Reading and Viewing Print Fanworks in Public Areas

From Fanlore
Jump to: navigation, search
Related terms: Not Safe for Work
See also: Closet Fans, Fandom and Visibility, Fandom and the Underground, Fig Leaves
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Reading and viewing print fanworks in public areas can be complicated, due to the misunderstanding, stigma, and ridicule which has long surrounded fandom, fanworks and fannish creations such as fanzines.

Fending off nosy observers, having to tote stacks of paper around, and disguising explicit zine covers are some of the challenges involved when fans read print fanworks in public.

Some fanworks were created with decoy covers, or plain covers, in order to make it easier to read fic on the bus, train, or at family gatherings. These covers were sometimes designed to disguise the explicitness of the zine cover, a custom that is sort of a related precursor to the phrase "Not Safe for Work" (NSFW). But just as often, these decoy covers were used to simply camouflage the topics of fanfic and fanart themselves.

Over the decades, many fans have commented on the joys and challenges of reading print fanworks in public, and the experiences that resulted from doing so. While in the digital age there are fewer obstacles to reading fanworks publicly (thanks to smartphones, e-readers, and an increasing acceptance of fanworks into the mainstream - nowadays, some "print fanworks" are in fact published books), the practice still persists and many fans value being able to create and read through a printed copy of their (or someone else's) fanwork, in spite of the extra work involved in doing so.

Hiding Fanfic

A fan in 2002 was enthusiastic about a fan-made product called a "zine condom" that they bought to disguise their fanworks:
I found a great [zine condom] at ZCon last year -- they're made of material -- fancy design on the outside and plaid on the inside. They even have a built-in bookmark that looks quite... suggestive, especially with a tiny pearl sewed in at the tip ;) You can always fold the tip in on itself so it'll look 'normal' :) They were more than $3, but with the work put into them, they're more than worth it! [1]

Some zines were purposely created to have covers that appealed to fans who wanted the subject of their fannishness and/or sexual explicitness kept from general public knowledge.

These zines had a "read anywhere" cover that overlaid the main cover. One publisher, Blackfly said: "We call them "the zines you can read at family gatherings"." [2] Many of these zines were cunningly disguised as academic reading.

Fanworks in the Digital Age, and the Paradox of Privacy

With the development of e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle, and e-book reader applications on smartphones in and after 2007, it became easier to read and view fanworks in public.

Some archives like AO3 offered one-click downloads of fanworks in e-book compatible formats such as epub and mobi, which was a major advantage over the way old older/other archives offered fanfiction: this typically consisted of files in HTML, Microsoft Word or text document formats which weren't compatible with most mobile devices and e-book readers.

The initial digital release of Fifty Shades of Grey in 2009 (which was later followed by a mainstream print copy release) was particularly significant both as a novel based on a fanwork that achieved mainstream success, and also a work that many readers opted to read electronically, out of embarrassment at being "caught" reading an erotic BDSM romance. As a result, Fifty Shades is credited with "open[ing] up the use of Kindles and e-readers to a new audience", with its Kindle edition selling four times as many copies as the print version.[3]

"What's behind the trilogy's runaway success? The books hit the romance novel scene at just the right moment, insiders say, riding a wave of smart marketing and benefiting from the erotica world's e-book savvy. Plus, if the plot and characters sounds a bit like "Twilight" fan fiction, it's because they're modeled after them." Explaining 'Fifty Shades' wild success By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN Updated February 7, 2017
"We asked some Business Insider staffers whether they were hiding any guilty pleasures on their Kindles. It turns out that many are enjoying books thanks to the safety of e-reader screens.

The most popular response was "Fifty Shades of Grey," the 2011 romance novel that brought BDSM into mainstream media. "I wouldn't be caught dead reading it in book form, but on a Kindle it was easily disguised!" one Business Insider reporter said of her "Fifty Shades" experience. She asked to remain anonymous."

