Updated Fanfic Policy
The Snow Queen’s Shadow, draft 2.0, is done! There’s a lot of work to do for draft 3.0, but I have a pretty good idea what the biggest problem is with this draft, and how to fix it. (At one point, I thought I had everything worked out and I might actually be able to wrap this book up with only two drafts. Such a pleasant little delusion…)
I was talking to a friend the other day about my last fanfic post (MZB vs. fanfic), and commented that it’s not the actual fanfic stories that intrigue me. What fascinates me is fanfic as a phenomenon. The fact that there are communities out there devoted to fanfic, that it’s an entire culture.
It’s equally fascinating to see how passionately some profic authors react to fanfiction.[1. Profic is the correct term, yes?] Some strongly support and encourage fanfic authors, while others view fanfic as the BP of the literary world, spewing toxic crap all over their beautiful works. The anti-fanfic arguments I’ve seen generally fall into several categories.
1. Fanfic is badly written. Forgive my bluntness, but this is a stupid argument. Sure, a lot of fanfic is bad. A lot of anything is bad. With professionally published fiction, you have editors and agents screening out the worst of it, but I’ve still read plenty of published crap. With fanfic, while there are some quality controls in place, I don’t believe there’s as strong of a gatekeeper effect … but so what? If it’s bad, don’t read it.
2. The legal problems. I’m not going to rehash the MZB case, but while the facts found were incomplete, I don’t see where the existence of fanfiction poses a legal danger to me as a commercial author.
3. They should write their own characters/worlds. I.e., anyone wanting to be a “real” author should work on original fiction. Okay, I can buy that writing original fiction is the best practice for writing original fiction, just as the best practice for writing novels is to write novels. But why assume everyone wants to be a commercially published author like me, that fanfic exists only as the means to some other end?
4. They’re miswriting/changing/warping my characters/worlds. Believe it or not, I kind of understand this one. I came across fanfic from my goblin series a while back, and my gut response was that they were writing the characters wrong. In my opinion, the dialogue and the actions were not in character … but again, so what? I don’t have to read it. And even if the characters in that story are fundamentally changed from what I wrote, how does this hurt me?
It’s that last question that finally made me decide to change my policy on fanfiction. Because I can’t think of a single way fanfic hurts me as an author. And I can think of ways in which it helps. I’ve seen first hand as fans found my princess series, got excited about the fanfic potential, and handsold the book to their friends.
If someone convinces me fanfic can harm me as an author, or that I’m better off disallowing it, I reserve the right to change my mind. But for now, I’m updating my fanfic policy to the equivalent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Please don’t ask me to read it or tell me about it, but beyond that, so long as you’re not trying to sell it, have fun!
June 14, 2010 @ 10:25 am
I like the “I don’t care” policy you’ve got going on here. Pretty much this problem of fanfiction seems to be able to be likened to the concept that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The fanfiction writers are trying to be a part of a world that you created. They’re not trying to harm you. (Unless they write a character with your name on it and kill that person off in a gruesome manner. That’s a different kind of “fan.”)
Honestly, if any of my works could be published, I’d be happy to have that imitation crab known as fanfiction. Perhaps the person could spur an idea in my mind or perhaps they can make me realize that I have a major underutilized character or plot point. Really, George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry created worlds that people so desperately wish they were really in, why should somebody entering your world feel like an invasion when it’s really a vacation for the fanfic-author?
Let’s just hope I remember this comment when that day comes for me. (Jim, I’m defending you in this and all uses of ‘you’ and ‘your’ are in rhetoric.)
June 14, 2010 @ 11:12 am
Perhaps the person could spur an idea in my mind
I don’t know if it’s an urban myth because I can’t remember the exact writer involved, but I have heard of an author being sued or at least accused of “stealing” someone’s idea from their fanfic. I have seen some hair pulling in the fanfic world between writers who accuse others of “using their work without permission.” This makes me laugh; karma’s a bitch. So I think you run the risk. Of course, you might come up with the idea on your own and it just happens to be the same and you get sued anyway. In any case, I’d advise against making fanfic an idea factory.
