Amateur vs. Professional - Your Approach to Fanfiction

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Title: Amateur vs. Professional - Your Approach to Fanfiction
Creator: Beverly Volker
Date(s): 1980
Medium: print
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Amateur vs. Professional - Your Approach to Fanfiction is a 1980 essay by Beverly Volker.

It was printed in Stylus #1.

While the fandom discussed is Star Trek: TOS, this is mainly because that was the focus of the vast majority of media zines at the time, and therefore, this zine's audience.

Some Topics Discussed

  • striving for excellence due to a love for the subject
  • saying "no" to including tribs in your zine by sub-standard fanworks created by friends or those with big reputations
  • creating fanworks for personal satisfaction

From the Essay

What do we mean by the term 'amateur' as opposed to 'professional'? Usually the difference is that one is paid for their talents and the other is not. Certainly by that standard, we would all be considered amateur, for although the artists may be able to sell their drawings for a few dollars and the zine eds may be able to re-coup their expenses with a little ahead toward the next publication, few of us could quit our 9-to-5 job and make a living off our zine writing, publishing or artwork.

Since we are not being 'paid' for our time and effort, since this facet of Star Trekking is considered (ahem!) a hobby, should we therefore be less professional in our approach, and in our finished product?

Professionalism, I feel, means a sense of integrity to yourself and to your compatriots. It is a kind of self-esteem in being able to say "this is the best I could do,"and mean it. It harks back to the old adage, "anything worth doing is worth doing well."

Professionalism and integrity also reflects the attitudes of the writers, artists and editors in dealing with each other and with their readers. There is no legal contract to sign, but when a writer or an artist makes a commitment to a zine, isn't that person somewhat obligated to do their best to fulfill that commitment whether it be in terms of meeting a deadline date or putting forth their best effort to hand in a quality story or illustration? Likewise, the zine editor is also committed to publish an accepted story or art, to bring out the zine as close to her announced date as possible, to be honest in accepting money for a proposed publication, and in many other aspects of producing a zine.

Of course, all of this can vary, subject to circumstances and obstacles that forever arise between the time of conception and the actual birth of every issue of any fanzine. Perhaps, because most of us do have other lives, we simply do not invoke the discipline necessary to be "real" professionals, and usually this is by choice. Most zine eds, writers and artists become friends, and there is a willingness to work together, to make allowances for problems, to be flexible in our association with each other.

Yet, when a zine is completed, each person who was a part of its making should be able to look with satisfaction at her own contribution to the end result.

Should there ever be a time when a writer says, "Oh, I know my story has problems, but what the heck, it's only a hobby. I'm not going to waste more time on it," or, "She wants me to rewrite a whole section, but I don't feel like it."?

Should there ever be a time when an editor says, "Well, I'm not crazy about this story and it isn't too well written, but she is my friend..." or, "I'm so pleased to get a story by her because she's such a well-known fan writer that I'll publish anything she sends me."?

Should an artist ever accept a story or poem to illo that she cannot 'see' or 'feel', just because the writer and/or editor is a 'friend' or is 'well-known', or the zine has a reputation for 'good artwork'?

The answer to all of these questions is a most emphatic NO. It all has to do with how you feel about yourself, as we mentioned before, a sense of self-integrity. When we begin to make compromises, we start to sacrifice quality. And I feel that 'quality' is the most important product any of us can produce.

Is professionalism synonymous with quality? Perhaps. Not always. Sometimes. Many professionals get paid for junk. Many amateurs produce outstanding,excellent craftmanship. Maybe part of the answer lies in the degree of love and loyalty we have for our subject, the willingness to work at our talents, the enthusiasm to learn and grow and improve.

Fan Comments

Bev Volker's article made a very good point. I've often described fanzines to mundanes as Writer's Workshops by mail. You can tell a possible pro from someone who will stay a zine writer all her life by whether they think they can always improve, or whether they are complacent about their 'fame' at the moment. [1]
Beverly Volker brings up the valuable point that one should always approach their writing and editing with a professional attitude, which is a reality we all tend to forget at times. [2]
Re Bev's "Amateur vs. Professional, Your Approach to Fan Fiction", I agree that a professional attitude will yeild dividends to everyone concerned, but do you think that perhaps there is a danger that the existing fan fiction set-up is too professional for approach by the new writers? It could scare them off; how often do you come across -a closet Trekker who is happily writing and then upon reading the really good stuff (and let's face it, it's that which sticks in the mind) decide that their material comes no where near and they are going to burn all their stories on a giant bonfire in the garden! When this reaction sets in it is sometimes years before they have the courage to take up their pens again, they feel inferior surrounded by such experienced and prestigious writing, there is no need for them to feel so, but the pleasure of writing has been taken away. I do totally agree with Bev's article, but wanted to point out this inherent danger in a too-professional facade to fandom. [3]


  1. ^ from a letter of comment in Stylus #2
  2. ^ from a letter of comment in Stylus #2
  3. ^ from a letter of comment in Stylus #2