No one ever wants to admit the real reason to buy a Kindle by Madison Malone Kircher, Jul. 6, 2015

However, this newfound privacy gave rise to a new set of privacy concerns around data collection: in exchange for keeping their reading habits private from onlookers, readers were giving up all sorts of information about those habits to e-publishing giant Amazon. As Neil Richards wrote in an article for Slate magazine:

Paper books might be hard to obtain, but once in hand, they have privacy built into their little paper pages. Electronic books, by contrast, can read you more deeply than you read them.[4]

Comments From Fans On Reading and Viewing Print Fanworks in Public Areas

Explicit Covers

  • Regarding Strange Bedfellows #1 (May 1993): "The cover for this issue — the real cover, not the plain brown wrapper — is probably the best example I've ever seen of obeying the letter of the law while thoroughly evading its spirit. "No exposed genitalia," I said in my rules for SB covers, and lo and behold, Agnes ups and offers me the use of a stunningly gorgeous piece of artwork. [snipped] I knew I wouldn't be comfortable reading a zine with that cover on the bus, which is the real litmus test for SB covers, and if I wouldn't be comfortable—I'm pretty brash, as some of you know — I could imagine how others might feel. Hence the fig-leaf this issue. Whether you choose to tear it off or leave it on is your affair. For future covers I'm revising my guidelines to be "no more than PG-13 rated; basically something that can be read on the bus."
  • Regarding Evasive Maneuvers: "Apart from the cover, which shows two men in regency dress (not un-dress, you can safely read this one on the bus) there is no artwork." [5]
  • Regarding Different Odds: "There is a sheet of colored paper bound in the GBC spine in the very front so no one sees the cover picture if the zine happens to be laying around or if you are reading it in public.
  • Regarding K/S Tonight!, from the editorial: "I intend to keep the covers free of explicit illos — in case you want to carry and read the zine on the bus or at work."
  • "You haven't seen [cloth slash covers] before? They're wonderful! I got mine at the last Zcon from a vendor who makes them herself. They're cloth covers with cute prints (my favorite has cats on it) and you slip your zine inside it and tuck the cover and the back page into special folds. It even has a book marker attached with a special little something that pops out when you press on it. You don't want to press on it in mixed company. <g> They're seriously very handy for reading a zine in public." [6]}}

See Fig Leaves for examples of non-fans, and fans, temporarily covering up "the naughty bits" in fanworks.

Nosy People

  • From Multi-Species Medicine #9: "My friend looked over at the copies of MSM that I was reading on the bus, and commented, 'Jeez, Jess, you need a life. Most of your life is on television or on paper.' He's right, for the most part. I crave knowledge, and I worry a lot about sliding too far into fandom. I've seen cases of it, and I'm scared to death that it'll happen to me, almost like a terminal disease."

Size and Weight of Print Fanworks

  • Regarding Panic Moon: "It is small (A6 format and 32 pages) but perfectly formed. Just right for reading on the bus." [7]
  • About a massive novel and a bus mishap: "I'd finally snagged a copy of the massive Pros novel "Waiting to Fall" (AKA "Waiting to Screw"), at 600+ pages, a tome to be reckoned with. I reckoned with it my carrying 200 page sections about with me at one time. These pages were not in a binder, nay, they were kept loose in file folders preparatory to my plan to copy them at work while no one was looking. So there I was one morning, riding the bus, engrossed in the pages I was currently reading whilst a 200-page section sat in my backpack destined for the photocopier. The pages I was reading were a tad exciting. So exciting that I failed to notice how close we were coming to my stop until the bus began to make its final approach--I looked up, saw the University hospital, and thought, Oops. I leaped from my seat, grabbing up my backpack. Which was not zipped shut. The file folder inside, with the 200 pages of "Waiting to Fall", went flying down the aisle. Many people were attempting to walk down the aisle to leave the bus. The bus itself was lurching mightily to a long, drawn-out stop. As I scrambled to retrieve the mess, bumping into people as the bus lurched along, I had one clear thought in mind: the page with the sex scene is going to get stuck under the seats." [8]
  • Regarding formally printed zines as opposed to printing fanfic on a home or office printer: "You have a pile of paper. There's no formatting, no artwork, no binding. These stories may not even have been spellchecked, much less edited for content and quality. You may even have to hand-number the pages, and you're certainly going to have to put 'em in a binder ... but they're single sided, so they take up twice as much space, and when you want to read on the train or bus to work, you learn a whole new respect for space and weight!" [9]

