The difference between fanfic and profic (2007 post)

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Title: The difference between fanfic and profic
Creator: kradical
Date(s): April 6, 2007
Medium: online
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External Links: page 1 comments, archive link page 1; page 2 comments, archive link, page 2; page 3 comments, archive link page 3
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the difference between fanfic and profic 2007 post by kradical, a tie-in author.

There were 307 comments to this post.

Some Topics Covered

The Post

At UConn-Storrs this past Monday, one of the students in the Science Fiction class asked me what the difference was between what I do (write media tie-ins) and what fanfic writers do (beyond the obvious that profic pays and fanfic doesn't).

There are four primary differences between the two.

The first two are ones where I view profic as "superior" to fanfic. First off, fanfic is illegal and profic isn't. This is not an irrelevant concern -- we're talking about the theft of intellectual property. Does that mean fanfic shouldn't happen? Of course not -- I've written fanfic, read fanfic, enjoyed fanfic. But then, I also enjoy driving very fast, and sometimes state police have something to say about it, and I have to pay a ticket. Of course, most of the owners of those intellectual properties turn a blind eye, mainly because no money is being made off the fanfic, and since money is the primary reason for protecting your IP...

Secondly, profic has professional oversight. While it's true that there are good fanfic beta readers and that there are bad tie-in editors (and also bad tie-in editing jobs, which are often due to circumstances beyond anyone's control), in general, I'm going to trust the judgment of a professional in the field. Nine times out of ten, you'll get a better result from the pro than the amateur (which is why you generally hire plumbers to fix your toilet instead of doing it yourself). And way too much of the fanfic I have read is so obviously unedited it makes my teeth hurt -- and I'm not talking about typos and minor grammar mistakes, I'm talking about global writing problems that no pro editor worth her salt would let fly for half a second.

The third one -- and this and the fourth thing aren't value judgments in either direction, but simply stating the difference between the two -- is that fanfic is completely freeform. Profic has to be of a certain type: novel, novella, short story. These are formats with very specific needs and requirements. Fanfic writers, though, can go crazy. They can do drabbles, they can do scenes, they can do vignettes, they can do 600,000-word novels (some of them all one paragraph) without any complaints. Profic is much more standardized.

The last one, and this is the biggie, is that profic has to satisfy a much larger audience. There's really only one person who has to be satisfied with a piece of fanfic, and that's the writer. Fanfic writers are only obligated to be true to their own interpretations of the characters. And they aren't required to get a significant readership -- hell, most fanfics aren't read by more than a few dozen people.

Profic, OTOH, has to satisfy several people before it ever sees print: the writer, the book's editor, and whoever is responsible for approving the story, which in some cases can be several people (which goes back to the oversight thing above). That person approving the story for the copyright holder is sometimes someone intimately involved with the creation of the property -- and sometimes it's a flunky in the licensing department. But it's still a representative of the people responsible who has to say yes to it.

And there's another, far more important element to that: profic has to satisfy a much larger reading audience.

The audience for fanfic is, as I said, often a few dozen people. Some fandoms inspire fanfic to the degree that a few thousand people read it.

If that number of people bought tie-in novels, there would be no tie-in novels, because they wouldn't be commercially viable. The lowest selling tie-ins sell 20,000 copies in mass-market paperback, and most sell more than that. Fanfic's standards for success are almost nonexistent, and even their successes are miniscule in terms of numbers of readers compared to the requirements for mass-market publishing that have to be met.

What that means is that profic has to be palatable to a mass audience. The author's own unique interpretation, shared with several close friends, isn't really going to fly, because that singular vision won't necessarily appeal to a wider audience. (I'm not just talking about slash here, though that's the obvious, and there's no way a mass-market audience is going to go for, say Kirk/Spock hurt/comfort fiction.....)

So there you go. Hope this has been helpful. As likely as not, it's been inflammatory, but what the hell.....

An Aside: Linked to Metafandom

One of the moderators gave the original poster a head's up and the resulting exchange touched upon the public nature of the interent.

[ cathexys ]:
...this is a heads up that we'll be linking this post on metafandom, so if you're uncomfortable with that, please let me know and I'll take it off...
[kradical]:
If I was uncomfortable with people talking about this, I wouldn't have posted it on the world wide web. *laughs* No worries there. It's a public blog for a reason....
[cathexys]:
Cool!

I just tend to be aware that LJ's are often seen by many as semipublic spaces, i.e., they post open but don't expect much traffic. Linking such posts can then bring bunch of readers (including potentially hostile ones :), which not everyone's comfortable with...

I tend to forget that outside of media fandom for most people public is public :D
[kradical]:
There's nothing "semipublic" about it. It's public. You may not think a lot of people see it, but anyone who posts anything on the world wide web should expect that everyone in the world will potentially see it.

I have to confess to often being amused by people who get outraged when they discover that something they said on the 'net actually got back to someone they never expected to see it.

Like I said, if I didn't want people to read this, I wouldn't have posted it in the first place. *grin*

Excerpts from the Comments

[briansiano]:
I'm not keen on terms like profic and fanfic. Not over any principle: they just grate on my eyes and ears. And your comments re "profic" apply mainly to media tie-ins, so I wouldn't use them when comparing fan fiction to, say, the work that Don deLillo or Jonathan Franzen do. But I don't disagree with anything you've written.

