Thursday, March 12, 2015

Query Question: How to employ fan fiction numbers in a query

I know fanfiction isn't a "publication credit," but how do you feel about it in a query letter?  I started writing it about a year ago just for some stress relief, and now I've got a few thousand subscribers (people who signed up to get an email every time I post something) and I'm closing in on 1.5 million reads.  Several of those readers have specifically said they'd love to read my books if I ever publish something.  I know a lot of people look down on fanfiction (for various reasons), but those kind of numbers sound to me like they could translate into a good readership!  The book I'm gearing up to start querying soon is erotic romance and is original, not a rework of anything fan-related, but I'm really hoping some of my fanfic readers would be interested.
I don't really have anything else to count as publication credit - I'm in RWA and that's about it - so it would be nice to include this if it would be seen as a positive.  I'm worried about agents seeing the word "fanfiction" and immediately writing me off as a crackpot, though.  What do you think?

The problem here is that people read fan fiction because they're already fans of the thing you're writing about: Star Trek/Star Wars/Shark Filled Query Queues. Will they follow you OUT of that world? No one really knows. We do know that huge numbers of blog readers does not always translate to huge number of book sales. What people read for free, and what people are willing to part with $25 or $12.99 for are VERY different numbers.

Having several thousand people wanting to read your work though, that's gotta be a good thing. Even if only a few teleport over to your new work, that's better than none.

I also don't think agents and editors think of fan fiction writers as crackpots either. Some of the writing on fan fic sites is to the left of gruesomely terribly bad, but that's not you of course.

As far as I know I have but one client who wrote/writes fan fiction. S/he does it under a pseudonym and we did NOT mention it in the pitch for the novel.

But, since it's not a pub credit, and it's not an awesome number of people who want to buy your book (you said several) I'm going to vote for leaving it out only so that if I'm wrong about the crackpot thing, you won't find out the hard way.



Colin Smith said...

I know of two works that were originally based on fan fiction that were almost completely re-written prior to being published: Marissa Meyer's outstanding CINDER (and the rest of the "Lunar Chronicles" series), and the 50 SHADES series of questionable repute. CINDER started life as "Sailor Moon" fanfic, while 50 SHADES began life as a Twilight fantasy. But as far as I know, neither author marketed their books as fanfic, and the books that went to publication could, at best, be said to show some marks of inspiration. But they don't bare any resemblance to the works that inspired them (I can attest to that re. CINDER--my daughter watched Sailor Moon, so she should know; I can't speak for 50 SHADES, but according to all I've read that's the case).

All that to say: there's no shame in writing fanfic. Heck, I've considered writing some Doctor Who fanfic. There's a great Fourth Doctor story waiting to be told, and I'd like to write it. BUT from what I can gather, fanfic is not considered a good publishing credit because there is so much out there, and a lot of it is by people who are better fans than than they are writers. Perhaps a million people can't be wrong, and they're attracted to your scintillating prose. Or maybe they just like the story and they lower their expectations because a) it's fan fiction, and b) it's free. As Janet pointed out, would those same readers consider your work worthy of spending $12-$25 to read? That's a hard question to ask, but that's what an agent's going to be thinking when they read you've written fanfic.

So to sum up my rambling, it probably wouldn't hurt you to mention it (after all, ANY writing is good practice, and it shows you're at least actively writing something), but it doesn't really tell the agent anything about how good you are. Not like having stories published in respected journals, winning a prestigious writing award, or winning a Janet Reid Writing Contest. :) In other words, mentioning the fanfic in a query is just taking up word space that could be better spent selling the agent on how great your novel is.

Jenz said...

Wow, Colin, for a minute there I thought you were working on getting more time in exile. ;) But good point at the end, taking up valuable query real estate with it is reason enough to leave it out.

I'm finally taking seriously the advice to get publication credits in the form of short stories. It's great writing practice. I'm working at writing as a career by keeping stories out on submission. Getting more rejections (with lower stakes than for a novel) makes my skin thicker. And I'll get a publishing credit, however small. There is just no down side to this.

Colin Smith said...

