On Writing to the Fanfic Market

There were a pair of posts this week on the FanHistory blog (here and here) about how to become a successful fan writer. The title of the first post is pretty much its thesis: “Fan fiction, social media & chasing the numbers with quality content (Hint: Doesn’t matter).” The basic premise is this: If you write fan fiction and you want to be successful at it, and you define “success” entirely in numeric terms–by page clicks or comment counts–then screw writing quality work: It doesn’t matter; you need to “follow all the cool kids” and be where it’s at with two turn-tables and a microphone, even if that’s not where you want to be.

And, yes, this is true. If you aim for one thousand comments on your novel, you’re probably not going to get them writing Silmarillion. (Another Man’s Cage currently has 185 comments on ff.net.) You’re much better off in Twilight or Harry Potter, even The Lord of the Rings. (My friend JunoMagic’s LotR-based novel Lothíriel has 995 reviews on the same site.)

My contention is not with whether or not this is reality. It’s pretty in-your-face obvious, if you ask me. My contention lies with the very notion of recognizing rewards for our writing in such terms.

Because the fact of the matter is that people who post their fiction publicly are looking for something for doing so. Oh, I’ve heard the wide-eyed assertions of people who claim, “I only post for myself!” I call bullshit. You may write for yourself–I hope that you do!–but if you’re taking the time to join groups/archives and format stories for uploading and to actually upload them and write summaries and debate the rating and so on, you’re doing so with hopes of getting something from someone else. That might be simply getting read; it might be in-depth concrit; it might be the adulation of masses claiming that Shakespeare is currently licking the taste of your road dust from his lips. So there is some hope for reward, maybe not even anything particularly tangible, but something. Write for myself, post for others: that is my motto, and I fail to see how there is any shame in standing on a stage and hoping for an audience.

And, of course–idealist though I may be–I can also see things in realistic terms, and I know that nothing I say will change the fact that there will be people for whom the sole measure of success is reaching a certain number of comments or page clicks. I count these people alongside those who take 80-hour-a-week jobs for the six-figure salaries and the ability to accrue shinies like a million-dollar home that might as well be a million-dollar motel room for all that they’re in it, complete with a professional-grade kitchen that never gets used because their dinners are slurped out of Chinese takeout boxes, and a vacation home in Bethany Beach that never gets used because they’re working eighty hours a week, every week. But the collection of such shinies is their mark of success; intangibles like contentment or personal enrichment are of little to no matter.

But, of course, there’s no meaning in such an existence, just as there is no meaning in fiction that is penned solely to entice the greatest number of eyeballs to look at it. Traffic accidents earn that much.

This concept is nothing new. In professional fiction, the term for it has been sanitized and euphemized as “writing for the market.” Those with blunter tongues call it “selling out.” Last year, horribly enough, I had to write an essay on Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara for a course called Modern Epic Fantasy, and while looking for information on the book, I found an interview with the author during which he was asked how he handles critical reactions to his work. “I write first for myself and for what I perceive to be the market” was part of his answer. Having read no further than Sword of Shannara (because, as I often admonish fandom trolls, if organisms lacking a central nervous system nonetheless possess the capability to learn a basic avoidance response, then what does it say of human beings who cannot do the same?), I can say that it is painfully obvious that Brooks writes foremost for a market. “Writing for the market” necessarily means that there must be a perceptible market in the first place, which means that there must be a body of books that is being overwhelmingly purchased (and, thus, published) over another body of books, which means walking in the ditches created by the passage of all those authors’ feet before yours, which means stale ideas and writing that lacks anything close to daring.

However, I am not so naïve not to understand that professional writers are just that: They are professionals, and so they need to make money on their work. So they must remain at least cognizant of the market for that work. I know firsthand the allure of that “market,” of leaving an idea about which I was passionate for another because I thought that the latter had a better chance of “selling.” It made me a miserable writer and drove me to give up writing for two years. I suppose it’s the same as the caveman’s urge to hoard more deer legs in one’s cave than one can possibly eat because that stack of rotting meat in the corner represents success and, ultimately, survival. Never mind that it reeks.

But this is professional writing. After my failed stint as a writer of literary fiction, it was “fan fiction” that brought me back to writing, and it brought me back in part because it was something that could not be sold. It kept me honest much in the way that a job at Denny’s and not Applebee’s keeps a recovering alcoholic honest by not even providing a whiff of temptation into the old habits. There was very little “market” for Silmfic beyond a slightly bigger audience for some characters and pairings over others; it was the closest I’d ever seen in a fiction-writing community to the ideal of 1) writing only what one’s heart and mind cries must be written and 2) having one’s work judged foremost in terms of how well it worked for its audience. This is not to say that the Silmarillion community was (and is) without any favoritism paid to some works, genres, and authors over others. But that an unknown author could march into the room with her big, hulking novel that never once touches on an event mentioned in the texts and still find readers and get comments on her work is, I think, a testament to the difference between fanfic and o-fic. Let me try the same thing with an original novel and see how far I get.

So I find this notion of recognizing and writing for a fanfic market to be dismaying. What the FanHistory posts encourage (especially the first) is abandoning one’s own passions as a writer in favor of writing to fit a perceived market. Fuck quality. My heart and mind pull me to contemplate the early lives of the Fëanorians, the quality of my writing (I hope) reflects my passion and interest in this topic, but as my “mere” 185 reviews on ff.net reveal, this isn’t enough. Never mind that I’ve never read Twilight and strongly suspect that I would object to some of the books’ basic premises, but this is where it’s at. I can surely scratch together a story about Bella and Edward (see, I know the main characters’ names at least!) that will probably get more comments in a week than AMC has gotten in three years.

