What’s your best chance of being published RIGHT NOW?
Last week an article in Vanity Fair website suggested that on the back of the Fifty Shades of Grey film erotic fiction was still a good way of convincing a publisher that you’re a writer worth investing in. But it is HOW E.L James first came to readers’ attention that is perhaps the most interesting information for emerging writers.
photo credit Mike Mozart/Creative Commons
When the first of her Shades of Grey trilogy was published in 2012 I read a number of articles that described E.L.James as as a SELF-PUBLISHED author who had broken through to the big time, perhaps you read the same articles as well. (Although even then people were beginning to query if that was an accurate description as she wasn’t known within the online self-publishing community and she seemed to catapult to fame on a zero to hero flight.) It seems the story is rather different and E.L. James’ route to publication is not only still open today, it may also be the best way of getting noticed.
The trilogy started out as posts on Fanfiction.net as an erotic take on Twilight. Because of its popularity on the website the first book was released by a small publisher as an e-book and a print-on-demand title. After a bidding war when all the major US publishing houses declared their interest, E.L. James signed a seven-figure contract with Random House – the rest is history.
COULD YOU DO THE SAME?
The short answer is yes and it doesn’t need to be erotic fiction.
photo credit: Superhero Self Portrait via photopin (license)
Fan fiction has been around in some form or other for many years. It’s a term applied to writing that it is immersed in the fictional world created by another writer, usually but not always, using the same characters. Since the development of the internet, fan fiction has the ability to reach out to a very loyal and very greedy readership across the world. I visited http://www.fanfiction.net for the first time today and found thousand of stories being read and reviewed by readers. Here’s a selection (I’ve only chosen a few of the ones I recognise – there are many I’ve never heard of):
Harry Potter (706K)
Lord of the Rings (53K)
Hunger Games (42K)
Chronicles of Narnia (11.3K)
Artemis Fowl (5.5K)
Les Miserables (4.4K)
Sherlock Holmes (3.8K)
Pride and Prejudice (3.5K)
Peter Pan (2.8K)
Fifty Shades Trilogy (2.1K)
I looked at the Little Women section (with a modest 330 stories) and discovered full length novels written in serial form, with eager readers waiting for the next installment, and short standalone scenes and perfectly formed vignettes. Many were about Jo and Lawrence falling in love and staying in love – in a flash I understood the attraction of fan fiction because isn’t that what should have happened the first time round? In other stories Beth doesn’t die, Jo March discovers that her very new husband snores, picnics are eaten, outings taken and all of these events, the major and minor, stay rigidly within the confines and vocabulary of the original world. They have to because their fans will know straightaway if they put a foot wrong
Apparently, literary agents sometimes search through fan fiction sites for new talent. But it is more likely that writers will approach agents in the conventional way, but adding their fan fiction popularity as an important credential. London-based literary agent Lorella Belli says in Vanity Fair that submissions from fan fiction authors are often higher in quality than the average submission. “Readers of fan fiction are much more sophisticated than most people give them credit for—they’re quite discerning.” So, FF writers come with a writing ability forged in the heat of public criticism plus they can prove they can build an audience for their work and keep it. You can see why the publishing world is taking notice.
Could this be a route to publication for you? This post has barely covered the subject. You will find out more by studying these articles and websites.
Have you read any fan fiction?
Have you written any fan fiction?
Please tell us about your experiences in the comments section below – and, of course, also give your thoughts on this subject.
By the way, one thing I have discovered in my research is that most fan fiction authors are women: young, old and middle aged.
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That’s really fascinating research you have carried out, thank you. It’s interesting that writers of fan fiction attain higher standards than one might imagine.
It’s rather like artists copying famous pictures is,’t it? Except it is better, becayuse the story is developed, not copied rigidly. I’m going to try it!!
That’s a brilliant analogy June. You’re right, it’s not about copying but developing.
I can see why you would have to be good to suceed as a fan fiction writer. There is plenty of competition – 706k Harry Potter related stories alone on one website! – and it is very easy for readers to click and move when reading online. It’s also a way of learning how to write because there are forums, community hubs and places you can pick up beta raders willing to offer a critical assessment.
WoW!! Pretty amazing Bridget & a whole new area for me. My initial thought though was -how on earth do people have the time to write all that stuff AND write their’own’ work.Sounds too rich for my blood. But you have me intrigued.
Very new for me too. I think the point is that the fan fiction IS their work, mind boggling as that is to us I’m looking out for a fan fiction author to write a guest post – would be a fascinating insight.
Don’t want to sound smug but I did know that’s how EL James developed 50 Shades. Haven’t read the Twilight books but I know they were incredibly popular with teenage girls for a while, films too.
I find it postmodernly ironic that 50 Shades itself has fan fiction now!
Good for those who do it I say. They’ve found an audience which is what all writers want and many clearly have a following. I can see the appeal – for reader and writer. If you loved a book but hated the ending – change it and develop it the way you’d have liked it to go. After all if you felt that way, chances are other readers did too!
I was impressed by the standard of the writing in the Little Women group I sampled – I can see it as a way of proving your talent. More power to them….
I suppose I have written “fan fiction” although I didn’t think of it like that. A child I know asked me to write another book using the characters from Elinor Lyon’s books about Cathie, Ian and Sovra “but you have to have someone else who is a little bit you and a little bit me”. So I wrote a book length book for her and it got passed around at her school but I would not put it up for general consumption without permission from Vanessa Robertson (who has the publishing rights to the original books) and Elinor’s son, Roger.
It was an interesting exercise and not nearly as easy as people might think if you really want to do it well.
That IS fan fiction. I think the copyright holders probably wouldn’t/couldn’t give permission for you to use Elinor Lyon’s characters. However, (I’m getting all excited now) other fan fiction authors have got around this problem by changing important details. Instead of set in the Scottish Highlands it could be – just as an example – Australia in 2015. Change the names of the children and perhaps other things about them and you have something interesting and original and yours. I’m getting really excited because wikipedia had this to say about Elinor Lyon:
“…Lyon began The House in Hiding, for example, after reading Swallows and Amazons, because she disliked the characters within it (they were too good at everything).In response, the children in The House in Hiding get things wrong, but still manage to succeed eventually…”
So she wrote fan fiction – except it wasn’t called that back then. (I’m going to need smelling salts soon.) Y ou could publish and acknowledge your debt to EL and perhaps by doing that you would encourage children to read her books. So it would be win win and paying proper respect to an author you admire.
And you’ve already done the best possible market research by showing it to a discerning audience.
I’m going to have a lie down now, but please tell me that you will go to an agent or publisher with your manuscript. Please!!
No, Vanessa and Roger have read it but we’ve agreed to leave it at that. I have written other, better things and can’t interest an agent… one of these days!
What a shame and one of these days will be YOUR day, I’m sure of it.
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Such an interesting post Bridget, I didn’t realise how popular fan fiction is. Its a novel idea too, to get a different slant on classic characters/plots.One of my daughter’s recent assignments at school was similar – the students had to change the ending of a classic story – they were given a list of stories, such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and so on. So, this has caught on at school too. I will definitely check this out 🙂