Fifty Shades of Grey and The FanFic Question

I will start with an admission: I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey.  Nor am I likely to.  It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with it, necessarily – although the excerpts I have read online are not encouraging me to race out and get it.

But if I want romance with sex hot enough to peel the cover off the iPad, I’ll get me some Denise Rossetti, or Mel Tescho or Keziah Hill.  Or, if I want it more m-rated, but still hot and other-wordly, I’ll go for some Kylie Griffin, or Tracey O’Hara.  I mean, seriously, people.  It’s not as though sex and the dark side – be that vampires, werewolves, BDSM, or whatever – were invented by Stephanie Myers, much less E.L James.  Sure, a lot of people like 50 Shades, but there are many fabulous erotic romance and paranormal writers out there and I’d rather start with the ones I know and/or have had recommended to me.

Let’s be frank, though.  My reluctance to go the 50 Shades way isn’t just about a TBR pile that is rapidly becoming a fire hazard (and don’t tell me ebooks fix that – edevices can overheat, you know).

It’s The Fanfic Question: which, all of a sudden, with the advent of 50 Shades of Grey, has  assumed the proportions of The Irish Question – you know, that little dispute over ownership that plagued the English ruling classes for centuries, and some would argue, still does.

There’s been a lot of talk about this in the blogsphere and I imagine there will be a lot more.  Over at Dear Author, they are talking about it in detail and I would recommend that discussion to anyone interested in this question.

But I wanted to address it too, because there are a lot of interested people (read, writers) who don’t even know what fan fiction is.  It’s kind of hard to join this conversation without the base knowledge and I believe that this is a conversation that writers need to be part of.

Fan Fiction, or fanfic, is what happens when people fall so much in love with a fictional world and its characters that they don’t want their interaction with it to end at the end of the book, or movie, or tv show.  When the original creators can’t give the fans enough of what they want, and talking with other fans is no longer enough, some of them turn to writing their own stories about those characters and that world.

It might be stories about characters who are loved, but not seen much of, who the fans want to give their own story.  An example might be a love story between Neville and Luna, from Harry Potter.  It isn’t in the books, but it’s an adorable idea and I’m sure there’s fanfic out there that gives them a happily-ever-after. (For those who’ve seen the films, obviously film-makers are not immune to the lure of the unwritten HEA!)

Or it might be that the fans really would have liked things to have turned out differently.  Staying with Harry Potter, there is plenty of fanfic that re-imagines the story so that Harry and Hermione end up together.  Similarly, there are fanfic-ers who bring together Buffy and Angel, or (for the kinkier) Buffy and Spike. Or they rewrite endings of books that disappointed them in other ways – although interestingly, it’s often the love stories that get people most fired up.

Long before the internet, there was fanfic written by the original Trekkies (Star Trek fans) exploring the gleefully imagined secret relationship between Captain Kirk and Spock.  Which is of course, another really important branch, if not a whole trunk, of the fanfic tree; the imagining of ‘illicit’ relationships of one kind or another.  Not necessarily illicit in the real world, you understand, but certainly not explored in the original material.  Kirk/Spock is a prime example.

Or sometimes, people imagine new characters and new stories, inspired by the fictional world.  This could take the form of, say, a story about some of the other teachers or students at Hogwarts.  Or it could use the names of people from the fictional world, to evoke a mood, or atmosphere, or setting, but make them different from the way they were in the original work, in character, or even in gender (which, trust me, is a whole different post. Or thesis).

So is there anything wrong with this?  Where is the line between homage, or inspiration, and stealing? For me, as long as people are doing this for love, fun, exploration, personal development, or to be part of a community, and offer the resulting work for free, it’s fine.  It  counts as homage to the other person’s creation and, if it were my work that were the inspiration, I would take it as a compliment.  I know that not all writers would agree, but that’s my position.

But the minute the fanfic writer starts to get paid for their fan fiction, it starts getting very murky indeed.  If someone writes a new story using someone else’s characters, or their world-building, I would argue that’s theft.  They are stealing the work it took to build that world and those characters and the book-selling value of those story elements.  I would argue that, as exploitable commodities, these things belong to the original author.  If the ‘inspiration’ they draw is less obvious, it’s less clearly theft, but for me as a writer, it would still be a no-go area.

