An industry into fanfic

Romance novels have got a reputation even worse than soaps, but people who step back and pay attention recognize that not only is this one of the most popular and enduring pop culture genres out there, it’s no more formulaic or stupid than most of what you can see on TV or in the movie theaters. It just gets stigmatized because, horror of horrors, it’s written by, for, and about women and it focuses on emotion (if you really want to hear me rant about this, read the first chapter of my book!). One of the first and most important audience analyses was Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance. While I don’t like it when she goes all psychoanalytic, it’s still a great and highly influential work amongst those of us who think that the best way to study how fans engage texts is to, you know, talk to fans.

And here’s another reason to appreciate the romance novel industry, they’re not only welcoming fanfic, they’re encouraging and mentoring its production via Avon press’s site Avon Fanlit. For the last 8 weeks they collaboratively created a new romance novella by having fans submit chapters, creating forums for fans and writers to discuss them with authors and editors, and voting on which was best. There were lots of prizes, some of real value to aspiring writers. They let the fans vote as well as compete (something I always advocate in these conferences). And they’ve published the result as an ebook you can start reading here. Notice they’ve put the fan/authors front and central instead of sucking them entirely into their own corporate persona.

Very cool.

Of course, they might not dig it quite as much if the fans were taking characters from existing copyrighted novels for their own.

Comments (5) to “An industry into fanfic”

  1. It seems to be a trend recently. Not so long ago a call went out to slash authors from a small publisher, Sybaritic Press ( The deal there was that you submitted fan fiction and if they liked it then they helped ‘file the serial numbers off’ and make it original fiction so it could go into the slash anthology they were putting together ( However they, like a few other small presses, do seem to specialise in publishing ‘fan’ authors.

  2. I read Reading the Romance for a class called History of the Book, and it was very interesting. I find it very interesting that Avon is incorporating fans in such a way.

  3. While I find the overall trend to support amateur writing enouraging, I do worry just a bit about the way this suggests that fan fiction is little more than a stepping stone to greater and better things. And maybe this is simply a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but when I look around my favorite writers and friends, I see some that *are* established writers, some that are hoping to be, and an awful lot that are professionals in their own right with no interest whatsoever in turning their hobby, i.e., fanfic writing, into a career.

    When reading things like your post or the recent Wall Street Journal article [btw, can I hyperlink in comments?], I worry a bit about the way it ignores the large number of fan writers who do not aspire to become professionals. In fact, one of the underlying tenets of fan fiction writers has always been a strong belief in anti-commercialism. It’s often argued practically and legally, i.e., we don’t charge for fanfic so we don’t get sued, but I’d suggest that the entire ethos of fandom often encourages anti-capitalist notions: paying it forward and community support and free distribution…

    Moreover, to me the most central and novel aspect of fan writing *is* its communal and collective quality. Whether sharing ideas and interpretations, beta reading, or co-writing, few writers operate in a vacuum and most enjoy the community that supports their writing on many different levels. This communal quality does not always work well with a commercial approach to writing. Now, commercial success is not in opposition to fan fiction or even the fan community; in fact, we celebrate those of us who’ve “made it.” However, it can’t be the *purpose* and goal of fan writing either. And maybe I’m just an utter idealist, but I don’t think fanfic is training wheels, is a stepping stone to greater or better things. It’s highly intertextual art created in a community of readers and writers, and becoming commercially sucessful is not the crucial outcome to such intertextual and fannish expressions.

    What this comes down to, in the end, I think is what fannish activities mean: after all, any fannish engagement is ultimately a “useless” waste of time and resources, and media fandom often suffers from this stigma even more so than sports or music fans do, and certainly more than most types of collectors do (hey, those coins/stamps are “worth” something, aren’t they??? :-) At my most idealistic, I think of media fandom as a community of (often primarily) women who write with and for one another, read and interpret their beloved texts, and think through various questions theoretically as well as creatively. At its best, it’s an alternative to consumerism where we share our resources and do not measure contributions in financial worths–an idyllic alternative female space of caring and sharing. [Well, and then I look at fandom_wank, and get my daily dose of reality check *g*]

  4. Faith – thanks for the link! interesting.

    Stefanie — thanks!

    Kristina — Can’t it be both? I’d like to think that fan writing can be lots of things to lots of people, and that no one group or set of groups have a lock on what it is allowed or supposed to be. I don’t think that things like this Avon contest imply that the people writing fanfic now are riding on training wheels or that collaborative fiction writing cultures that are meant to be anti-capitalistic and underground are inferior. I think there are people in all fan scenes who aspire to earn a living off the creativity their fandom inspires, and I think it’s a good thing when industries recognize that their next big seller is likely someone who’s digging what they’re putting out now and proactively cultivate that creativity, steering it in directions that will help the people who want to be professionals craft their work in ways that sell. There’s still plenty of room for those who savor the fact that it’s not about money.

    I guess this goes back to our earlier discussion and my questioning whether fandom is something that should be sheltered, protected, and left alone or something that should be broadened and brought into the light.

    (I don’t think you can put hotlinks in the comments, sorry about that — if any WP geeks wanna tell us how, please do)

  5. Nancy, you are, of course, completely correct, and I ought to apologize for taking your post and twisting it for my own purposes :-) And it totally relates to our previous discussion…call me a one-trick pony :D

    The thing is, even if *you* haven’t done so, the tendency I’ve noticed lately has been to think of fanfic as a training ground, even by some young writers themselves. I’ve seen more than one writer dismiss fan writing once they’ve become “real” writers (Cassie Claire’s quote in the Wall Street Journal article is a particularly frustrating example thereof) or seen teens regard fanfic as a “phase” before they become responsible and all growed up, so to speak…

    And I’m not trying to argue that it can’t or shouldn’t be good training (though there are a variety of issues with the types of challenges a fanfic writer faces versus those original fic writers do…there’s an interesting article, in fact, about one writer who filed serial numbers off, and what needs to be added to make the fic emotionally accessible to a reader when the intertextuality with the source text is gone)–what I was reacting to, mostly, is the sense that that’s the real or only purpose for fan fiction… (and all the capitalist ideology that carries with it!)

    [OK, let's try this and this.]