Fanworks As a Place for Some Downtime

  • Regarding Labyrinth: "I have to head off to work, but I'll be taking Labyrinth with me on the bus, will see if I can get any further... *g* "[10]
  • Regarding Voice-over: "I started taking notes as I re-read on the bus this morning, and within the first page or so I'd already half a page of reasons why I adored it so far." [11]
  • Regarding Redemption: "Tribbing to zines has nothing to do with copyright or that sort of thing for me. It's a love of books and wanting things in print. It's the pleasure of sitting down with that book in your hand, or taking it with you on the bus or to the beach to enjoy. And when the power goes out, the book still works. It's all good." [12]

Exuberance and Fanfic Nearly Got This Fan Kicked Off the Bus

  • Regarding Probe "I nearly got thrown off a bus yesterday, and I believe you had some thing to do with it. I was reading "STAR TREK Is Racist Program!" in PROBE 1 when suddenly I began chortling and soon found myself, much to the distress of my fellow passengers, laughing hysterically. That story of yours is fantastic! [13] [14]

Fanworks as a Way of Finding Other Fans

  • "I remember a fan telling me how she felt completely isolated until she saw another fan reading a copy of Star Trek: The New Voyages on the bus and realized she wasn't the only Trek fan in the city." [15]

2009-10 Discussion: "Printing out Your Fanfiction with a Front Cover on It"

In October 2009, a user on the FanBBS message board started a discussion regarding the idea of fans printing out their fanfiction with a front cover on to bring to offline fan meetups. Over the following nine months, the thread gained more than 800 comments from users discussing the merits of printing out one's own fanfic, as well as the idea of print fanfiction in general, particularly regarding issues of ownership and copyright.[16]

Some comments from the thread:

Harbringer of Doom

Its interesting. However, we've got to be careful with copyright laws. Im unsure if distributing printed copies is allowed...
Anonymous User (in reply to Harbringer of Doom)

It is not distributing since it is just showing it to others: printing one copy to show to others. Even if it is distributing fanfiction, it can hardly be considered public distribution since it is only to other fanfiction writers.

However, even if you print multiple copies and distribute to others, it's not like anybody is going to know about it other than the people who show up at the meeting, right? You get in trouble only if a copyright holder sues you, and the chances of getting caught is pretty much 0.

Serpent Sna[e

I think that producing a front cover for fanfiction is a good idea. On some fiction sites such as you can create a banner for you stories and I think people pay more attention to the ones with banners. The same with Potions and Snitches, sometimes there is a picture. I'm not much of an artist by anyones standards but if I could I would definitely make a cover for fanfiction, it makes the fiction seem more appealing in a way.

The main thing is, to give it a cover, to print it out even, would then be like saying it was yours, even if you weren't making money. I find it amazing that fanfiction writers cant see that you have a perfect story line and characters, but these characters have names from someone else. Just change the names and a few details and hay presto you have your own original short stories. there are some seriously amazing stories out there, but the original authors are taking half of the credit for creating the characters.


I think it's a good idea, it makes it seem more like proper literature, a bit like a book club. I've never printed out my stff before, mainly because I've never had reason to give it to someone in real life.

Hmmm. Yep, I support front covers. Although my artistic skills are near enough zero, so it would have to be a plain title-only page for me!

The idea of putting a front cover on your fanfictions is, in my opinion, a really good one ^^ Okay, so putting a front cover on doesn't automatically give you the right to say you own everything, but it's a nice way to kind of say " Hey, i wrote this story, it's a products of my imagination" As long as you disclaimed at some point, i can't see a problem if you don't distribute it on a really large scale.