Personally, I _hate_ fan fiction. I can understand it as one of those things aspiring writers go through at some larval stage of development. But I look at it this way. There are scads of knockoffs and re-toolings of the major works, faux-Tolkiens and faux-Moorcocks and faux Heinleins, and we tend to hold these in mild contempt for being derivative. Fan fiction is a step _below_ those in terms of originality: the writers can't even file the serial numbers off properly.

On a side note. Back when the next generation Trek show was on, and there was a mild controversy about Trek fan fiction being circulated on this new intertube thingie, a friend and I came up with an idea that, I like to think, cut in many ways, satirically speaking. If Paramount didn't want unauthorized Trek stories floating about, fine: someone could create an open-source system so Trek stories could be read under a different set of parameters.

It'd be called X-trek, with different names for the characters, different names for the planets and institutions and aliens and weapons and FTL travel and uniforms and, gahd-forbid, grunty languages, all copyright-free and open-source. Users could use-- or develop-- search-and-replace macros to change their Trek fan fiction into X-trek fiction. They would also be free to work up whatever, canon, technical manuals, illustrations, and terms they wanted, as long as it was all copyright-free.

We had no plans to actually _do_ this; it was just an idea that said fuck-you to the fanfic people and, mildly, to Paramount. To Paramount, the message was simple: keep yer copyrights, we'll come up with a workaround. To the fanfic writers, it said: you're so bereft of creativity that we're spoon-feeding you a template that'll enable you to continue writing derivative garbage based on a property owned by a corporation.
[sinanju]:
Must every amateur singer be consigned to "hack"-dom because he doesn't write his own stuff, being content to sing classic folk songs or covers of other peoples' music? If I turn a kitchen full of ingredients into delicious food what purpose is served by shouting "Fuck you!" at me because I don't invent New Taste Treats (tm).

If you want to become a published commercial writer then, yeah, you're probably better off writing your own stuff. But if you're doing it for your entertainment, or the entertainment of your friends/correspondents, what's so awful about writing fanfic? How is it really different from people telling and retelling and altering or adding to the tales of Robin Hood or King Arthur or other figures of legend. There are a lot of variations on those stories because a lot of people told different versions over the centuries. They (gasp) made up stories using pre-existing characters!

Other than that big corporations own the rights to Mulder & Scully or Captain Picard. Yes, it's illegal, but so what? It's mostly done for fun, and nobody is making money off of it and if they were foolish enough to try the real copyright owners have the full weight of the legal system on their side, assuming a "cease and desist" letter doesn't do the trick.
[tiarlynn]:
You are aware that every true fairy tale you grew up on (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, to a lesser extent Beauty and the Beast, et al) was originally told and retold as a folk story for centuries until probably the Grimms and later Disney shined them up and published them, right?

Are they any less wonderful because they're derivative? In fact, they're even more derivative than fanfic is, since many of the people telling the stories changed only one minor aspect or two.

I was heavily into Buffy several years ago, and this consisted of obsessively rewatching the show, buying media tie-in novels, and, yes, reading fanfiction. I can say unequivocally that there was plenty of fanfic better than some episodes, in terms of quality of writing (though comparing a teleplay and narrative prose is perhaps shaky), and most of the media tie-ins were not up to par with well-written fanfic. Particularly when written in a world with an element of the fantastic, fanfic writers are able to be amazingly creative even when working within the boundaries of the pre-existing universe.

I love my current fandom, canon and fanon alike, but I know for a fact I wouldn't be as completely rabid for new canon, as it were, if it wasn't for my involvement in the fandom. From reading fanfic, I now have a better understanding of just about every character and plot thread, minor and major, simply from reading the marvelous "what ifs" someone took the time to write to elaborate on the otherwise small amount of information present.
[carmarthen]:
Personally, I don't write fanfiction because I'm incapable of or uninterested in "originality" (I occasionally write original fiction and professionally write nonfiction, which is sometimes creative and sometimes not but which pays the bills). I write fanfiction because I love the source and find its unexplored possibilities interesting and writing fanfiction is a much more entertaining way to comment on it than writing (untrained) media criticism essays.

I also completely fail to see how a book like, say, Cosette (a remarkably bad sequel to Les Miserables) being published makes it better than (legal) fanfiction written without pay, or how Les Miz being in the public domain would make its fanfiction any more creative than Buffy fanfiction. I also don't see how the 23482943892355696 published Arthurian and fairytale retellings are any less derivative than fanfiction, and I've read some damn good ones.

I suppose by your definition all those authors (many of them best-selling) who contribute to author-sanctioned spin-off anthologies of popular series are talentless fools writing "derivative garbage." Or does having explicit authorial permission magically make their writing creative?
[authorm]:
[kradical,] do you find you get sneered at, anyway?

This is coming from a romance/erotic fiction writer, btw, and we tend to be pretty low on the totem pole when it comes to literary pats on the back.

