Fan-fiction is good for sales. Really.

 

So, everyone is talking about fandom and real fans vs. fake fans and how fan-fiction should come out of the closet or possibly stay in and what’s the point of it anyway. Well, I covered the ‘why’ on Friday – because there’s never enough of the Source Material, and there are always more possible storylines they didn’t do or couldn’t do or whatever and there’s never enough pictures and because love that’s why. So let’s talk about why I think it’s a good thing.

I am utterly in favour of fan-fiction (and I’m including fan-art in this, because it’s awesome too). I am aware that many people are not. Some people just don’t seem to be able to wrap their heads around the concept of non-official additions, and that’s okay. Some people just want to watch the show or read the book and leave it at that. Your call. Some people get snotty about how it’s not ‘real’ and mock the people who do it, and that is not okay. Everyone fangirls in their own way. Be polite.

(That’s good general advice, by the way. Even if you disapprove of someone’s life and fandom choices, be polite about it. Don’t be a dick, as Mr Wheaton says.)

There are also those – often the authors/creators themselves – who object to fan-fiction on both moral and fiscal grounds, likening it to file-sharing music or pirated movies and television. I don’t agree with this point of view, but I do understand it, at least from the authors/creators. It can’t always be comfortable, knowing that the characters you’ve created and nurtured and brought up to be contributing members of fiction are being borrowed when your back is turned and made to have random sex in supply closets – or killed off, or both, or worse. But I would certainly argue the idea that it costs authors or creators money. Which brings me to my own opinion.

(In explaining my own opinion of fan-fiction, I will be using a truly gigantic alcohol metaphor, so I apologize in advance to anyone who is or knows an alcoholic. While I know it can be an incredibly miserable, debilitating illness, and I don’t mean to make light of it, the references to addiction are entirely serious.)

Okay. Let’s just imagine for a moment that there is this incredibly amazing, wonderful brand of red wine, right? It’s called Hairy Otter, and it’s the most popular red wine ever. People will line up for hours at midnight just to buy a bottle. People dress up as that guy on the label, and write songs about Hairy Otter and join Hairy Otter fanclubs and generally love Hairy Otter to pieces.

There’s a drawback, though. Hairy Otter is wonderful, but it’s not easy to make. There’s a wait of months or years between every glorious shipment. This is a long, long time to go without a drop of wine, even if the bottles are really big when you finally get them.

So the people in the fanclubs start producing their own knockoff of Hairy Otter. Everyone knows it’s not the real thing, and some of it’s really awful, but Perry Trotter wine is at least reminiscent of Hairy Otter… and some of it’s pretty decent, plus it’s free and there’s lots of it, so you don’t have to wait.

Does the production of Perry Trotter mean that sales of Hairy Otter will go down?

Heck, no. Because the important thing about Perry Trotter is not that it’s a replacement for Hairy Otter, because it isn’t. The important thing is that, in that long, long spell between shipments of Hairy Otter, all these people were still drinking red wine. It may not have been quite as good, but their taste for red wine was kept alive.
Fan-fiction’s primary function is to feed obsession. To vent the creative impulses of a writer-fan, then to feed the hunger of more fans. The more they get – if it’s passable quality – then the more they want. I compared it to alcohol for a reason – other writers or readers of fanfic have compared it to chocolate, cigarettes, crack, heroin… and booze. (And I know more than one writer/reader who is an alcoholic, and ought to know.) The sole purpose of the free stuff that people keep handing out is to focus attention on the thing you will have to pay for.

This is why I simply do not understand authors/creators/publishers/networks who actively try to eradicate fan-fiction set in their universes. I mean, I get it on the emotional level – these are their toys, their babies, their Precious One Ring, and they don’t want to share – but on the practical level why on earth would you want all these potential sources of cashy money to be less emotionally invested in your work?

I know Harry Potter fic-writers and readers who have two copies of every single Harry Potter book – one for reading, one for keeping perfect forever. I know Star Wars fic-fans who have bought every single version of every movie… and I need only look to my left and over a bit to note that a certain comic-book fan-fic-reader in this house who is neither me nor our child would buy every statue of every superhero Marvel or DC will authorize if only he had enough money. I have friends from my days in X-Men Fandom – more than ten years ago now – who still buy every X-Men title printed, religiously, every month. They’ve spent most of those ten years complaining about the decreasing quality and increasingly frantic search for ‘edge’, but they still buy them. (The deteriorating quality and constant cancellation of my favourite titles did drive me off eventually, but I still miss it, and sometimes I linger in front of the racks in the comic shop and want another hit, even though I know they’ll just disappoint me.)

I know it’s not especially romantic or in keeping with the free-creativity thing, but I’ve been hanging around these fandom-junkies – and been one, I’ll happily admit it – for over fifteen years now, and what even semi-decent fan-fiction does is support and nurture and grow the reader’s obsession with the source material. If the people who sent me feedback in the old days are to be believed, I upped the readership of Generation X by at least twenty people all by myself, although that obviously wasn’t enough to keep it from being cancelled.

