Marketing Matters - Fanfiction

Strategy - Fanfiction


So this is a bit of a taboo subject in the publishing world, but I’m going to be upfront with you all.

We write fanfiction.

There, I said it.

Writing fanfic is also a viable marketing strategy for authors who are choosing to go the self-publishing route and not always for the reasons that immediately spring to mind. In addition, the skills, fanbase, and tricks learned while writing fanfic can also apply to traditional publishing. However, I’m going to give you one caveat right up front: many big name publishers don’t like authors who write fic. Or at least they say they don’t. It’s becoming more common, but most publishers and agents want authors to be focusing on original fic not fanfic. Several smaller presses don’t care as much, so long as your author persona and your fic persona are very separate and you don’t rub it in their faces. But the big name publishers may require you to pull your fanworks. So that’s something to keep in mind.

So now it’s time to break it down.




About Us and What we’ve done:


We’re probably best known as fanfic writers in the Hunger Games fandom, where we have a few well regarded fics. We’ve also dipped our toes into other fandoms including the MCU, Harry Potter, DBZ, and more drive-by one-shots in various fandoms than you can shake a stick at.

We also both were/are a part of the Sims 2 writing community and had a few well known stories there as well. ^__^ We may or may not have met in this fandom. LOL

Both of us have been part of these fandoms for years and were active members in them. Lark started in fanfic back in 1994/5 as a beta reader (which she then parlayed that experience into becoming an editor that summer). While Rose discovered fic in college in 2002. In these fandom communities, we met people that we now call friends in real life as well as mentors, betas, advisers, and cheerleaders. We learned skills that apply both to fic and to original writing. And, most importantly, we learned how to listen to our audience.


Let me stress that again: we learned to listen to our audience.

When we transitioned, we hit up the people we met in these fandoms to help us with various aspects of publishing life (either paying or trading favors for work done) and we’ve also given status updates about our original writing, along with links to our author tumblr in the authors’ notes of our fics. Nothing that will violate the terms of Ao3′s Terms of use - but links to our professional website/social media.

While we write fanfic less, we still dip our fingers in now and again.




Cost:


Time.

Straight up time.


The cost of writing fic is time, energy, and creativity. Time spent writing fic is time NOT spent writing original works that can be published. Time that is not spent editing or plotting or doing other sweat equity types of marketing. Which is why some authors refuse to write fic once they turn professional and it is completely understandable. Fanfic authors don’t get paid for their work and for some, getting paid is a big deal. Especially when most of your income comes from writing.


It’s a cost we willingly pay sometimes, but if a fanfic author you know also writes original works for publications. It does mean that updates may be slower and there is often less motivation to keep publishing stories – especially if the stories don’t get much in the way of response/feedback.

It’s about return on investment.




Return on Investment:


I’m going to do this a little differently since sometimes the return isn’t monetary. This is also likely to sound really clinical and analytical; that’s because I’m trying to be objective and I may be going too far the other way. We write fanfic because we love it, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t give back to us too.

Monetary (Language of Flowers only):

  • Units sold: 20

  • Mailing list subscribers: 6

  • Social media followers: Twitter - 15, Tumblr - 60, Facebook - 8

Not Monetary but Cost Saving

  • Editors - 9

  • Cover Designers - 3

  • Mailing List Trades - 3

Skills Learned:

  • Editing (Line, Content, Story Doctoring – Yes, all of these)

  • Proofreading (not the same as editing)

  • Creating Characters

  • Keeping Characters in Character

  • Plotting

  • Engaging an audience

  • Finishing what you start

  • How to handle ConCrit

  • How to handle Trolls

  • How to write to an audience

  • How to prevent plot holes

As you can see, the biggest return on investment of the time is in the skills section. Fanfiction is not to be taken lightly.


And as for me, Lark, I literally parlayed my experience working in fandom to actual paying jobs as an editor. I honed my skills as an editor on fanfic which I then turned around and used to get a job editing professionally. I did that multiple times for a bunch of different publishers/clients. I got my start in fanfic.

As an editor, one of the biggest problems I see with developing authors is a “sameness” in voice. AKA all of the characters sound the same. If you want to see this in traditionally published book action, then look at Laurel K. Hamilton… Her Merry Gentry and Anita Blake heroines sound almost exactly the same. (Which not coincidentally, sounds like how she speaks in real life.)


With fanfiction, you can’t do that. You’ll get called out for being OOC. So you have to learn to adapt your voice. (Or only write characters that sound like you but that gets boring after a while.)



So in my actual job as an editor, one I get paid to do, I legitimately tell my clients to pick a character from a show they like and use them as a template for a character they’re having trouble giving a good character voice to. And unsurprisingly, it works. It’s a good trick and it subconsciously teaches your brain how to create different characters/voices.

They other HUGE takeaway from the skills is in regards to concrit and being able to take it. If you want to publish for a living and not just half-ass it, you have to develop a thick-ish skin. And fanfiction can help with that. I straight up learned to deal with harsh reviews from writing fanfiction. But more importantly, I learned how to listen to what the person was telling me and then become a better author because of it.

In fanfiction, unlike in the publishing world, the reviews are meant for the authors… not potential readers. If someone really hates your work, or worse, is apathetic to it. They just won’t comment. They’ll hit the backspace and you’ll never hear anything. Most comments, especially critical ones, are from people who legitimately like the story that you’re telling but have a problem with part of it. The comment may be harsh, it may even be mean. But it tells you something and it gives you an idea where you may be turning off readers. People aren’t always good at phrasing criticism constructively. We’re not really trained how to do that. But when someone tells you why something isn’t working for them or why they didn’t like something, listen. You don’t have to agree – we certainly haven’t – but listening and thinking critically about the feedback will help.


This can be seen in our first novel, The Language of Flowers, which started out its life as a fanfic. The story pissed several readers off. And we realized as we were writing it that we needed to explain something and we weren’t doing a good job of doing so. So the scene that every single one of our readers loved was born of that concrit. Our story is better and reached the top 100 in its categories on Amazon because of the feedback we got as fanfic authors.

Seriously, writing fanfic has gotten us to where we are today.


Takeaways:


My biggest take away is that writing fanfic is a great skills builder and audience builder.


Pros:


Skills. Oh so many skills. But the biggest is that you will be writing and no writing is ever wasted. It’s practice. Like an artist has to sketch or a musician practice. You’re honing and toning your writing muscles. And fanfic is absolutely valid for doing that.



Cons:


Time. Straight up Time.


Rating:


It’s been so long since I’ve done one of these that I don’t remember. But honestly, the rating varies. You get out of fanfic what you put in and what you’re willing to take from it.

(Note: This has been sitting in our drafts for about 4 years. I finally finished it up because I was bored and waiting to go to a doctor and didn’t feel like doing nothing.)

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