I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fanfic

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.

Self, Vanity, Traditional Publishing

With my second review going up today on ePublishaBook.com, I have started reading another novel for future review–one sent to me by its author. Though I haven’t nearly read enough to give a proper opinion (and I’ll save what thoughts I have on the story/the writing’s actual merit for the actual review) reading the first few pages has made me pause to think about all of the different forms of publishing out there, be it ebook, paperback, hardback, self, traditional, or even vanity.

If you’re a writer, you probably have some idea what these different things are, but if you aren’t (or you just stumbled across this page–in which case welcome) I’ll give a short rundown.

ebooks, paperbacks, and hardbacks should be pretty self-explanatory. ebooks are books in electronic format (like for Kindle, Nook, iPad, or any other digital format) paperbacks and hardbacks are print books, the only difference being their binding (and generally price).

Now, for the different types of publishing.

Traditional Publishing is generally what people think of when someone talks about “getting published.” Here, an author submits their manuscript (either by themselves or through an agent) to a publisher. If the publisher likes it, they offer the author a contract and then helps the author edit, publish, and market their book.

Self Publishing is really more a recent trend in publishing, with the internet, social media, and cheap alternatives for getting a book out there, many authors have started cutting out looking for an agent and/or publisher altogether and produce their books themselves (often through a platform such as createspace.come [a NaNoWriMo sponsor, for the record] or lulu.com).

Vanity Publishing, also called “joint” or “subsidy” publishing, is a publisher who charges the author to get their book out there, either charging them up-front, or slipping a clause into the author’s contract that stipulates they buy a certain number of books once published for “self-promotion” (If you get the question “How many copies of your book are you planning on buying” right up front from a publisher, that should be a red flag. You can read more about “back-end” vanity publishers here.)

Of the three, I fully support all but vanity publishers (if you’re going to pay money up front to publish your book–something that should never happen in traditional publishing–just self publish. It will be most likely be cheaper and I, at least, find it infinitely more respectable). Self publishing, for the most part, still has a relatively bad reputation, which I can understand with the number of unedited, semi-readable books that have made it out there without picky publishers acting as gatekeepers. Some self published novels, though, are wonderful (and I admit, a good number of the people who hire me to edit books for them are planning on self-publishing). If you are willing to act as your own publisher (edit your book, do your own cover art, etc.) I see absolutely no problem with self publishing.

There’s an odd sort of middle ground, though, when I see a book that says it’s from a publisher–not a known vanity publisher–but looks self published. As previously stated, createspace.com is a popular self publishing platform, it is also a NaNoWriMo sponsor. Though it changed its policy for last year’s NaNo Winners’ prize, in previous years it offered a free proof copy to winning participants. Since I’ve done (and won) NaNoWriMo a few times, I have a couple of these proof copies lying around for books that were never actually put up for publication (it’s sometimes nice just to have things bound, and hey, it was free). With something  like three or four proof copies of things lying around my house, I’m pretty well acquainted with how the books look. Another plus, for some self publishers, is that createspace.com has a cover-maker. You put in a picture (or chose one of theirs) put in your title and name, and there you go, you have a cover. Since I wasn’t actually publishing those proof copies I mentioned, I’ve used more than my share of these easy-to-make covers. Holding the book I got today, it looks like a createspace.com book.

Like I’ve said many times, I have no problem with self published books. I encourage both traditionally and self published authors to contact me for review. What was odd, then, is that a publisher was listed on the back cover. As my point here isn’t to besmirch an author or publisher, I won’t name any names, but already it seems suspicious. Beginning to read, there are some very simple formatting errors that even I, with my short, short stint in layout as an intern at Leucrota Press before moving to editing full-time, can pick out right away. The most condemning–the 0.5″ indent for the paragraphs. It seems much too big on smaller pages, almost always means the book was reformatted into a 6×9 standard book from a word processor (such as Word or Publisher) without changing the standard indent you use on a 8.5×11 page.

After a couple of typos, I finally check the permissions page. Final nail in the coffin. Though there is the author’s copyright, and a pretty standard “All rights reserved” paragraph, there’s no publisher listed, even though there is one on the back. Likewise, no publisher logo on the title page. Either this is someone making up their own company, or it’s a publisher that has no idea what it’s doing.

A quick google search shows that the publisher website is minimal at best, only listing this one book in its catalogue, making it the publishers one and only release going back a good few years. If they are a fledgling publisher, that’s a pretty bad business model.

Now I’m torn. I’d be fine if the author had said they had self published. I’d be fine if the book had come from a small publisher that’s just getting their footing. I have the sinking feeling that this is neither, just an author who went to the trouble of making up a business name and buying a domain to make their book look traditionally published when it isn’t.

I may be wrong, of course. As a legal procedural would have to say, I only have circumstantial evidence. But, with everything combined, that’s what it looks like. And, at least in my own personal opinion, that’s worse than either a new press or self publishing. Every small press has to start somewhere, and there are plenty of fine, or great, self published novels out there. It’s the pretense–a not very well pulled off pretense–that gets to me.

I’ll still read it, give it a fair review either way. But for anyone out there thinking of self publishing–if you’re going to self publish, do it proudly. If your story is interesting and your writing good, it will speak for itself. Should the thought have crossed your mind, there’s no reason to try to hide behind an odd, one-book publisher, much less pay for the domain name. I’ll review you either way. And, if you don’t, I personally will think more of you for it.

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