Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Encouraging Fan Fiction

Hugh Howey. Chances are, you’ve heard of him, he’s been in the news a lot lately.

 Howey is the latest self-publishing success story. His self-published science fiction series, Wool, was so popular it allowed Howey to dictate the terms of a major print deal, a deal that allowed him to keep the digital rights for himself. In other words, he’s managed to keep his cake, and eat it, too.

(He’s also the latest author to run afoul of Little Brother, having written a blog post at the beginning of April that showed, at the very least, poor humor and even worse judgment. It has since been taken down and apologized for—twice—but it’s out there if you choose to look. And, yeah, after telling you all to beware of Little Brother, this is me playing Little Brother. The irony is not lost)

He’s also taken an unusual position regarding fan fiction. From an interview with blogger/author, Patrice Fitzgerald:

“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’m making enough money. It warms my heart to see Ben Adams selling Wool prints and keeping 100% of the profit. The same goes for fan fiction.”

I’m not sure how I feel about this. As a writer, my mind balks at two points. First, the idea of piggybacking to such an extent on the work of others. It just feels wrong. I’m not saying it is wrong, and I’ve done it myself (of course, I was like ten years old), but there comes a point where it seems you should just break away and do it on your own. If you can come up with a good plot and proper dialogue and all that, you can come up with all the elements to make a good, original story. Go for it!

“Don’t even think about touching my stuff!”

The second point is the more irrational one. It’s that possessive streak I have. I would be flattered that someone might be so inspired by my work that they create a spin-off or extension of it. But there’s also a fierce beast inside that would want to stand guard over it. “Leave it alone,” that beast snarls when someone gets too close. “It’s mine. MINE!” And when you add money into the equation, it gets worse.

The fact is, once something’s published, it’s out of our hands. People are going to do whatever they want with it. And if they want to put two characters together who would never in a million years get together, or write a pre-story story, or write about what comes next, or ten years later, or transport them to Moonbase Alpha, there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

Is there a danger to it? Can fan fiction hurt the author? Is Howey potentially shooting himself in the foot by encouraging this level of fan fiction, or is he a genius for extending the life of his series? I guess time will tell.

What do you all think?

Photo by Princes Milady

21 Responses

  1. Hmm, I wasn't that offended by his rant about the crazy woman, though I think he could have done without the part about grabbing his crotch. I thought he was kind of making an interesting point. I've been to a lot of conferences and she seemed a little familiar. 😛

    But I feel the same way as you about fan fiction. I would be like, "It's mine! I worked for years creating that world! Go make your own!" But, yeah, not much you can do to stop it if it happens, I don't think.

  2. Fan fiction threatens the integrity of the characters & their history. The only person legitimately in control of that is the original author. Period.

  3. I disagree with Nancy. Fan fiction is a way for fans to extend their thoughts beyond the creators work. But I definitely don't believe you should get paid. It's not yours by right. I love reading and writing fan fiction myself. Even though original fiction is my top priority to write.

  4. I can absolutely see the 'type', too. There are 'evangelicals' in all fields.

    I know I mentioned this in an old post. When I was a kid, nine, ten years old, my sister and I used to write Brady Bunch scripts. The difference between fan fiction then and now is that it used to end up buried in the bottom of a drawer somewhere, never to see the light of day until unearthed thirty years later. Nowadays, you can write it and share it with the whole world. It's been around for a long time, and can't be stopped.

  5. That's a definite concern, especially when you're looking at a series or something with series potential. Can a 'fandom' get so powerful they supersede an author's ability to control the 'destiny' of his characters and world? I'd be curious to see if it ever happened.

  6. I don't know the legalities of it. It does feel wrong, though, to get money for building on someone else's world and characters. Unless you've been hired to be the next Carolyn Keene, Franklin W. Dixon, or Dread Pirate Roberts, I suppose. Even then, I'd rather write my own characters.

  7. Fanfiction is such a gray area. There are certainly legal considerations, but it gets so many people interested in reading and writing.

