When Does Fan Fiction Cross an Ethical Line?

by Jami Gold on March 6, 2012

in Random Musings

Swedish sports fan with painted face

Fan fiction, also known as fanfic, refers to stories written by fans about the characters, situations, or world of existing works created by others.  This definition sounds broad because the world of fanfic is broad.

On some level, everything from Wicked, inspired by The Wizard of Oz, to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could fall under the umbrella of fanfic.  In other words, fanfic can be a legitimate and respected form of writing.

But do some uses of fanfic cross an ethical line?  And if so, where does that line fall?  When does a work honoring another’s creation turn into exploitation?

Ethical Issues Are Different From Legal Issues

I’d be the last person to say fanfic is evil, as I started down the writing path by creating a fanfic novel based on Harry Potter.  However, there are ethical considerations fanfic authors should respect above all else.

Beyond what’s legal or illegal as far as copyright, trademark, fair use, or derivative vs. transformative works, fanfic authors owe a debt of thanks to the original creator (after all, without the original work, the fanfic author wouldn’t have been inspired to use that as a jumping-off point).  And in return, I believe a fanfic author should never exploit the characters, setting, world—or the original author’s brand or fan loyalty—for their own gain.

Where Is the Ethical Line?

Others might disagree with my statement.  However, I’d be willing to bet that most people would agree  that it’s unethical for a fanfic author to co-opt the loyalty of fans of the original work for themselves in order to make money off their fanfic writings.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a hypothetical situation.  Fifty Shades of Grey (FSoG) has reached a high-enough level of popularity in the media to garner a segment on the Today show.  What many of these media mentions fail to point out is that FSoG started out as a Twilight fanfic story called Master of the Universe.

Did Fifty Shades of Grey Cross the Line?

The characters in the fanfic version were called Edward and Bella, and readers enjoyed imagining those Twilight characters in this sexually-explicit, BDSM-themed—free—story.  The fanfic story became popular in its own right, to the point that fans of the fanfic story threw their own convention with the fanfic author, raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity.

So far, so good.

But let’s remember the story’s popularity was built on its association with the Twilight characters.  Without its association with Twilight, the story wouldn’t have received 20,000 reviews (on fanfiction.net) and gained those fans to begin with.

Next, the fanfic author took that same fanfic story that had been free, changed only the characters’ names, and found a small, unknown publisher (which seems to specialize in publishing “fanfic with the serial numbers filed off” stories) to split her story into thirds and charge US$7-30 per book.  She then had her fans, from back when the story was free, buy up copies (these are the same fans who paid for her to travel from England to New York for the convention, so yes, they’re that dedicated) and post hundreds of reviews all over the internet.

Boom.  Instant bestseller.  Segment on the Today show.  More publicity.  More sales.  Etc.

And all she had to do was use someone else’s characters and fanatical fandom ties to get there.

Can FanFic Ever Be Used to Make Money?

Again, this isn’t a post about whether or not the fanfic author broke any laws.  This post is about whether this behavior is right.

In this case, the fanfic author had used the names Edward and Bella, but hadn’t used the Forks, Washington setting or the vampire world-building.  The story instead takes place in and around Seattle, Washington, and rather than using Edward’s vampire nature to justify his behavior, this story uses his BDSM sexuality to explain his controlling manipulations.

Do those differences make it okay?  I don’t think so.

For starters, what’s considered “good” writing in fanfic is different from what constitutes good writing in professionally published books.  The FSoG books are garnering bad reviews from real reviewers because *gasp* they’re not written that well.  Complaints have ranged from incorrectly portrayed BDSM elements to robotic and cliché writing.

So what made these BDSM books more successful than the hundreds of other BDSM books out there?  One reason.  The Twilight fandom and this fanfic author’s exploitation of their loyalty.

On the other hand, if someone wrote a fanfic story where they’d changed so many of the details as to make the characters, settings, and world unrecognizable, and if they didn’t try to tap into the fandom of their inspiration, I think fanfiction can be used to make money.  At that point, if the story is unrecognizable, the fanfic author has added enough of their own imagination to create something new.  And by not using someone else’s fans for their own gain, they’re letting their story be judged on its own merits.

The ethical line for fanfic authors can be very gray and wavy.  As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could be labeled a form of fanfic, and with a title like that, it’s certainly meant to grab the attention of  Jane Austen fans.  However, both that work and Wicked could also be termed parodies of the originals.  Parodies enjoy a different relationship with “acceptability” than straight fanfic, and they’re seen as less exploitative because they add something new to the story beyond just changed details.

So where do we draw the line?  I, for one, believe it’s better to stay far on the “safe” side of any appearance of impropriety.  Personally, I’d never write fanfic that dishonored my inspiration, and I’d certainly never try to make money off it.  (I didn’t post my fanfic novel anywhere, free or otherwise.  I viewed the experience as a writing exercise for my own enjoyment.)  However I’m interested in hearing where others fall on this issue and their reasons why.

Is it ever acceptable for a fanfic author to make money on their fanfic writings?  When does a fanfic author cross the line between honoring their original inspiration and taking advantage of it?  Does your answer depend on whether they made significant changes from the original source?  Is suddenly charging for a previously free story more acceptable if they improved their writing between versions?

(Note: I am not linking to FSoG here because I don’t want to encourage any more sales.  However, Amazon and other retailers carry the books  in print and ebook form for anyone willing to pay the expensive prices.)

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454 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Kaitlin March 6, 2012 at 7:18 am

Oh my gosh. I don’t even like Twilight all that much and that story makes me twitch. Generally, I really like fanfiction (I too got my start there, except from the Lord of the Rings fandom). It’s one thing to have fans based on your *style* of writing, but to *only* change the names and then sell the fanfiction? Eesh. If the names had been changed, significant editorial work and some plot shifting had happened, it would be slightly more acceptable, but at that point it isn’t just taking advantage of Twilight, it’s taking advantage of fans.

