Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Fan fiction will not launch your writing career

It's not the first time I've seen this: a fan fiction author who's achieved BNF status and whose stories have become fairly popular and well known within the small pool of fandom (and even the Harry Potter fandom is a small pool relative to the world at large, sorry to say) thinks maybe all those thousands of hits and flattering reviews saying "You should become a professional author, I would totally buy your books!" might actually translate into a writing career.

To my knowledge, this has never, ever worked for anyone.

I don't care how popular your slashfic is, and neither does the publishing industry

There are certainly fan fiction authors who have gone pro. Cassandra Clare and Sarah Reese Brennan are both former Harry Potter BNFs who now write bestselling paranormal urban fantasy something or other, and certainly a lot of their fans from their fan fiction days stayed with them. But: their fan fiction is not what launched their careers.

They had to query, find an agent, and land a publishing contract the old-fashioned way, and you can bet they didn't mention their fan fiction as a selling point when they were trying to go pro. Notice that both of them have done their best to erase their fan fiction from the net. It's not that there is anything wrong or shameful about fan fiction; plenty of other pro authors have admitted they used to (and in some cases, still do) write fan fic. But given its gray legal status and the fact that some authors get touchy and batshit on the topic of fan fic, most publishers don't want themselves or their authors to be associated with it, so my understanding is that the general rule issued to published authors is, "Either don't do it, or at least try to keep it separate from the name you publish under, and definitely don't put it on your official web page."

Once Cassandra Clare and Sarah Brennan got contracts, it wasn't their old LJ fans who made them successful. If every single fan they had back when they were writing Harry/Draco slashfic bought their first published novel, it wouldn't be enough for them to get another book contract. And if you think that word of mouth from their fans is what's responsible for them hitting the bestseller lists, you're wrong. Yes, I know that Cassandra Clare's works basically are her Harry/Draco slashfic with the names changed, but most of her readers are people who know nothing about the Draco Trilogy. For better or for worse, she got popular the way any other YA author did.

Dude, no, really, this is like one level above holding chapters hostage for reviews

Which brings me to G. Norman Lippert. Sigh.

Lippert seems like a pretty decent and down-to-earth guy. I have nothing against him. I read the first book in his James Potter series, James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing, and liked it. I have been meaning to get around to the next two books.

I was aware that he's self-published other books, with about as much success as most self-publishing efforts get. More power to him.

Unfortunately, I think with this post, he's pretty much lost the plot, so to speak.

Here's the thing: those 51 copies he's sold of Ruins of Camelot? That's better than average for a self-published ebook. There are now approximately seventeen zillion aspiring writers self-publishing their fantasy novels on Amazon. Which means for every phenomenal success story like Amanda Hocking, there are approximately seventeen zillion -1 disappointed authors who get a handful of sales, mostly from friends and family.

G. Norman Lippert has an advantage over most of them in that (a) he is actually a decent writer, and (b) he does have a significant fanbase, but that's not enough to launch a career that's going to earn him more than beer money at best. So the fact that he seems surprised and disappointed that a self-published fantasy novel does not appear to be selling in profitable numbers is rather surprising and disappointing to me. He should be smarter than that.

If he really wants to make a go of a writing career, he should hone his craft and query with traditional publishers.

Now, there are a growing number of professional authors saying otherwise. Dean Wesley Smith, J.A. Konrath, Mike Stackpole are a few of the fairly big names who have jumped onto the self-publishing bandwagon and are encouraging other authors to do the same. (Though none of them will turn down a traditional publishing deal if they like the numbers, so go figure.) And G. Norman Lippert is an animator and has the time and talent to do the sort of relentless self-promotion that is necessary if you are really going to try to self-publish and make a living at it, so he'd seem to be their target audience. But I do find that some of Smith and Konrath and Stackpole's arguments range from bitter to risible, so I really think aspiring authors shouldn't be so quick to drink their Koolaid.

Lippert evidently did, and it doesn't taste that good. Sorry man. I really do wish you luck. But if you think trying to browbeatgently encourage your James Potter fans to shell out money for an OF novel will boost sales significantly, well, I'd like to see your numbers in a few months. If you write fan fiction, you write it 'cause you like it. Heck, if you write anything, you write it 'cause you like it. Making a living writing fiction has always been about as far from a sure thing as you can get.

When I become rich and famous

I saw what Lippert wrote about his plans for his own seven-book fan fiction series, with side projects in between, and boy did it sound familiar.

I've alluded in the past to the fact that I do dream of publishing a novel. Maybe even more than one. And that I am in fact working on that.

I have an advantage many aspiring writers don't: I'm already a grown-up and I have a job. So I have the luxury of viewing my writing as a hobby whether or not I ever make a penny off of it. (I have made money off of my writing in the past, but my real job pays better.) If I do get published, I can view it as a hobby that earns me some extra spending money. If I become a best-seller, well, maybe then I'll think about quitting my day job. But frankly, I view that in the same way that I view "If I win the lottery..."

(One might argue this is actually a disadvantage, since I am not, metaphorically speaking, "hungry" enough to really be pursuing my writing dreams, but that's okay.)

So anyway, yes, sometimes the thought occurs to me that I spend an awful lot of time writing fan fiction that I could be spending on something that might actually be publishable (and earn money). But I view all my writing, from my fan fiction to my original fiction, as a hobby that I do for pleasure more than anything else. I really do want to finish Alexandra Quick, and I do plan to write a sequel to Hogwarts Houses Divided someday. But yeah, I want to be published too. I'm not old enough yet that I can't still plan to do both. :)

Should I become a Real Boypublished author, I don't plan to stop writing fan fiction, but I will have to continue to maintain some distance between my "professional" identity and Inverarity the fan fiction author.

And if I finish my novels and query them and no publisher is interested, maybe I will just self-publish and throw them up on Amazon too. But I promise I will never tell you, "I won't write the rest of the Alexandra Quick series unless you buy my shit, yo!"

As for Mr. Lippert, he is discovering what I figured out waaaay back (wow, almost four years ago?) when I first started getting those adulatory reviews. "I think you are good enough to be published and I would buy your books" is very nice to hear. But you need to know that every fan fiction author who is an even halfway decent writer will be told that. Most of the time it's not true. I don't know if it's true for me; I can only hope so. But even if every person telling you that does, in fact, buy your books, that's an insignificant number by publishing standards, so forget about it. You have to be able to sell to people who don't know from fan fiction and don't care.
Tags: fandom, publishing, self publishing, writing

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