfic and have for many years. It did not teach me everything I needed to know about writing fiction -- far from it -- but I did learn a lot: How to pace novel-length plotting, how to shape dialogue to reflect character, how to handle time transitions, how to work in different voices, etc. Furthermore, I met literally hundreds of other people through fanfic, many of whom offered the kind of in-depth feedback that most aspiring authors only dream of and some of whom became very good friends. When I finally decided that I wanted to get serious about writing original fiction, I felt certain that the experience would be helpful. I sold my first novel, and have sold a total of four so far. When that first novel appears in stores (not published yet), I will be flattered down to the bones if people write fanfic for it. I know from my own experience that fanfic is an expression of intense interest and affection; it is no threat to copyright or to the ego of any sufficiently mature author.

Detail Muse said...

Not fanfic (and alas, no Lee or Faulkner), but the works of 40+ contemp/classic literary writers are parodied in J.B. Miller's collection, "The Satanic Nurses."

Anonymous said...

You don't just write a fanfic novel about Star Trek and send it to Bantam.

No, not now, you don't. It's 2007. But how do you think the Star Trek books got started 30+ years ago after the original show went off the air? You think someone at Bantam commissioned the very first Star Trek stories and books? Do you also think it was Paramount, rather than the fans, who organized the first conventions? If so, dear Miss S., you need to do some historical research.

wonderer said...

Adding to what MS said about pro fan fic - From what I understand, nowadays you can do it only if you've already published your own original fiction and have an agent. The publishers aren't interested otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I started off writing something all my own, but went off and did some fanfic for awhile.
The argument that there is no virtue in fanfic because you didn't create the world/characters yourself is only really vaild if that's what you want to practise.
I'm good at that bit. In fact, I often got too tied up in it and everything else suffered for it.
Fanfic was a way I could get better at the other bits, more technical things that on't change whatever you write. It was also much easier to get concrit on and fan sites have much higher traffic and reviews than a site like fictionpress.

Anonymous said...

I >am< one of those Trek writers - also Alias, and a couple other tie-in universes. Yes, the editors want people who have shown they can complete a publishable work, which is most easily shown by selling your original work. No, you do not have to have an agent (though I do).

Chris York

ec said...

Hey, these plots are decent. Maybe I should do something publishable with them." but I have thought of freshening up the old fan fic and trying to use it to dazzle some people toward my original fiction. Good idea/bad idea snarklings?

Bad idea. Very bad idea.

Reread Miss Snark's reply. She immediately passes on something she can't sell. Why should overworked editors respond any differently? Give them something they can publish. Dazzle them with original fiction that shows what kind of characters and settings YOU can create.

ec said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The first official novel, published by Bantam, hit the shelves in 1968.

I didn't claim otherwise. I said "commissioned by." I.e., the folks at Bantam didn't come up with the idea of continuing the stories in print. They cashed in on what was already being done by fans, which was my point - it was fan-driven from the start.

Mark said...

Well said ec. I notice the four time fanfic novelist is anonymous. How convenient. Obviously, this was my question, and the insulting argument with Ms. Young continues.

ec said...

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia that sums up an important reason why many authors don't like fanfic:

Also noteworthy is the series of Darkover anthologies published by Marion Zimmer Bradley, beginning in 1980, consisting largely of fan fiction extended into her canon. At the time, the intent was to make Darkover a shared universe similar to the Cthulhu Mythos. The author eventually discontinued these after a 1992 skirmish with a fan who claimed authorship of a book identical to one Bradley had published and accused Bradley of "stealing" the idea. The resultant lawsuit cost Bradley a book, and her attorney advised against permitting fan fiction of any kind.

Let me repeat that: THAT RESULTING LAWSUIT COST BRADLEY A BOOK. A book. Months of work. A significant part of one's yearly income.

ec said...

anonymous, I probably shouldn't have deleted my Star Trek post. I cut it because I didn't want to get into Trek wars. Having written a (duly authorized) Star Wars novel (published by Del Rey, which holds a license granted by LucasFilm), I know how passionate the fandom can be.

You are quite right about fanfic and Star Trek--there was a strong fanfic presence right from the start. Bantam even acknowledged this by printing several fanfic anthologies. But I'm less convinced of your chicken-and-egg argument. The fact that Bantam sought and acquired a license from Paramount in 1967, within a year of the show's launch, indicates to me that authorized and fanfic fiction grew up side by side.

Before I posted my (now deleted) Star Trek post, I browsed a few web sites. The FAQ on a major fanfic site amused me, in that it instructed fanfic writers that it was NOT ACCEPTABLE to write about original characters created by other fanfic writers. These characters are the copyrighted property of the creators, and other fanfic writers must first have permission to use them, or they will a) be in violation of copyright law and b) will be scorned and ostracized by the fanfic community. The irony of this was briefly acknowledged. Can you say "hoist on their own petard," boys and girls? I KNEW you could.... ;)

ec said...

From what I understand, nowadays you can do it (write a media tie-in novel) only if you've already published your own original fiction and have an agent. The publishers aren't interested otherwise.

