While editing recently, I was reminded of a phenomenon I saw relatively often while working in acquisitions, the “original fiction” fanfic.
For those not familiar with the concept, fanfic (short for fan fiction) is a work of fiction (unsurprisingly) that a fan (shockingly) of a story writes using the characters and/or setting of another writer’s universe rather than their own original creations. For example, a fan of Harry Potter might write a story using Harry, Ron, and Hermione that either makes sense in the canonical universe, or as an alternate reality. Alternatively, they could use the setting (Hogwarts, etc.) and write a story with their own original characters in that world.
I have absolutely nothing against fanfics. They’re actually partially how I got into writing (my friend had me help with her Harry Potter Fanfic back in High School). What is a little annoying, however, is the “original fiction” that really is a thinly disguised fanfic.
As fanfics use other authors’ characters and/or worlds, people, for the most part, realize that fanfics are not going to be published anywhere other than the several fan sites out there that cater to them (silly things like copyrights get in the way of traditional publishing). This doesn’t stop people, however, from changing a couple of names and submitting “original” stories that readers aren’t supposed to notice are strangely similar to popular books already out there.
Like The Big Bang‘s Sheldon would say to margarine, “I have no difficulty believing you are not butter” us in acquisitions tend to have very little difficulty picking out which stories are thinly disguised fan fiction.
As I have said before (twice) it’s very rare to have completely original idea/plot. etc. in fiction of any kind. Tell someone the basics of your story and they’ll more than likely be able to name something else that has at least some sort of vague similarity. That isn’t what I’m talking about when I talk about I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fan Fiction. I’m talking about stories that seem to have taken characters and simply changed the names from the original story, or have even lifted what seem to be full scenes from other books/movies. Often times the authors realize that their stories come from these sources as fanfics of sorts (or at least admit to having been heavily inspired by X work) but still it seems many, many I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fanfics still find their way out into the publishing world – as true fanfics (hopefully) never would – and stumble across acquisitions desks all over (if they aren’t simply self published to start with).
Since Twilight became popular (or whatever the series name is, is it just Twilight? The Twilight Series?) I have seen more than my share of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Twilight stories. To be clear, I’m not counting the many, many Twilight parodies out there. Satire/parody is its own category. No, these submissions/editing projects are completely serious novels that seem to have lifted barely veiled characters and scenes out of the series, and are calling it their own. Now, I admit I have never read Twilight (tried a page and just couldn’t bring myself to keep reading…) but it is popular enough that even I have been able to pick out which books are I Can’t Believe It’s Not Twilight. One went so far as to name the main character Annabella who went by, wait for it, Ella (I suppose they just barely managed to stop themselves before calling her Bella). Another (not with Ella/Bella) had a scene at the end where Main Human Female Character (MHFC) gets bitten by an evil vampire intent on killing her because of Main Masculine Vampire Character (MMVC)’s attachment to her, and MMVC is forced to suck the poison (vampires have poison?) out of her to keep her from becoming a vampire herself. Or to keep him from having to turn her into a vampire to keep her from dying. I forget which. Now, anyway, I’m only basing this on having seen the movie once, but isn’t that vampire poison thing pretty much exactly how Twilight ends? With sparkly vampire not letting pathologically co-dependent girl become a vampire from evil vampire’s poison? (For whatever reason, though it seems like a logical way to get Miss Pathologically Co-dependent to be a vampire with Mr. Sparkles without him having to bite her.)
Anyway, I don’t know about other acquisitions editors/lit agents, but if the story is already published, I see no reason to publish something that’s the same story with names changed, no matter how popular the original is. In fact, the original story being popular might actually be worse for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fanfics. It means that I would be publishing something that people who have never even read the original would more than likely know is a rip off of another story. Not just a small fan base.
Do you want to write I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fanfics? Do it. Don’t take this as me saying you shouldn’t. In my opinion, anything that keeps you writing is a good thing. After all, the more you write, the better you get, and the more likely it is for you to keep writing. Just, if you’re writing I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fanfic, please be honest with yourself. I’ve done it, I completely admit I have, but I don’t expect anyone to read it and not see the similarities between it and the original. Something you’ve read or seen may have spoken to you, perhaps just one scene that you really like. Fine. Use it. Just admit it to yourself when you’re taking it, because more than likely, someone’s going to call you out when you do.