There’s just so much to say on this topic, since not only is it huge but I’m kinda passionate about it.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 8:55 am

Hi Kaitlin,

Exactly. I know there are different “levels” of fanfic, everything from “alternate universe” to imagining what happens after the original story ends. Some of those types of fanfic pride themselves on being in the style and/or voice of the original author. That’s not bad–that’s a talent unique to fanfic and should be appreciated as such. However, in that case, any fans of the fanfic stories aren’t fans of the fanfic author’s writing, but on how well they imitate the original author’s writing.

In my mind, any use of that imitation talent to skim fans from the original author for personal gain demeans one as a writer. We’re not supposed to be imitating other authors’ voices. We’re supposed to find our own. A fanfic author might find success with an imitative fanfic story, but what will keep them going after that fad dies out? Will they forever have to suppress their own writing voice to imitate the style that brought them success? That’s not my definition of success, but it might work for others who care more about the money than the art.

*sigh* Believe me, I could go on for another thousand words about this situation. :) I know I’ll get her fans–who have been called “rabid” defenders of her–popping in on this post. But my personal ethics see the situation one way. Their ethics, and the ethics of the author, obviously don’t match mine. That’s their choice. However, every defense they make of those questionable ethics just further makes my point.

Thanks for the comment! :)

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Kaitlin March 6, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Yeah, pretty brave calling it out! I’m behind you anyway!

I see what you mean about imitation. I think imitation of writing style is understandable for writers who just don’t have a voice yet. Sort of like fashion – try on a bunch of clothes and find your personal style that way. If I was to write fanfiction now, I would try and imitate because it would be fun for me and better for readers. But like you say, if I were to try and make a profit off that, that just wouldn’t be right.

Cheers!

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Hi Kaitlin,

Yes, and there is plenty of fanfic that doesn’t take that imitative route. But I agree–it can be fun trying to imitate another author’s style. I’ve heard advice that we should do that with a page or scene of an author we like so we can learn “how they did it.” :) Thanks for the comment!

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Chihuahua0 March 6, 2012 at 7:35 am

Hmm…that sounds like an interesting situation.

Technically, I think if the fan-fic version is still floating around, Meyers has the rights to sue. Yet again, it depends how similar the story is to Twilight.

Really, if Meyers doesn’t mind, not too much can be done.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:09 am

Hi C0,

While it might be fun to imagine Stephenie Meyers suing, my issue with this situation goes beyond the legality. For me, life is not about seeing what I can get away with. Just because something’s not illegal doesn’t make it right.

This article posted by someone who was involved from the beginning claims the fanfic author knew she was exploiting the Twilight fandom. Heck, according to this article, she didn’t even like the Twilight fandom.

ETA: This article gives the fanfic author’s side of the conversation from the above link. She publicized this herself to try to add context to her comments. Personally, since I’m one who tries to give people the benefit of the doubt, knowing the context just reinforced the impression that she disrespected those in the Twilight fandom. As one line pointed out, she saw her readers as her personal fans rather than acknowledged their role in the greater fandom or respected that she never would have had them if not for Twilight.

That–to me–smacks of possessing less ethics than a carrot (since I guess a carrot would be fairly neutral). Again, some people are fine with being that type of person. I am not one of them. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Caren March 6, 2012 at 8:15 am

Thank you for this post. THANK YOU. I said some similar things recently and I agree with every single thing you said.

If you’d like to see my thoughts, they’re here: http://carenl.tumblr.com/post/18614363940/50-shades-of-oh-no-she-didnt

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:13 am

Hi Caren,

I just read your post and I agree with your points as well. Thanks for the comment! :)

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Em March 6, 2012 at 8:19 am

Nice article. I’m not going to argue ethics with you or who used whom.

A little fact checking however is in order.

The author “convention” you speak of was nothing more than friends and the author getting NYC (and yes again in DC) for a girls’ weekend. Nothing more. At no time was she paid to be there or were her expenses paid by anyone other than herself. This is a Fandom rumor and gossip based on a private email that was done “tongue in cheek”, that was leaked and is now referred to by some as a pamphlet. It wasn’t. How do I know this? Because I was there, both times.

Yes, the author did help to raise $40,000 for an American charity through the Fandom Gives Back auctions.

The author has a loyal group of friends and readers. She didn’t force anyone to buy the books from the Twilight fandom. The vast majority of people who are now reading and loving the books and characters are not part of the fandom.

Yes, there are editing errors that an established publisher would have caught and fixed. Yet despite these errors, new readers are reading and recommending these books to their friends.

Next time you post something as fact, please take the time to check that your statements are accurate. You can contact the author via her website.

Best,
Em

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BrookeLockart March 6, 2012 at 9:08 am

Pretty sure those facts about her trip to NYC are not correct either. Also pretty sure she didn’t raise $40K herself for the FandomGivesBack and it’s public knowledge that she begrudgingly participated.

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Em March 6, 2012 at 9:34 am

Where you in NYC or DC, Brooke? No, you were not. I was. It was a girls’ weekend. Quit trying to say otherwise.

True she didn’t raise the money herself. Her “minions” forked over money in amounts ranging from $5 and up to be part of a team of bidders rather an outbidding each other. Teamwork helped raise that money for an outtake.

As far as begrudgingly participated, she was requested to write a POV from the male character, which she did not want to do because she didn’t want to write in that POV.

The blog post being distributed by Caren is also full of errors and speculation about the author’s intentions to publish. Since no one has spoken directly to her, this is another example of rumors and gossip and deliberately misconstrued information.

As a published author I respect the opinion of Jami Gold. What I do not respect is fandom rumors and gossip spilling out onto other blogs.

I’ve been called a white knighter, a minion, a vapid fangirl for sharing the other side of the story. Fine. Every story has two sides. I just hope that people keep an open mind that not everything they read is the truth just because it is on a LJ/tumblr/blog post. We all have different opinions and perceptions.