Jim, you always give me a kickstart in the morning, food for pondering. 🙂
I agree with a lot you say. Just a few morning thoughts.
1. If someone writes your world badly, or does heinous things with your characters (slash, rape, pedophilia, etc. I’ve seen it all) then it could put a prospective reader off trying the real thing.
2. Good fanfic that’s really different than what you created could disappoint new readers when they read what you actually wrote. I’ve seen that happen in a few instances.
2. I recently asked my editor if I could officially allow fanfic of my worlds, as I do think it’s good free advertising and a left handed form of flattery. She ran it by the lawyers and their answer was “No, you can’t.” I too have an unofficial don’t ask, don’t tell me policy but if the lawyers are still nervous about it, what does that say?
3. Copyright is under serious attack these days and that does affect those of us who make their living doing this. I wonder if allowing fanfic gives a lever to publishers vying for more of our rights, not to mention people who want to do some sort of pastiche, a la the Jane Austen zombie book? There’s someone making money off another’s work pretty directly. Right now it’s only allowed with out of copyright works, but with all the discussion around copyright and intellectual property, it worries me.
Have you noticed that the spelling checker recognizes “fanfic”?
Jim C. Hines
June 14, 2010 @ 3:37 pm
The author being sued story sounds like a version of the MZB tale I linked to, though it’s possible there are other incidents. I’ve also come across the occasional fanfic author getting up in arms over their work being stolen, which seems … ironic, to say the least.
Good points, and thank you! Most of the comments over on LJ have agreed with me, which is nice for my ego, but don’t give me as much to think about 🙂
1. I guess I’m trusting that in most cases, people will recognize the difference between fanfic and my own published work. Visually, there’s a difference — from the cover art to the copyright details and ISBN, and so on. (Though if you’re getting a bootleg version, some of that might have been stripped off, which would make it harder to discern official work from unofficial…)
2. That makes sense. I’m sure there are plenty of stories out there where Harry and Hermione end up together, and readers that prefer them to Rowling’s own work. And I know already that no matter how I end my princess series, some people are going to be disappointed. But I’m not convinced that disappointment will be enough to make them stop buying/reading my work in favor of fanfic. I could be wrong. I’m not really sure on this one…
2, part b. I think it says the lawyers and publishers are going to play it conservatively. I don’t know all of the legal details of the MZB case, and I’m still working to wrap my brain around one write-up at http://www.scrivenerserror.com/weft/fanfic.shtml So … I don’t know. I don’t suppose your editor gave you any info from legal beyond the “No”?
3. Interesting and worrisome point. I hadn’t considered the cumulative diluting effect on copyright law. I do think copyright law is a mess, and needs to be fixed, but I also like making a living and want some protection for my own work. Will have to think more about this…
Which spellchecker? Mine flags it as a nonword?
June 14, 2010 @ 5:55 pm
I don’t suppose your editor gave you any info from legal beyond the “No”?
They just feel it could be a basis of some claim that I’ve given up my copyright. I think they probably are being overly cautious, but I’m not prepared to challenge the hand that feeds me! 😉
Jim C. Hines
June 14, 2010 @ 6:28 pm
Huh. With the all-caps I AM NOT A LAWYER disclaimer out of the way, I’m not sure how that would work. As I understand it, copyright isn’t that easy to surrender. I’ve even heard it argued that a creative commons license doesn’t actually surrender copyright; it functions more as a “gentlemen’s agreement” not to sue.
Not saying they’re wrong, and I can certainly understand the publisher preferring to play it safe. That makes perfect sense. I’m just curious how that would play out in court.