I don’t object to the reality of this claim but whether this is a measure that we should be putting upon fanworks in the first place. It’s bad enough that, in order to make a living off of their art, writers must mash and corset their creative passions to suit the “market.” What is to be gained by placing the same impositions upon fan-writing? It takes fan-writing from something that is driven by creativity and the community that forms around sharing that creativity and turns it into a capitalist enterprise, only instead of success being measured in dollars or euros or pounds or kroner or pesos or yen, now we’re measuring in page clicks or comment counts and shifting our creativity and our communities to accrue those meaningless little tick marks. We can’t even feed our families off hits on ff.net. In such a system, tiny fandoms–like Silmarillion, where the stories being written are overwhelmingly of high quality and the communities are extremely dedicated, passionate, and close-knit–must necessarily lose out in favor of–what exactly? Stacking our archives with the same pulp that I saw when, two Christmases ago, I wanted to buy my husband a book by Ursula K. LeGuin (any book by Ursula K. LeGuin) and, in the local B&N fantasy/sci-fi section with its bright-colored covers featuring shovel-jawed, sword-wielding heroes and dew-eyed, diadem-wearing princesses, I found one copy of The Left Hand of Darkness? Terry Brooks, on the other hand, probably had a shelf unto himself.

The difference between piling rotting deer carcasses in the corner of your cave if you’re writing professional fiction versus fan fiction is that, in fanfic, those carcasses are never a matter of survival. They just stink.

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19 Responses to “On Writing to the Fanfic Market”

  1. Juno says:

    If you want to, you can turn everything into a “market” and into a rat-race. :-/

    That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to find the best way to present your stories, and to try and get them out there successfully. No matter which fandom.

    I’m close to 1,000 comments for Lothy, I’m closer to 7,000 than 6,000 comments for Apprentice. And while those stories are certainly dear to me, and their success in terms of comments and hits (Apprentice has 1,200,000 hits by now), other stories that have two comments and twenty hits are just as dear to me.

    I carefully choose the places where I present my stories, the formats of presentation and the venues of promotion. I’m even pickier about how and where I get active in a fandom – time is a treasure, free time is scarce beyond measure.

    However, I’d never write a fanfic story I’m not passionate about. Fanfic is a hobby for me, something I do for fun in my free time. I cannot possibly be bothered writing to an audience with fanfic. If an audience is there, great. If not, just as great. For the same reason I will never again jump through any hoops for fanfic. I tried that out when I first encountered fanfic and fandom, for the simple sake of curiosity. Now, however…if a site demands a tedious review process, requires an intensive editing process, asks for proof of betaing…I can happily live without that site.

    It’s not that I don’t take my fanfic not seriously, or that I think my writing is perfect or anything like that. I simply have to watch my priorities. And in fanfic my top priority is fun, and the amount of time and effort I can spend on fanfic is limited.

    I save the compromises for other areas of my life, such as trying to get published with my original fiction.

    But even there, I find that I can only bend so much.

    For example, I’ve discarded the idea of trying to write trashy romance/erotica for a market. Sure, I could do that. But it’s not what I WANT to write. My compromise is that I will happily translate and edit that for a living, as much as it’s tedious and painful and dull, it’s also funny, good exercise, and sometimes even enjoyable. For my o-fic, I’ll write what I want and how I want it.

    How much I’ll be willing to compromise once a story has been accepted for publication I’m waiting to find out…but I know that there are limits to what I’m willing to do.

    Sometimes it’s necessary to betray your lofty ideals and your promises to others to remain true to your innermost self, but I think that requires very careful consideration. I don’t want to wake one day, look in the mirror and not recognise anymore what I’ve become.

    ~~~*~~~

    ”At any given moment you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.”
    – Christine Mason Miller

  2. Rhapsody says:

    Hmmm, well I’d be careful before you call someone’s fannish motivations bullshit. I still don’t write for others, but for myself. However, being part of two small communities (SWG and Quills), I put my work up for the group I belong to, knowing that they want to read it and I can please them with it. That sounds rather snobbish, but I think everyone has their own social needs and reasons to put up their work. Some crave reviews and are stats junkies, others put up work because they belong to that group/archive. Surely I can keep my stuff to myself or put it up at my own (currently off line) archive, but it’s the sense of group spirit as to why I put them online. I mean I’d end up utterly depressed if I measured the number of reviews and hit counts against the status getting high hit counts and oodles of reviews, seriously.

    Therefore as Juno said, it just feels that the more fanfic is re-discovered, the more it needs to be changed into something that fits our daily life aka the ratrace. Sorry, but fanfic for me is an escape from daily pressure and said ratrace, so those two articles I just roll my eyes at.

    As for Terry Brooks, poor guy. I still believe he doesn’t write for market, but his agency/publisher is. You and I both know that between the initial draft and the final publication the editor will make sure it meets a market demand and the author (especially since the Shannara series were his first books) will comply. I am not naive in that way. 😉 I loved the Shannara series a lot (yeah its easy reading, but provides an excellent escape that I need) I read them many years prior Tolkien and before he became big. I even won’t mention David Eddings, hehe.

  3. Dawn says:

    Juno: I hear you on the publication conundrums. I’m nowhere near that point (though hoping to resume work on my novel come April), and of course, there’s also the stronger possibility that no one will ever pose those hard questions to me. 😉 But I don’t want to wake up one day and find that I’m being asked to bend and never having thought about it. My fear is that, hey, I’m human; I’ve been writing my whole life, and success in it does mean something to me. And I’ve been raised in a culture where publication is the ultimate mark of success as a writer. So I worry that the time will come and I won’t be able to see beyond having achieved that ultimate goal to realize that I’m actually destroying my larger goal of presenting my work and what I have to say.

    I’ve even considered skipping mainstream publication altogether and going the self-publishing route online, no matter the poor reputation it has. (Of course it has a poor reputation! If it were to succeed, it would take big bucks from big publishers! They’re going to cast such a choice as that made by a writer whose run out of options for seeing her work “in print.”)