There are dozens of authors who have pulled to publish their Twilight fanfictions, some with the same titles as the original fics. Why are they not being discussed on these blogs about the ethics of publishing fanfiction? Is it because their stories are ranked in the millions on Amazon instead of in the top 10? Or is this a campaign against someone because of personal feelings?

Em
White knighter

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 10:12 am

Hi Em,

I respect your opinion. And you’re right. Every story has two sides.

However, regardless of the details of that weekend, we still come back to the ethics of whether it’s okay for a fanfic author to make money on their fanfic writings, especially when the popularity of that fanfic depends on the original author’s fans. For me, personally, the answer is no. I’d be interested to hear from you or any other “white-knighter” (love that you owned that phrase! :) ) on why you think it’s okay.

I’m not patronizing you. I seriously would like to understand where you draw the line and why. Thanks for the comment!

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Caren March 6, 2012 at 10:59 am

Um, what? Everything I said in my post is absolutely one hundred percent true. You can’t dispute facts. And what I’ve said has nothing to do with personal feelings, as I don’t know Icy. It’s the principle of this whole situation.

I don’t understand how you can support this so blindly. Do you really not see what Jami (or myself) has pointed out about the ethical problem with what she’s done?

Put yourself in Stephenie Meyer’s shoes – hell, in ANY authors shoes – and imagine how you would feel if this were YOUR characters her novel was built on. Would you NOT feel cheated in any way shape or form that she used what you built to make herself a success?

Come on, Em, if you claim not to see the problem here you’re clearly choosing not to see it on purpose.

Also, Icy did not raise $40k for FGB. Her fans raised in the ballpark of $25-30k, and she didn’t even want to donate. She was forced into it. She admitted that herself. Just like she admitted to wanting to revolutionize the publishing industry while talking about her distaste for our entire fandom. Sam does an excellent job of proving that fact: http://gentleblaze.livejournal.com/514.html

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:19 am

Hi Em,

I have to manually approve every new commenter on my blog, so the fact that your comment shows up at all means that, yes, I approved it despite knowing that you–along with many other of this fanfic author’s fans–will tear this post and me apart twenty ways from Sunday. And here’s why I approved it:

I don’t care if she raised $30K or $40K during the convention or girls weekend. I don’t care if she did it reluctantly or willingly. I don’t care if she raised that all by herself or in concert with other offerings. Those “facts” are irrelevant.

None of that changes the ethics of the situation. Period. And nowhere in my post did I say she “forced” her readers to buy the books. Please check your facts. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Em March 6, 2012 at 9:42 am

Hi Jami,

Thanks for the response.

We can civilly agree to disagree on the question of the ethics.

Yes, you are right that you didn’t say anything about force either. My apologies.

What prompted me to comment to you and to the other commenter was that you are repeating rumor and gossip. I think that hurts the strength of your discussion about ethics. Are slander, libel and restraint of trade ethical? They are illegal. When does the promotion of rumor and lies cross the line into being illegal?

I just wanted another view point to be voiced. Thank you for posting my comment and furthering the discussion.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 10:45 am

Hi Em,

“I think that hurts the strength of your discussion about ethics.”

I’ll grant you this: There are enough people claiming “facts” on both sides of convention/charity issue that I won’t assume I know the “truth.” :) However, if I took out the sentence or two about the convention and charity, does that really change the dynamics of the ethics issue? Thanks for the comment!

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Bee March 6, 2012 at 8:58 am

Sorry if my typing is terrible. I’m still in awful pain from being forced by the author of Fifty Shades to buy her books. …

Oh no, wait. I forgot. I have a mind of my own! Isn’t that astonishing?

Also, if you can show me the part in Twilight, where Edward is a multi-billionaire entrepreneur with a penchant for BDSM and a HUMAN, then please point it out to me, cos I must have missed that part.

There are a group of infantile, jealous people in the ‘fandom’ who have basically been cyber-bullying the author of these books from way back in the day (yes, when it was still MoTU). They have resorted to name calling and threats and all sorts to get their feeble little point across.

Does it matter to anyone who loves Fifty? Hell no.
I bought these books of my own free will as I’m sure so did 120K other people.

As the post above states, get your facts straight before you join the ranks of the cyber-bullies.

By the way, a number of authors have been coat-tailing on 50′s success to raise their own profiles. Is that what you want to be known for?

Regards

B

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:31 am

Hi Bee,

If the characters had nothing to do with the Twilight characters, then why was this story originally in the Twilight fanfic area? If this story had nothing to do with Twilight and was, in fact, an original story, then it didn’t belong in the fanfic arena. Either this was fanfic and connected to Twilight or it wasn’t and it didn’t belong there. You can’t have it both ways.

In other words, you’re making my point for me. Thank you. :) I appreciate that!

I am not a member of any group of fanfic fandom. This is not a case of me coming out of the woodwork to bully anyone. This is me trying to have a serious conversation about philosophy and ethics when it comes to fanfic. I’m sorry you decided to ignore that point. Thanks for the comment! :)

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OhMyCarlisle March 7, 2012 at 8:54 pm

You just hit the nail on the head of my problem with this type of story – it was never fanfic to begin with. The author stole Stephenie Meyer’s characters’ names for original characters that in no way resembled Steph’s creations to gain readership and a following. She then tossed the names of what was always original fiction any way once she gained readership. It was never fan fiction. It was always original fiction with character name theft. That’s the problem with Twi OOC/AU/AH.
She used Stephenie. Her readers let themselves be played and many enjoyed being played – good for them, but there are also celebrating the complete disrespect of Stephenie Meyer and the desecration of Edward Cullen and the Twilight Saga characters. The author is laughing all the way to the bank for using Stephenie and the followers who ate up her thievery. If you write original fiction then respect your work and own your own characters from day one. If the characters actually resembled Stephenie’s she would have a lawsuit on her hands, but they don’t and never have.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Hi OhMyCarlisle, (Love the name! :) )

Yes, it’s either stealing the characters, or it was never about the characters and more about exploiting the fandom. Fanfic authors can’t choose one way when it’s convenient and then choose the other way (without a major overhaul) when it’s not. Thanks for the comment!