Of course, this is an ethical argument.  Legally, such things are very hard to enforce (see Dear Author for more on copyright and plagiarism). And in reality, most of the time, the question doesn’t come up, because, let’s face it, there is a reason why most fanfic writers are amateurs.  Some of it is excellent.  I once read an imagined talk-show interview with Buffy, Sookie Stackhouse and Bella, about going out with vampires, that made me laugh so hard I nearly hurt myself.** But a lot of it is so bad, it will make your eyeballs bubble – and not in a good way.  It’s appeal is exclusively to other fans and other fanfic writers.

But this grey (sorry!) area is one reason why I have never written fan fiction. As someone who hopes to get paid for my fiction, I would not invest time and effort in creating work that isn’t fully my own.  I may not sell everything I write, but even if I offer it free, I want to know that it is all my own creation.

So where does that leave E.L James and 50 Shades of Grey?

From what I can tell, it seems that this work is mostly James’ own.  It seems to me that the connections to Twilight are, in the finished work, fairly slender.  But… it started in the Twilight fanfic community as a work of fan fiction and was appreciated and supported by that community as such.  And it was, apparently, very popular there and those people spread the word to others and it became popular more widely.

Now, to write anything that a lot of people want to read is a genuine achievement and a lot of work and I, as a writer, would be the last to suggest otherwise.  And, as a writer, I would never suggest that the labouring writer is not worthy of her hire.  If James makes a lot of money out of her hard work, good luck to her.  Most writers work just as hard and never make anywhere near as much.  But…

…there is a shadow hanging over this work, because of where it started and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best and, at worst, deceitful.  James’ new publishers assert that 50 Shades is not the same as her work published online as a Twilight Fanfic piece. According to Dear Author (again), that is not entirely true.  So why not own it as such?  If Twilight was a cherished inspiration, why not say so and be open about it?

My guess is because the publisher wants to distance itself from any claim from Stephanie Myers.  But this is disappointing.  Fanfic is not going to go away and works that grow from it are only going to increase.  We need to have the conversation about what is and isn’t okay.  Copyright law is not going to keep up and, in any case, I don’t think any of us want to see writers slugging it out in the courts.  As writers, can we come to an agreement?  As readers, do you care?

I know where I stand on my own work.  I’ve drawn a clear line in the sand for myself. But what about writers who start in fanfic, perhaps without any thought of publication, then go on to bigger things?  Where do I stand on that?

I’m not entirely sure.  What do you think?

Thanks for sticking with me this far.  I know it’s a bit long, but it’s a big topic!

Imelda

*Yes, my bias is showing.  All of these wonderful writers are Australian and fellow members of the Romance Writers of Australia, a truly wonderful group.  And there are many more great writers in the group; I just seized on the ones whose books I have bought most recently and fit the bill.  Give ‘em a go and see what you think!

**Interestingly, if the author made money from this, I would not consider it theft.  Probably because it is a different form from the original.  It isn’t a novel, or even a story.  It’s a sketch, a comedy piece.  The only effect it could have on the original author or creator’s sales would be to increase them.  For me, effect is important than the letter of the law.  If someone creates a video mashup of your show on YouTube and people love it, it may be legally copyright infringement but it is effectively advertising, so ethically, for me, that’s fine.  See? Complicated!

56 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey and The FanFic Question

  1. “From what I can tell, it seems that this work is mostly James’ own. It seems to me that the connections to Twilight are, in the finished work, fairly slender”

    That’s an assumption that many are making but having read Twilight and FSoG (at least through ch 14), I can attest that there are a lot of similarities. People are focusing on the erotic content of FSoG which of course is not in Twilight (at least not overtly; subtext however is another thing) and the fact that it has no paranormal element, but there are many details in the main characters (physical and personality traits), the peripheral characters (relationship to main characters), and events in MotU/FSoG that appear to be directly lifted from the Twilight series. It could be argued that some traits (brown hair in Ana/Bella and copper hair in Christian/Edward) are generic but when you begin to add up the similarities from the Twilight Saga to the MotU fanfic to the “new, original” work of 50 Shades series, then the so-called “slender” connection starts to gain weight.

    • Thanks for the input! This is where it gets so complicated and why I won’t touch fanfic myself, as a writer. Even if you mean not to pinch stuff, if you start with such a clear ‘inspiration’, how can you avoid it? And if you do that, how can that be fair to the original writer?

      Good to hear from someone who’s read both and thanks very much for dropping by!

