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Shanna's Journal
Shanna's Adventures in Publishing (and in life)
Filing Off the Serial Numbers 
13th-Nov-2012 10:51 am
no tea
All my grand plans of what I wanted to accomplish yesterday went nowhere. Late morning, I got a bit of a headache, and since I could feel exactly which muscles in my scalp were tensing up, I figured that if I lay down for a while and relaxed, the headache would ease. It turned out that I was right, except for the "for a while" part. I slept most of the afternoon (without ever realizing that I was really asleep and not just lying there -- I thought I'd been just lying down for a few minutes, until I looked at the clock and saw that hours had passed), and because the lying down happened before lunch, I woke up shaky and groggy. So there went my day. I figure my body must have needed the rest. But I'm making up for it today. I've already done a load of laundry and cleaned the bathroom. Now I really, really must obtain the tea because I don't have enough for tomorrow morning. This could be a crisis.

The depressing publishing news of last week was that yet another book that started as alternate-universe Twilight fan fiction got a huge book deal. My beef isn't with Twilight, although I have to admit that the appeal of that story went right over my head. What I don't get is the publishers jumping all over themselves to buy books that they know are just rewrites of another book. This is going to sound like "back in my day, if you wanted to publish a book, you had to walk two miles in the snow, uphill both ways," but there was a time when you hid any fan fiction origins to a novel and would only disclose that after it was a success. A publisher wouldn't touch something they knew originated in fan fiction. There's even language in most book contracts that amounts to the author swearing that the book is all the author's work and that the characters and situations are the author's own creation. Now they're seeking it out and publicizing the fan fiction origins. I suppose it comes down to money -- that's a huge audience, and the book is a guaranteed success, so why not? The original characters are thin enough that it's not hard to file off the serial numbers, stick them in a different setting and make them have lots of sex instead of just gazing at each other with longing.

But still, ethics and originality should mean something, shouldn't they? It's very depressing to be someone who's desperately trying to write something original and then see publishers throwing huge wads of money at people who are openly rewriting a recent book. Maybe the key to success is to find a way to map my original books onto something popular, post it as fan fiction, gain a following, and then change the character names and identifying details (back to the original book) and get a book deal. Except I suspect that what makes this fan fiction so popular is the inclusion of lots of sex, and I don't write good sex scenes, so this clever scheme won't work. I have written fan fiction in the past (for TV shows, not books), but my trademark then was really capturing the characters, to the point that it felt like a lost episode. If you're doing that, and if the characters in the universe you're playing with are at all three-dimensional, then it's impossible to change the names and file off the serial numbers and have something that even remotely looks original. The fact that these books can be published without lawsuits from the Twilight publisher means that they're bad fan fic (as in, not really adhering to the original, just co-opting the names) of a generic story. And the fact that this is what publishers want right now says something really sad about the industry. The fact that the reason publishers want it is that readers want it makes me kind of sad about these readers. There's so much good, original stuff out there, so why limit yourself to retellings of the same story?
Comments 
13th-Nov-2012 08:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, there's a publisher that built it's business model on republished Twilight fic. It's where Fifty Shades got it's start before one of the big publishers picked it up.

I recall at Twicon, the big Twilight Failcon they had in Dallas back in 2010, one of the big panel tracks was on fan fiction, including one panel on the fine art of filing off the serial numbers.
13th-Nov-2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
From what I see to read it seems like publishers are just looking for a sure thing. I might be one of the last readers in the wild looking for a good story, but for me that still trumps popularity.

I actually tend to avoid books that are very popular at first. I've ended up disappointed with them in the past, and lately just reading the blurbs on some like Twilight and 50 Shades, I'd actually prefer to clean the toliets, and scrub the bathtub, rather than read them.

I've shifted to choosing my books by who wrote it, or by reccommendations from friends who have the same taste.

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