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DMarie June 20, 2013 at 10:47 am

I have to strongly disagree that the FSOG characters do not in any way resemble the original characters. They are carbon copies. Bella is clumsy and has little self worth; Ana is clumsy and has little self worth. Edward is brooding, rich and domineering; Christian is brooding, rich and domineering. And let’s not forgot poor Jose/Jacob, and the mom living in another state with a new husband, the sister, etc… *rolls eyes* EL had not one iota of originality. And the sex wasn’t that hot, it was cut and paste. I admit I’ve read many erotic stories with different twists. FSOG? Sorry did nothing for me, and I can tell you why. I did not care about the characters, they are so flat and dimension-less that I yawned.

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Jami Gold June 20, 2013 at 11:08 am

Hi DMarie,

Yes, while there are little tweaks to the characters–simply because the vampire/BDSM premise is different–they’re essentially the same characters underneath, and trying to separate the FSoG version from SM’s version in our heads can leave the fanfic version feeling flat. Thanks for the comment!

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Sheogorath July 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Disclaimer: The following comment consists of pure speculation.
Once upon a time, an author decided to write a book to be published. No sooner had she written the first few chapters, however, than she realised that they were rather unreadable when compared to existing works that had been published because they were so full of errors. So she changed the characters’ names and carried on writing, and once she’d written some more, she used the name Graupelempresses Frostywyvern to put it up on FFN as Twilight fanfiction.
Many people in the Pit of Voles were very excited to see this brand new treat, Twilight with a major kink, and several offered to beta it. This was exactly what Graupelempresses Frostywyvern needed, and she accepted one of the offers with a glad heart. It was soon obvious that this relationship was working out as the chapters she posted became better with fewer errors, although some still remained.
Once Graupelempresses Frostywyvern had people talking about her fic and flocking to it in droves, she then fell back to her original plan, pulled her work offline and changed her characters’ names back, then offered it to a publisher for mucho moola. The book was split into three parts, the first of which was titled, ‘Multiple Tones of Cinereal’, and the rest, as they say, was history.
The end.

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Jami Gold July 29, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Hi Sheogorath,

*snort* That is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. “Graupelempresses Frostywyvern” is a fantastic pen name for she who went by Snowqueens IceDragon. :)

I agree. Some might use the fandoms for its built-in beta-reading support. “Use” being the operative word there.

I wasn’t part of the fandom, so I don’t know if this was the case with Graupelempresses Frostywyvern. However, I have heard (second-hand, so not too distant) that Ms. GF refused to make changes requested by the editor at her first publisher. That makes me wonder if she’s capable of taking feedback at all.

I don’t know one way or the other, just sharing what I’ve heard. :) Thanks for the comment!

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E March 6, 2012 at 9:05 am

The author of this book set out to con money out of her readers. As an ex fandom member, I was around when personal emails from the author were sent to another and then shown publicly. She referred to her fans and this fanfic in a less than flattering light, clearly stating that she was in it for the money. Her writing skills are less than sub-par and anyone with half a brain could have wrote the drivel that is and was Master of the Universe/ Fifty Shades of Grey. Not only are the authors ‘minions’ Or as they were known in the Twilight fandom as ‘Bunker Babes’rabid and pathetic, they are also vicious and brainwashed by this woman who is sitting back and laughing at how much money she has made from them.

Your review is spot on. This book should have never been published.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:36 am

Hi E,

Plenty of Twilight fanfic stories out there didn’t get the reviews of this one. So I suspect some mixture of inherent storytelling and the BDSM elements of the fandom’s favorite characters play a role in this story’s popularity. In other words, I won’t attack the fanfic author’s talent or skill in storytelling. I’m commenting on the ethics of the situation. Thanks for sharing your insight and for your comment! :)

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gisellelx March 6, 2012 at 9:06 am

Thanks for this. There is mass confusion going on in the Twilight fandom about the ethics of fanfiction publication, and the fact that it is an *ethical* issue, apart from the legal one. I’ve also had more than a few folks insinuate that somehow these books took off on their own, over looking the rabid “Bunker Babes” and how they spurred the initial word of mouth.

As to the facts above:

James, as Snowqueens IceDragon, pulled in approximately 17K as part of the Fandom Gives Back charity fundraiser in November 2010. The remaining two authors on her “team,” Sebastian Robichaud and M81770, were responsible for the other 22K.

I have zero idea if her fans paid for her to attend either the DC weekend or the New York one. I do know that most of my girls’ weekends don’t include itineraries which list “The Goddess Arrives!” next to the time anyone’s flight gets in.

The real shame for James is that she had a huge following–judging from her review count, which numbered almost 60,000 on FFnet, she probably had over a quarter of a million readers, if not more. She could’ve published ANYTHING and her readers probably would’ve pushed it into the stratosphere.

Instead, she chose to publish her existing work, which relies on the Twilight tropes to make it work. Whether Meyer sues, we won’t know, but honestly, she makes us all look bad. And I’m certain, whether Meyer does anything about this or not, other authors will look at this kind of blatant exploitation of their fanbase and decide not to allow fanfiction at all–and that’s a loss to everyone.

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BrookeLockart March 6, 2012 at 9:43 am

*slow claps*

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:45 am

Hi Gisellelx,

“[S]he makes us all look bad.”

I agree. Fanfic already has a questionable reputation and things like this won’t help it.

I’m all for building networks and using them to help promote our work. And as you said, if she chose to use her network to promote her original work, more power to her. This isn’t a “sour grapes” response to her success. However, she chose to use her network to promote a work built on–and dependent on–the fandom of another author. For me, that crosses the line. Thanks for the comment! :)

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Kimmydonn March 7, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I’ll pop in here since Gisellex speaks to the same points I made in my blog post about this back in May. You’ve written a fanfiction, gotten an active following and learned what it takes to write novel. Awesome!