To go back to my wine-metaphor, those people who are sitting around every night, for hours, drinking Perry Trotter and thinking about Hairy Otter and talking about Hairy Otter and making their new Hairy Otter costumes are not drinking anything else. They could be out sampling a nice D. Hesden Fine Beer, or a Tina Drake naughty vodka drink, or sipping a Sparkling Angst by Dusk, or sitting at the Perry Tatchett bar drinking scumble (mostly apples), and all of those other fine alcohols are direct competition for the Hairy Otter dollar. Perry Trotter is not competition. Perry Trotter is not only free, but represents an active campaign to keep people drinking red wine even though there are other nice drinks available.
If I am ever fortunate enough to have one tenth of the fan-fiction written about my work that there has been about Harry Potter, then I’ll throw a huge party and run down to the local pub and buy everyone there a drink, because I would then know that I never need to worry about sales ever again. I would know that there were thousands of people out there who not only want to buy my book, in hardcover because they simply cannot wait for the paperback, but who would continue buying my books even if the first chapter of each consisted entirely of out-of-focus photographs of my bum. (And though my husband is fond of it, my bum would not feature on any ‘Million Hottest Arses In Australia’ lists) Sure, they’d complain, and there’d be a lot of online analysis of my suddenly developing bottom fetish, but they’d still be paying money for it. My only financial worry at that point would be spinning whatever series it is out to about fifteen books without running out of bum.

So yeah. Of course this is all my own personal opinion, and I may be completely wrong about the whole thing, but as far as I can determine the logic seems sound. Fan-fiction = increasing obsession = greater willingness to spend whacking great gobs of money on even the most ridiculous merchandise. (I could say I don’t know why there’s a Hufflepuff scarf hanging on my wall even though I live in a sub-tropical city that never gets cold enough to warrant wearing it, but I would be telling a dreadful fib) I’m a bit at a loss as to how this can be a bad thing.

Oh, and in case anyone wants to argue that people who are getting Perry Trotter for free won’t pay money for Hairy Otter, I invite you to go question every single reader at fanfiction.net and find even one who so much as considered just reading fan-fiction instead of buying Bottle 7. Really. Go on, I’ll wait.

 

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6 thoughts on “Fan-fiction is good for sales. Really.

  1. I do know a few fen who considered not buying book 7 and one who definitely didn’t buy Beedle, but that was because they didn’t like the way the books were going, not because of fanfiction per se. Usually, even people who’ve gone off the books will buy them to bitch about them.

    Sometimes, people get a glut of fanfiction and gaffiate, or are put off the whole scene by the nastiness of the fandom, but that takes years and so long as a new book comes out every two or three years it will keep drawing them back in, so I think your basic argument is sound.

  2. This is pretty much my stance on fanfiction. It doesn’t hurt the source material, and can even help in terms of exposure and knock-on sales. I really doubt it impacts sales negatively.

    Personally, as a creator, I’d be flattered if people wrote fanfiction (or did fan-art) around my work. I’m not sure if I’d want to read/see it (they are my babies, after all, and I’m a delicate flower on the inside), but inspiring people to such things is good in my eyes.

  3. I agree with your premise entirely. I’m working on a book, and once it’s published I have decided that I will know I am successful when fanfiction about my characters appears on the internet. 🙂

    The reason stated on some of my favorite author’s websites for not condoning fanfiction of their work, besides the emotional/this-story-is-my-baby reason, is that they are not allowed to READ fanfiction because if they end up taking any little ideas or plot points from fanfiction, THEY can get in trouble legally. (Robin McKinley explains her feelings on the matter here: http://robinmckinley.com/faq/faq.php?q_id=20) This is a little insane to me, that the author of the actuall copyrighted work could get in trouble for copying illegitimate copies of the stuff they created. It might just be that Robin McKinley and her editor are a little old-fashioned.

    • I think that McKinley’s agent’s advice is a little behind the times, yes. Fan-fiction has always presented some copyright issues – Marion Zimmer Bradley famously ran into trouble in the nineties (there’s an informative rundown here http://www.jimchines.com/2010/05/mzb-vs-fanfiction/). This is why almost all authors refuse to read fan-fiction of their own works, to avoid claims of plaigiarism. On the other hand, there’s nothing like fan-fiction and fan-art to keep a fandom flourishing – look at what it did for Star Trek after the original series was cancelled! Overall, I think it’s a sign of a healthy fandom, and definitely something to be encouraged.

    • Robin McKinley and her editor (and/or lawyer) are confused. Authors who have no problem at all with fanfiction (a few examples: Neil Gaiman, Diane Duane, Lois McMaster Bujold, Terry Pratchett), don’t *read* it for legal reasons, but their not reading it has nothing to do with fans not writing it.

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