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather never make a dime on my writing but be able to truly reach an audience than to be a bestselling pro author who, at the end of her days, realizes the chance she had to reach people and that she gave up. Of course, it would be much harder to be so certain of that if the latter was actually a possibility. 😉

    Rhapsody: I want to be perfectly clear that I’m crying bullshit to the people who claim, “Oh, I post my writing in public for myself!” and contend that they’d just as happy if no one ever so much as looked at their stories. I’m sorry, I don’t believe that. Posting stories is done with involving others in mind. Your examples attest to that too: You post your work with your communities in mind. I’m happy to recant my statement if someone can convince me or explain to me why a writer would put her work up in public without any hope of involving that public at all. The only thing I can think of is that she likes the way the story looks in a particular online setting. (I can understand that, to a degree, as I like how my stories look up on my personal website. But I’m not going through the trouble of building that site expecting that only I will look at them! :) ) Even saying, “I post my stories because its empowering to me to take the leap of putting my work out there like that,” necessarily requires other people looking at that work. Otherwise, no more courage is involved that leaving something rot on one’s hard drive.

    And I don’t think you’re a snob for your chosen involvement in two small groups. :) Lately, I only post on the SWG and, eventually, my website, and I link in my LJ. I just don’t have time to post other places, for one, and yes, the conversation is better on those small groups. So it is more worth my limited time to post there. And I don’t think the conversation is better on the SWG than, say, HASA or OSA because the SWG is better than HASA or OSA but because we’re a closer-knit community and we share more interests, so there is less “I really liked this!” as feedback and more analysis, which is one of the things that I like about fanfic, so one of the things that I look for in posting my stories. (Honestly, I’d take one in-depth comment on LJ that had to be put into two parts [like some that you used to write on AMC! 😉 ] over one hundred “I liked! Plz write more!” that the FanHistory articles seem to value so highly.)

    it just feels that the more fanfic is re-discovered, the more it needs to be changed into something that fits our daily life aka the ratrace

    Yes! The immediate urge to say, “Oh, lots of people are having fun with this! Let’s make a profit! Let’s find ways of measuring ‘success’ and pitting stories, authors, and fandoms one against the other so that we can create ‘sellable products’!” literally disgusts me because, of our modern life, the constant urge to make money and find shallow “success” sickens me more than anything else. And I think it’s a major cause of misery, and I don’t want to see that misery enter into a community that I love so dearly.

    On Brooks, for what little I’ve read of it, I find his work shallow (with no offense intended to those who like his writing, and he’s a bestseller, so plenty must disagree with me here), and if it’s his editor’s doing, I like to think that in the same position, I would take my toys and walk away. So my sympathy runs short for him. But, as I told Juno, I realize that that is easier said than done.

  4. Niki says:

    why a writer would put her work up in public without any hope of involving that public at all

    Some of us are just plain weird and/or potentially have psychological/behavioral issues, or else are just prone to acting on stupid ideas. 😉 But here are some reasons that have been used (at least by me):

    –Back when I was a bit younger, less familiar with internet services, and tired of using floppy disks, it was simply the first possible solution that came to mind for making something more conveniently accessible from multiple computers. Sometimes I’d write something at home and wish I could view or work on it at school, and it was too easy to put a floppy disk into one of the drives at school and then accidentally leave it there as you dashed off to class later, so just typing in a memorable URL to find it was nice.

    –Does a cowriter count as an “audience?” Because a friend and I cowrote something that we used public web space to make it visible and accessible to both of us any time we wanted (again, this was before we knew of any better options).

    –Simply knowing that something is in “public space” even if you’re 99.999% sure (if not hopeful) no one will look can still kick your mind into focus so that it notices things that you’ll want to change about the work or helps you to focus the work better to begin with. (I say “you,” but I don’t know how much it applies to anyone else?) Even back before I was part of a web journaling network where I had any readers, but my blog was still public, I must have edited each entry at least five times after posting it simply because my brain kept telling me, “This is in a certain kind of space, it should be presented a certain way!” Kind of like stopping at a red light and waiting for the green, even if you’re obviously the only car for miles and the intersection doesn’t have a spy camera.

    –The act of posting something on a web site can be a sort of “ritual”–once I went through a phase where I used posting a story to a web site as a way to say, “Okay, this one’s done, time to start work on the next one.” (Would have made more sense to find a web site that was completely private, of course, but hey, that didn’t occur to my 18-20 year old self…)

    –There’s also “just plain impulsiveness”–I’ve been known to post things simply because I saw a shiny button on some page and got the idea to play with it and went through with it before stopping to think it through–and the audience was no part of the “idea.” ^_^;

    –I’m fascinated by different web layouts and always curious to see what *my* stuff looks like with them.

    Dunno how much that list could apply to, you know, *rational* people though. 😉 And of course, it’s still also possible that someone can post something just for him or herself and then *afterward* decide they’d like it to be read by others. I’ll confess I’ve been guilty of that.

  5. Niki says:

    Dadblammit, hit the “submit comment” button too quickly. 😛

    Anyway, I generally agree with you, though–I’ll try to take an individual’s word for it if they say they posted just for themselves (I’m no mind-reader), but it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at a claim like, “Well, I didn’t post it for anyone but myself, anyway.” It does have a kind of “sour grapes” ring to it.

    (Also I’m hoping I didn’t come across as defensive with my first comment or something. ^_^; )

  6. Niki says:

    (ARRRRGH *headdesk* Sorry about the triple comment lutz!)

    Felt I needed to clarify on my “public space” point–that one is arguably social in nature (I guess it may involve a fake audience based on what a real audience might expect), but the idea is it’s posting for the writer’s own benefit and not with the slightest hope or intention that other people will actually see or read the work. (Or was your argument more that nobody posts without at least thinking about a potential audnience, rather than posting with the hope that at least one person will read it?)