Now do it again.

If James had written another BDSM story in another setting, using what she learned from writing Master of the Universe, I would have stood behind her and applauded her work. Because she repackaged her fanfiction, I feel she’s taking the easy way out and making less of the efforts of fanfiction authors who ARE publishing their own original ideas.

Edited to add link to Kimmydonn’s post.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Hi Kimmydonn,

“If James had written another BDSM story in another setting, using what she learned from writing Master of the Universe, I would have stood behind her and applauded her work.”

Yes, I absolutely agree. That’s yet another thing that makes this post not a personal attack. I have nothing against her goal of being a successful writer. I have issues with the questionable ethics of the choices she (and others like her) made to get there. Thanks for the comment! :)

(And great post too! I updated your comment to make the link clearer. :) )

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Diana August 21, 2012 at 11:52 am

Those are my exact thoughts on this whole debauchery. In my fanfic explorations I’ve encounter many stories that I thought were really good and the writing was beyond fanfic quality. I’ve also found a handful that were just perfection and thought to myself, the author should had considered persuing a writing career full time, because the stories, and specifically the way this authors had with words were THAT good. But if you come upon this exceptional talent that you discovered throughout the asociation this stories had with the characters you loved from a book, I think it is not a wild assumption to think you would feel conned if what you read for free and thinking actively in these other characters were to be sold to you later in the desguise of original work. I think if you truly believe in the talent this writers have, you should have faith in the fact that they should be able to accomplish trully original fiction. And regarding this matter (FSoG) in particular, I have not read it, nor when it was fanfic, not now that it’s sold as original fiction, because SMBD it’s not my cup of tee; however, from what I’ve been able to gather from different discussions, it seems, this particular story was very OOC and they find this to be an excuse to justify the fact that it’s simply and basically a con job. I’m talking only from my expierence, but when I read AU fanfic (and AU it’s my preferred reading) it’s in the hopes of finding exciting and different scenarios that the original book did not allowed but having allways in mind that I’m imagining this scenarios with the original characters in them. So no matter how the new story can differed from the original one, and how the characters may change because of it, if you name them for example, Bella and Edward, in the back of my mind the original Bella and Edward are allways there.

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Jami Gold August 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Hi Diana,

Interesting point! Yes, there’s a difference between a fanfic being AU and a fanfic being OOC. Some will be one or the other, or both, or neither. And just because a fanfic is Alternate Universe doesn’t mean the fanfic author created their characters to be so Out Of Character that they’re unique. As you said, even if only the names are the same, the fanfic author is still trying to evoke the original characters. Thanks for the comment!

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Diana August 21, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Than you, Jami, for this lovely discussion you have set up. It’s been respectful and thoughtful and that can be hard to find online these days.

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Jill March 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

I just wanted to point out that there are numerous other published fanfics from Twilight, some even retaining the original name. Please make sure you include all those authors, also.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:49 am

Hi Jill,

If there’s a post somewhere listing them, I’d be happy to include a link. However, I wrote this post less as a way to shine a light on this particular author (after all, I haven’t even mentioned her by name), and more about the ethics in general when it comes to fanfic. I included the name of the story as a case study and to illustrate that these weren’t hypothetical issues. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Janelle March 6, 2012 at 9:18 am

I agree with you on the ethics of this. If the original author gave permission and/or were receiving royalties, things would be different, but this is just ethically wrong.

I also wonder about people who record covers of songs, then sell them on iTunes or whatever. Do they give royalties to the person who wrote/originally recorded it? Similar to reading free fanfic, I enjoy listening to/watching videos of covers on YouTube, but when there’s a link to buy it, I always wonder…

Great post!

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:53 am

Hi Janelle,

I agree. If permission or royalties were involved, it would be a completely different issue.

That’s a good question about song covers. I don’t claim to know word one when it comes to the legality of things. :) But from an ethical standpoint, that seems to be a similar situation. Thanks for the comment!

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Matthew Jude Brown June 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Cover versions of songs fall under what is called a compulsory license regime; the law specifically allows for this and a system has been set up so that, by paying a standard royalty rate, you can record and sell your own version of a song without seeking prior permission.

So be reassured, it’s perfectly legal and the original composer is being paid.

A similar scheme covers music performance in licensed venues.

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Jami Gold June 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for the information about cover songs. I was fairly certain something along those lines existed for legit performances of cover songs, but I didn’t know the details. There’s probably a gray area with amateur/YouTube covers though. Thanks for the comment!

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Patrick Thunstrom March 6, 2012 at 9:31 am

This is a complex issue, and one I’ve had to debate about recently with someone going after a ‘fan comic’ that is making some money off of their comic. That issue was that one fan artist ‘stole’ from another fan artist and both were making money on their work. In this case, I made it clear that you couldn’t hate one artist on standards you upheld the other on.

In general, though my problem with fan works is what was explained: What makes ‘good’ fan fiction according to the fanfic community does not make good writing in any other case. That’s a serious problem.

In this case, though, she could have made money in a number of other ways that would have avoided an image of impropriety, so I don’t think it’s so much the money that bothers me, as the manipulating sales data using the co-opted fan base.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for your insight! Yes, I say “Kudos” to the author for creating such a dedicated fan base. Let’s not kid ourselves, we all want to have a network. :)

I don’t even mind if she gained that network by tapping in to someone else’s fans. Authors do the same thing with every blurb from other published authors they print on their front covers–that’s a “if you like x, you might also like y” situation. But in this case, by having the story start as fanfic, she told the fans, “If you like x, you might also like my version of x.” That’s different than using her network to promote “y”. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Ali March 6, 2012 at 9:33 am

This entry is why many people are so upset. It has nothing to do with being unhappy for someone’s success. It crossed a huge line in the sand. I’m unsure how the blatant using of “fans” is so overlooked. This was not a writing exercise; a ‘getting your feet wet as an author’ experiment. No, this was an entire story, feedback and built in fanbase used for profit.
As for the “tongue in cheek” email, well, I suppose that is all interpretation. I’m often humorous but to boldly say she was above everyone, how she didn’t WANT to be a part of that fandom charity ‘event’? Well, I’m sorry, I can’t spin it any other way than negatively. I do find it highly amusing that she has lots of guard dogs defending her honor but not once has she attempted to speak out via social media or her website. Sometimes, I find silence is an indicator of guilt not of nobility.

