Most of us started out in fanfic. Even me. It’s just that I started out in fanfic at age 6, in Portuguese. So when they put me on a panel on your earliest writing in Denvention I had to point out to them the flaw in their reasoning. Sure, supposing mom hasn’t burned it (she likes bonfires) there is, somewhere around the potato cellar, a composition book with my early, written in pencil and misspelled stories in which I imitated (well, I tried) Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. (My favorite was actually the Adventure series, but even at six I knew I wasn’t good enough to write those.) However, supposing I could get hold of it and read it, only those who understood Portuguese and grew up with Enid Blyton’s Kid-mystery series would know what I was doing.
So I read an early joke-story I wrote (and which sold) because I figured what they wanted was weird.
However, everyone else at that table read their earliest writing and it was, without exception, like my earliest writing: self insertion and fan fic.
So if you’re a beginning writer, of any age, and you feel a desperate need to do self-insertion fanfic, congratulations: You’re normal.
(Self insertion, btw, although much ballyhooed as a literary sin is not. It all depends on how well you do it — I don’t do it at all. I like escaping the pace behind my eyes. But I know people who do — and many bestsellers are self-inserters. I can do a post on that later, and how to do it WELL. Not that I do it, but I’ve been observing it a long time.)
Anyway, that’s how most of us start. I suppose if you’re over forty, and you swear to me you’ve never done that, I MIGHT believe you. However, if your first book, at over forty years of age wasn’t that, and was publishable, I’m going to think you’re lying and there are something like 20 manuscripts under the bed.
Which brings us to: it’s still wrong, and you can’t publish that.
I recently came across someone who didn’t know that. He wasn’t being stupid, he simply didn’t know the inside-baseball of how pro-world-based stories work. You see those anthologies on Monster Hunter, say, and if you’re a beginner you think “Okay, I’m still in my fanfic phase, but I could play in a favorite world.” And you probably could. I mean, those anthos always have one or two relative unknowns who are friends with the author and the editor or both.
But the fact is those stories, to keep the editorial work to a minimum (if you opened up a really popular world, you’d drown in submissions) are “invite only.”
Other than that, there isn’t a heck of a lot of outlet for fanfic.
Sure, if you’re as twisted as I am, and your favorite media properties are things like Pride and Prejudice and The Three Musketeers, not to mention Shakespeare, you can publish your fanfic. But that’s only if you have the good taste of liking things that are out of copyright.
What if you, in common with most fans (which means greater audience) prefer to write in popular book series, popular movies, popular tv series.
That’s when you are in real trouble. And don’t for the love of heaven, ever try to publish anything that has any ties to Disney. They have a bunch of lawsuit-happy lawyers on staff, who will take you to court, even if they gain nothing for it. What they’re actually doing is putting your head on a pike outside their castle, so other misbegotten barbarians don’t think of fanficking them.
So — what do you do? Most likely you’ll do what most of us eventually do: you start coming up with your own material, even though at first it might really be a conglomeration of your three or four favorite movies. That’s okay. As long as it’s not traceable to a single franchise, and you’re sure the seams between the disparate material are neat enough, you’re not doing anything wrong, and you might be very successful.
Or you can “file the serial numbers.” It’s no big surprise that Fifty Shades of Grey started out as twilight fanfic, substituting S & M for vampires. Which when you think about it makes sense, bringing the same power relationships to play, while eliminating the most identifiable part of the original material.
I can also do a post on that, and how to preserve what appeals in the material while avoiding being sued. But it’s a whole post, not just a few lines in this post.
Every year, when I had a hopeful (we practically ONLY had hope, though we were working on skill) young writers’ group, we entered the Strange New Worlds contest. For those who don’t know, this was a star trek fanfic anthology. Eventually three people in our group got into (different) anthologies. Not a mean feat, when they MUST have gotten thousands upon thousands of submissions.
HOWEVER, there were 12 of us in the grou and we submitted to it over 5 years or so. So there were a lot of leftover fanfics. Usually immediately after the results were announced there was the “great brainstorming” session in which we helped ourselves shave off identifying marks, without destroying the story.
From the fact that quite a few of those stories sold to pro places like Analog and Asimov, I have to assume the filing of serial numbers was effective.
So, the bad news about fanfic is that, with very few exceptions, or if you become big enough or lucky enough one day to be invited to an anthology of JUST that fanfic, you can’t sell it as is.
The good news is that you’re not an inferior writer if you commit fanfic. Most of us start out that way, many of us still indulge when we have that mythical “free time” thing. (Not this year.)
Some fanfic, like Jane Austen, can be sold as is, both to publishers and Amazon, and I’ll be honest, I’ve made a tidy bit off JA fanfic. But that’s because it’s out of copyright.
If your poison of choice isn’t, it’s not the end of the world, though. You can still shave off the serial numbers and ride that story all the way to the top. No matter what your opinion of Twilight is, I hear the author sleeps in a mattress stuffed with money.
So, write it like it’s hot. And then do what you have to do to sell it.