    Shutting up for now (I hope!)…

  7. Dawn says:

    Niki, no worries on the triple comment lutz. (The question is: did you land it? Sorry, skater humor! 😉 ) Hey, by FanHistory’s standards, you’ve just doubled the success of this post by taking it from three comments to six! When I post this, seven! But, seriously, please know that you’re always welcome to comment here, no matter how many comments it takes.

    I told Rhapsy that if someone made a convincing argument in favor of why one might post in a public forum with no hopes of any response from that public, then I would recant my “bullshit” statement. So consider it recanted! 😀 You make very good points about how the Internet can be useful as a tool, not necessarily as a stage. And I do understand this: I happily wrote almost every day in my LiveJournal with not a single person reading for months. LJ was, to me, a handy tool; I didn’t mind that my thoughts were out in public, so I left them there. But the primary enjoyment was using the LJ tool to write, not in sharing my writing. In fact, now that I have people reading my writing there, I’ve gone back to a private journal. I found that publicly hashing over my life wasn’t as much fun as simply committing it, uncensored, to paper was.

    Those are good points about public spaces acting as a motivation toward quality (I understand that, believe me; I read these HL posts sometimes a dozen times before posting them, whereas I am not so picky about stuff that I keep to myself) and as “putting a nail in the coffin,” so to speak, in barring further fiddling. In fact, one of my primary complaints about the fan-writing community as compared to the o-fic communities I’ve been part of in the past is that the fan community doesn’t seem to recognize that a story reaches a point where it is finished. It is always open to further revision and tinkering. “Published” does not mean the same thing. And, having authored sixty-some fan stories by now, that can be a real impediment to making progress on new stuff, when a reviewer is always popping up on something old and saying, “It’d be so much better if you …” and feeling that there is almost an obligation to bring old work up to my current standards.

    On your second comment, those are the people I was mostly aiming my rather snarky statement at. 😉 On the one hand, I empathize with using that excuse as a defense against hurt feelings, i.e., “You didn’t hurt me when you flamed me because this story was posted for me, not you, so your comments don’t matter anyway.” On the other … that’s just so not true (in most cases, not all, as you have proven. 😉 ) And I think it’s sometimes used to deflect legitimate criticism or discussion of a work, to attempt to have that work in public without giving the public the right to an opinion on it, to have one’s cake and eat it too. (This is a perennial argument in fandom, so I’m going to stop now before I go off on a tangent! 😀 )

    On the third comment, my argument was that posting in public carries with it at least some thought of the public reaction to that action (posting in public) and, usually, a hope for “reward,” whether someone finding and reading a story, a certain number of comments, or (to borrow Rhapsy’s example) contributing to a community that one values. I have a hard time believing most people who say that they put a story up in a public forum without any concern whatsoever about whether or how the public is going to react to that story. You’ve convinced me on your points, so I add most to that statement. 😉 I know, when first designing a website, I give each block in the layout an obnoxious color so that I can see where each is falling on the page. And then I upload them to the Internet, so they’re public, because I like to check out how the page looks on different computers, and it’s easier that way. But *OME* if anyone ever found those monstrosities … 😉

  8. Rhapsody says:

    Ah Dawn, well a few months ago I was reading a scathing book called ‘the cult of the amateur’ written by Andrew Keen. This book is an interesting read and it also touches upon the self-publishing/blogging need of said amateurs and the impact it has on the internet. In a way one can view the need to put yourself out there (be it having a blog or anything else) as a form of narcissism. The possibility is there, it is made very easy and with a few clicks you are ‘out’ there. To such persons, one can say that they post for themselves, that it is their shout out and to proove they exists in a way. It feels as if you belong to a group, however I have observed how newcomers to our fandom have a hard time being let in the circles. It might seem they are part of it, but it isn’t always easy to become really part of a group. I personally think we at the SWG do a good job at letting newbies feel at home.

    What Keen is missing in his book (so far, I haven’t relocated the book since we moved), is the social aspect. Yes, I am very muchly a social being. When I completed a work and my beta eagerly asks if it is up at Quills yet, it is that question that is the nudge to put it online. Or when we have a community event like B2MEM or the anniversary contest, I write and put things online. I play at Quills in their sandbox, co-write with Trekqueen because it gives me the utmost joy to work with someone else. To know that others will go to a place to read your work, is my main and sole reason to put things in an archive. Otherwise I’d be happily content on my own as a writer and I write that bunny because I am curious. I let someone proofread it to see how I am doing language wise and relish on the critical feedback I do get (I always go like: yay I have something to learn!). Then it is done and if folks know I have finished it, it are their nudges that make me go like: let’s put it up so that they can read it. Does this make more sense?

  9. Juno says:

    Maybe we should really go the route of that label thing…it may not be a way to get rich, but I just read the other day in a blog about how the only segment of publishing that is expanding is the Print-on-Demand and self-publishing sector. And over here at least, the one big “books on demand” company is regularly producing bestselling authors that are picked up by big regular publishers…

    ~~~*~~~

    ”At any given moment you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.”
    – Christine Mason Miller

  10. Dawn says:

    Rhapsody: To counter Keen’s idea that self-publishing or blogging is “narcissistic,” I can’t help but to think of this as a ploy by people in power to silence a medium that threatens that power in a major way: the Internet. Until this point, a few people have been not only controlling the content that the public has access to but have been making big bucks on it. They could do this because traditional publication was, until recently, the only option available to writers who hoped to actually have their work read (I’m not even talking about making a living on it. Just having one’s ideas reach other people.). We had to live with the reality that, if we sold a book or story, then that book would be changed in ways we wouldn’t like, could be made into an awful movie, slapped with awful cover art, or printed and then ignored because of the demands of the “market.” And if we were successful, we knew that they would line their pockets well before assuring that we could similarly live on our writing.