And lastly, addressing errors and writing structure, no article written has been remotely kind in regards to quality. The people featured in the NY Post article that began this media storm all but called it poor writing; “I didn’t think it was a great book as far as writing goes”, “the writing was lame” and “it’s no masterpiece”. So what, are you confirming what the author has acted like all along? Bad is fine as long as it’s making money?

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 10:06 am

Hi Ali,

“It has nothing to do with being unhappy for someone’s success. It crossed a huge line in the sand.”

Exactly. If this was her using her MotU fans to promote a new story, no one–and I mean, no one–would have issues with it no matter how high it went on the NYT bestseller list. In fact, I’d applaud her for successfully making the transition from fanfic author to published author. That would make for a great story.

But this? No, this just feels skeevy no matter how it’s spun. In that respect, I feel bad for this author. It will be interesting to see if her fan base sticks around for her next–presumably original–books. Thanks for the comment! :)

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gaby March 6, 2012 at 9:42 am

I see all points and agree with many opinions. Many good ones at that. The reality though is that her 20k+ reviews and fanfiction fanbase would not b enough to put it on bestseller list. Me being a huge twifan wouldn’t guarantee I buy it or read it. In this case, I am huge fan of MotU and yet did not buy book. Not because I dont support her but because I can’t picture anyone else other than ExB. We also have fanfict authors who gain fans thru their stories and then publish a original book and target their existing twifans. I’ve said it before its all about money. Ethical, legalities and/or morals included can b attached to many many books, movies & plays, etc. Look at how popular vampires got after SM Twilight books gained notoriety. I don’t know facts on this but either true blood and/or vampire diaries was/were published before twilight and people didn’t show interest until after twilight. Every will ride some coattail at any given time. Its just how it works. Didn’t EP get published too? Which I loved too. So as long as it doesn’t get on bestsellers list its OK? She also had huge following. Link to purchase book is on her blog. Why aren’t people buying it? I have to just say this… all books have editorial issues but if story captivates u it will suck u in. Obviously the case with FSoG. These people reading it have secret desires of getting spanked. I for one Googler riding crops when I read ff. Come on people lets just b happy for each other. Author is not hiding fact that this was originally a ff story & some of the people buying it know this too. Unethical or not people will buy it.
Can I just say that many of the YA books I’ve recently read just remind me too much of twilight. The plain Jane but strong willed heroine and the very bad boyish but beautifully self sacrificing protective man/boy. I would be very happy for anyone publishing and succeeding. Through Twilight I became interested in fanfict as I’m sure many have and in doing so I’ve also fangirled over stories and ff authors. So if tomorrow Caren says she is publishinh a book I’d be on that shit like white on rice. Lets be happy for each other. These r my thought and honest opinion not an attempt to question or argue anyone else opinion on the matter. x Gaby

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 10:24 am

Hi Gaby,

Yes, you’re right that her fanfic fans alone would not be enough to get the story into Amazon’s overall bestseller list. However, would it have been enough to get it into the Amazon bestseller list for a certain genre? Probably. And many stories grow from there, especially when combined with hundreds of positive reviews from the fans.

As for the NYT bestseller list, that’s an entirely different animal that most published authors don’t understand, much less non-writers. :) The NYTBSL is based on velocity not sales. So if 5,000 fans all purchased the book in one week, the book would rank higher than books that sold 200,000 copies over several weeks. And yes, once a book appears on the list, it often stays there as others buy it to see what the fuss is about. :)

I’d love to be happy for this author, but I can’t–not because of the level of her success, but for her questionable ethics in getting there. As I commented to Ali, I’d love to hear about a fanfic author making the leap from fanfic to original published material in a big way. Unfortunately, that’s not the route this author chose. Thanks for the comment!

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CJ March 8, 2012 at 10:52 am

I believe one great example of a fanfic writer turned into major published author is Cassandra Clare. She began as a famous Harry Potter fanfic author but later on wrote The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series of young adult books.

***

As for this issue, I think the major thing that irks people here is the fact that Icy–or E.L. James for that matter–completely disowns the original MoTU fans and continuously pretends that they don’t or have never existed. By never mentioning that the 50 Shades Trilogy is a work of fan fiction, she completely fails to acknowledge the Twilight connection. And people who have succumbed to her story because of that very connection in the first place are offended by it.

Yes, her story is her own and she’s done the research. Yes, the people buying her books are not being forced at gun point to purchase them. But she could’ve been, you know, HONEST about the whole thing. Would it have been detrimental to her 50 Shades books if she had said that these were originally written as fan fiction? At some point, the answer to that could be yes. But a disclaimer would have forewarned new readers about the books’ origins. It would have informed them that the characters Christian and Ana are just derivations, alterations, and, in many instances, exaggerations of Twilight’s Edward and Bella.

Icy, by publishing her work and completely passing her books off as original, somehow dupes people–especially those who didn’t know it was originally fan fiction–into thinking that the personalities of her characters are completely her own. That’s not the case! Stephenie Meyer created the characters and she has done a lot of intellectual work in order to build their connections and relationships. And, most importantly, it was her–Stephenie Meyer’s–fans who drove Icy into this success to begin with.

Sigh. A simple thank you to the Twilight fandom would have been enough. Couldn’t have Icy written that down at least? Something like, “and to Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight saga for inspiring this story, thank you.”

Acknowledgement.

Wouldn’t that have solved this entire debacle?

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Jami Gold March 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

Hi CJ,

I’d just heard about the Cassandra Clare/fanfic connections during this post, so I’ll have to check into that. I wonder if those stories started off as original or if they’re reworked fanfic. Interesting.