I clearly see a difference between writing sanctioned fiction based on someone else's characters and world and just taking those characters and world and manipulating them for your own satisfaction. But do writers of "real" SF and F look down on tie-in media with as much disdain as they do fanfic? Or are you granted a little more respect by your peers because your work is approved by someone?
[grrli]:
Everyone has a right to opinion, and also, many of your opinions are based on logical deduction as well as a knowlege from the side of writing that not all fan ficcers have.

I agress that fanfic is theft of intellectual property. It's also a fact of life that things worth enjoyment are always replicated. If there is no marketed responses, then the void is filled by those that feel it's pull.

It's no one's fault but time and red tape that kept you from putting a novel out until August. We simply have no patience, and, like you said, it's like speeding. Who doesn't like pushing metal? God I know I do.

I see only three differences, personally. I see that profic is sanctioned by those who have FINANCIAL rights to the property (which may or may not be the person who came up with it in the first place).

Profic is paid for by said purchasers of intellectual property. How much they pay, well... that depends, again. Some houses are really cheap slavedrivers, I've gathered. Others are good to work with.

Prowriters have faith in the product they create to entertain not only themselves but the fanbase at large. Fanficcers generally don't.
[rh andi]:
As a fan fiction writer, I find I must agree with your first two points in your main article for the most part. Coming from the "old" days when fan fiction was collected by those who had some training in language and structure, when editing meant "editing" and not just "beta-ing" - I do recall when fan fiction, for the most part read as well as (or in the case of some professional writers and print houses, better than) professional fiction. Today's standards, especially with self-publishing and internet posting, are sadly lax.

As to the "legality" of fan fiction - if I recall correctly, there has been no definitive legal case on this issue, and hence all concept of "fair use" has not been put to the test. A case can be made for the longevity of it without true legal challenge (beyond the occasional "Cease and Desist" letter), of Roddenberry's tacit approval, of Lucas even purchasing zines [1], to set a precedence...but the argument could be made on either side of this case at this point.

I will expand on your third and fourth points, however. I feel that a fifth point needs to be raised that fan fiction is not held within the bounds of storytelling (beyond the length/structure of point three) or acceptable to the masses to sell commercially (within the reasoning of point four). Fan fiction does not require a reset button. Fan fiction allows stories to range beyond the "white bread" standards of what "the masses" find acceptable (and this is much more than a discussion on sex). Fan fiction stories allow for darker stories, for focus on a minor character not generally pushed to the fore in profic, for stories that go beyond the general boundaries of the profic universe (placing TREK characters in the Civil War, fulfilling the possible scenario set up in the Star Trek animated episode "Yesteryear," with Spock dying at a young age, etc.)

Thank you, however, sir, for discussing this in an adult manner without slamming fan fiction as being the spawn of Satan. We who indulge in it as a hobby, a release from "the real world," appreciate it.
[kradical]:
Well, first of all, I've written fanfic, so it would be the height of hypocrisy to condemn it now. And I've read some excellent fanfic -- and also some really atrocious ones. And there was plenty of it in the fanzines of old. I'm afraid I don't buy the assertion that things were better in the good old days, mainly because I've never bought anyone's assertions that things were better in the good old days. It is the nature of humans to romanticize the past, in particular with art because we only remember what has endured and what sticks in our consciousness, while the mediocre work is consigned to history's dustbin, forgotten....
[kradical]:
...the best tie-in lines work when the editors are also fans of the show. The Trek line is edited by a couple of hardcore Trek fans. The Forever Knight novels that Ace put out were edited by a huge FK fan (and at least one of the novels was written by a fanfic author).
[ klangley56 ]:
But (there's always a "but," isn't there?), of course the overall quality of fan fiction has declined--greatly. How could it be otherwise, when the Internet is the ultimate Vanity Press, on a global scale?

Quoting and/or paraphrasing myself, from an online essay I wrote a few years ago:

Production and distribution of fan fiction is an area that has been greatly affected by technology. The methods for producing and distributing fanzines have changed tremendously over the decades and, with each technological advance (from hektography and spirit duplicators to mimeograph to offset printing to desktop publishing programs on the home computer to the Internet), an ever-increasing number of fans have had the access and means to produce and distribute fan fiction.

With this technology and ease of access, ever more “zine compilers” (as they have been dubbed by a friend) have joined the zine production ranks. (With today’s technology, it literally is possible to produce a zine without ever reading its contents.) Zine compilers either do not have, or see no need for, editorial judgment and critical standards. Judging by the zines they produce, they must say “yes” to every contribution that hits the e-mail inbox, and these contributions apparently go directly from the contributor’s keyboard to the final printed product, with no stops for editing (even basic copyediting) or revision in between. Any zine quality achieved as a result of this would be in spite of the efforts of the zine compilers, not because of them. Zines of this type muddy the waters for the zine editors/publishers genuinely practicing the craft of zine production, as zine compilers seem to beget more zine compilers ("Oh, is that all you have to do to make a zine? *I* can do that.").

