Anne Rice Ain't Got Nothing On You, Mercedes Lackey or How One Author Successfully Killed Her Fandom, Only Half Intentionally

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Title: Anne Rice Ain't Got Nothing On You, Mercedes Lackey or How One Author Successfully Killed Her Fandom, Only Half Intentionally
Creator: marginaliana, and commenters
Date(s): March 11, 2006
Medium: online
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: Anne Rice Ain't Got Nothing On You, Mercedes Lackey; Archive; Archive
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Anne Rice Ain't Got Nothing On You, Mercedes Lackey or How One Author Successfully Killed Her Fandom, Only Half Intentionally is a post by marginaliana at Fanthropology.[1]

It generated 64 comments.

Some Topics Discussed

From the Original Post

I've been looking recently for fandom related to Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books, since I was considering writing a piece for crossover_hp involving that series. And even though it's a longish series of books that have a definite cheesy fantasy appeal, and most of the women I know who read fantasy devoured the series when they were teenagers, there's very little online fandom for it, and what there is is almost uniformly bad (summary of Mercedes Lackey online fandom [equals] one LJ comm with no fanfic, a few RPGS, a few very small YahooGroups). The more I looked, though, the more I realized that the state of this fandom is directly tied to the author's decisions, and that Mercedes Lackey has more effectively killed her own fandom than anyone else I've seen, and moreover she did it in such a way that the fans STILL love her.
How She Did It: The most important factor in this, I think, is the virtual elimination of the internet from the fandom. Lackey achieved this by establishing official fanzines and clubs which are almost entirely offline - contact information is available online, but the content of the zines is entirely print. All the action takes place by mail. And when you're dealing with fans who, nowadays, can find fannish interaction with the click of the mouse, you just can't hold someone's attention by mail. Fans are much more likely to turn to the fandom of something where they can interact with others instantly rather than going to the effort of sending off something by mail and waiting for it to be published. And feedback, which is at the center of a lot of fanfiction writing today, comes only slowly if at all. Also, fanfiction published in the zines requires prior permission and a release form from Lackey's staff, which adds to the effort and time involved.

This is exacerbated, I think, by the fact that the author's own website is some of the most atrociously bad web design I've ever seen in my life. You don't need those eyeballs, really. It's updated sparsely, poorly organized, and contains no interactive aspects. Any feedback is directed to a PO Box. There are no forums, and no indication that the author is at all interacting with fans.

I would think, though, that the lack of authorized fan space would not necessarily keep others from starting their own fan zones - archives and forums and so on. Except that Lackey has made a considerable to-do about her feelings for fanfiction, and done so in a way that was conciliatory enough to keep fans while making them feel like she was completely justified in her limits on fanfic. Her explanation is basically "it's for your own good because I might HAVE to sue you in order to keep my own rights" and "I don't like it any more than you do, but this is what my lawyers tell me I have to enforce." And since fans of the series are more often than not young girls who worship Lackey, they generally accept that reasoning.

In addition, she does make it okay to publish fanfiction in the print zines, as long as it follows certain rules (it must take place in a certain time frame but with an alternate universe twist; it can't involve any of her major characters, only fan-derived characters, etc). The majority of the fandom is centered around "Personae," which are essentially Mary-Sue-ed-up versions of the fans translated into the fantasy universe. And since most of the fans start out wanting to create Mary-Sue characters anyway, they have no problem with this.

And when fans DO grow older and feel the desire to move into creating work which is more complex, they generally move into newer fandoms - partially because they've outgrown the books generally, but partially because there's no room for change within the fandom.

So basically: --poor web presence --cheesy Mary-Sue-ish source material to begin with (and I say this with love, mind you) --emphasis on self-insertion characters and no incentive to move past that into more thoughtful textual analysis --sympathetic manipulation of fans

Resulting in: minimal fandom focused mostly on very young and/or die hard fans.