    The Internet, of course, has changed that. Look at how the music industry resisted mp3 and digital music and how many big companies have suffered! Now that e-publishing and e-book readers are becoming better and more affordable and more popular, I can imagine they’re having an enormous “Oh shit” moment as they foresee people likewise trading in the watered-down, mass-produced crap they’ve been spoon-fed all these years for something that is cheaper, easier, and better.

    The last time opportunities opened this quickly for everyperson to be a writer was with the invention of the printing press. What happened then? The people in power–heads of Church and State–were quick to put censorship into place, much of which stayed in place for centuries.

    Unfortunately for publishers, this isn’t an option anymore. So what to do? They discredit it. Associate self-publishing with the last desperate lunge of crappy writers who will foist their self-published “masterpieces” on their friends and family and who have no grasp of their enormous suckitude. Make self-publication a barrier to “legitimate” outlets. (Which they do. Publishers are known to Google new authors to see if they’re self-published. If they are: goodbye.) Make it about narcissism, not about sharing ideas that would never pass the first desk in a major publishing house, not about giving voice to people who have been told to shush and behave themselves for … well, just about forever.

    For example, look at blogging. When blogging first took off, the “legitimate” news outlets started screeching about how bloggers were held to no standards and how they could lie or exaggerate …

    But. During the worst of the Bush years (for me, anyway: the time when he was doing awful things yet still managed to maintain a high approval rating), what was the mainstream press writing about? Britney Spears going out without pants on, Paris Hilton’s cell phone being stolen, Lindsey Lohan’s latest stint in rehab. I remember going onto MSN for news one day *gasp!* and the headline story was about who won American Idle Idol. This was during a time when the Bush administration was really ramping up their human rights atrocities at places like Gitmo, when war casualities were skyrocketing, when they were putting into place the economic policies that now have the world’s economy in the tank … you would think that the news media could spare a moment for that.

    That was the moment when I realized that mainstream news sources had failed me. I still read on sites like MSN and CNN, but I do more reading on blogs concerned with issues I care about and written by people who, until the rise of the Internet, weren’t allowed to speak. At least, not anywhere that I could hear them.

    I’m convinced that people like Keen are threatened because the Internet allows people who would otherwise be silenced to speak. This is a major threat to those who depend on the power structure remaining as it is.

    I’d argue it’s more narcissistic to be published in a two-bit magazine with a circulation of 40 people just to frame it and hang it on the wall of one’s study and show one’s friends than it is to write a blog or put a story up on the Internet. And I’ve been published in two-bit magazines and I blog, so I’m fairly unbiased in that assessment. 😉

    Juno: I agree with you. To continue the rant that I just foisted upon poor Rhapsody, I refuse to believe the people whose livelihoods are invested in traditional publishing venues when they tell me that a less-traditional option is bad for me. That’s like trusting Exxon Mobile’s report on global warming.

    I see what has happened with the music industry with respect to the Internet, what’s happening more and more now with the film industry, and I cannot believe that books will remain untouched by this. The other day, I bought a skinny paperback copy of Coraline. For $13. $13?! If I had, instead, the option to download the book to an e-book reader for, say, $5, I would even give up the smell of the ink and the feel of the pages. 😉

    My #1 fear as an author is having happen to my stories what happened to LeGuin’s Earthsea when movie rights that were probably purchased well before the book became a fantasy staple allowed a shoddy movie bearing the name of her work to be made, a movie that completely perverted one of the most basic ideals of her work. I’d sooner my writing rot virtually unread and my name expire, unknown, than to have my ideas and words perverted so that a publishing house can make money on me. So I’m more and more convinced these days that I won’t even take a chance on a big publishing house. It’s not worth the risk, not as I’ve set my priorities as a writer.

  11. Rhapsody says:

    Nah, don’t worry Dawn, I do not agree fully with Keen, because the music industry example is a good one because that industry – prior the age of torrents and newsgroups – could ask any price (and high ones) for music as they could.

    However, Keen also adresses the differences between journalists who have ethics and fact checking to do compared to bloggers (Michelle Malkin comes to mind) who are not neutral and will spout out anything just to hurt or damage others. The traditional profession of a journalist, the neutral stance they should have has come under fire by bloggers who just take advantage of the self-publishing option and do not have to face any concequences what so ever. For example, this summer when the whole Trig Palin (is he her son or not) spiel was played out, one thing stood out. This rumour was not started in the traditional media (who would have to hold themselves to fact and source checking), but was played out and started on a blog at the daily Kos. Such influence is worrisome because on what should we rely on for the truth if bloggers with a non-neutral stance can control the political scene more than the traditional media could. Should bloggers there for also have a moral code, that they at least offer hear say or do fact checking themselves?

    Then he’s also attacking wikipedia and I agree completely on this with him, but some other things he’s ranting on about… not so much. I always say and will continue to say: the right of freedom of speech comes with responsibility and with the growing anynomisity a lot of hurt and damages is done when people simple will not want to take that responsibility. And following his blog for some time, I don’t think he feels threathened, he does make excellent points but he brings it so bitterly 😉

    So what do you get, governments or company wanting to have more control over content (think LJ). I haven’t read the book that far if he’s ranting about self-publishing though. :)

    It is a sad thing however, but the publishing houses apparently do want something fresh so that they can boast that they’ve discovered this new author. The ebooks development however remains interesting to see how this will play out and which major ebook reader makers will finally claim the market position. For example the Amazon Kindle e-reader is less flexible than the Irex Iliad.

    I’d argue it’s more narcissistic to be published in a two-bit magazine with a circulation of 40 people just to frame it and hang it on the wall of one’s study and show one’s friends than it is to write a blog or put a story up on the Internet

    It would even be more narcissistic (what a scrabble word) if you’d put up the scan of the article up on your blog for the whole world to see 😉 However you’d probably have a squabble about that with the publisher if you did that. The point of narcissm remains: with the easy way these days to start a site or put up a blog… who is reading all these blogs, why would people start a blog? What are their sole reasons why one would seek out the internet to shout their opinions on the web. Lately I have heard of companies seeking out possible new employees on the web to see how they express themselves online and based on that they will not hire a person. Is the way how one presents him or herself on the web a genuine reflection of themselves? Another thing I have been pondering about is how the internet as a medium is used to hurt and damage people, since apparently there are no concequences for the person in question.

