For many years fanfiction has been a topic of mockery outside the world but today there are many voices bent on defending the genre for either economic or artistic reasons. What is the current landscape of fan literature? How can money be made with characters protected by copyright? Is there a system that satisfies fan writers and original authors? Today, we explore the universe of fanfiction.
For professional authors, fanfic is still a word related to amateurish works. Low quality literature – full of spelling mistakes – that twists an alien world to get a story that sometimes becomes grotesque. Stories based on other stories; vulgar and lacking in originality, a dispensable product that the most respectful treatment leads us directly to ignore.
The culptrit of this perception, which is now more than ever erroneous, is due to the passage of the genre from the underground it occupied during the sixties, seventies and eighties to the quasi-mass pop culture during the following two decades. For twenty years, literature by and for fans has been ridiculed on many fronts, which preferred to keep the funny anecdote rather than investigate to find out why fanfiction websites grew so quickly alien to all kinds of criticism. Twitter accounts, such as fanfics_txt are a rather funny compilation of the surrealism prevailing in some sections of the fandom that, however, is not representative of the majority of works produced in the genre, as many insist on believing. Obviously, that account handpicks the most ridiculous and entertaining tidbits for the shock factor. A lot of fanfiction is actually not like that and believing that those pieces and snippets are reflective of fanfiction as an entire genre would be a mistake. In fact, many writers have placed an emphasis on utilizing writing resources and tools to help their writing improve.
Due to that dissonance between what the fanfic really is and what the majority of the public expects, in the last few years a vindictive attitude has built up, not only from the fanfiction, but from the fan phenomenon in general. Intrinsically linked to Tumblr, this movement has also reached several notable cultural websites where articles defending the genre were followed by “closet exits” from many editors who admitted to having written or continuing to write stories for fans.
It didn’t take long for the market to assimilate this slight change in perception of fanwork and to devise ways to make it profitable. Many websites in which fanfic is the majority genre offer the option of getting visibility on the cover in exchange for a payment per work that can range between 50 cents to a dollar. This system, which borders on illegality – authors do not charge but the website does profit from the exploitation of characters protected by copyright – seems to be too problematic to become widespread. With so many fandoms out there even for smaller ones from Cop Out to Fleabag, it really is difficult to police. Since 2013, it is the Amazon Kindle Worlds platform that insists on legitimizing fanfiction with a system that aims to please everyone.
Kindle Worlds: money for everyone
It is more than possible that when entering the See All Worlds section of the home page, many people will not be able to find their favorite fandom. There are shortcomings and they are striking: from series such as Supernatural (2005-) to literary sagas such as Harry Potter (1997-2007), there are quite a few fictional universes that do not have their place in the platform devised by Amazon. The truth is that the top rights are much harder to obtain and difficult to negotiate. And is that, unlike what happens on other websites like Commaful, which can be considered lawless territories, there are some very clear limits that are constantly monitored.
From Amazon they make sure first of all to sign an agreement with the owners of the rights of exploitation of the work, either authors or publishers, who will receive in exchange a small percentage of the profits that the stories can cause. In addition to this, the beneficiaries of the copyright will also acquire the rights over the use of the fanfic in question, that is, if the scriptwriters of, say, The 100 (2014-), find an interesting arc among the stories created by the fans, they will have all the right to use it without giving any credit to the original fan author.
In exchange for this, the fanfiction writers will not only get promotion but will be able to legally monetize their work, putting it on sale for a price ranging from 0.99 to 3.99 dollars, of which they will receive royalties of 35% maximum, provided that the work respects the guidelines of the platform.
Not all fanfic subgenres are allowed on Kindle Worlds. Crossovers, that is, the mixture of characters from different universes, are strictly forbidden, as well as the incursion of elements outside the copyright that is being exploited. Extreme violence, erotic scenes and pornography are other elements on which Amazon has the right to expel you from the platform.
This rigidity is what makes Kindle Worlds, in spite of its evident desire for innovation, not gain popularity with the majority of fanfiction writers, who prefer a more amateur environment, which does not put any kind of obstacle to their imagination.
As Kindle Words continues to evolve, it could really become an innovative force in self-publishing, but until then, we will have to wait!
The position of the original authors
Since its birth, fanfiction divided authors into three main groups: those who were enthusiastic and encouraged the creation of works around their universe, those who preferred not to position themselves and those who condemn all kinds of fanwork.
The first group includes historically outstanding writers such as C.S. Lewis, who many times in his letters encouraged young fans to fill the map of legends of Narnia with stories of his invention, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who publicly admitted to enjoy reading stories by Sherlock Holmes as ingenious as his own.
Among fancfition-friendly contemporaries are Stephen King, who confesses in his book While I’m Writing (2000) that novelizing his favorite shows as a child helped him grow as a writer; Patrick Rothfuss, who claims to understand fan writing as a therapy for waiting for a new book; or director and screenwriter Josh Whedon, who has repeatedly referred to fanfictions of Buffy Slayer (1997-2003) in his ComicCon presentations.
Of course, there are several authors who confess to writing or reading fanfiction. Among the readers of fan literature we find Andy Weir (El Marciano -2011-), Meg Cabot (Saga de El diario de la princesa -2000-2009-) or Stephenie Meyer (Saga Crepúsculo -2005.2008-), authors who also do not cut themselves in sharing some of these stories in their personal web.
Fanfic writers include Neil Gaiman (American Gods -2001-), who lets us see on his website some Cthulhu Myths of his own invention, Cassandra Clare (Shadow Hunters -2007-2014-), E. (American Gods -2001-).L James, whose work Fifty Shadows of Grey was born as a fanfiction inspired by Twilight called Master of the Universe, or S.E. Hinton, the pioneer of the young Adult who has confessed on Twitter that, at 68 years old, enjoys writing stories based on Supernatural, which has been his favorite series for many years.
Although they don’t directly oppose fandom stories and certainly won’t pursue them with threats of imminent demand, some writers like J.K. Rowling have confessed to feeling violent in the face of certain subgenres that, on many occasions, often have a markedly sexual component. Rapefic is, without a doubt, the most controversial genre since, as can be deduced from its name, it has a plot centred on the rape of a character. Under the label Lemon (more explicit) or Lime (more erotic) also share stories where sex is usually the main protagonist. Some controversy is also generated by the subgenres Slash (focused on the amorous relationship between two men) or Femslash (focused on lesbian relationships) because, although they do not have to have an explicit component, it is quite common to find several sexual scenes in their plot.
Apart from sex, the Dark fic label is also often questioned. Created to share “more mature” stories with an adult audience, and focused on the darkness of the characters, some texts within Dark fic tend to abuse controversial topics such as suicide, terminal illness or mental disorders.