    Personally, I'd be flattered if someone wrote fanfiction about my characters/world–just as long as they didn't make money off of it.

  8. I know years ago, someone read a book of mine in a critique group site, and they asked me if they could create fan fiction in the same universe. I thought about it and told them no, because it made me nervous seeing as my book wasn't published. My fear was that if he wrote the book, cared about it, wanted to polish it and make it the est it could be…what would happen if he decided, "this is good enough to be published. And Angela hasn't found a publisher for her book yet…why let this go to waste?"

    I don't know, maybe it's paranoid, but I know how writers fall in love with their stuff. I think there's a good chance someone writes FF and then decides they want to get it out there. Then what?

  9. As a fan fiction reader/writer myself, I don't see the danger in fan fiction as long as the fan-author isn't making a profit from it. If they want a profit, they can write their own original stories. But I find fan fiction writing a good exercise, especially for beginning writers trying to learn how to maintain a character. Sometimes it's something you imagine happening to pre-existing characters that inspires you to write something original. It's happened to me before, to say the least.

    But in the end, it is completely up to the author to decide whether to give permission or not. People are sure to do as they please, but I'd personally respect someone who said "No, you can't make fanfictions for my stories," because that's just polite.

    After reading Angela's comment above, I'd have to say I'd discourage fanfictions for not-yet-published works for exactly the reasons Angela has outlined. It is a scary thought. But once you have published something first, I don't see the harm in allowing people to use my characters, plots, settings, etc as long as they can't publish it for themselves.

    That's my two cents at least.

  10. That's pretty impressive, Angela–pre-publication fan fiction, but I'd say you're definitely right to have said no. If it came to it, you could probably prove pretty easily that you wrote yours first in a plagiarism suit, if it came to it, but who wants to go through that?

  11. That was more like a nickel, hah ha.

    Seriously, you and Carrie both hit upon benefits of fan fiction in a broader sense: how it can encourage more people to write, and can help develop writing skills.

    The 'harm' in fan-fiction is whether it has the potential to damage an author's ability profit off their works, past, present and future. I doubt Howey is going to be harmed; in the short term at least, he's benefiting, because it keeps his work in the public eye, and it makes people say, "What a great guy he is!" As I asked in response to Nancy, I wonder if fan-fic has ever really hurt an author of the original work.

  12. The scary part of fanfic for me is someone making MY characters do things they would never do. They had issues on one of the classic Star Trek episodes–City on the Edge of Forever–when they had Issac Asimov write the screenplay for the episode. It was a great story he wrote, but it didn't fit the way the characters had been established in the series. He got an award for it, I think, as a short story, and the ST writers got an award for their version of it.

  13. I'm not sure how I feel about Fanfic. It would be hard for me to see my characters doing things I didn't create. But I don't think you can stop it.

  14. I don't think fan fiction can really hurt an author–it means people are enthusiastic about his or her work, which I'd think would be a good thing. As for making a profit off of fan fiction, that's trickier, since technically it would be making money off of a copyrighted work.

  15. Haha sorry for such a long comment…

    I guess whether it's ever actually hurt an author of the original work is something to consider. I have seen some pretty terrible er… recreations of some of my favourite fandoms. But I think if people know that it's just fan fiction, they're not going to take it seriously or associate it with the author.

  16. In my fanfic piece THE RUNNER, I was very careful not to reference any of Hugh's original characters. All I did was take his silo world and create my own story based on that. I did, in fact, initially write the piece as a writing exercise, but after sending it to Hugh, he encouraged me to put it up on Amazon and charge a buck for the work. If he enjoyed the story that much, who was I to say no?
    I would be more than happy to give most or all of the earnings back to Hugh, but he isn't interested. He just wants to see other writers do well and build up people's interest in reading.

  17. Hi, WJ. Co-opting someone's characters would feel all wrong to me. Borrowing elements of the world is easier for me to swallow. Nice to see that Mr. Howey is that supportive, too. Thanks for stopping in and sharing your experience, and best of luck with your story and future writing!

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