Jenz: Things are busy here at the branch office, so I don't expect my exile to end soon. Just this morning, Christina came running into the cave all excited about a new business contact. Then LynnRodz explained to us what a Coffee Press is. We were disappointed, but we persevere. Christina ordered one for those who don't like tea. :)

The short story route is a good, tried and tested route to go for pub credit. Good plan. And all the very best to you, Jenz!

Where is everyone? Did I miss something, or is no-one else fool enough to touch the subject of fan fiction? :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Fanfic is a great way to learn how to plant ass in chair and write, especially if you do it on a regular basis. It's all part of the learning process. NOW is maybe the time to lay it on your own line and go it alone.
Like the others said, it does not need to be mentioned unless your novel is about the (dirty little secrets) of fanfic.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I think many, many people start with derivative fiction or outright fan fiction (White Fang and the Walter Farley books were very influential on me when I was 9 and 10 and 11). Not everybody puts these things online for consumption, though there certainly are communities which welcome it.

Frequently, depending on what dice we're currently rolling at the gaming table (for D&D, World of Darkness, or Shadowrun), I'll be doing a lot of writing which pertains to the game, or my character in particular. This writing is kind of like fan fiction, I guess, because "stuff about your character in this proprietary setting" is, well, in a proprietary setting, and we woodland creatures tend to care about things like copyright.

Though there are sites on which you can post fan fiction that people pay for, aren't there? Watt Pad and suchlike? (I might be making this up entirely)

REJourneys said...

There is an agent who asked for fanfic writers to talk to her/query her. She even wrote a blog post about fan fiction and traditional publishing (I think it was along the lines of new trends).

What I want to know is if it's ok to survey people. I know just because someone said they would "consider" buying something, doesn't mean they will, generally when someone answers "YES! You're writing about sharks AND queries? That's a MUST read" then they generally will go out and buy it.

Having these numbers would correlate into a very rough image of people who would follow out of the fan fiction realm.

Of course, surveys take a lot of time and effort. And I don't know how many agents would be impressed with the market research.

Colin Smith said...

Jennifer: I know there are sites like WattPad that let you post stories and give you a big audience for those stories. But paying for them--especially for fanfic? If that's happening, I'm sure there are publishers that would want to know. Most authors/publishing houses turn a blind eye to publicly posted fanfic because it is free and an artistic expression of fan love. But the moment you start profiting off of other people's characters and worlds, then you're in a very murky legal area. Unless you've been contracted by the publisher to write these stories, or the original stories are now public domain (as with James Bond in most of the world), you could get into a whole world of trouble charging for fanfic.

I could be wrong about this, of course, and Janet would know. :)

REJourneys said...

I just saw Colin's comment from yesterday about the "P" word.

I was wondering how one got shipped off to Carkoon.

Will I be welcome at Carkoon though or should I open another branch? I can bring some tangerines for the Carkoonians(?) Carkoonites(?).

Colin Smith said...

RE: There's always room in the cave for one more. We might even have an associate position opening up. I believe a good stock of tangerines is a job requirement, so bring them along to Carkoon! :)

Wendy Qualls said...

Actually, the Kindle Worlds program is very specifically "paid fanfiction." Amazon, the fanfiction author, and the original author/copyright holder all split the profits. It's only available for a small subset of the fandoms out there, though, and each fandom has its own restrictions about content rules (which generally breaks down to "can I make these two characters get it on?")

REJourneys said...

Wendy: that's really interesting. I didn't know that existed. I really like that the original author gets paid as well. It sounds like a winning situation for fan fiction writers and original authors.

Colin: Sweet, I bring as many crates of tangerines as I can carry.

Elissa M said...

I agree that fan fiction is great for exercising the writing muscles. It's like a musician practicing scales.

Seems to me the time to mention the fan-fic followers is when the book is under contract and you're brainstorming marketing strategies with your agent and publisher. At that point you certainly wouldn't want to NOT mention it.

Kathryn Clark said...

I think that another problem with using fan fiction as a writing credit is that fanfic and novels are (usually) structured very differently. Don't get me wrong - some fanfics have amazing plot, and are written by amazing authors. But in general, they're two separate mediums.