And, of course, the Internet has produced a major shift as well, with archives, fiction lists, individual Web sites, Live Journals, etc. For many, this technological freedom for as many fans as possible to contribute is a big plus. However, the freedom to create fiction that goes directly from the keyboard to public distribution, often without benefit of anyone's second thoughts, is also a very large minus. Again, good things can and do happen in the arena of online fan fiction, but my perception is that the vast majority of story posters seem to be without adequate writing skills or the urge to acquire them, or access to or interest in proficient editing ("beta-reading" as it is in modern fan vernacular). And, as with the ever-increasing number of lousy zines, the lousy fan fiction spawns more of the same ("Oh, that's all I have to do to post a story? *I* can do that.")

And that's not even taking into account how the process of interaction between writers and readers also has greatly changed over the decades, and the negative effect that has had on quality as well.

So, yes, I *would* say that "things were better in the good old days," and I believe my glasses are still my normal prescription and not particularly rose-colored, but then, that could be wishful thinking on my part. :-)
[neadods]:
Fanfic isn't just freeform regarding size and structure, but also plot. Without the copyright owner's strictures regarding audience, the fanficcers can take main characters and do *anything* to them. (And frequently do.) This can be squicky, brilliant, or both. I'll leave the examples of squicky stuff as an exercise in unpleasant memories for the reader - as for brilliant, I'm going to say that I like Jean Lorrah's fanfic much better than her Star Trek tie-in novels because when she was unofficial she could do more with them, which made them more interesting to me as characters.

Flat out disagree with There's really only one person who has to be satisfied with a piece of fanfic, and that's the writer. I mean, yeah, there are plenty of people who write fanfic as public masturbation, but that's arguably usually given the brushoff it deserves. As opposed to when certain professional authors do the same thing, and then scream that their detractors are interrogating the text from the wrong perspective when the readership doesn't line up to fall fawning all over them.

Which leads to the last amendment - while it's true that profic usually has to satisfy more people to even get published than fanfic, it's equally true that when a badly-written typofest goes up on the net, there's only one person to blame, and no money changes hands when it is read. As opposed to when it becomes painfully obvious that an author is either tired of their series (or wasn't competent to write it in the first place without strong editorial help which they're now refusing) and the damn thing is still being shoved out on the assumption that the public will pay hardback prices for any typo porn vomited out by a Big Name. I once wrote a nastygram to an editor asking point blank why they thought that the latest book in a series was worth my money when they obviously hadn't considered it worth a simple mechanical spellcheck.
[cathexys]:
Yes, i was going to mention the freeform as well. Tie-ins pretty much must leave the characters the way they found them at the end, right? Whereas fanfic can significantly alter them, their dynamic, can kill people permanently, etc. I think another issue (which you hinted at but didn't spell out in your discussion of broad audiences) is that fanfic can and does shorthand in ways tie-ins cannot, i.e., it can allude to and reference canon and expect everyone to get it, it can often even reference or allude to fannish debates and other stories in ways that an author who can't have a clear sense of readership, who doesn't write within a loosely defined "community," cannot.
[jedipenguin]:
I can be pretty forgiving of fanfic because it costs me nothing but time. When I hand over $6.00 or more for something that is poorly edited, I see red. Ultimately, I don't care who fell down on the job, typos in profic guarantee that I'll never buy that particular author (and sometimes, even that particular franchise!) again.
[suricattus]:
I was on a semi-infamous panel on fanfic once and took heat because I said, quite bluntly "what part of 'against the established and upheld law' do you want to pretend doesn't exist?" Yes, I used to write fanfic to blow off steam and frustration. I never pretended it was anything other than it was, and if I'd gotten a C&D I would have C'd and D'd. Ficcing is fun. It also soothes the twitch during the seemingly expanding rerun seasons, and sustains a fandom. But like speeding, and smoking pot, and drinking before you're 21, and boosting a box of condoms or a diet coke from the corner store, it's illegal, and other people have the right to stop you.
[marinarusalka]:
Actually, there was an interesting case in Harry Potter fandom a couple of years ago. One of the biggest archives of adult-rated HP fic got a C&D letter from JKR's lawyers, but they weren't objecting to the existence of fanfic, only to the fact that adult material was being posted where young HP readers could easily access it. After some back-and-forthing, the archive switched to a password-protected format and continued to exist, with no further objections from JKR. So even a C&D letter may not mean you must C&D if a mutually agreeable compromise can be found. :-)...It's true that JKR can afford to be more zen than most authors on this subject. Which is probably a good thing -- if anyone has the resources to take us all to court and squash us all like bugs, it's probably her, so I'm glad she doesn't want to. :-) Seriously, I do totally think that authors of the original source should be able to defend their copyrights and their livelyhoods. I just don't think this goal is in any way incompatible with classifying fanfic as fair use. After all, "fair use" is not defined as "permission to screw over the author." If it was, it wouldn't be fair. :-P
[lanjelin]:
...it only applies to trademark, not IP. Fanfic doesn't actually hurt the author (unless some crazy fan decides that author copied her, and Sues. It happened to M.Z. Bradley, leading to her forbidding fanfic on her works. I've never heard of another instance though).
[djonn]:
The MZB/Darkover case was somewhat more complicated than this very brief summary makes it sound; the issue in the specific conflict was, as I understand it, less a question of who copied who than one of how much the fanfic author wanted from MZB. And the fallout wasn't that MZB forbade fanfic per se, but that it ended the series of fanfic-derived Darkover anthologies she'd been editing for DAW (and deep-sixed the Darkover novel that would have overlapped with the objecting fanfic writer's material).... [snipped] Interestingly, while MZB's case caused ripples that specifically affected several other major fanfic communities of that time (McCaffrey's Pern, Lackey's Valdemar), it didn't shut down literary-based fanfic entirely. Notably, I believe Katherine Kurtz still interacts actively with the fanfic community working in her Deryni literary universe.
[kradical]:
The thing is, having a big group of fans online isn't an indicator of anything except that you have a big group of fans online. It's not really any kind of indicator of how many readers you have or how enthusiastic they are, it just means a bunch of them happen to congregate online.