Excerpts from Comments

"She has the right to put limits on how fans can play in her sandbox, period. And frankly, getting death threats for refusing to teach someone how to be a Guardian or whatever it's called sounds like a pretty good reason for being leery of fandom. Last but not definitely not least, fandom isn't as important as it likes to think. Actual fans make up a small percentage of the people who buy her books -- and in the end it's those folks she has needs to be on target for, not fandom."- comment by dinpik
"Lackey's restrictions are based on restrictions originated by MZB (Marion Zimmer Bradley) and are similar to those developed by Anne McCaffery. MZB's restrictions came about after she had to throw away a mainly completed novel or personally confront a lawsuit from a fan fiction writer in the early 1990s (her publisher refused to support her or publish the novel). Anne McCaffery has has her restrictions in place since the writing Weyrs started developing on the AOL message boards of the late 1980s. Lackey is MZB's protege (and, since MZB has since died, the manager of MZB's estate). So I don't find her restrictions surprising...Correction: McCaffery's restrictions on ONLINE fan fiction and fandom date back to the late 1980s. Her restrictions on fan fiction (no fan fiction allowed to be written in established Weyrs in established timelines with established characters) date back to the early 1970s."- comment by cschick
"Bah - terrible [website]! I'm really sorry for her fans. But it's her baby, she can do what she wants - it's certainly what I would do if I wanted to prevent my fans from going overboard and turn my characters into weepy Sues in horrendous badfic. Hey, I wish there was this rubber stamper for Harry Potter fanfics. No more Sub!Sevs with half a dozen fetishes and suicidal tendencies, no more exchange-Sues... Ahem. Back from the land of dreams. Hmm... Since she's writing not out of artistic, but financial reasons, I don't really see why she minds so much. She could sell her books much, much better if she had a huge fanbase on the internet - and if people are insane enough to contact her via Mail to ask her about guardians - maybe it would be easier to give them time and space on the web for their theories?"- comment by mothfic
"I can see why she minds. It can hurt her livelihood. Are you aware of the details of the MZB incident? A fan basically ended up killing her ability to publish a book. That hurts her bottom line. And before saying the Internet can help, show me a study that shows proves fan fiction can help increase profits for book based fandoms?"- comment by partly bouncy
"This isn't really all that conclusive, but I would have personally given up on reading the Harry Potter books a long time ago had it not been for the enormous fandom/amount of fanfiction. My own personal tendency to lose interest in something if it does not have a significantly large fanbase certainly does not prove mothwing's point, but if there are a lot of other people who behave like I do then it does clarify her reasoning."- comment by a lurker
"I guess I tend to think of there being a divide between fans and Fans, you know? The "fans" with the lower case are people who buy your books. The "Fans" with uppercase are people who make fansites and write fanfiction and go to cons to discuss your work and so on. So her restrictions don't have any effect on the fans, because they don't know about them or don't care. But they have a big effect on, and reduce the number of, Fans. Which I think she's decided is a good move, and I can't say I disagree - it doesn't change much financially and it keeps her from the crazies. On the other hand, not everyone could work the same way - maybe it's partly because she had Fans before the internet and got in on the restricted-fanfic train early on. Whereas if JKR tried to do that, I shudder to think what would happen. But yeah, I don't have a problem with it - I just find it curious. I guess even though I started thinking about writing fanfic in that universe, I still consider myself a fan, lower case."- comment by marginaliana
"Hey, I have a few things I've written in her worlds, I just don't, and won't, publish or distribute them, paper or 'net. I write primarily for me anyway, and the satisfaction is having the story there to read again five years later, not in whether or not someone says "This is kewl!" five minutes after I post. I like feedback as well as anyone, but it's not the main reason I write."- comment by rabidsamfan
"....every author who has gone to lengths to discourage this transformation has had someone who transitioned from Fan to Stalker!Fan personally affect them. Sure, we can sit in the fannish community and say that the person who transitions from Fan to Insane!Fan is one in 10,000; and the person who transitions from Insane!Fan to Stalker!Fan is one in 10,000 of those. But it only takes one of those to affect an individual author. And given that the pro author community has internal groupings of authors, it may only take one to affect more than one individual author."- comment by cschick