    We’re way off topic, aren’t we?

  12. Dawn says:

    Yes, we are, but that’s okay. 😉 This is a great conversation, imho!

    To play devil’s advocate on the traditional media versus blog debate, I would counter that, while the ideals of journalism call for neutrality and accuracy, and while I have no doubt that the majority of individual journalists believe strongly in these ideals and attempt to do their jobs with integrity, then the system is not set up to make those ideals a priority much less a reality.

    Because the reality is that most media sources (at least in the U.S.) are not only for-profit but are oftentimes owned or managed by individuals/corporations for whom “truth” and “neutrality” is not in their own best interests.

    To go back to my previous example, as the Bush administration tore apart the U.S. in almost every way imaginable, most mainstream media sources reported on pop culture “scandals” and the outcome of reality television shows. One had to really dig to find out about the changes the Bush administration was making to, say, banking industry regulations. Bobby was doing this digging at the time, and he’d often remark to me that, while people were getting hot and bothered over Bush’s mangling of English and so on, no one was paying attention to the rampant corporate deregulation the Bush administration was effecting. Lo, four years later, it’s all we can talk about.

    (In fact, I often tease Bobby that he should start a political blog because he has an uncanny habit of being right about things like this!)

    I do not place the blame for this on the shoulders of individual journalists. I have no doubt that, given the choice between Paris Hilton’s DUI and economic monster-shouting, most journalists would choose the monster-shouting and its save-the-world persona. As it was, though, the mainstream media failed. Big time. When they should have been scrutinizing a Presidential administration that was steeped in controversy from the start, they turned instead to pop culture to sell newspapers or get page-clicks.

    This does not mean that blogger-based news is a perfect solution. I realize that it is far from it, most notably because of the issues of accuracy and bias. It requires critical and skeptical thinking every step of the way. The difference, for me, is that I believe that many people are good people, interested in doing good with their actions. I can’t say that of the individuals and interests that control the mainstream media.

    And, on the issue of critical and skeptical thinking, I do not think it is a bad thing that people be asked to think about and evaluate what they read and become less of sheeple, less inclined to believe something ” ’cause I saw it on TV.” A lot of people drank the Kool-aid for a long time with regards to the Bush administration and, yes, I put blame for that in part on the shoulders of media giants that should have been doing their job of scrutinizing him more closely. (I think I see more scrutiny of Obama, only a few weeks into office! And that is a good thing.) Bloggers carry less authority and, therefore, earn more scrutiny, and I think that scrutiny is in our best interests.

    The point of narcissm remains: with the easy way these days to start a site or put up a blog… who is reading all these blogs, why would people start a blog? What are their sole reasons why one would seek out the internet to shout their opinions on the web.

    Why shouldn’t everyone have a blog and put their opinions on the Web? I think discomfort with this idea stems from the idea that some people’s opinions are more valuable than others, which reinforces a traditional power structure beneficial only to a few. If the majority of blogs are poorly written drek, then they are poorly written drek. No need to say anymore about them, just as, when choosing reading material, I go to some sites over others without the need to dwell on how those that I avoid attract mostly crap. I vote with my feet, as the saying goes. The constant harping by some people over the “narcissism” of Everyday Jane who thinks that her thoughts on the global economy are worth putting up in public calls me to ask, why aren’t they? Why aren’t the thoughts, ideas, and experiences of everyday people–including people who are often marginalized–worth putting out in public if they so desire? It smacks of elitism when I hear people make the argument that Everyday Jane couldn’t possibly have anything worth saying because she’s Everyday Jane. If she had something worth saying, she’d be rich or have a degree from Harvard or work for CNN.

    Or: Everyday Jane’s blog about the economy (for example) is drek, but the entertainment pages that nearly every news source has are more reputable? Some of the shallow direct-from-the-AP-wire that involve the investigation and thought of a third-grade book report are superior? I don’t think that you’re saying this, for the record 😉 , but plenty of people would, and in the end, that comes down to the elitist idea that if it isn’t backed by rich, important people and their corporations, then it must be crap put up only in the narcissistic interests of its writer.

  13. Michelle says:

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I cringed while reading the FH post and I was almost tempted to write my own reply to it. But of course, in the end you said it so much better.

    I won’t argue the fact that there are writers who write fanfiction for the sole fact of getting recognized throughout a certain community. But I don’t think this notion holds true for very many for the simple fact that writing fanfiction (even bad fanfiction) take a creative effort and costs time. If you “only” want to be recognized, want to be a household name, then you can do many other things in fandom that are easier and could have the same effect (host an archive, or write a blog or whatever). So, I firmly believe and hope that there’s only a small percentage of people using the standards the FH post feels are inherent to fanfiction.

    I do understand about “the market”, the *professional* market. Too many people read exactly one book in their lives over and over again. I had to review Christine Feehan’s vampire novels (luckily only the first two) where the second novel was an exact copy of the first. The fact that her series has 19 parts does not bode well for the originality of her fiction. “The market” has literature in a firm grip. Movies as well – instead of trying something new we’re getting the fifth and sixth installment of a franchise (POTC anyone?) or another remake of a movie that was successful 30 years ago. It tells me that the people pulling the strings are afraid and don’t believe in the intelligence of their audience.

    But the funny thing is: I’m writing fanfiction. Since I don’t earn money with my writing, I don’t have to take into account how many will read my story. So, I write for myself. When I write, I never think of who will like that or not. Of course I might put some fanservice into a story, but the overall plot, the heart of the story, will be what I want it to be and not what I think readers out there want to read.