    • Thank you! And you are very welcome to the plug. I hope it does you some good! I just get grumpy when people make so much fuss over one person, when there are so many other writers, frequently better, just waiting to be discovered. I hope all this broohaha sifts down into some sales for you gals who’ve been doing it for ages.

  2. Congratulations on a great blog! It looks fabulous and the content, as would be expected, is amazing.

    I’m one of those authors you mentioned who doesn’t really understand a lot about Fanfiction ( I even (so badly) want to hyphenate that word!) But thanks to your brilliant description and analysis, I now have a far greater understanding. Thank you.

    As soon as I post this I’m off to click on the ‘follow’ button!

    Happy blogging, Imelda!

    • Thanks, Kerri! You’re a sweetheart, as always!

      I’m glad you found it, as I was thinking of you when I wrote that bit. It is a whole ‘nother world, as they say. I’ve come across it through friends and I know how much some people love it – the writing, the sharing, the community. But it’s a completely undiscovered world to others and as writers, it’s one we need to be aware of, as it does bleed over to the ‘regular’ writing world sometimes and there are issues with that.

      • It’s actually a pretty good description (speaking as a fairly voracious reader of same). As with any genre, if you can find good writers who are sensitive about the material, and handle it deftly, and are also a pleasure to read as they create transformative works, it’s as good as sitting down with original fiction (and with the ones who lovingly create alternate universes and have a jolly good romp inside them, it’s just a joy).

        Really, I just want to read good writing. Youse should all write more for me to read! *cracks whip*

  3. Interesting, thoughtful post. Thanks for writing it. I taught this book when it was fanfiction, and I’ve put up a blog about the course. It talks about how this book fits in to fan culture and fan writing–but more about Twilight fanfiction and how my students reacted. I’m posting the link around where people might be interested. I think (personally) that fanfiction as a culture, community, and system of works is more interesting than any individual fan work (including this one)–though there are many individual works I like very much. But hopefully, the blog provides context and a variety of perspectives–including the thoughts of writers and students.

    http://fiftyshadesofpopculturetheory.blogspot.com/2012/03/welcome-to-engl-5960-summer-2010-aka.html

    • Oh my goodness, Anne, I’m so sorry! Your comment got caught in the spam filter (goodness knows why!) and I was too green at this WordPress business to notice until now! Thank you for commenting and for your fascinating blog, which I am reading through as soon as I finish writing this reply. I knew fanfic was much bigger than my contact with it, but I had no idea work like yours existed. This has been an eye-opening couple of days!

  4. It appears congrats are in order for you blog. So, congrats!

    I am part of the Twi fandom and this whole thing has had everyone in a tizzy. I personally am sick to death of hearing about it. I thank you for this unbiased look at things. I’ve written fanfic for Twilight and it’s been great practice getting my writing feet wet again, but I would never dream of pulling a story so closely linked and then attempting to sell it as my own. And I think that’s what disturbs me the most.

    Over at DearAuthor, where I’ve read a couple of their articles about this. The one, a comparison, says this:
    Vintage says of MOTU and 50 Shades, “they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.” Turnitin says they are 89% the same.

    89% the same, often word for word except for character name changes.

    I read another one somewhere and I wish I could remember, where it compared character traits etc, and it was so close to Twilight it was scary.

    • Thanks for the congrats, Stephanie. It’s only because it’s my new baby! Thanks to, for the thanks (odd though that sounds). I was trying to be unbiased. It’s a hard area to simplify, but for those not in the loop, that’s what what I was attempting.

      To be fair, that 89% comparison was of the published work to the original fanfic. What that means for its similarity to Twilight would depend on how close the original fanfic was and I can’t comment, not having read it. But that’s the biggie isn’t it? Is she profitting from someone else’s work?

      What gets me is the refusal of the publishers to even acknowledge that it is an issue.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  5. This debate is raging, everywhere. I write fanfic and I am well aware of Ms James and her Master of the Universe fic. She wrote a fanfic based off characters and a world built by another author – we all do. We all, also, credit that author at the start of ever chapter we post. It is common courtesy. I do it, she did it, we all do it.

    Having said that, the family relationships, the setting, the physical and emotional characteristics, the hobbies, the motivations…all are Stephenie Meyer’s.

    Changing names and hair color from “bronze” to “old penny” do not an original character make.