It's very easy to think that online gathering places are representative, because it tends to be a tight enclave of people, but the numbers are too small for that truly to be the case. I participate in several Star Trek novel bulletin boards, and oftentimes people there forget that they're less than 10% of the actual readership.

Online communities are wonderful things, and a great way for fans to congregate and compare and contrast (and also make wonderful friendships), but it's not something that's actually indicative of or necessary to the writer's career.
[yahtzee63]:
I fully believe that fanfic could and should qualify as transformative "fair use" and therefore is not illegal copyright infringement, any more than parody is. I realize that this has not been adjudicated and therefore I don't freak when people disagree -- it could turn out any which way. However, the longer it goes without being ajudicated, the more likely it becomes that copyright holders will not ever test this in court. The time for the big media companies to draw a line in the sand was about 15 years ago, and they didn't.

(And yes, I say this as a fanfic writer -- but once upon a time, I was a lawyer, too, and while the "fair use" argument might not win in court, it might, because it's a solid, well-grounded argument. It's not the convenient invention most non-lawyers/anti-ficcers assume, and the fanfic writer/lawyer who has done the most to spread this concept is not the "internet lawyer" I've seen her derided as -- she previously practiced at one of the top 10 firms in the country, and she currently teaches IP courses at Georgetown Law.)... [snipped]]

The only thing I ever find "inflammatory" about the profic/fanfic debate is the short-sighted insistence that nobody who is "really" a writer would ever write fanfic, that if you have the "soul of a writer" (I have seen this language), you would never stoop to taking inspiration from somebody else's characters. As a tie-in author, I am sure you find this argument equally insulting. I've written and sold original fiction, written and sold tie-in fiction and written (though, naturally, not sold) fanfic. The stories arise from the same place, and I think as authors we should celebrate each other's inspirations and accept that that the tales we tell sometimes arise from the strangest places -- and fanfiction is far from the strangest!
[norah]:
Amen to the bit about market forces. I came to fandom backwards, through my interest in erotica - and the market really, really wasn't providing what I was looking for, there. I'm fairly picky about writing quality, and as a sci-fi/fantasy fan, I like a good story. Erotica and porn were having a serious dinosaurs/sodomy balance issue there, and I never found anything I really liked; the new erotic novel lines were okay, I guess, but they read too much like X-rated Harlequins for my taste. Most of the fanfiction I read would never get published, regardless of quality, even if it were original work, because no publisher would know what to do with space operas or crime stories that include explicit queer sex and romance. Thank God for fandom! I'm now a fan, but it's fanfiction that made me one. I often read fanfiction for shows I know nothing about, in fact, because the stories are great, and it's what I like to read. I've read a few tie-in novels, but they never grabbed me the way fan writing did and continues to do.
[rishabree]:
I've dabbled-and-more in a large number of fandoms over the years, and I've done it every which way.

Fan of source material first, moved into fanfiction: Forever Knight, Highlander, Roswell, Due South, SeaQuest, Blake's 7, Lois and Clark, X-Files, Everworld

Found fanfic, became fan of the source material: Buffy, Angel, Stargate, SGA, La Femme Nikita, Gundam Wing

Found fanfic and became a fan, still don't enjoy the source material per se, or enjoy in a very limited way: Magnificent Seven, Harry Potter, the Professionals, Smallville, the Sentinel

Fan of the source material, just don't bother the fanfic usually: Lost, Supernatural, CSI, House, Star Trek, and many others.
[amothea]:
I started reading fan fiction for almost the same reason. I wanted to read male/male love stories that read more like romance novels but all I could find were pure sex stories but I wanted the action and adventure with the guys falling in love and I discovered I could get that with fan fiction 100% more easily than finding it in a published novel. Though I have found some fantasy novels that do have two male characters fall in love during the course of the story but really the 3 or 4 novels I found weren't enough for me.
[sl podcast]:
As the host of a fanfic podcast I have to agree with most of your statements. I'm a pro-nonfiction writer and a lot of fanfic would get serious laughs if not total ignores from my editors.

On the other hand, and don't take this personally, there are some fanfic authors that I'd take ANY day over some of the novels I've read. Why? They're awesome writers! I could see their story appealing to a mass audience, but I digress.