Plus, a front cover would make it look prettier and more professional ^^

Lerryn x

I think this sounds like a really good idea actually! It definitely would make the story more recognisable, as whenever someone tells me a book title, I'm sure we all immediately imagine the cover! :)

The summary, rating, author name and everything should be a must to add too, it would help the fanfiction author get noticed more! The only problem I have with this is that the cover could easily be taken off and unforuntately some people may show this to others and claim it as their own, so maybe a copyright sign or a sort of watermark would also be neccessary! ^_^

Wait, What?

Brilliant! I think this'll be a really good chance for people to show others their work and skills, especially those who love drawing their fanart, own characters, etc. Also, it'll provide a means for those who have the exact image of their characters to take form, and allow people who read the story to get an accurate imagining in their heads-YAY! Maybe I'll have a go with my original story (ahem, So Vampires Aren't All That Overrated), considering that's the one I've gotten furthest at typing up. I've already half-heartedly tried to create a cover (well, ish. It never really got finished.) so I'll try incorporating what I've already done into a new one.

Another thing I'll add, too, is about a possible job market. If sombody does a totally awesome/epic/brilliant, etc piece of work for their cover, then perhaps other people may ask (even pay-Oh my wow) for commissions.

I's disagree if it suddenly became mandatory but otherwise it's a good idea and woohoo for organizational skills. I'm still fond of the electronics option but i really agree a meeting would benefit both.

Having the stories brought with a complete summary (name, genre..etc, whatever it tells you to put on and bringing it with cover art could be the same or entirely different matters.

Professional or personal air, good things to add. And arranging another to do the cover for you, good connections going on.

Personally, I'd be a bit finicky about giving a fic of mine an art cover unless i believed they were absolutely compatible.

Also, on there has been an option for it. Authors can post covers on say.. Deviantart, then add a link to it on their profiles or the fic. It would be nice if the idea was more common but this didn't really kick off.

It'd be better if had an optional extendy thing on the site that could show the authors (optional) cover. But this could get abused. have fine summaries but they could also allow a blurb/acknowledgement(some really love their reveiwers)/notes thing get added.

Maybe people could take their stories but it could get brought up that they can also print off/take any fan art they may posess. They can point out if any fanart goes with a particular story they did.

It also promotes fanart, sorta - woot! rambling on, heh...


  1. ^ comments from a mailing list, quoted anonymously (September 15, 2002)
  2. ^ "Blackfly tends to put a "read anywhere" cover on top of the more risque covers. We call them "the zines you can read at family gatherings". ~ Stormy" -- Jim and Blair Do the Time Warp, Archived version
  3. ^ How Amazon and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Created a Golden Age for Self-Published Romance Authors — and Why It May Already Be Over by Elisabeth Donnelly, February 13, 2015]
  4. ^ The Fifty Shades of Grey Paradox by Neil Richards,
  5. ^ From anon at Judith Proctor's Blake's 7 site
  6. ^ comments by a Starsky & Hutch fan, quoted anonymously from The Pits Mailing List, May 17, 2004
  7. ^ Panic Moon
  8. ^ quote by Alexfandra, 1994, on Virgule-L, quoted on Fanlore with permission
  9. ^ a 1999 essay: The Case for Print Media Publishing
  10. ^ comments by byslantedlight at Reading Room, posted February 26, 2009; reference link
  11. ^ 2009 comments (excerpts from the story snipped) from CI5hq; reference link
  12. ^ comment by sc fossil, Noble Sentiments; WebCite, posted August 15, 2007
  13. ^ from an LoC in Probe #4 original
  14. ^ Not that funny. -- User:MPH
  15. ^ MPH's personal recollection, 2015
  16. ^ Idea: Printing out Your Fanfiction with a Front Cover on It, FanBBS. Accessed April 29, 2018. (Archived version)
✪ This article was featured on the Fanlore main page in 2018
How To & About About Featured ArticlesHow to Nominate
Past Featured Articles 2020201920182017
Featured Article Nominations 2020201920182017