    There are many, many valid points made on both sides of this argument, and the whole fanfic-to-original fic debate and I cannot begin to explore the legalities, but for this particular author, and in this particular case – well, if I were Stephenie I would be looking very, very closely at a test case in the courts.

    • You can bet her publishers and lawyers are looking at it, but it’s a shame it had to come to that! I’ve thought this would come since I first became aware of fanfic. I hope it doesn’t poison the whole thing for those who love it.
      Thanks for joining the conversation!

  6. The fanfiction world can be a very awesome place to be. Friends are made with similar likes as you, and support your writing. Some just do it for fun, others use it to hone their craft before they venture out into original fiction. It started out just for fun with me, but it helped me realize how much I loved writing and got me back into the swing of things. It has been an enjoyable place to be for the past several years and my life is better for the friends I’ve made there and my writing has vastly improved!

    “From what I can tell, it seems that this work is mostly James’ own. It seems to me that the connections to Twilight are, in the finished work, fairly slender.”

    Quick question – how can you make this statement having admitted that you haven’t read the book? I have to agree with the first poster. I have read both the original fic and the published “book” and while the story line may be James’ own, the published edition of her story is nearly identical to the fanfiction that was posted. Also, the research that DearAuthor is pretty on the money. They ran the text of both through a plagiarism test and the texts were 89% the same (see http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/master-of-the-universe-versus-fifty-shades-by-e-l-james-comparison). As has been said already, this is disingenuous for many reasons. The least of which, she got her support from the readers in the fanfiction fandom, and to try to separate from that and deny its origins while trying to sell the same story leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Not to mention, trying to sell something that used to be available for free with limited changes (a new epilogue and changing the names?) is a bit of a rip off for all those people who paid for the rather expensive ebook.

    I have no problem if people like the book or dislike the book. Everyone is entitled to their likes and dislikes. James does have a gift with the written word in places in the fic. There are aspects of MotU/FSoG that I liked and aspects that I disliked. However, its not the actual like or dislike that I think is the issue. The issue is where the story started. Own up to it. It is what it is … and it is a fanfiction story that has had minimal changes from the original text before it was published.

    And now the fandom waits to see what will happen to the fandom and fanfiction now that this story has become so popular.

    • “Quick question – how can you make this statement having admitted that you haven’t read the book? ”

      Good point, and it seems, from the comments, perhaps I was being overgenerous! I meant from the excerpts I have read, the storyline didn’t seem to be a copy. I can’t comment on the characterisations, of course, and it was perhaps too broad a statement.

      I was partly trying to make the point, for people not familiar with fanfic, that fanfic is not a straight copy of the original material. There can be a lot of original and hard work in fanfic and, in questioning the ethics of this publication, I didn’t want to deny that work.

      I think, from the rest of your comment, that our main concern is the same. That this started as fanfic and to deny its origins is to deny what it owes to the fanfic community and the original work it was modelled on and these are big issues. Sweeping them under the carpet by claiming they just don’t exist is not okay! (I’m looking at you, publisher!)

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It is a great help to people who aren’t so familiar with fanfic to hear from people who know it so well.

  7. I completely agree, there are a lot of original and hard work in fanfiction. If you think about it, every story written in fanfiction is original to a certain extent. The characters and mannerisms may be borrowed but the situations they find themselves in are new and sometimes not even relevant to the source material. And I am VERY surprised that Vintage not only bought the rights to the series, but are trying to ‘big brother’ the origins of their new purchase. I don’t think they are going to be able to re-write history this time.

    I have read some really great original fanfiction (and some really, really REALLY bad fanfiction), to the point that if that particular writer ever broke into original fiction, I’d be the first person in line to buy that book. However, I stress, completely original fiction.

    The situation that the characters in may be new, but if the characters themselves are borrowed, if their apperances are borrowed, and even their mannerisms and relationships with other characters are borrowed, then the story is not original.

    That is part of the beauty of writing. We create brand, new worlds with characters that we mold and create ourselves, not borrowed from someone else. Granted, we are inspired by everything around us, but when the source of that inspiration is singular, I think that poses a problem.

    Congrats on the new blog and I will add my thanks for the impartiality of the posting. Too often, the discussion of MotU/FSoG ends up bogged down in vitriol by people on both sides (at least in the fandom). It is refreshing to see this discussed in a mature and level-headed manner.