    Yes, I do believe in the distinction between writing and posting you make. I try to make my fiction easily accessable, because I want it to be found. But in the end, I don’t write for a review like “hey, that was exactly what the summary said and I loved it”. I prefer a review like “I was sceptical, but I gave it a go and I’m glad a did”. I’ve gotten a few of the latter and I’m awfully proud of them.

  14. Dawn says:

    Michelle, I think you and I brainshare sometimes. I nearly gave myself whiplash for nodding along with your comment! I almost emailed you before I wrote this to ask your opinion on the FanHistory articles (because I figured you must have seen them and that we were collectively headdesking), but time being short as it is … :( I’m glad you saw the post, though.

    “The market” has literature in a firm grip. Movies as well – instead of trying something new we’re getting the fifth and sixth installment of a franchise (POTC anyone?) or another remake of a movie that was successful 30 years ago.

    Yes! My husband and I were talking about this with respect to movies the other night. He is a hockey player and keeps up with the hockey community online, and he recently found out that Hollywood is remaking the hockey cult classic Slapshot. He was appalled. And we went through a list of recent movies and came to the conclusion that the vast majority of movies being made these days are

    1) sequels to a movie already made that may or may not have been good the first time around (e.g., PotC, as you pointed out, or the awful Friedberg/Seltzer franchise),

    2) a remake of an existing movie (e.g., the new Friday the 13th, released in the U.S. this weekend), or

    3) a movie based on an existing book, story, or television show (e.g., The Strange Case of Benjamin Button, Coraline (both good), or Inkheart (fairly awful), to name three recent ones.)

    The point is that there is no originality; the best movies, imho, tend to come from the third category, largely because the creators of the stories on which they are based tend to be awesome, imaginative writers. So the project is halfway successful from the get-go. (Although Inkheart-the-movie is certainly an example of how a good story really is only the halfway point and how quickly Brendan Fraiser poor realization of that story can tank the movie.)

    As a fan of both fantasy literature and movies, the slim pickings of late and the sense that, as you noted, it’s because the producers don’t think that the audience is intelligent enough to want or appreciate anything better is pretty damned depressing.

    But the funny thing is: I’m writing fanfiction. Since I don’t earn money with my writing, I don’t have to take into account how many will read my story. So, I write for myself.

    Yes! That is what I love about fan-writing: It is so much easier to do that. There is much less temptation to seek fortunes and prestige. I write because the story won’t let me do any differently. I find the idea of suppressing the story that begs to be written in favor of another that will earn me fleeting popularity to be not only a foreign concept in fandom but an extremely distasteful one.

    As we’ve talked about in email before, I chalk up these articles (especially LH’s) as further proof of how that group just does not get that a big part of what makes fandom so great (and many fans agree) is that it’s not for profit. We don’t have to worry about fame and fortune … and, yes, I do mean worry. I don’t even know why I bother replying to their blog anymore; it was long ago clear to me that their reason for being a part of fandom and mine are just about polar opposites.

  15. Michelle says:

    Re: movies. I hadn’t taken the book-turned-movie ones into account originally, but of course the fall into the same category. I do think they’re the best choice when I have to choose between 1 (boring), 2 (annoying) and 3 (fairly interesting), but of course those films always run the risk of ruining the book for you. Salinger *does* have a point when he expressively forbids anyone making a movie out of “The Catcher in the Rye”.

    Cinema has become increasingly boring and repetitive over the last years. It’s always more of the same, but even while I thought Shrek was nice that doesn’t mean I need Shrek II and a cat spin off. Or that while I adored POTC, I need 10 to 15 parts of it. I will make an exception for “Wolverine” only because of the general eyecandy:)

    So, as fanfic writers we have the very freeing ability to write for nobody but us, to try whatever we want to try and to be as experimental as we dare. We’d be stupid if we went and threw that away.

  16. Oshun says:

    I want to be read, but not badly enough to write to the audience. I guess I want to write what I want to read and have faith that there will be people somewhere with similar tastes.

    I don’t have numbers like Juno, or even like you, I am sure, but for Silm vs. LotR fanfic I can provide one comparison:

    My most popular Silm novella, A New Day, web-wide has perhaps nearly 3,000 hits.
    My most popular LotR novel, The Princess and the Horse Lord, has about 80,000.

    In my personal opinion, the first is a better piece of work. I certainly love it more myself.

    I do want to be read. I do not write only for myself–it’s too much work. I could think the same thoughts and not bother with the grammar and style questions. Some people just write like it is drinking a glass of water. It doesn’t work that way for me.

    On the market, if I am going to write for a market, then I expect to paid. My fanfic is for love of the original, kive ti study it, love to fiddle around and change it, and like Rhapsody, love the community, the shared interests, and finding geeks willing to talk about my obsession. If there were no one to talk to and share with at all, then I just wouldn’t write it, I would read more.

    As far as making a living writing, I would still write the books first and then look for the agent/publisher. I have a pride in my work product that I don’t think I could ever completely abandon.

  17. Oshun says:

    Sorry for all the typos. In order to read the screen here, I have to a;most put my nose on it and I cannot type and do that at the same time.

  18. Rhapsody says:

    Yes, we are, but that’s okay. 😉 This is a great conversation, imho!

    It’s been a while, hasn’t it. I can bring it back on topic, I promise!

    To play devil’s advocate on the traditional media versus blog debate, I would counter that, while the ideals of journalism call for neutrality and accuracy, and while I have no doubt that the majority of individual journalists believe strongly in these ideals and attempt to do their jobs with integrity, then the system is not set up to make those ideals a priority much less a reality.

