I’ve been reading a lot today about the changing nature of publishing. Mostly, I’ve been going through Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog archives on the subject, in case that kind of insider talk is of interest to you.
To sum up: the traditional publishing industry is hella borked, and everyone’s feeling the pain. This should come as no surprise, as technology is enabling a wave of new business models - suspect and legit alike - to flourish and die in rapid cycles, so nobody can say they have the One Single Surefire Answer for how to get books in readers’ hands. Which means that the big lumbering behemoths, the oldskool publishers, the Big Six, are floundering and panicking and nobody looks good or dignified* or clean no matter how hard they try.
I work in publishing, btw. Well, my actual ‘job’ is in publishing, but I’m also a freelance artist and I help run several conventions. Plus I have a Vested Interest in fandom, obviously. So I see a lot of weirdness on every front.
Recently, I shared an article on FB (yes, I know it’s a flawed platform, but it’s still useful for a few core reasons behind all the privacy-bullshit advertising clutter) with my RL friends about one of those One Direction fanfics getting a deal to be tidied up for ‘real’ publishing. And an author!friend - who’s been published in the past, mind, not an aspiring-to-be-published-eventually author - remarked, “No wonder I’m not getting responses from editors anymore.” Like fanfiction is stealing her chances, her contracts, her readers.
Which is complete and utter bullshit. I didn’t even know where to *begin* taking that statement apart, but I think I’m starting to grok the fundamentals now.
I’m supposed to be asleep but I made the mistake of reading this on my phone… it’s much more interesting than sleep.
Anyway, I agree with just about everything saathi says, but at the same time I manage to have mixed feelings. (I am a professional book editor, a published author, an unpublished novelist and a fanficcer who quite often gets comments saying ‘This is better than most published stuff’, so I have all manner of vested interests.)
The one key factor I don’t think saathi mentions is that the stories getting public attention really don’t cast fanfic in a good light. The highest-profile serial-numbers-filed-off jobs are not the kind of stories most people who are likely to be reading this post enjoy. They are 50 Sh*d*s and those One Direction fanfics by teenagers. And while I haven’t read the latter I will take a punt and say their appeal lies in squee and sharing rather than in literary merit.
I’m in the UK and we tend to be a couple of years behind US trends, but the above does make me unsurprised that people aren’t grokking the range and standard of fanfic yet. And do tell me if I’m wrong (please, I’d love to be) but there isn’t yet a wave of fanfic-to-literary springboarding. The highest quality example I personally know of is Kryptaria’s Northwest Passage, which is being revised for a Romance publisher so while I look forward to its new incarnation it will likely be perceived and marketed strictly in a genre context.
On the question of why editors don’t respond any more, saathi’s so right. There are less of us, we have less (often read: no) assistants, we are doing more work, we have less time to actually edit manuscripts, and we are under more pressure to simply obey the sales department, all of which are down to the pressures on publishers which saathi has described. Writers need editors, but a lot of self-published writers prefer to do without us; there has been an uptick in the number of successfully self-employed editors in recent years, but not enough to counteract industry shrinkage. Mostly we still need publishing houses to employ us, if only to develop our skills, because there’s not much formal training out there.
Saathi passionately argues that a lot of fanfiction is good (in a context which I understand to mean ‘well-written’), and I am 100% behind that, but as far as I can see the good fanfic is not what’s being picked up for adaptation. Obviously I wasn’t involved in the original conversation , but it doesn’t sound to me like the complainant is resenting the more skilled ficcers for being awesome, but resenting writers of limited skill who happen to be ficcers and who have the luck to have chimed with the zeitgeist. There is always a new crop of those, and if at the moment some of them are fanficcers, yet no skilled fanficcers are publicly visible, it’s not surprising fanfic has a bad rep. My hope is that this is a temporary phase, and more and more pro writers will become known to be current or previous ficcers.
So… the good news for any potentially resentful origfic writers is that yes, if you write ‘good’ novels then it’s highly unlikely that One Direction fics by teenagers are nicking your readers, because the market is totally different. Most of the books put out by big publishers are of necessity chosen not because they are good but because they are commercial. The bad news for ficcers is that the general poor public opinion of fanfic is likely to continue if Twilight knock-offs and One Direction teen squee continue to occupy the spotlight.