E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments are two extremely popular book series. The former already has a movie out, with the second installment coming to theatres in February 2017 while the latter had a film adaptation and now has a TV series on Netflix. Both have fervent fanbases.
And both are also fan fictions, or fanfic for short, of equally popular works: Fifty Shades of Grey was formerly known as “Masters of the Universe” which was a fan fiction of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer; The Mortal Instruments was known as “The Draco Trilogy” which was a fan fiction from the Harry Potter series.
How do these fan fictions get published and become ‘real’ fiction? How does publishing it on an online social platform influence the attention and popularity that it garners?
Fifty Shades of Grey
There are a lot of similarities between Fifty Shades and Twilight: a young, innocent woman meets a handsome, wealthy man who has a mysterious past. Except ‘Edward’ was now an entrepreneur and not a sparkly vampire.
But how did it come to be this popular?
Twilight was one of the most read series in the early 2000s, selling over 100 million copies with all five movies making over $3.3 billion. It was wildly loved by teens and young adults, alike.
Fanfics were being written at an alarming rate, but people barely batted an eye. Fan fiction was a norm, especially with this series which had a notorious fandom. “More Twilight?”
When James’s fan fiction of “Masters of the Universe”, the hyper sexual version of Twilight, people’s attentions were grabbed. It’s not everyday that you read BDSM in novels. People began reading it. And within a year, it had 56,000 reviews on Fanfiction.net where most stories could only rack up 25,000 reviews. Eventually, she moved it to her personal site: 50shades.com.
It even has its own page on Goodreads, so it’s pretty much acknowledged as ‘published’.
One of the perks of being a fanfic author is that all the writer has to do is build on an already pre-existing fan base. Fans already know what the story is about and all James had to do was write a story that would emotionally satisfy readers in a way that Meyer couldn’t do with the original series since it was aimed at a specific age group that would restrict Meyer from going any further with the material.
The Mortal Instruments
Another popular series is The Mortal Instruments. Originally, it was a Draco-Ginny fan fiction and those similarities can still be found in Clare’s current series (for example, the appearances between Draco-Ginny and Jace-Clary are pretty much the same).
Written over a span of six years, beginning in 2000, Cassandra Clare posted it on the website Fanfiction.net. The trilogy cannot be found on the website anymore, having been taken down after Clare’s writing career was launched but there are still copies of the stories floating around on the Internet if you choose to look for it.
“The Draco Trilogy” helped satisfy the appetites of Harry Potter fans as they waited for the next book in JK Rowling’s series which ended in 2007. Her fanfic series grew until it had a following where people waited for the next instalment.
Clare’s trilogy has had a relatively significant influence on how the original characters are seen by the fans. Draco was seen as the anti-hero, even though Rowling, herself, has stated that “a snob, he’s a bigot and he is a bully.” It hasn’t stopped the mass influx of fan art of Draco Malfoy, portrayed as the sorely misunderstood character.
Interestingly, both authors have had their share of controversy concerning their respective fan fictions. Both have been called out for plagiarism and James’s series has been criticized for plagiarizing 89% of her fan fiction. However, because of the huge fanbase that the two have, especially from their fanfic-writing days, these complaints have been shot down, or at least have been drowned in the amount of money and success that each series has produced.
If you were to compare fanfic-published writing to traditional pieces of writing, the margin in success is somewhat large. Veronica Roth’s Divergent series has sold 32 million copies. John Green’s The Fault in Our stars sold 10.7 million copies since 2014. Fifty Shades sold 100 million copies. The Mortal Instruments series sold 50 million copies.
At this rate, anybody who writes fanfic has a chance of being published. Fan fiction writers don’t have to spend months editing and don’t have to wait years to get a publishing deal after getting rejected multiple times.
Should up-and-coming writers try their hands at fanfic, gather a fanbase and hope to get published? It seems like it’s the easiest way. Or is traditional publication the ‘right way’ to get published in order to get the best quality writing out?
There are some wonderful fanfic writers out there who demonstrate powerful storytelling abilities. And there are some published authors whose writing isn’t as polished but have become successful in their careers.
Perhaps it’s not the genre or the social platform that should be questioned here but the industry itself.
All it seems to take, in order to be published, is luck and popularity.