I’ve written a series of articles I’ve awkwardly referred to as “Everything I learned from fandom” and they have been some of the most popular posts I’ve done. It’s all pretty subjective but I think pulls on a lot of universal issues for writers concerning developing our craft. I was motivated to start writing about those issues a couple of years ago when I first started publishing professionally, and became more aware of the pushback against authors who started out with fanfic because, well, 50 Shades of Gray.
I was of course aware that fanfic has been considered the shameful underbelly of fandom since I first got into K/S back in the mid-1980s. This isn’t new; and there were always titterings of one romance author or another filing serial numbers off of fic and “going legit” with their stories, although names were carefully redacted because the mainstream publishing community had typically (and at times still does) skewer writers who admit to their fanfiction past. All that was there, and so firmly entrenched that when Dreamspinner Press published my first story in 2011, I worked hard to keep my identity as “Cooper West” pretty distant from my fandom identity as mikes_grrl (Mikey), much less far far away from my RL identity as a professional working for a state university.
Fast forward past 50 Shades, Organization of Transformative Works, Archive of Our Own, and the rise of acafandom as a respected scholarly pursuit, and you’ve got a world where fanfic is still often made fun of but is nonetheless taken very seriously. Wattpad basically modeled itself on fanfiction communities, trying to merge LJ community atmosphere with the sophistication of AO3 ability to host stories. Fanfiction is a force to be reckoned with, whether people respect it or not.
Anyway, all of that is backstory to the fact that many discussions have taken place regarding the value (or lack thereof) of writing fanfic. Is it helpful to authors? Damaging? Something in between? I read a lot of posts for and against. Obviously I’m on the “pro fanfic!” side, and it’s not much of a secret that I don’t have a lot of respect for authors who disrespect fanfiction by trying to hide their own pasts, or apologize for it. But the reason I started writing this series of posts was not to enter into that debate, but to actually look at how fanfiction can help a writer — help her become a better storyteller, a better writer, a better marketer, a better brand. Whether they go pro or stay in the walled gardens of fanfiction, writers can find a lot to value through the practice of writing fanfic.
Admittedly, I’m giving this advice from the sidelines. I’m not much of a BNF nor do I want to be, honestly — it’s a lot of work, which I need to focus on my own writing career. But I am both a fairly popular (in my fandoms) fanfic writer as well as a successfully published author of M/M romance, so yeah, I feel like I have something to say that might help others. If nothing else, my posts might convince someone who is struggling to keep writing, one way or another.
I’ve rebranded this series as the “Fanfiction Academy”, with the caveat that I’m not actually a teacher or anything. This is more along the line of “sharing what you know” than it is “formal education”, you’ve been warned! In the end I’m going to pack up all the posts and put them together into a cheap ebook for people to buy. I have no delusions of retiring rich off of that, but hey, again, my goal is to help people.
If you have any suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered, please let me know!