    It depends what system is in play there. Since 9/11 the States has been in this vice grip hold of fear. It appeared to me that either people wanted light news (Paris wears no panties) just not to be reminded of daily reality or that it was just not done to criticise the commander in chief after he pulled the nation through this big shock. I absolutely agree that the US media played along, forgetting or neglecting their duty to be critical and bring the real news. This however was done outside the US, leaving many American’s to wonder why we disliked Bush, dared to comment on how the country was run and so on. For example when Katrina happened, it was hard to explain to people that we allies offered help, even moved in to help *after* Bush told us no. We just did. It was stunning that the fear kept many so docile: first the Patriot Act (many librarians protested about that, but oh well, it fell on deaf ears because the War on Terror was more important), suspension of Habeas Corpus (that really made me go like, do I even want to visit the states now), Iraq & lies, the financing of this war and how the federal reserve got forced as a result. I think many outsiders saw the crisis coming, also do to good and diligent reporting of journalists.

    To go back to my previous example, as the Bush administration tore apart the U.S. in almost every way imaginable, most mainstream media sources reported on pop culture “scandals” and the outcome of reality television shows. One had to really dig to find out about the changes the Bush administration was making to, say, and banking industry regulations. Bobby was doing this digging at the time, and he’d often remark to me that, while people were getting hot and bothered over Bush’s mangling of English and so on, no one was paying attention to the rampant corporate deregulation the Bush administration was effecting. Lo, four years later, it’s all we can talk about.

    But as I explained above, I can understand how the MSM played along in this fear mongering scheme and neglected what they should have done all along. Let’s hope that with Obama they make up for it.

    Because the reality is that most media sources (at least in the U.S.) are not only for-profit but are oftentimes owned or managed by individuals/corporations for whom “truth” and “neutrality” is not in their own best interests.

    Oh yes, but then it can even be much worse. Look at Italy where a media tycoon Berlusconi is also president of the country. There the lines are so blurred that it isn’t even funny anymore.

    (In fact, I often tease Bobby that he should start a political blog because he has an uncanny habit of being right about things like this!)

    I’d read it 😀

    This does not mean that blogger-based news is a perfect solution. I realize that it is far from it, most notably because of the issues of accuracy and bias. It requires critical and skeptical thinking every step of the way. The difference, for me, is that I believe that many people are good people, interested in doing good with their actions. I can’t say that of the individuals and interests that control the mainstream media.

    No, but then the lines in blogland are blurred sometimes because either companies own blogs and they pay the blogger for their content or it are just sock puppets for the company. I do believe that the good and critical blogs are rewarded because those bloggers feel the responsibility to pick up the slack where the MSM failed. They should be hired by those newspapers. I mean come to think of it, why is it that men like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the critical followers (of course it is satire, but satire has a core of truth to it) instead of the MSM?

    Bloggers carry less authority and, therefore, earn more scrutiny, and I think that scrutiny is in our best interests.

    During this election race, I scrutinised every article I read about those two, even if it came from the MSM. There were good neutral sites which gave insight in budgets and such, so that helped me to filter out rumours and gossips from hard facts. It just takes a more active approach to the news these days. It was however surprising to see that right wingers got upset with the MSM in Palin’s case where an amateur blogger started it (of course to those right wingers it had to be the fault of the MSM).

    Why shouldn’t everyone have a blog and put their opinions on the Web? I think discomfort with this idea stems from the idea that some people’s opinions are more valuable than others, which reinforces a traditional power structure beneficial only to a few.

    Is this reaction a reaction from discomfort? I don’t think so. It still leaves many to ponder why so many have a blog. And no its not because they should be limited in speaking their minds online, but the question underneath is why do people blog and run a blog. What is the intent and need underneath it. I think the freedom of speech & expression does not answer the question as to why people do this in this age. Then last night as we had dinner, my husband said: ‘we blog solely for ourselves. This way we can vent our thoughts and read back later what we were thinking. Its not that we care for what others are thinking, it is a certain way for ourselves to keep track of our own lives. I sometimes read back to relive a memory and enjoy the photo’s which we put up there.’

    And that at its very core, the motivation to blog can be called narcissistic. I honestly don’t think that many blogger will care about that. I see the same at fan fiction archives. How often don’t you see that people add, please read & review, I love reviews ect ect. Following to that is that when they do get feedback, they get all angry and pissed off that actually someone tried to call it drek, as if someone insulted them personally or that it was a personal attack on themselves. Someone dared to destroy or disrupt the image they had of themselves. There are groups in the fandom that post so that the feedback gives them the confirmation that they belong somewhere. So your initial statement does hold up, just not for everyone. Not every person is in need for such a confirmation and might not give a damn what a person who they do not know thinks of their work. Some are happy that their own community gives feedback and outsiders are shrugged off. Is that a form of narcism? Perhaps :)

    The constant harping by some people over the “narcissism” of Everyday Jane who thinks that her thoughts on the global economy are worth putting up in public calls me to ask, why aren’t they? Why aren’t the thoughts, ideas, and experiences of everyday people–including people who are often marginalized–worth putting out in public if they so desire? It smacks of elitism when I hear people make the argument that Everyday Jane couldn’t possibly have anything worth saying because she’s Everyday Jane. If she had something worth saying, she’d be rich or have a degree from Harvard or work for CNN.

    Perhaps some pull the elitist card, but I am still left to ponder as to the why and the motivation of people to blog and why since the arrival of web 2.0 mostly, it has exploded. It is interesting to look back at history, to look at the influence of media (internet included) as to the why people feel the need to shout out more. Is it because society has hardened and has become more individualistic? Is it isolation of so many, the change that has occurred in many communities (not online ones) that made people go out there to shout out to be heard? I sometimes the same goes for fanfic. A fandom connects people and archives or online communities enables people to reach out and find others who think alike. The blogging thing however isn’t so much about online social communities and to me appears to serve a different purpose than publishing fanfic does.

  19. Rhapsody says:

    Eeps, I missed an italics closing there… I hope it still makes sense though.

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