"Myself, I'm curious to see how the author/fan thing plays out over the next 10 years or so. The authors mentioned here (Lackey, MZB, McCaffrey) are all older (50+ authors), right? Fandom/fanfic and the internet were all things that developed late in their lives/careers. Authors and fans are still evolving their interaction, but overall, things seem to be settling into a more stable pattern. The early author freakout reaction of "OMG these extreme fan people are really weird and scary" seems to be fading... The great majority of my older acquaintances (people 60+) find the idea of internet communities and internet friendships to be weird—not to mention fandom. They truly feel that something is wrong with a person who "can't make friends in real life."... Needless to say, those attitudes are going the way of the dinosaurs. Sci-fi and fantasy stories are mainstream. Fandom is a known thing. Online communities are just part of life for people <30.... An example of the ubiquity of fandom—I was just at a big technical conference where one of the speakers popped up a Buffy site homepage as an example of a specific kind of UI community design. Nobody batted an eyelash—most of them had their laptops up and were IMing, posting, gaming, etc. Yeah, these are techies, but lots of mainstream young America is right there with them... So I'm suspecting that the more extreme, panicky reactions from many older authors, will decline, as these older authors die off and are replaced by younger authors who are more aware of fandom and don't regard it as the land of scary weirdos."- comment by truwest
"I can perfectly understand Lackey's desire to limit fanfiction written in her worlds, but I'm not sure I understand the lack of interest in putting together a tasteful and organized website about her works. Surely that would help her gain more fans (of the non-crazy, book-buying kind)... no? If I'm wrong, I'd honestly like to know why."- comment by marginaliana
"Authors don't have to create web communities for their fans. Successful authors (and whatever you think of Lackey, you can't say she's not successful) don't have to create websites to sell their books, their publishing companies will gladly market for them. You're not entitled to a direct line into your favorite author's life or mind. People who spend their time writing books don't always care to spend their time writing other things. For every Elizabeth Bear (matociquala) or Cory Doctorow who blogs like mad, there's someone like Mercedes Lackey who couldn't care less."- comment by bovil
"But I'm not suggesting that we as fans are entitled to anything, nor am I suggesting that she need personally get involved in creating a website to market her work. She's definitely successful and I would never argue that, but I would think that she could be more successful if she had some sort of web presence, whether it was created by her or by the publisher. Even people who don't write Harry Potter fanfiction go to JKR's website looking for information..."- comment by marginaliana
"Aah, but jkrowling.com wasn't anything more than a placeholder until a year or two ago, 5 books and 3 movies into the series, and the movies really drove it (it's got a Warner Bros. copyright on it). It hasn't done jack to sell a single book to anybody who wasn't already planning to buy it. I know book pushers (a.k.a. publicity and marketing directors). Their thinking goes like this: Fans go to author websites. A popular and successful writer will, if their books continue to satisfy the fans, have no problem selling to their fanbase regardless of web presence. Fan communities will get the word out. Book pushers don't care about this. Really, they don't one iota. In some cases, they don't even like fans. They know fans will buy the books. They care about events where folks who don't read much, or don't read in the genre, or haven't heard of the author are. They give away samplers and free books trying to get word-of-mouth going outside the fan communities so they can increase sales."- comment by bovil
"Pardon me while I shout, but... THE INTERNET ISN'T FANDOM, AND FANDOM ISN'T THE INTERNET! Sorry, but fanfic isn't that new. It happened in paper 'zines decades ago. Fanfic predates Anne McCaffrey's career and Mercedes Lackey's carreer. It even predates MZB's career, and she started writing in the 40's. The internet just makes it seem new. Authors have been interacting with fans for decades, often in person at conventions. I don't mean expensive gate-show conventions, I mean small (and sometimes large) fan-run conventions where, after the regular events are over, you can find yourself hanging out with big-name authors at the bar or in parties. I've met Anne McCaffrey, she's a nice old bird. My husband got to know Marion Zimmer Bradley back in the 80's when he was at Berkeley, and used to hang out at her house. Many authors came up through fandom; Greg Bear was a young kid going to conventions when he met Poul and Karen Anderson, learned a lot of writing from Poul and fell in love with and married their daughter (Karen is a friend, I met her and Poul only a year or so before he died, so I didn't really get to know him, and Greg and Astrid are friends). We won't talk about the folks I used to LARP with who have gone on to illustrious publishing careers, or how many fannish side-lines were created by overactive authors. Freaking out over "extreme fans" isn't an age thing. Smart authors freak out over extreme fans. Older authors don't freak out over fans, though, any more than younger authors. Every famous person has their stories of stalkers and folks for whom the obsession has gone a bit too far."- comment by bovil
"Yeah, I would say that fandom is the oldest form of fiction. Period. People hear stories, and write something inspired by them. Great pieces of literature - The Aeneid, one - are fanfiction. I'm not really going anywhere with this, except to say that there's a great mystique about internet fandom which I think does at least bear some uniqueness, but no, fandom as a whole is not new, did not follow the advent of the internet, or even the turn of the 20th century.")- comment by cleo eurydike
