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Is Fanfiction a Legitimate Genre?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Is fanfiction a legitimate genre? Copyright infringement? Or something altogether unique?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

author writingToday’s feature story asks: “What can trade publishers learn from fanfiction?”

Fifty Shades of Grey started off as Twilight fanfiction, using the characters of Edward and Bella as a template and then added sex. Now that the books have sold over 12 million copies through their “legitimate” publisher, Vintage Books, the genre is getting some serious commercial credibility. But is fanfiction a legitimate genre? Copyright infringement? Or something altogether unique?

Hit up Fanfiction.net and you’ll find thousands of books, stories, and other forms of homage based on popular works of literature, film, etc…Fans are passionate and popular characters have inspired them to produce original storylines (yes, many of them are erotic…) that their original creators never envisioned (or quite possibly considered and rejected).

Want to keep the dream that was Firefly alive? Go for it.

Want to add an alternative ending to an episode of Mad Men? Write it yourself.

Want some alt-history in which Abraham Lincoln is a vampire hunter? Done.

Want an award-winning novelistic riff on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket? It’s yours.

Want Jane Eyre to get it on with Mr. Rochester? That too you can get published: Jane Eyre Laid Bare, an erotic re-telling of the Brontë classic by Eve Sinclair has just been bought by Pan Macmillan in the UK and will be published in August as an e-book.

The real question might be rather than “is fanfiction a legitimate genre” — when is so-called legitimate fiction actually a variation fanfiction?

One thing that’s certain: it’s impossible to ignore something so very popular. And if it inspires people to read and write more, then all the better.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.