Last year I weighed in on publishing fanfic after EL James made a fortune with 50 Shades of
Crap Grey, which was originally published online as an AU (alternate universe) Twilight fanfic. She did a find and replace on Edward and Bella’s names, shaved off a few serial numbers, and presto! Part of my negative reaction was due to an old-school fandom mentality, which is very Fight Club-esque in its separation of fandom from the general public. But the lines nowadays have become extremely blurred, with many showrunners and actors interacting directly with fandom.
A couple of months ago, author WJ Davies asked: “What if the author has given you express permission to write and self-publish the fanfic?” Huh. Great question! To my knowledge, this is a first. I find it fascinating how times and attitudes are changing, and invited WJ to share his thoughts and experiences. We’d love to hear your opinions as well!
Without further ado, please welcome WJ.
When you mention the word fanfiction, many people seem to get polarized. Some believe that publishing fanfiction is outright theft, and that these spinoffs do nothing to enrich the original story. If anything, they say, these tributive stories actually degrade the original work, and water it down. Others embrace fanfiction as an excellent tool to help hone a writer’s craft and more than that, view it as one of the highest forms of praise you could give to the original author.
A few months ago on Hugh Howey’s forums, a fan asked him if he would be OK with people writing stories in his acclaimed “Wooliverse”. Hugh not only encouraged his readers to write Wool stories, but actually advised them to publish their works on Amazon in eBook format.
“The world of Wool is ripe for exploration.” Hugh says. “There’s room for readers to become writers and play in this world. I won’t be able to scratch the surface. I view fan fiction as the opportunity to teach readers how much joy there is in creating worlds instead of just living in them. When readers got in touch to ask about fan fiction, I not only gave my blessing, I insisted that they charge for the work. Even if it’s just a dollar. I know what it’s like to struggle as an artist.”
The night I read that forum post, an entire chapter popped into my mind taking place in Hugh’s Silo world. I pictured a man running over a hill and witnessing something which crumbles the beliefs he has held all his life, beliefs propagated by those in charge of his insular world. This scene ended up being the final chapter in what would become The Runner (A Silo Story). Yes, a Wool fanfiction. On a whim, I decided to send the story to Hugh Howey, who is known for reading and responding to his fan’s emails. Within a day, Hugh had written me back, not only praising the story, but recommending I publish it on Amazon and charge for my work.
My brother whipped up a fancy cover page for the book and I set up a KDP account on Amazon. 24 hours later, The Runner eBook was live.
I woke up in the morning and checked Hugh’s blog as is my habit, and was completely flabbergasted at what I saw on his front page. Hugh’s article details the shift from reader, to writer, to self-published author.
“New avenues of artistic expression have opened to readers in the past decade. In just a few years, I was fortunate to go from self-publishing to writing full-time. Fan fiction takes this one step further as it urges readers to transform themselves into self-published authors! What’s great about fan fiction is that one of the challenging aspects of writing — the World Building — is already done. Readers can dabble in a world they love, and perhaps they’ll move from there to create worlds of their own. There’s room for readers to become writers and play in this world,” he said. “I view fan fiction as the opportunity to teach readers how much joy there is in creating worlds instead of just living in them.”
Indeed, I wrote The Runner in an effort to keep up my writing habit as I edited my original SF novel, Binary Cycle. I used this short fanfic as an exercise to teach me about completing a story, editing it, doing cover art and formatting, and finally publishing through Amazon’s KDP Select program. This experience has proved to be invaluable, and as a writer, I now feel much more prepared to tackle the publishing of my first novel.
There is an added benefit to this that I wasn’t expecting. At the time of writing this post, The Runner has been downloaded more than 6,000 times (including two freebie promotional days). It has garnered 80 reviews on Amazon, many of them incredibly positive and humbling. Readers mention that they would be OK with me writing another Silo fanfic story, adding that they will look forward to my debut novel. I couldn’t be happier with all the feedback I’ve received, and it all goes a long way to helping me become a better writer, and having a better idea of what readers are expecting and what makes an enjoyable story. I’ve even received several Wool fanfic stories from other writers who have been equally inspired to write in Hugh’s world.
The important thing I’ve drawn from this experience, is that any amount of writing, regardless of the subject matter, will help improve your craft, and if you feel inspired to write, then write. It’s amazing what a little dedication and hard work can do, and with the state of indie self-publishing right now, you never know what journeys your words will take you on. I can only thank Hugh Howey for creating a world so easy to immerse oneself in and for acting as a bastion of hope to so many indie-writers. The success of authors like Hugh give the rest of us something to aspire to, and provide us with the drive and motivation to keep writing. So now I ask you… What’s in your silo?