Can you blame them? I'm sure some fanfic writers could write wonderful stories. The problem is, once you open up the gates, you'll get flooded. Miss Snark got close to 700 hooks in what? Two hours? Imagine the thousands of submissions that would pour into LucasFilm and DelRey if they didn't employ some sort of gatekeeping. They'd have to employ a lot of people to wade through all that paper in search of gems.

Also keep in mind the continuity issue. The likelihood of ANY completed media tie-in novel being accepted by the licensed publisher is very slim, because writing blind--not knowing what else is in the pipeline--will almost certainly result in a book that contradicts or too closely duplicates another story. For this reason, most books are assigned. And because they're assigned, authors have to be chosen on the strength of . . . something. Previously published work is a logical place to start.

If the book is part of a continuing story line, there will be a story bible, and the author will know what starting and ending point he/she has. The writing process involves many consultations with the editor, phone calls and emails exchanged with other writers who are also working on projects, and approval at every stage of the same from the holder of copyright. LucasFilm had author approval and outline approval. The continuity team read the first draft and the revisions. Avid readers know these settings. Some of them approach the study like Talmudic scholars. Any deviation from established lore or contradiction with another book calls down much wrath upon the head of the offending author.

The people who own these settings take them very seriously. And that, I think, is one of the reason why so many fans respond in kind.

Amy said...

As the "four-time fanfic novelist," I am listed as "anonymous" because I don't have an account here -- or didn't, as I seem to have one now, though I don't remember applying for it, and that's just odd. Well, okay. The pseud for publication is Claudia Gray. The four-book series from HarperTeen will be in stores starting in summer 2008.

Fanfic is simply how a lot of people (myself included) relate to fiction. We hear a story, we think of other stories to tell. It's as natural as any other way of responding to a story.

The way I think of it is -- one author who doesn't like fanfic describe it as leaving "dirty handprints" on her writing. And I thought, yes, that's it. If you saw two books sitting on a friend's shelf, and one of them had a crisp, uncracked binding and clean white pages, and the other had been dog-eared and underlined and highlighted and had a chocolate thumbprint on one page - you'd know instantly which one of those books your friend actually loved. I'd rather have written the latter.

Anonymous said...

We hear a story, we think of other stories to tell. It's as natural as any other way of responding to a story.

Well said. This is how people have been responding to stories for centuries. When we find a good story, we don't want it to end. Malory wasn't the first to come up with a King Arthur character, but he did pretty well with reworking the story he knew into something else. People have been reading - and reworking! - his work ever since.

(Actually, I don't like Malory, but it's a great example.)

Mark said...

"It's as natural as any other way of responding to a story."

No it's quite unnatural but easier. Creating your own is the hard part. This is just playing in someeone else's sandbox. Looks like it paid off. That's unfortunate for all concerned but you.

ec said...

Fanfic is simply how a lot of people (myself included) relate to fiction. We hear a story, we think of other stories to tell. It's as natural as any other way of responding to a story.

Fair enough. As long as you don't attempt to publish these natural outpourings--and that includes publishing them on the web--no one's going to mind.

And hey--if the creater and/or owner of copyright has no problem with posting fanfic, go for it.

Malory wasn't the first to come up with a King Arthur character, but he did pretty well with reworking the story he knew into something else. People have been reading - and reworking! - his work ever since.

(Actually, I don't like Malory, but it's a great example.)


Actually, not so much. Malory's Morte Dauthor was published in 1469, and is not covered by modern copyright law. For that matter, what he wrote is similar to modern historical fiction, in that it is an embroidered tale about someone who was (most likely) a historical figure, or at least based on one. Other treatments of this historical/legendary figure may or may not include elements Malory introduced. Comparing the Matter of Britain to Star Trek and similar shared worlds is like saying that all historical novels about Mary Queen of Scots are fanfic, because the story has been told before. Doesn't quite work.

Anonymous said...

I find the legalities of fanfiction fascinating since lots of people make forceful statements about "it's illegal" or "it's stealing" when the courts haven't supported that at all...and copyright is one of those areas where what the courts do is everything.

Keeping in mind that copyright is all about money -- it's protecting your right to make money from your creation. Then the "derivative works" section allows only the copyright holder to copyright derivative works or make money from them (which is one reason why it's incredibly silly to think an agent would be interested in fan fiction.) That would seem to imply that the copyright holder himself/herself/itself automatically would then be entitled to the copyright of all fanfiction. And clearly licensed tie-ins support that -- the books, for example, the Lee Goldberg has done for the MONK series aren't GOLDBERG's books -- they belong to the series owner.

But equally clearly...fanfiction writers wouldn't like that (or else they wouldn't post silly stuff about not using their story as a leaping off point for more fanfiction.) -- they feel the pull of creative ownership in the same way the original creators sometimes do.

But making all derivative works automatically the property of the original owner, would end the rare lawsuit with the fanfiction writer trying to sue the actual copyright holder when a book seems too like a fanfiction work.

I would love to see a final ruling saying that the original copyright holder automatically OWNS all derivative works. It would end the fanfiction debate since fanfiction could never lessen the value of the copyright holder's work. It would eliminate pointless lawsuit possibilities. And it would push fanfiction writers out of the nest when they're ready to do something that belongs to them.

ec said...
This comment has been removed by the author.