Writing Profic and Fanfic

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Title: Writing Profic and Fanfic
Creator: Flamingo
Date(s): January 1, 2003
Medium: post to a mailing list
Fandom: has a focus of Starsky & Hutch
External Links:
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Writing Profic and Fanfic is a 2003 essay by Flamingo.

It was posted to VenicePlace, a Starsky & Hutch mailing list on January 1, 2003 and is quoted here on Fanlore with Flamingo's permission.

Some Topics Discussed

The Essay

While I used to feel much as the others who've written (i.e. the less said about fanfic the better, the less said about slash the better, the copyright infringement issue, etc.), I now look at this. I'm not advising you to do what I would do, as I'm very willing to take on the risks of my own behavior, however, this is my take on it for what it's worth.

Over the last 10 years, the whole fanfic issue has changed due to its high visibility on the net. There have been so many articles written about fanfic and slash in mainstream press, it is way out of the closet and it's not going back in. People know about it. (The people I work with are incredibly uninvolved and unknowledgeable about cultural issues, especially media, and *they've* asked me about it.) And pro editors and pro writers have known about it long before the net. Many pro writers come out of fanfic, and, since tie-in books (novels based on popular tv shows and movies) have become such a strong force in the book marketplace, editors have been tapping well-thought of fanfic writers (who are almost always willing to work for less money) to work on these books, many of which are "works for hire" -- i.e. low paid with no royalties. Most experienced pro writers won't accept these kinds of rates, but fanfic writers who love their show will. (When [[Beauty and the Beast]] was on the air most of the writers who wrote the tie in books were well respected pro authors like Barbara Hambly who were willing to write those books for almost nothing because they were *fans* of the show -- much to the dismay of their agents who didn't want them to work for so little.) Pro writers who consider themselves "literary" writers who disdain genre writers are not going to have any respect for fanfic authors, but they also don't have any respect for mystery pro authors, science fiction authors, and so on. Genre authors often look disdainfully on fanfic writers because, frankly, they're not far removed -- they're fans themselves, of a different type.

I am and have been a pro writer since the 70's and was a pro novelist long before I wrote my first fanfic story. My coauthor thought it was "fun" for me to write fanfic when she thought I was just playing around with a few stories. When she came to understand just how much time and energy (and pages) I was putting into it she was upset -- because I was writing all this for *free* when I could've been writing it for sale. This is the constant complaint I get from the pros I know -- 1) fanfic is derivative (yeah, and genre writing isn't? Puhleeze), and 2) you don't get paid for it. However, the reality is that pro writers are screwed royally by professional publishing -- they're given slave wages, shitty contracts that enslave them, and their books aren't even kept in print. (My first two books sold out in 6 months -- very unusual -- but the publisher put them out of print anyway.) An average royalty is maybe 8% of the cost of the book. For a book that costs $5.95 that comes out (unless I've screwed this up) to 47 CENTS a book. My pro friends do not like to hear about how I make more per book for my zines than I do on my pro fic. Hell, I made more than that on Total Eclipse which cost me over $18 to produce and which I sell for $20! I'm getting ready to write a pro book this year and I'll make maybe $1,000 for it -- which, by the time I'm done, will net me maybe ten cents an hour -- if those aren't fannish rates, I don't know what is.

When my pro editors/writer friends tsk tsk me about my writing fanfic -- which I no longer make any bones about -- this is what I tell them:

1) yes, fanfic is derivative and depends on characters and universe created by someone else. One of the largest markets in fiction now are shared universes and tie-in books. The only difference is that pros get legal permission to write what is glorified fanfic -- they have no more rights to this writing than I do, and they're chained to restrictive contracts and restrictive storylines. I get to write WHATEVER I WANT WHENEVER I WANT TO WRITE IT. Definitely not the case in pro writing, I can tell you.

2) fanfic is copyright infringement -- yes, probably it is, though there are people who would argue that it is a grey area. However, websites that receive cease and desist orders are usually dependent on film clips and images which corporations are especially jealous of. Few of them care that much about written fiction. There has been some incidents of fans being asked to cease and desist selling certain types of fanfic but considering how much fanfic has been written on paper and on the net, and how visible net fic now is, the number of fans who've had these problems are such a minuscule percentage, that its just not worth worrying about. Professional studios know about fanfic, they know about slash, they would like it to go away, but unless you take out billboards on Hollywood Ave or unless your worst enemy shoves it under their nose and they can't ignore it, statistics show the chances are huge that NOTHING will ever happen to you on the legal front

3) the primary complaint I've received about why I shouldn't be writing fanfic and should only write pro fic is the notion that someone writing pro fic for "money" somehow makes it more valuable. The reality is pro writers are grossly underpaid, treated like peons by the publishing industry, and their work is often flat out stolen (works for hire, for instance). Tons of pro writers are working for the gaming industry which gives them no rights to the work they produce and insist they own it forever and ever and never have to pay them another penny ever again once they give them their "salary". The number of writers who actually can support themselves on pro writing is extremely small. Pro writers are considered one of the lowest paid professionals of any.

5) re: slash -- slash fulfills a market need for *writers* (never mind readers). There is no place else where you can write this form of homoerotica and find a market for it. The gay market is completely different and considers slash too "soft", too "romantic" for their readers. (And because they will not cater to gay men who love this kind of writing, more and more gay men are turning to slash to find the kind of stories they want to read.) Throughout history, women's writing has always been suppressed, and women's erotic writing has always been the most repressed of all. Writing slash isn't just erotic writing -- it's a political statement. It's women writing what they want to read, and thumbing their nose at a repressed patriarchal society who would shame them for doing so. How dare we manipulate men in fiction the way they've been manipulating us for thousands of years?

So. That's why I no longer hide my slash writing proclivities from my pro friends. Do I preach about it at work? No. Why? Most of those folks don't read much and when they do, it's non-fiction nature-oriented books anyway. Would I talk about it at a meeting of writers and editors who know me? If it came up, most certainly. Would I talk to a group of pro writers about it -- if I were invited specifically for that purpose, yes. Pretending that if we don't talk about it no one will know about it worked really well before the net, but now? It's like keeping your finger in the dike while the water pours over your head like Niagara Falls. Am I suggesting, Otter, that you give this talk? I only suggest you do what makes you comfortable. But if you decide to do it, consider the political ramifications of it. Writers, in many way, are largely a powerless group. Writing fanfic puts a writer in total control of their own work. You work when you want, how you want, and write what you want. If you so desire, you can sell it yourself, or let someone else do it so you avoid all the hassles, or put it on the net for free. But whatever you do, it's what *you* want to do with it.