As for the legality of fanfic, I put that discussion on my soap box of fan created content should be deemed legal as long as no one is making money of it. I believe it keeps people in the fandom. For example, a fan created podcast is pushing for people to read the Buffy/Angel and Firefly novels because we want them to continue. But then again, I'm all for copyright laws being changed to fit with Web 2.0's vastly changing world.
[sl podcast]:
Okay I did hear that story [about Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's famous C&D against The Holmesian Federation ] .... and as far as I remember there's no specific way (other than the "being an asshole and publishing a story when the author said no") fanfic has HARMED Quinn's livelihood. On the contrary I think Quinn has lost a lot of fans by going after fanfic writers....In the end it's Quinn's decision, but I think Quinn vastly misunderstands the positive effect fanfic can have.
[kradical]:
Maybe not, but given her experiences, I don't blame Quinn one bit. She was burned, badly.
[carmarthen]:
Psychologically, okay.

But I'm still not seeing how her livelihood was harmed by the asshole fan. If you want an example of that, Marion Zimmer Bradley is a much better one (and MZB's experience led to the antifanfiction policies of many of her friends, e.g. Mercedes Lackey)--but the issue there in terms of livelihood protection was not the fan writing the fanfiction, but MZB reading the story and not being able to publish (write?) her next book as a consequence. Which is why even the most fanfiction-friendly pro-writers almost always have "I can't read fanfiction for legal reasons" policies.

But at the same time, there has been a ton of discussion in fandom about whether authors being anti-fanfiction reduces our likelihood of reading/buying their books. The general consensus seems to be "not much, unless the author says things like 'Fanfiction writers are all horrible, stupid, talentless people with no more value than pond scum and not actually real fans because they CLEARLY think my books are BAD or they wouldn't write fanfiction,'" which is kind of a "Dude, you might want to respect the people who BUY YOUR STUFF a teensy bit more. There are polite ways to say you don't want people to write fanfiction about your books" thing.

Does fans boycotting an author like that really hurt her income? Probably not a whole lot, no, but those are still fans who could have been kept with some more tact.
[icarus]:
I can see Quinn took offense and a fan ignored her wishes. It's disrespectful (and ironic that the types of fanfiction writers most dislike are the ones most likely to be protected legally) but I'm trying to see the financial harm. Copyright is designed to protect authors' financial interests. Any tort case has to prove harm first... *head scratch*

I'm not familiar with Quinn or a fandom around her books, which doesn't mean there isn't one, there are so many. But I've noticed a fear among authors that fanfiction writers will leap on their work and overrun it.

Fanfiction depends on an pre-existing fanbase. A small-time author doesn't usually attract many fanfiction writers -- in fact, fans of these authors often complain, "Why won't anyone write fanfiction for story X?" There just aren't enough readers to support a fandom. Fanfiction doesn't re-explain the original's universe, it's subordinate and contained within it, like a Russian doll. You can't play with the subtext until the audience knows the text.

It's proportional, too. It's no coincidence that J.K. Rowling's gathered over 600,000 fanfiction stories, while MGM's Stargate has only 14,000. People do write in micro-fandoms, but there isn't much payoff in terms of readership.

Fanfiction is a symptom of success.
[marinarusalka]:
I think that's a somewhat separate case, though. Satire is protected as fair use, but something that claimed to be satire while creating brand confusion and cutting into the original creator's profit would have a hard time winning its case in court, I think. "Fair use" is not a guaranteed blanket protection any more than copyright is -- individual cases still get taken to court, and then the judge and jury decide where to draw the line. And honestly, even if the Supreme Court woke up in a delirium tomorrow morning and declared "fanfic, yay!" that still wouldn't be an excuse for fanfic writers to try and screw the creator of the original source as happened with the Yarbro case. "Don't be an entitled asshole" shouldn't have to be a law, dammit.
[athenamuze]:
As was mentioned here, I have to tell you that I have read quite a bit of fanfic AND profic and the majority of the time? I would rather stick with the fanfic. There are a lot of poorly done ones surely, but in my experience I have been so incredibly disappointed in most mass media paperbacks I have picked up. I will keep trying, looking for the occasional good one but overall I find it MUCH easier to find good, well written, fanfic then the other. This possibly could have a lot to do with the quantity of fanfic available, the restrictions on the story due to (blah blah), but if I am paying for it, I would hope it's better! In general? Not so much. On the whole I have found myself incredibly disappointed in the profic out there.
[kradical]:
I can't speak definitively, as I didn't follow the line closely except during those times when I wrote for it, but if any Buffy novels went against the show canon, it wasn't on purpose.

Doing Buffy novels while the show was on the air was a nightmare, because production time for a book is very long, especially in comparison to a TV show. Books are written nine months to a year before publication, and changes can only be made up until four months before publication (and at the four-month stage, those changes can only be minor). Yet the status quo was changing on Buffy so regularly, it was completely impossible for the books to keep up, plus of course the tie-in writers were "Jossed" as often as the fanfic writers were.