For example, a lot of the appeal of fanfic is that the readers already love the characters - no need to win anyone over. (Not to mention that I've found it easier to play with other people's characters than to create my own.) In most (though not all) cases, there's no exposition needed beyond "this takes place in episode three" or "alternate universe where Harry Potter isn't a wizard". The plots are usually (though not always!) different as well. Would anyone be interested in ten thousand words of two characters playing in the snow with no conflict whatsoever? If that was written into a novel, you can bet that it'd get taken out in a snap. But that sounds like a perfectly legit fanfic plot (and I'm not gonna lie, depending on what fandom it's for, I'd definitely read the crap out of it.)

Can a fanfic writer also be good at writing novels? You betcha (and Colin's example proves it). But as someone who can whip out a 300k fanfic but still struggles to write a 70k novel, I can testify that being good at one doesn't automatically mean that you're skilled at the other.

LynnRodz said...

I really can't comment (much) on fan fiction, I don't read it, nor do I write it. There isn't enough time to write all the ideas I have in my own head than to write something off of someone else's work. As REJourneys said, there are agents looking for fanfic and those are the ones I think the OP needs to look for.

Colin, I'm not surprised my plug for a Coffee Press didn't go over well, I wouldn't know one if it introduced itself and shook my hand. I'm not a coffee drinker except for those few occasions when I'll order a noisette at a café because it's too early (before 10 am) to order a glass of wine. Green tea or a glass of Bordeaux for everyone on Carkoon!

REJ, yes, bring the tangerines. If you bring enough we'll even make sangria, but not with the Bordeaux. Thank goodness Jed isn't on Carkoon, he wouldn't let you near the place.

Colin, how did I end up in the food and beverage department of Carkoon, I don't even cook at home? Actually, I'm not even allowed in the kitchen. (Chefs can be so tempermental!)

Colin Smith said...

LynnRodz: Your comment to REJ says it all. If you can make sangria, then we're good to go! :D

BriMaresh said...

Colleen Lindsay back when she was an agent said there was a point past which the numbers were just too significant to ignore. They become platform. Writer's Digest's article on queries says if your Twitter following is more than 30,000 or your blog post hits are more than 20,000 page views, it's significant. I imagine the same can be applied to fanfiction - if you have significant numbers - 20, 30k page views regularly - that's significant.

That being said, I'd do a quick search to make sure any agent I was querying hasn't already stated what they think re: fanfiction. It's a little extra work, but it could save some heart ache.

Colin Smith said...

Bri: On the other hand, as Janet said not long ago, just because you have thousands of Twitter followers and hits on your blog, those numbers don't convert to people who will buy your book.

My feeling is, if you're making that kind of impact in the right areas of publishing, most agents/editors who are in touch with social media will know about you, and may even be sneaking around your blog already. All these numbers do is make us feel like we have an edge, and trying to build those numbers can become a distraction when really what we should be concentrating on is writing the best stories we can.

Christina Seine said...

OK this may cement my banishment to Carkoon for the next 8 lifetimes, but I got as far as Colin stating that 50 Shades doesn't BARE any resemblance to the original work that inspired it, and I choked on my Diet Mountain Dew.

Also Colin, that coffee press is just so we look all literary and important. REAL agents live off scotch (or diet mtn dew), Sour Patch Kids, and Doritos.

Amy Schaefer said...

I think it is great that the... what are we calling people who submit a question to the Shark? Questioners? Supplicants? Bait? I'm going with bait. It sounds like today's bait is both writing a lot and taking it seriously. That's awesome, and will surely translate into better writing. But - or as my kids put it, "here comes Mom's Big But," - although you might love your fanfic with a fiery passion, it is still, at its core, based on someone else's work. If you want to write and publish your own work, eventually you are going to have to pour that energy into developing your own characters and taking them through their own stories.

Clearly you have done that, or you wouldn't be getting ready to query. But the time may have come to look at your fanfic as excellent, enjoyable practice, and move on. Maybe you have enough time in your day to write both, in which case you should sell us your secret. Maybe not. But I would be worried less about how many fanfic readers you have clamoring for more, and more about having the mental bandwidth free to concentrate on your own original work.

I am starting to understand why I can't get any fruit but apples around here; my deliveries are being rerouted to Carkoon. Colin & co., you filch my tangerines at your peril.

Christina Seine said...

