Fanfiction: Can a Hobby Earn Respect?

A new hobby has taken wing this past decade, and it has come to roost on the internet: fanfiction. Fanfiction is a generic label used to group together a variety of stories based on movies, television shows, and books–stories written by fans. The phenomenon is so pervasive that students have even written papers on this new genre of literature, and it is a subtopic of study in Popular Fiction courses.

Although the characters who come to life in these stories–such as Mulder and Scully of the X-Files–are often the property of others, movie and T.V. moguls have largely been willing to turn a blind eye to the intellectual property infringement: after all, it promotes their shows and films. But if writers want to turn a hobby into a vocation and actually publish their fanfiction in print, then the easiest course is to choose characters who reside in the public domain. This may account for the predominance of published sequels to the books of Regency era authoress Jane Austen.

When I stumbled across a website for Jane Austen fanfiction some years ago, I never thought I would one day be publishing three sequels to Pride and Prejudice. But my little hobby of turning out short stories in a dull moment took on a life of its own. I was waking up in the middle of the night and sneaking into the study to pound out my ideas. And in May of 2004, Conviction hit online bookstore shelves.

Had my hobby become a vocation? Not exactly. I wrote the work because I could not help but write it–because the scenes playing in my mind would not allow me to sleep. I initially self-published the novel with little expectation of doing more than breaking even and turning a small profit. It sold well and was soon picked up and republished by a small press, which then asked for, and published, my second novel, An Unlikely Missionary. What began merely as fanfiction soon evolved into my “second job.”

When hobbies do become vocations, however, respect is often difficult to earn. When pasttimes give birth to professions, people will inevitably doubt the value of the calling. Fanfiction certainly lacks literary respectability. One problem with fanfiction is that it is, in one respect at least, wholly unoriginal. The author inevitably rides on the coattails of another writer. Of course, original plots, new characters, and unique ideas can be introduced in these continuations, but fanfiction will be slow to gain respectability precisely because of its initial act of robbery.

Yet the novel was once considered a low-brow genre too, and any respectable writer wished to be known for his or her poetry. Fanfiction now bears the same stigma the novel once endured. Will it, too, one day emerge as a respected and major form? Only time can provide the answer to that question; so, while you’re waiting, why not read a resolution to one of your favorite tales, or write one of your own?