Fans Turned Pro

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Related terms: Filing Off The Serial Numbers
See also: Fan Writer, Profic
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Since the beginning of fan artists and fan writers, some fans have been happy just to create fanworks for other fans, and other fans have thought of fandom as a training ground, improving in their craft until they could start selling art or fiction professionally.

SFF fandom vs Media fandom

In Science Fiction fandom, the assumption was that every writer and artist wanted to turn professional; the only issue was whether you had the skill to do so. According to Verba:

Most sf fanzines stopped publishing fan fiction in the 1950s. At that time, the number of markets for professional science fiction grew, so that when science fiction authors reached a certain competency in writing, they would submit their stories to professional markets instead. As a result, only less experienced writers would contribute stories to fanzines, and the overall quality of fan stories declined. Science fiction fanzines then largely quit publishing stories altogether.[1]

In media fandom, the assumption isn't so universal. Although media fans have turned pro (and occasionally pro writers and artists wander into media fandom and dabble), many media fans are adamant that they have no interest in turning professional -- that the point of writing or creating art for them is to be a part of a fan community. (This dichotomy is similar but not identical to one about editing and critiquing, where one group of fans feels like they're just writing for fun, so why endure harsh editing or cruel reviews; the other group of fans feels it isn't fun unless they're doing their best work, and how can they do that without serious editing and reviews.)

Fans started turning pro from the beginning of media fandom

Star Trek Fans

Star Trek fandom was the starting point for many SF professional writers.

In Recent Years

  • Carlanime Bligh was a House and Harry Potter fan who started writing erotic horror novels of the paranormal in 2005.
  • Cassandra Claire, a Harry Potter fan, has a successful publishing career.
  • Sarah Rees Brennan took all of her fanfic off the web to go pro in 2008.
  • Australian YA author Annie Kaufman stated “The majority of the authors I know started out writing fan fiction. I started when I was 17, I met my co-author (Meagan Spooner) on the Starbound trilogy writing fan fiction."
  • Joanna Schaffhausen was a prolific X-Files fan fiction author since the early 1990s: "Starting in the 90s, I wrote a bunch of fan fiction about The X-Files – mostly case file investigations that taught me a lot about how to structure a novel-length mystery. I also had the opportunity to have my work critiqued by fellow readers and writers, many of them far more talented than I, and so the fandom really helped me to grow as an author."[3]
  • Josh Lanyon
  • Marco Albiero, was hired by Toei Animation in 2009 for some Sailor Moon illustrations for their Style Guides.

Getting published in media fandoms

Some gen and het fans have been able to trade on their fandom backgrounds openly.

  • Susan M. Garrett‎ was a BNF in Forever Knight fandom who eventually was offered a chance to pitch a Forever Knight tie-in novel.
  • Paul Cornell went from writing Doctor Who fanfic to writing Doctor Who pro novels and finally to other novels, as well as various tv scripts.
  • Keith R. DeCandido wrote HL fanfic, then media tie-ins, and now some original fiction.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley allowed Darkover zines, and published a few Darkover stories from those zines in her professional Darkover anthologies.
  • Later Star Trek series -- TNG, DS9, and VOY -- accepted unagented scripts, some from fans with no previous sales.
  • Xena fanfic author Melissa Good was commissioned to write two scripts for XWP season six.

Fanworks turned Pro

See List of Fanfiction Reworked For Publication


Fiction: When fictional fanworks are re-written to be sold as profic, the fannish code for this is filing off the serial numbers. This is not always an easy process, even for an experienced writer.

  • In 1981, Susan Matthews announced that she was pulling her series of ST fanzine stories, called Ragnarok, from publication in order to rework the stories into a science fiction format in an attempt to sell the collection as a professional sf novel. She finally sold the first book in The Jurisdiction universe in the late '90s, but now has a number of books published in the series.

Fans turned semi-pro

In the case of slash fanfiction, often the only way to get novels about gay men published was through specialty gay men's presses.

  • In the late '70s, Alexis Rogers published The Cost of Love as a S/H novel. In 1990, she published it professionally under the same name with Lavender Press.
  • Mel Keegan is the pen name of a well-known Pros writer, who started republishing Pros, and Pros AU novels, as gay men's press novels in the late '80s/early '90s.

As the technological barriers to self-publishing have decreased, more slash writers have filed off the serial numbers of their works and then self-published their novels.

Fans turned Secret Pros

Depending on the type of fannish writing (say, slash vs. gen), and the type of pro writing (writing for children, say, versus writing for adults; or writing for television), many professional writers find it necessary to keep their fannish and professional identities separate. Often these identities are a fairly open fannish secret, but nevertheless don't have a place in an open wiki such as this. See outing.

Some pros, such as Naomi Novik and Seanan McGuire, openly talk about having written fanfiction, but prefer not to identify the name under which they wrote as a fan.

Doujinshi creators turned mangaka

It's common for Japanese mangaka to have started out as doujinshi creators, and even to continue publishing doujinshi after they've made their professional manga debut. Manga publishers scout for successful fan artists and often set up booths at doujinshi conventions where fans who are interested in turning pro can get an editor's opinion on their work. A very incomplete list of doujinshi creators turned professional mangaka can be found here.

Media/Further reading