As for the badly written part, I point to my recent Buffy novels because -- well, because it's my LJ, and I can be self-aggrandizing if I want. *grin* I strongly recommend Blackout, which came out last fall, and follows the story of Nikki Wood, the Slayer Spike killed in New York in 1977. Basically, it's what the show would've been like if it'd been created by Gordon Parks in the 1970s instead of Joss Whedon in the 1990s. My latest, The Deathless, will be out any day now, and crosses Buffy with Russian folklore.
valarltd:
The Star Wars EU (often pronounced Eeee-ewwww! by some fans)

The main characters were reduced to stereotypes: Ice-Queen!Leia, Hen-peckedDrunk!Han, Mystic!Luke, before being shunted aside for a lot of new ones.

Compulsory heterosexuality to the point of creating a mate for Luke out of the whole-cloth, because he couldn't POSSIBLY stay single after 30.

Constant resurrection of the Empire for lack of a good plot.

I picked up a couple of Buffy tie-ins for my daughter. She made it half-way through one and said "Mom, your 'Buffy vs. the Teletubbies' was better than this. The writing is bad, the characters are off." When a 12 year old is that critical, it's not worth reading.

The Queer as Folk tie-ins? Don't even have sex in them and are written for a 5th grade vocabulary.

Star Trek tie-ins have varied so radically over the years that I really can't talk. Many of the first ones were fanfiction, written by fanfic authors and picked up by Timescape. I still say Black Fire and Yesterday's Son are the best.
[kradical]:
If you haven't been keeping up with the Trek fiction, you've been missing a lot. I admit to a certain bias, but the book line as a whole is stronger than it's ever been, and I'm including the heyday of Duane, Ford, Crispin, Bonanno, et al. For one thing, we've still got two of those: Diane just finished her Rihannsu saga with The Empty Chair, and Margaret Bonanno has done several new works of late. I'd seriously recommend sampling the recent Trek fiction. I'd be happy to provide specific recommendations (they won't even all be my novels *grin*).
[neotoma]:
Sorry, not interested. VOYAGER and ENTERPRISE killed my interest in anything new the studio puts out for Star Trek -- I'll happy continue watching TOS, TNG and DS9 on DVD and reading the occasional fanfic by fanwriters I like.
[kradical]:
I'm not talking about anything new the studio has put out for Star Trek. This is stuff put out by Pocket Books, by two editors who are huge Trek fans (Marco Palmieri and Margaret Clark), and written by authors who are also huge Trek fans. The studio has nothing to do with it. The licensing person at CBS/Paramount who does the approvals is a longtime fan who published a Trek fanzine in the 1970s.
[neotoma]:
Uhm, no, really. When I said killed my interest, I mean killed it *dead*. I loved Star Trek, I remember it fondly, and I'm just not interested anymore.
[kradical]:
Okay, fair enough. Sorry for the hard sell, but we've been doing some good work. Sorry the pathetic hackwork of Voyager and Enterprise (and may I say how glad I am that Rick Berman's contract is up, so I can finally say how much they sucked?) ruined it for you.
[neotoma]:
There is only so much poisoning a well can take before you don't dare sip from it anymore.
[wookiemonster]:
...I write fanfic myself, though, I'm using fanfic as a way to "play," to practice for writing for honest-to-god publication.

There are those who would write fanfic despite there being no audience. But there are also those who will write fanfic for an audience, be it small or large, and who stop writing if readership falls off. In addition, thanks to the internet, some people will write fanfic that would appeal to a larger readership and is posted for general access in the net, but, without any advertising and such, has a small readership or a readership that grows very slowly. I'm sure you were speaking generally, though, and I see that others have already made some of these points.

I believe fanfic does have another important value, and that's because when the writers for a series that started out good (BSG?) suddenly have a stroke or somesuch, fans start saying, "Gods, someone please write something better!" and there may be a few people who step up to the plate and give those fans what they want. It may not be real or official, but it's entertaining. Kind of like an escape from escapism. As a corollary to this, fanfic can keep some series alive for a little longer, despite creaters ending such series (like Firefly). There's been some good stuff there, and it's comforting (for me, anyway) to know that Mal, River, Jayne, and the others are still together makin' their way in the 'Verse somewhere.
[fangirlsays]:
I mentioned this in a reply to another comment, but I've read 'profic' tie-in novels that are filled with so many typos, misspellings and grammar errors that they'd embarrass a 16-year-old MarySue writer. I think the difference is that a badly-written and badly-edited fanfic in general is either not going to garner many positive comments, or is going to (rightly) get the writer verbally slammed by a large portion of readers. Badly-written and -edited profic will, I'm sure, get slammed by whoever has oversight, but the writer is not going to feel the ire of the readers (who are the audience, after all) in the same way. And with fanfic, I haven't spent $8 for the priviledge of reading all those errors. I think that, by and large, that gives fanfic readers an advantage over profic readers. And in a way, I think /because/ fanfic writers don't have to conform to officially homogenized sanction or appeal to a largely white-bread audience, fanfiction can be far superior to profic. In profic, the writer can only expand on canon in a very limited way; the fanfic writer can go much farther in character development because, as another commenter put it, the profic writer 'has to return the characters exactly as he/she found them.' I think that has to be limiting.
[jedirita]:
The amateur nature of fanfic makes it open and available to anyone who has an idea, regardless of their ability to spell, properly place commas, or even tell a story. Personally, I think it's a good thing whenever a twelve-year-old is writing anything, even if it's boy band fic. (For that matter, it's also good when thirty-nine-year-olds or ninety-nine-year-olds write.) In this day and age, we've turned most of the arts over to "professionals," which means that the average person doesn't sing, play musical instruments, draw, play sports, or write, as much as people used to back in the days before mass media. Fanfic is a modern way of reclaiming the ancient practice of telling stories around the campfire. I'm glad that it's not the same thing as professional fic.
[kradical]:
I don't agree with this notion at all -- specifically the "in this day and age" part, as if the notion of professional artisans is new. Sophocles was paid for Antigone, Michelangelo was paid for the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, and Shakespeare was paid for every one of his plays.
[jedirita]:
Professionals are not new. But there used to be a lot more amateurs.
[anonymous]:
Profic is subject to the whims of the publishing industry. The aim of the publishing industry is, primarily, to make money. This becomes very obvious when visiting your local bookstore. Many books, franchise tie-ins included, are not worth the paper they're written on.