June 14, 2010 @ 8:00 pm
I am a fanfiction writer, so, like you, I have a vested perspective in this discussion, but…it is entirely unclear to me the way in which instances one and two differ from a review on Amazon in their effect on the prospective reader of your work. (Heck, it’s not clear to me how this is substantially different from how the back cover copy and the cover art affect the readers of your work.) Reviews, fanfiction, back copy, and cover art all suggest a frame, approach, or literary POV about a work. Fanfiction, frankly, is the only one of those four which, in its metadata, lets the reader know that the actual work under discussion may be Not Exactly As Described.
P.S. Gay sex, rape, and pedophilia are not generally considered moral equivalents by anyone I would want to know. Did you say what you meant there?
June 14, 2010 @ 9:03 pm
Huh. Could have sworn I responded to this earlier. Oh well. To reiterate, I do think the lawyers may be erring on the side of caution, but so am I. I don’t want to piss off the hand that feeds me. I know of other authors who have authorized fanfic, including Jim Butcher. Mostly I’m just waiting for all the legal dust to settle about creative rights, which may be a while.
June 14, 2010 @ 9:13 pm
Hi zvi! 🙂
The difference in the case of #1 and 2 (if you’re referring to my post) is that those comments are just comments, and they are about the work in question. Sure some of them aren’t accurate and some aren’t complimentary, but I don’t see a parity with fan fiction, which is a complete work unto itself. ANd most people who read Amazon reviews know that they are simply someone’s opinion of the work in question, and not always a well informed one, though many are. And things like back cover copy, art, etc are designed to support the work in question, and are only a small piece of the overall package. So again, I don’t see the comparison.
Re: PS: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘moral equivalents.’ I was just stating the fact that I’ve seen a lot of fan fiction which takes an established character and subjects them to things that have nothing to do with who they really are, like making two straight characters of the same sex fall in love/lust, rape fantasies (those are popular in some circles), or the Snape/Harry type creepy sex fic. I’m not saying ALL fanfiction is that, and if you think so, then you misunderstood what I was trying to say. But it’s out there. Lots of it.
June 14, 2010 @ 9:13 pm
Oops, my earlier response was posted and I missed it. Well, it says pretty much the same thing.
Jim C. Hines
June 14, 2010 @ 9:24 pm
Yeah, the threading of comments/conversations here isn’t quite as clean or pretty as it is on LiveJournal, but I haven’t taken the time to find a better plugin yet.
June 14, 2010 @ 10:31 pm
Um, I’m not being snarky or bitchy, but I do not understand the difference you are getting at when you say that an Amazon review or cover art is not a complete work in itself, but a fanfiction story is. A) I don’t understand what the quality “complete” has to do with the quality “affects the opinion of someone about to read the original.” and B) both an Amazon review and a cover art can be fully realized artistic pieces which should be appreciated on their own merits. (Also, I pledge you, people who regularly read fanfiction are well-aware that fanfiction is not the original work, and that any particular story is one person’s ideas about the original in question.)
Re: P.S. As a dyke, I have a problem with describing “writing a character as gay” as heinous at all, and certainly as heinous in the same way as “writing a character being raped” or “writing a character as a pedophile.” Being thought of as gay, even if it’s inaccurate, isn’t terrible.
June 14, 2010 @ 10:51 pm
I didn’t state myself well. Apologies. I did not intend to imply that two characters being gay was in *any* way “heinous” and especially not to equate it with rape or pedophilia. I was simply making a point about how *some* fan fiction writers change the original story and jumbled those into the same sentence. Taking two straight characters, especially from TV shows and anime and having them have a sexual relationship is a very common trope. I don’t think it’s “heinous,” just that it’s a pretty big divergence.
Believe me, if you were familiar with my body of work you would know that I am a strong supporter of queer rights and positive portrayals of queer characters.
June 15, 2010 @ 2:17 pm
June 15, 2010 @ 3:54 pm
Profic is more the term for tie-in novels. Canon is the property itself. Fanon is well-known fanfiction tropes that everyone picks up and writes.
I write genre novels, usually with explicit sex and GLBT characters. I don’t write original slash.