"Oh, good grief. Lackey STARTED as a fan. She did the SCA, she wore the costumes, she wrote for zines (and gosh would I love to have copies of those zines) the whole schtick! Did you read the essay that was linked above? She didn't retreat from fandom because it ws the land of the scary weirdos, she retreated because a baby she was trying to protect from a man who was a fan got killed while she was trying to help the mother protect that child from him. She puts limits on how she's contacted because she's gotten death threats. Lots of them. She limits how much interaction she has with her fans because she doesn't want to have some young fan get in the way when a wacko takes a crack at her. The internet hasn't got jack to do with it. Some people are having fun in fandom. They're playing a game and they know it's play. But in fandom, as in every other part of life, there are some people who walk across the line as if it doesn't exist. If ML needs some safety from those kinds of fans in order to be able to write, so be it!"- comment by rabidsamfan
"I know. But how does all this prove that fandom isn't the 'land of scary weirdos'? Yes, there are wackos everywhere, but these wackos are fans. Fans of ML, and they send her death threats. That would make me retreat from fandom too. Most fans know the difference between play and reality. The problem with fandom is that a person who doesn't know the difference is not immediately obvious as a weirdo. They can get close to you without setting off your inner alarms, because fans role play. They dress strangely. They use pseudonyms. I've had people react badly to my criticisms of fandom. They've told me fandom is their life. Are they just playing, or are they so serious about fandom they might issue death threats and carry them out? What way do I have to know?"- comment by gwynfyd
"I don't think it's fair, though, to categorize fandom as full of scary weirdos as if that's a defining feature. I mean, yeah, it IS full of scary weirdos, but so is everything else. There are scary weirdos who collect McDonalds toys. There are scary weirdos who make quilts and go crazy over quilting. For anything that exists that people care about, there will always be someone who takes it too far. If you want to avoid the scary weirdos entirely, you've got to become a hermit or something."- comment by marginaliana
"The age of the author probably does have a lot to do with it- people 35-40 and younger have spent most of their lives with there being an internet, and see it as a valid form of communication, an interesting tool, and what not, but my guess is that older authors regard it with more suspicion; it takes being an author to another level and puts you in touch with your fans, deliberately or not, and older book authors may be more accustomed to a level of anonymity..."- comment by vampiresetsuna
"You're making an unfounded (I almost hate myself for saying this) ageist argument that's not reflected in the reality of science fiction and fantasy authors of many different ages. There was electronic communication before the internet, and science fiction and fantasy authors were disproprtionately represented in the days of bulletin board services and Fidonet. Even our examples here (particularly Lackey, who was a programmer when she started writing) have/had long experience with email. I had email before there was a worldwide web, and they've got years on me."- comment by bovil
"The internet has changed fandom, even though fandom exsisted prior to the internet, it can be argued that the online fandom may be fundamentally different from offline fandoms because a) the medium of communication, b) the speed at which communication occurs, and c) the issues regarding copyright and ownership of source materials, that have arisen with electronic media differ. Even though these differences may be arbituary, they also may create a divide between electronic and print media fandoms."- comment by vampiresetsuna
"The internet has changed publishing and distribution, a web page is cheaper to publish and can be more widely distributed than a paper 'zine. The speed at which materials can be distributed is much higher. It hasn't really changed the basic nature of fannish interactions, though. BBS systems and Fidonet provided the same speed and model as web forums do today, just to a smaller audience. Paper 'zines provided much the same interaction, though to much smaller audiences and much more slowly, but what we've got going here is the great-grandchild of the LoC."- comment by bovil
"I was a big fan of Mercedes Lackey at one time. I drifted away, not because of her policy on fan fiction, but because I lost interest in her books. Your assessment of the situation with fan fiction is pretty accurate, however. If you want to write fan fiction based on her books, you can do it, as long as you write about your own original characters. Her characters can appear as 'walk ons', or their names can be mentioned. You must sign a disclaimer, which stresses that Valdemar, and her other worlds, belong to ML, and you have no rights to them. I can't really argue with ML on this point. MZB allowed her fans to write fan fiction based on her books, almost without restraint, and look what it got her. A law suit. A fan accused MZB of plagiarizing one of her pieces of fan fiction! If you were a professional author, would you want those kinds of 'fans'? I wouldn't. I don't know what I think about the 'maturity' issue. How mature is Harry Potter fandom? I have nothing to do with that particular fandom, but things I've read on Metafandom leads me to theorize that its members are somewhat immature. I could be wrong, but that's my impression. Some fans seem to think they own the Harry Potter universe, that their own ideas about the series are better than the author's own, and a certain amount of hostility toward the author has sprung up over these issues. Again, why would any author desire such a situation? 'Thoughtful textual analysis'. I don't think there are any rules forbidding that. I still have a certain amount of fondness for some of ML's books. A discussion forum about them would be interesting. No one has started one, perhaps because the fandom isn't online-based. But I don't think ML herself has nixed it. The fans just don't seem interested."- comment by gwynfyd