So, that leaves us with fanfic. Lucky us. Yes, most fanfic is terrible; some of it, like American Idol, is so terrible it's good. I'd say that the terrible, boring fanfic occupies at least 95% of the entire genre as evidenced by the stuff posted on the Internet.

In my experience, profic and fanfic have pretty much the same pitfalls.

Profic franchise tie-ins usually showcase the risk-adverse characteristics that go with anything designed by a committee i.e. they are horses that become, all too often, camels. Writing is something that is best left to an author, who then develops a relationship with the reader. The publisher/editor should simply facilitate this relationship. Unfortunately, in franchise tie-ins, this rarely ever happens. This is borne out by the fact that, especially in the sci-fi genre, many serious writers are so easily rendered into the proverbial milktoast by the editing department of a major franchise. This is okay for the franchise (it's cheaper to publish a novel than it is produce and distribute a television show/movie, and there are always people who will buy the novel, at least at first), but very bad for us and the writer. It renders a voice that we had come to appreciate almost completely inert, and makes us feel as if we've been used, and we are correct; we have been used, or at least our money has.... [snipped]... Star Trek (Trek) may stand out in that regard. Trek, however, came about under very different, and much more liberal, circumstances than most other entertainment franchises. Trek is one of the oldest media franchises, and when it went off the air in 1969, it was kept alive by relentless syndication and the fans, many of whom wrote in the old Zine system. Mr. Roddenberry knew how much he owed these people, and so after the first of the original Star Wars trilogy was released (thus freeing up that nagging special effects problem) he never felt the need to be restrictive about fan participation. In fact, he was refreshingly mellow about it.

This made (and makes) Trek an anomaly, particularly nowadays.

Up until the mid-90's or so, Trek would even consider unsolicited manuscripts from amateur writers for publication. This gave many sci-fi writers their start. Alas, those days have now disappeared into the mists of time.
[calicokat]:
Fanfic is ultimately both extremely personal and intimately social. You write fanfic to connect more deeply with canon, and at the same time you write it to contribute to a community of writers who are usually, also, your friends. Your only pay is feedback, and the possibility of inspiring writers you love to holla back at you with their own pieces. And, in fanfic, at least, in most LJ fanfic, there's an exploration of fantasy and a prodding at the limits of taboo wrapped up with all of it, but only one aspect of it, that encourages fanficcers to create an emotionally safe community for all members.

Profic is written to expand and represent a brand. When you're lucky, and you’ve made it clear that with SPN, we are very lucky, it's written with love. When you're not, it's written by somebody who's never engaged with the story or universe before. Either way, it’s being published as a product to generate revenue by a publisher who picked up the license and may or may not share the deep love of the brand that fans have emotionally invested themselves in for years of their lives.

The problem with profic is that with that brand label slapped on it, we, the fans, are expected to take it, if not as canon, then at least as a reasonable facsimile of canon, and it’s only our consumer dollars and sometimes feedback that can pressure the market forces to give us a product that doesn’t, well… suck. It’s on our backs as fans to make sure that we’re not sitting out here waiting to be taken advantage of with dumb sheep eyes, because if we let the quality of our brand slip, we lose the story and characters we love and, even worse than that, the community we’ve built up around that mythos.

So, when it comes down to it, a profic writer, happily or not, has produced something he or she got paid for, good or bad. But to a fandom, bad profic? Is like home invasion. Is like somebody attacking your family in the dark of night. It’s somebody threatening to take away the cons you go to, those all weekend celebrations, and the people you talk to every day, the people you share your art with and whose art you love. Because when the brand goes downhill, the whole thing kind of screeches to a halt. Suddenly everybody’s bitter again and remembering why they’re jaded.... [snipped] So, not in short at all, that’s why it’s “okay” for fans to insult profic while a perceived insult to fanfic is like spitting in a church. The fans, even fairly casual fans, ultimately have a whole lot more invested in the whole thing than the profic writer, who’s moving on to another book and another brand.

Posts and Meta in Response

References

  1. He did not purchase zines, but rather insisted that fans send him a free copy of everything they produced. See Lucas Letters.