      • “…when the source of that inspiration is singular…”

        That’s very well put. That really is the problem. And thank you too, for joining in so balanced a manner. We need to talk about this. Really talk, not resort to mud-slinging. I’m glad if I can provide a place.

        And I just thought you were really, really emphatic about your last three paras! Literally, LOL! Giggling, anyway.

  8. Imelda, thanks for this great summary. A brief point re: the mud-slinging…

    Someone with more industry nouse than me helped me to see this issue from a different perspective after I queried whether James’ process here was a series of small ethical ‘compromises’ over many months which when added up and placed under the griller do amount to a bigger issue than any author in their right mind would set out to create. No-one WANTS this kind of noteriety before even debuting. I had expressed surprise at the level of emotion I was seeing out in the blogosphere (the part of being a writer I like least is what we do to each other when one of us makes a mistake or breaks our laws. It’s not enough to expose them, we then have to shred them, burn the remains, make the ashes into a mud brick and then burn that, too.)

    My friend asked me to think about Vintage’s $1mil offer from the perspective of the midlist and new authors of that publisher who would now not see another contract because the money was tied up in this book. A book that may well not now earn back given the bad-taste it’s left everyone with. That loss flows on to other, better, wholly original writers with Vintage who suddenly find their contract or promotional support or shelf options vanishing.

    A rising tide may float all boats but a lowering one just drags everyone out to sea with it.

    Viewed from that perspective I did understand the anger from one quarter a little better.

    xx

    • Nikki, great point! I can completely understand their anger. I hadn’t thought of it from Vintage’s other authors’ point of view, either, but they have a very legitimate beef, as do the fanfic community members who feel betrayed, as, potentially, do Myers and her publisher. I’m sure James didn’t set out to cause hurt, but it hasn’t stopped it happening, which is precisely why we need to drag this whole issue out and take a good hard look at it.

      ‘A rising tide may float all boats but a lowering one just drags everyone out to sea with it.’

      You said a mouthful!

  9. Ooh, and…meant to add…

    At least one author won’t be unhappy with the whole situation. I saw a Top 10 Kindle reads list which had ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ at number one and then a book called ‘Shades of Grey’ by Kim Sanders at number four.

    Wonder how many people bought her mystery/romance and are still waiting for the erotica to kick in :) Certainly the search terms are…fortunate…

    http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&keywords=50%20shades%20of%20grey%20trilogy&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3A50%20shades%20of%20grey%20trilogy%2Cp_lbr_one_browse-bin%3AKim%20Sanders&page=1

    • Ha! Maybe some of our erotica girls need to rename some of their stuff Shades of Vermillion, Shades of Scarlet, or even Shades of Puce. :) At least we’d know that the reader would be getting good stuff!

  10. I write fanfiction AND original fiction. I had never thought that my fanfic stories could be or should be turned into novels. I will admit to rethinking it now.
    This site lists quite a number of people who have already done the same thing as Ms James, most without changing the original story name. I haven’t actually read any of them, so don’t know if they, like 50SoG are 89% the same as the original fics or not. Changing Holy crow to Holy cow, is not a major change.

    http://twifanfictionrecs.com/published-fics/

    I agree with others, that it is the denial of its fanfic roots that annoys me. I also worry that more writers and publishers may put their works on the ‘no’ list for fanfic, for fear that this will happen to them.

    • Heavens, AM, that site is… startling. I had no idea that people actually did that, certainly not so openly. I wonder why this isn’t more widely known? Is it because their sales are limited to mainly the fanfic community? This thing just gets deeper every time I look at it. But when someone can get so much money for something that started as fanfic, and, apparently, is not so far from its roots, it’s a mighty strong incentive to give it a go.

      But what does it mean for the future of truly original fiction? As CJ Dennis would say, ‘then things gets mixed a treat and starts to whirl…”

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment!

      • I think the interest with 50 shades is the bdsm side – she has kind of tapped into that ‘naughty’ element that gets mentioned in press releases and therefore gets news. Not that true bdsm fans like it either. As far as I know, none of the writers on that list got 7 figure book deals. And *that* is what has brought all the media attention, here.

        It’s also arguable that *every* story is a homage to earlier ones. Does every vampire story owe something to the original vampire story “The Vampyre”; a short story written by John William Polidori in 1816 in that one wild weekend with Percy Shelley and Byron, where they all wrote world changing novels; Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Bram Stoker didn’t write his Dracula until 1897.