“A simple thank you to the Twilight fandom would have been enough. … Something like, “and to Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight saga for inspiring this story, thank you.””

Wow, so true. Whether it would have solved every issue is debatable, but it certainly would have gone a long way toward adding a bit of class into a situation that is in desperate need of it. Thanks for the comment!

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C April 26, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Was just linked to this post tonight, so I’m sorry for the seriously delayed response, but I just had to step in on the Cassie Clare reference. Not only did she publish fanfic, she plagiarized multiple authors in her fic and plagiarized herself in being published. Vast legions of Harry Potter fans cringe whenever CC is mentioned. We felt – and still feel, many of us – the way I imagine many Twilight fans feel about this book. It feels like a betrayal, of fandom if not a personal one.

As to the ethics behind this, there is definitely a line. I am a published author myself. I have written original fiction, completely unrelated to fandom. I have also taken a trio of ficlets I wrote as fanfiction and reworked them into a single story. Notice I said “reworked” – I used the ficlets as framework more than anything else. So I may be biased, but if someone pulls the story off their site or blog and reworks it into something original, then I have no issue with them submitting it for publication. If one “files off the serial numbers” or, even worse, just find/replaces some names, that crosses my line.

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Jami Gold April 26, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Hi C,

No problem! All comments show up the same to me, no matter how old the post is. :) Thanks for the information about Cassie Clare.

And I agree with how you reworked your ficlets–using them as a plot framework for something new and different. I saw a snippet by author Bob Mayer just a few days ago about how he did that with one of his stories (original fiction). He’d written a story about USSR spies, and then the Berlin Wall came down and no one was interested in Russia stories anymore. He took the same idea, changed the characters and the location to China, and rewrote the story. Same idea, new story. That’s what fanfic authors could do to take advantage of their unique plot/story ideas. I wish they all would. Thanks for the comment!

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Caren March 6, 2012 at 11:10 am

<3 Gaby.

Re: EP/Sempre – Jessica did *heavy* editing on that novel before she self-pubbed. It wasn't just character names that were changed.

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gaby March 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I bought it! Haven’t received it yet.my point in mentioning EP is that I would have never found it had I not been twifan. Again I’m grateful for having found amazing talent through a shared passion of so many of us. As for Sempre, the Mafia prince will always be Edward :)
I think its time we all let this be. I can’t stand to see such a wonderful community that is the Twilight Fandom divided like this. We are entitled to our opinions and that’s what’s great about all this. Lets just b civil.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Hi Gaby,

I’m glad that most posters here have been civil. Maybe it helps that I’m not a member of the Twilight fandom, so I don’t have a dog in this fight beyond questioning the ethics of the situation. *hugs* I’m sorry that your group is being pulled apart. I know how that feels. :(

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DMarie June 20, 2013 at 11:03 am

I have to chime in on the “look how popular vampires got after Twilight” argument. Vampires have always been popular, yes Twilight was a phenomenon that others have used to push them forward. That is not the issue, if the work is original then great, but FSOG was not original.

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Jami Gold June 20, 2013 at 11:09 am

Hi DMarie,

Very true. The genre of paranormal romance existed before Twilight, and most of the first series were vampire based. Thanks for the comment!

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Bo March 6, 2012 at 9:48 am

Interesting post. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and there are lots of people on both sides of this argument. Unfortunately, and this is just my opinion, this is becoming less about publishing fanfiction than it is a personal vendetta against an author.

Case in point: at a 2009 Comic Con Twilight Fanfiction panel, the administrator of the largest and most popular site dedicated to Twilight Fanfiction said that the introduction of all-human stories to the Twific world opened up the arena for these stories to be published. In her words, these stories “bore little resemblence” to Twilight except for names, and that they could easily be published as a stand alone fiction. Several of the authors on the panel that day seemed to agree, and there was even discussion then that the much lauded story “Wide Awake” was currently being submitted to publishers and film producers.

So the idea of publishing fanfiction is not new. In fact, even before FSoG, several well known fanfiction authors published books and the Twilighted site itself even gave birth to a publishing house. Those authors even published their books with the exact same name as their FF stories. And as we speak, there are other FF authors who have had books released within the last 2 months. So what’s the difference?

The difference I see is that at its core, while many of the detractors may not like or agree with P2P (pull to publish), their real beef here is with this story and this author. No other FF author who has published is ever mentioned in these commentaries about publishing fanfiction. And often the arguments are clouded with personal attacks and false information (fans paid for her to travel from England to NY-uh…. no they didn’t). It just seems to water down the argument unless you’re consistent. Why single out one author? Could it be that its because this author succeeded where other fanfiction authors didn’t – capturing the attention of readers outside the fandom? They like the story, pure and simple, a story which I think is significantly different and bears little resemblence to Twilight. She even changed the name – unlike some other fanfiction authors who published.

Again, both sides are never going to agree on this issue. But the fact that it has so deeply divided people and that the argument has gotten so nasty just puzzles me. And it puzzles lots of readers of FSoG who don’t give a damn that it was Twilight fanfiction (and yes, they know and so does the media and it was reported). It makes this fandom – and fandoms in general – look ridiculous. It’s a fascinating study in human nature. Some of the detractors are apparently even connected to the author who was one of the first to pursue publishing her fanfiction story – the author of Wide Awake. Ironic isn’t it?

I know I’m going to labeled a mindless minion, a fan of this author who blindly follows her. I don’t really care, although I’m not mindless at all. I’m a highly educated professional who has spent more than 25 years in a career involving communications. I am a writer, though not of fanfiction. I just read FF as hobby. I’m not stupid and I’m no one’s minion. I have an opinion about this particular issue that differs from others, some of whom are my friends. And I also happen to think arguments that ultimately end up impugning the character of someone, who I don’t believe deserves this treatment, aren’t very valid. Especially since most of those people don’t know the person involved at all. That they think putting some of those insults down on websites and blogs and to say they have the “right” to say whatever they want I think speaks more about their character than that of the author.