"Hmmm, you make a good point. I think I was thinking of "maturity" in terms of... wasn't there an essay on here a while ago about how writing Mary Sue characters is a natural offshoot of playing with dolls, and an essential step in the process of learning to write well-rounded characters? That's what I'm thinking of in terms of maturity, not necessarily maturity in terms of behavior. But perhaps that was a bad choice of words. Is there a better way to put that? Maturity of writing? Are there fandoms I don't know about that have forums which allow ONLY discussion and no fiction? Perhaps it's because I'm primarily involved with Harry Potter and more modern fandoms, but I can't envision fans having an interest - precisely because, as you say, the rest of it is offline based. Another thought - you say "if you were a professional author, would you want those sorts of fans?" Certainly I wouldn't want the sort of fan who would sue me. But am I wrong in thinking that the MZB case came about partly because the fan sent MZB the piece of fiction and she read it and wanted to work out a deal to use part of the ideas? I swear I remember reading that, but if I'm wrong, then ignore this next part. But isn't it enough for an author to simply not read fiction that she is sent? That's what JKR seems to do and there doesn't appear to be a problem there... Again, if I'm misrepresenting something, I'd like to know."- comment by marginaliana
"Someone sent MZB a story, and she (MZB) said she liked this particular idea, and could she use it in her latest novel. It was only a minor part of the story, as I remember, not some important plot point. The fan said, sure. MZB credited the fan in her Author's Notes. Then the fan asked for money -- after she had agreed. I think MZB was too innocent and trusting, and that contributed to the problem. I also think the fan didn't have a case at all. And I don't think the fan was really a weirdo, just greedy. But, the thing is, once you, as a professional author, start interacting with fans and allowing fan fiction, almost as an officially recognized activity, you set yourself up for situations like this. Suppose you had a stalker type fan, who writes fan fiction, and then imagines she is the real writer or something, and that you are the impostor? Sounds nuts, but there are nut cases out there. And why encourage them? I love fan fiction, by the way, and I write it myself, and I'm not a pro writer. I'm just trying to look at it from their point of view. :-)"- comment by gywnfyd
"I just couldn't help but think that if a fanfic writer tried to sue an original author today the publishing company would back the orig. author up. The whole MZB thing feels as though it was the publishing company freaking out more than her, but today most companies in different media knows what the fans are doing and can handle them better. just my two cents."- comment by kita malice
"We're getting into murky territory these days, vis a vis copyright and so forth. For a long time, the creators of music and literature have had exclusive ownership of their art. Only a few centuries ago, they didn't. Composers 'borrowed' themes from other composers without hindrance, and it wasn't seen as unethical. No one owned music. The same with writers. Shakespeare borrowed almost all his plots and characters. Now, we seem to be going back to those days, and it's probably scary for composers and writers. But if Shakespeare could live in times like those.... The law states, however, that writers 'own' not only their published novels, but their characters, their plots and ideas. That's trickier. I mean, if I copy an entire book by Mercedes Lackey, it's obvious I'm committing plagiarism. But if I write a piece of fanfiction utilizing her characters, and all my words are my own, am I plagiarizing her? Am I committing an unethical act? According to some theorists, yes. According to almost everyone in the time of Shakespeare, no. Another problem arises because of the nature of the internet. I write Starsky and Hutch Slash. Starsky and Hutch was a TV show, and it's been off the air for decades. No sane person could confuse my stories, most of which are AUs, with the original series. But today, with authors publishing books online, the situation isn't so secure with fanfiction based on books. What if someone were to pretend to be Mercedes Lackey, and convinced people to buy her newest online book? It sounds a bit far fetched, but is it? The internet is affecting all our ideas of copyright and so on in numerous ways, and I guess artists and their management don't know how to cope. Who knows where this will all end up?"- comment by gywnfyd

References

  1. Anne Rice Ain't Got Nothing On You, Mercedes Lackey. Archived here and here. Posted on March 11, 2006.