        • Absolutely, AM. As somebody said, there are no new stories, only new storytellers. Shakespeare recycled nearly all of his plots, but his versions are the ones that are remembered, because of the brilliance of his execution. There’s an interesting potential PhD thesis here about what makes a story part of accepted mythology, rather than one person’s idea. Is it the skill of the execution? Dracula popularised vampires, to the point that people now think of them as mythology, rather than anyone’s story. When we write them, we draw on a common heritage, which is generally understood. But that story is old, now. Twilight is much more recent. Is plagiarism dependent on proximity?

          If it’s homage, ethically, I have less trouble with it. We are all products of all of our influences. Some say 50 Shades is more than homage. I can’t comment, because I haven’t read it. But if it is homage, rather than pinching, why not own it? That’s the sticking place, for me. It just feels dishonest. Especially when she started in the fanfic community…

  11. Thank you so much for writing this. I read MotU when it was FF and read a borrowed copy of the book. Only a few scenes were left on the chopping block but everything is exactly the same. The only thing she changed was changing the names of the characters and changing Christian/Edward’s eyes from green to grey. They’ve run the FF and the new book series through plagiarism software and got an 89% similarity between the two. Shows she didn’t change anything really. She’d rather capitalize upon Stephenie Meyer’s fanbase and characterizations than actually create something original. Essentially it’s offering something for free, then when it became popular, changing the cover and then charging for it. Highly unethical even without the intellectual property issues at stake. I write fanfic. Twific to be specific and I write it for fun and enjoyment. I do want to get published one day. However I will never take a story idea I used in FF to original fic. It’s not right and it’s stale by then. Why not enjoy the creative process and create something wholly new for your readers to enjoy. I know exactly why E.L. didn’t and it’s two things. Laziness to come up with something entirely her own and greed. Furthermore the BDSM community is also appalled because of how James presents the D/s lifestyle as something to be cured of when it isn’t. Her depiction of the lifestyle is wrong as is her bland heroine and contradictory leading male.

    • ‘Why not enjoy the creative process and create something wholly new for your readers to enjoy.’ That’s how I feel about it, too, PemberleyRose.

      I wonder if this whole thing kind of got away from James, though? I don’t write fanfic, but if I had, and someone came and offered me seven figures to publish it in the mainstream, I think I’d have to be tempted. Which is why I think we all need to have a good hard think about the ethics of this before it comes to this again.

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment. I’m blogging about something much less controversial on Wednesday, so I hope you’ll come back then too! :)

      • I’m with PemberlyRose, I hope to get published one day and I am working on my own original work. Never would I consider ever trying to publish my twific.

        The BSDM community definitely hasn’t been portrayed in a good light with FSoG. While I am not in that lifestyle, I personally don’t have a problem with it. What people do in their private lives is just that, private. However, James protrays Edwa-*ahem*-Christian’s BSDM desires as something wrong and something that Bella/Ana needs to save him from. WHY? Why does a man who enjoys a little kinky sex need to be saved from it? This is the biggest problem I have with how BSDM is portrayed in the book … and not to mention how un-realistically it is portrayed (from my small amount of research – I am by far NOT an expert).

  12. Hello again Imelda,

    There are several Twific stories that have gone through the P2P (pull to publish) process, as you can see from that site. However, the amount of stories that get published is marginal compared to the amount of fic out there. This doesn’t it allowed, just a matter of what it is. I know of several people that have pulled their fics. It’s not a process that I agree with but I cannot stop them from doing it. Up until this point, publishing a fanfic story has been more of a vanity publishing thing. Very rarely will the published fanfic story get many more readers outside of the fandom. This is probably why published stories have been relatively under the radar to the publishing world and fiction world at large, because they have been under the radar.

    Until FSoG.

    FSoG has brought a big, huge, ugly spotlight on fanfiction and publishing fanfiction. It would be great for fanfiction and fanfiction writers to get recognized for their efforts but not like this, not for stealing and profiting off the very work we all loved enough to want to write about. (Does this ramble make sense?)

    About the origin and accepted mythology of certain subjects, I think proximity really has a lot to do with it. Certain works of literature are now part of the public domain, that are so well known that we all know the reference. If someone were to mention Mr. Darcy or Heathcliff or Dracul or even Mina, the majority of us would know what novels those characters and references are from. Which makes the public domain and knowledge by general public a tricky issue. Twilight has become intertwined in our popculture. If you say anything about sparkling vampires, we know you are talking about Twilight. But does this put Twilight in the realm of public domain or just popculture?