Now that I can breathe properly again …

I think BriMaresh has a point. While the few thousand blog subscribers the OP has is not the 20k Ms Lindsay mentions (still, kudos, OP!), there has to be a level at which people stand up and take notice of numbers. I think the key word may be *regular page views* - blog followers who check in every day, or read every post, would be more likely to follow a favorite blogger into print sales.

Also, didn’t Rainbow Rowel sort of turn perceptions of fanfic on their head with FANGIRL? First she seems to indirectly bash fan fiction throughout the book; then she announces she’s writing a real book based on the fanfic characters her MC wrote about. That could only have come about because readers clamored for it. Then again, whether or not it *bares* any resemblance to the characters in her original work remains to be (ahem) seen. While it feels like a glitch-in-the-matrix sort of thing, I’m sure she’ll be laughing all the way to the NYT best-seller list. Because she’s Rainbow Rowell, and she has that platform.

Colin Smith said...

Christina: Sorry, I forgot the disclaimer:

Any attempt at humor on the part of this commenter is purely accidental and unintentional. No witticism or clever pun, living or dead, was used in the writing of this comment. And no small furry woodland creatures were harmed in the writing of this comment. Much.

Jed Cullan said...

I wouldn't mention the fanfic writing in a query, as it's not a publishing credit, and it'd just take up space in the query which could be used in a better way.

Fanfic is good for practicing your writing, though, but only if you actually go about improving. If you don't do editing, for example (and I've seen a lot of fanfic who don't), and you don't read to see how other authors' write, then you won't improve.

Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent.

Write a million books the same way without learning and developing your craft and all you'll have is a million crappily written books, not one stonkingly great one.

Jed Cullan said...

Oh, I'm currently in the process of recruiting a hedgehog army that will have but one purpose: to search out oranges and destroy them. Including tangerines.

Karen McCoy said...

Colin asked where everyone was, so I figured I'd explain my radio interference into Carkoon. Culprits include mid-terms, library instruction sessions, research consultations, and other ephemera involving students and faculty who are frantic the week before spring break.

As far as today's post goes, perhaps the question is whether the fanfic can exist on its own (e.g. Cinder and 50 Shades, as Colin *bared* earlier). If not, I'm inclined to agree with the other commenters, and with what Janet has said in the past: most agents tend to focus on the story pitch itself, also evidenced

That being said, RWA is a great organization to learn more about these kinds of things, so our kind questioner is definitely on the right track.

DLM said...

I would agree that the numbers here are impressive, but is that a significant data point *for a query*? It feels like Janet Knows Best here, that's a no. However, if our questioner finds a way to highlight this info in online profiles, blogs, etc., it seems like that would be highly worthwhile. If an agent has enough interest to take a look, they'll see it - "in situ" as it were. But the query is about the writing. (Personal caveat - I know a lot of agents do emphasize platform, but I gravitate to agents who emphasize writing and willingness to work with debut authors etc. over "show me your track record" - so, YMMV.)

BTW, thanks to everyone yesterday for well wishes. I wasn't sure what was wrong; it felt like a migraine, and it felt like a bug. Post-recovery, I'm beginning to believe it was one hell of a barnstormer migraine. It's rare that a bug leaves you feeling fantastic when it's done with you, but that is an actual symptom with certain migraine patterns. And I do feel great today.

Jen said...

Something to consider: according to my agent, once your work is accepted by a publishing company, your contract will probably say something to the effect of "This work has never fully nor partial been available in electronic format, on public forum, available for download, etc."

So, when I suggested using a site like Wattpad to build a following for a paranormal I was brainstorming, he basically said I would be taking a big risk: if you get a million fans, the Big Five will pay attention. If you don't, you forfeit getting it traditionally published.

Just food for thought.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

1. I really need to read the blog at 2AM, otherwise, I'm Johnny-Come-Lately in the comments.

2. I agree about the query letter real estate issue. The query letter is all about the novel. And nothing but.

3. That said, surely there is some time later when an author can mention her "large and established fan base". Whether that time comes after the query letter, or after surprisingly large breakthrough sales, I can't say.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Like LynnRodz I don't know much about fanfic. It has to be good practice, though. Annalyzing and rerwiting.

I have a French friend who is crazy about fanfic. She tells me all the titles of the books that were published traditionally.

I need coffee!