    Regardless, I am in the camp that is against publishing fanfic, unless the fic has gone through a substantial and radical change … not only to change the character names, but any other commonalities to the original source. However, to go to those lengths, you might as well just write an original story from top to bottom and not have to worry about major re-writes or an overhaul later.

    As a fanfiction writer, people who enjoy my stories enjoy not only the fact it’s Twilight fanfic, but my writing style and stories. I don’t need to publish that fanfic to make it as a published author. If those people who read my fanfic like me that much, they would be willing to buy a brand new, completely original, and Twilight free book. Perhap James was afraid people wouldn’t read her original? I doubt that however. She was and is very popular in the fandom (in both positive and negative ways) and if she were to come out with a completely original work, I’m confident she could’ve been very successful without the taint and debate over the legality of publishing fanfic.

    Sorry I got so long winded.

    • No, feel free to be as long or short-winded as you like! It’s a complicated subject. Besides, that’s pretty much exactly how I feel about it. Share, enjoy, play with fanfic. But when it’s publishin’ time, write something new. I’m sure you are right, that admirers of a writer’s fanfic would follow them into something new. From what I have seen of the community, I’m sure they’d champion them. Ah well. I guess we just have to wait and see how the dust settles. Nice seeing you again!

  13. Firstly Imelda – welcome to the world of blogging. :) What a great one too.

    I don’t know enough about this to say much – but I do know that the woman getting all the publicity in Austraiia who I thought was the author, was only the epublisher (which is still nice) but they are going on about this wonderful achievement by and aussie stay at home mum like she is the one who wrote it. As I said – I thought she was the author to start with.

    Meanwhile we have many talented authors (thanks for the plug) who have been making an outstanding living at this for many years that continually get ignored by the australian media and for the most part, the australian public. It is sad that we are bigger overseas than we are in our own countries. But that is the way it is and will probably always will be unfortunately.

    Sigh. I will just go back to my corner now. :(

    But – great blog – will have to read it more carefully once I get home from work. No million dollar deals for this little black duck.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Tracey! Yes, it is teeth-gnashing, isn’t it? However, in my corner of the blogiverse, I’m going to plug the Aussies for all I’m worth. Who knows? Maybe we can turn that attention back where it belongs. Ever-hopeful, that’s me!

  14. On last aspect, that I would like to raise is that with this “notoriety” that FSog/MoTU is bringing to fanfic writing, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a major clampdown of this by authors and publishers, who are actively going to be protecting their copyright.

    Seriously, if the work you wrote is going to be “copied, adapted or skewed” by someone who loves your work sufficiently to want to add or improve on it, I think you would be more than a little leary of that after this. What would stop them doing similar using the circumstances, wording and even universe that you have created and then profiting by it??

    I think that the long term ramifications are yet to be felt. And both fanfic writers, who as you have pointed out, use this as their proving ground, and the world of new writers, old writers and wanna-be’s considering an entry will be the ones who suffer.

    • ‘it wouldn’t surprise me to see a major clampdown of this by authors and publishers,’

      You could’t really blame them if they did, could you? I fear you might be right. And I’m sure you’re right that the full ramifications of this situation are yet to be felt.

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

  15. I also hear that the other story on the best seller list called ‘shades of grey’ (as opposed to 50 shades) is an ex brokeback mountain fanfic… so there you go…

  16. Imelda!

    Hello Goooooorgeous! It’s been too long!

    Thank you for this summary.

    My local writers group has been discussing this topic, but have yet to come to a clear-cut conclusion on whether it should be considered plagiarism or not.

    I seem to agree with you…it’s a wonderful form of flattery to an author, but once another writer starts making money from it, (to me) it’s no longer flattering. Creating a ‘realistic’ world and people-ing it with amazing characters takes imagination and effort…I would be angry to say the least if someone (supposedly a fan) made money from my hard work.

    I believe that writing fan-fic for a series or for fun differs from the 50 Shades of Grey issue. Writing a fan-fic in hopes of having the powers that be publish it as an installment is one thing because credit is given to both the originator and the series author. Writing for fun and posting it in the blog for others to get a belly chuckle from is all in good form too…talk about free marketing for the original author! Again, it’s when a writer reaps monetary rewards (or even accolades) from fan-fic that it over-steps the bounds for me.

    One last thought…
    If fans are clamoring for something more the author (and most certainly the publisher) should be taking note…or better yet writing the next book in the series!

    D

    • Right back atcha, D! Thanks for coming and commenting! I’m so glad I posted this now. I intended it as a help to those who didn’t really ‘get’ fanfic, but it’s been an education for me too. I think I shall like this blogging thing… ;)

  17. Glad to see this generating such a good discussion. It really hasn’t yet been discussed in MSM, only at dearauthor.com and other blogs–the one piece I keep seeing is a short NPR blog piece that interviewed me. I keep seeing it linked and I click, all psyched something new has come out–and then it’s just me again. Hope eventually the issue gets aired with respect for fan culture somewhere more people will see it.

    • I would like that too, Anne, although I have to say I don’t like our chances. As just this comment stream has shown, it is a complicated issue and unfortunately, the mainstream channels are more interested in soundbites. I’ve been thrilled to get feedback here from active members of fan communities. It’s certainly broadened my knowledge and understanding of the area and, has I hope, introduced some readers to something they previously didn’t know about at all. Thanks for coming back and please let me apologise again for my earlier gaffe.

  18. Pingback: Creative Commons: The Answer to the Fanfic Question? | Wine, Women & Wordplay

  19. Great blog! I’d like to add my voice as someone who didn’t know 50 Shades was a Twilight FF until I was nearly finished with the 3rd book. I enjoyed the story immensely. As someone who never read Twilight – nor has any interest in such, as I’m not into vampire stories – this series found a way to hook me in. I would never have read it as a FF – even though I am very aware of FFs, one based on Twilight wouldn’t have caught my attention. As such, 50 Shades brought in a new reader. So should Twilight get ‘credit’ for me because 50 Shades originated as a Twilight FF? To me, that’s a stickier issue. Since I have not read Twilight, I can’t comment on the similarities of the 2 works. From my point of view, 50 Shades is a completely original work so I guess it’s all about context.
    Some very valid points have been made here about when FF crosses the line from homage to plagiarism. Since FFs have been around for a while and no one is advocating getting rid of them, it seems authors/publishing houses/lawyers are going to have to think long and hard as to where they want to draw the boundaries.
    Thank you for an interesting, civil discussion.

    • Thanks for reading, Carolyn, and for taking the time to leave a comment! It is an interesting area. When even people who have read both can’t seem to agree on how close 50 Shades is to Twilight, one begins to see the issues. I did a follow-up post on whether Creative Commons might be a way forward for fanfic communities concerned about ethics – but that still doesn’t solve the issue of whether it is ever okay to publish something that started as fanfic and, if so, where the line falls. I think it’s one of those things that only time and experience will sort out for us. But in the meantime, it helps to air the issues and it always helps to be civil!

  20. as a fellow twilight fanfiction reader and writer i feel i have a right to say something i have read the first 3 pages of FSoG and i read the original ff master of the universe actually wondered where it disapeared to. the similarities are scary ive read reviews of people who have read the whole book and say the same thing she did nothing but change the names. it would be one thing if the characters were nothing like edward and bella ill spare you the ff lingo but there are ways to tell if its a original fic with the names of the characters or if its the same story diffrent plot diffrent scene same manerisms same similarites. im just scared this will make it bad for the rest of us who just want to write and enjoy what we do not try to make a buck off of somehting we know we didnt create sorry if im coming off as rude i just dont feel right about FSoG

    • Dominique, I’m hearing this feeling a lot. If you’re worried about the future of fanfic, you might want to read the follow up post I did on creative commons. It won’t stop people writing fanfic and trying to sell it, necessarily, but it is potentially a way for people like you, who are concerned about the ethics of that, to set up fanfic communities where that is stated from the beginning as something you won’t do.
      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  21. I’m not into BDSM stories, nonetheless need to say that I honestly liked this one. This was those types of books that keeps you glued to the pages; staying up reading in to the morning hours. I found it to be very addicting which is really disturbing for me personally.
    How surprised I was to find out it was the closest thing to female erotica that I have read. But my interest in psychology kept me reading. After just thinking, this guy is “F’d UP!” I began to think of the possibilities of how he got that way. That made me keep reading on.

  22. Pingback: Fickle Fan « Karen Householder

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