So, about the book. Are there errors in the book? Unfortunately yes. The small publishing house that published it unfortunately doesn’t appear to be equipped to handle many of the duties a publisher should. I’m sure the author wishes things could be different in that regard. No one knows when they post their story to a fandom website if anyone will read. No one knows the future. I’m sure many of the numerous authors in the fandom who published their work, had no idea that they would have that opportunity to publish a book or that anyone outside the fandom would care enough to read. I personally have viewed all of this as unexpected opportunities for these authors. Some of us have those happen in our professional and personal lives. In fact, that’s how it happened for Stephanie Meyer, a former fanfiction writer.

So I know this is your opinion, and that’s fine. And it is your blog. But when you publish this you have some expectations of people reading and regarding your words as an expert opinion on this issue. But I would hope you could try to get your facts straight. Don’t assume that the information being thrown out there by people who say they are just “expressing an opinion” are correct. Opinion is one thing. Facts are….facts.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 11:07 am

Hi Bo,

I appreciate your well-thought-out comment, and I appreciate that you addressed the ethical issues. As I said in my post, I think there are ways for a fanfic author to make money from their fanfic writings that won’t trigger the ethical issues. I recognize that gray, wavy line and stated my opinion in the post of how to stay on the “safe” side. Others are welcome to their opinion about where that line lies.

As for why I called out this book in particular… (And please note that I’ve never mentioned the author by name, I am not trying to smear her personally despite the fact that I disagree with her choices and ethical beliefs.) Yes, I brought up this book because it is on the NYT bestseller list.

However, I agree with you that other published fanfic writing should be held to the same standard–good or bad–as this story. People have heard the news about this story, so it makes for an effective case study, that’s all. Just because others have “gotten away with it” because their stories weren’t successful enough to make the news doesn’t make it right.

I’m curious now about how many of the media reports are mentioning the Twilight fanfic angle. The more it’s mentioned, the more Stephenie Meyer might have a case on the basis of an Exclusive Right to Publicity under U.S. Copyright Law (which, if I understand correctly, means that you can’t make money off someone else’s image or works, etc.). It would be interesting to see how the court ruled on whether the Right to Publicity includes an author’s brand, or whether the content matter of this book could be argued to negatively affect SM’s brand. Very interesting.

This fanfic author knew the risks she was taking and took them anyway. Only she can say whether that was because of greed or another reason. All I know is that I would not have made the same choices.

And I say that as a disinterested third party, not a member of any fandom group or associated with the “rival” story. So while it might be comforting to the supporters of this fanfic author to believe all this angst is caused by sour grapes or rivalry, that’s simply not the case. To many outsiders, this looks skeevy. Sorry, but that is a fact. Thanks for the comment!

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BrookeLockart March 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

I believe the writers at the Fan Fic Panel that spoke about AU fiction and publishing, went on to create a publishing house that — you guessed it — published Fic. The comment at the panel was self-serving.

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gisellelx March 6, 2012 at 11:31 am

Yes, people are up in arms about this author.

However, there’s still a vocal contingent of us who’ve been willing to make ourselves unpopular by voicing that this practice is wrong whether it’s done by the nicest, sweetest author and best writer in the fandom, or whether it’s done by a writer who behaved as badly as SQUID did.

I was in the position last year of telling a fandom friend I would not be buying her book because she’d published it with one of the fandom “file the serial numbers off” publishing houses. She got very angry. So yes, some people might just attack someone who it’s convenient to attack. But some of us hold a hard line, because it’s about the ethics, not about the person.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Hi Gisellelx,

“[I]t’s about the ethics, not about the person.”

Exactly! I don’t know this author or her followers or the circumstances or the rivalry, etc. However, when a book reaches the NYT bestseller list, it will get outside attention, not only from the media, but from people like me.

I’m not calling out the author by name. I’m calling out the choices she (and apparently several other fanfic authors) have made that I feel goes against the ethics of fanfic. As I mentioned in my reply to Bo, it seems that supporters of this fanfic author want to believe that the attention is all about personal attacks, and it’s quite simply not the case. Like you said, even if she was the nicest, most-beloved person on the planet, I’d still be here disagreeing with her choices. Thanks for the comment!

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Bo March 6, 2012 at 12:26 pm

This is what I’m talking about. “Behaved as badly as SQUID did.” Behaved badly? As someone who was there in the beginning reading the story when it was posted on Twilighted and interacting with the author, I’d like some clarification about “behaved badly.” I’ve heard all sorts of stories about premediation on her part to “use the fandom.” As one of those readers, and I can only speak for myself, I can say I don’t feel used by her anymore than any other fanfiction writer whose story I read and who later published. She is a Twilight fan, like most of us. She came to the fandom and to fanfiction the same way many others did. She never insulted them because she is one of them. I’ve never heard or read an unkind thing from her about her readers or most of the fandom (the ones not insulting and saying unkind things about her). She has expressed surprise that so many read and liked her story and has been humbled and somewhat shy about all the attention. (And just so you know, yes I have met her and talked with her. These statements come from personal knowledge). Joking tweets can be taken out of context and used against any of us; and they were with her. This isn’t a joke to her. This is her life and she’s endure some pretty hateful comments because of inuendo, gossip and untruths.

The idea to publish came as the story progressed. She wasn’t approached about it until much later. She completed the story before pulling it. When she was given the opportunity to publish, she told her readers. That’s what most of the fanfiction authors who published did. I remember at the end of Trust in Advertising, the author informed us she would be pulling the story off the website and publishing. Same with EP. There was nothing calculated here, although I doubt you believe it. There are plenty of people out there with unpure motives who aren’t in this debate to discuss ethics or P2P, they are here to defame this author.

I may disagree with Jami’s comments, but at least she isn’t a hypocrite. She applies the same standards to all authors in regards to this issue. I may not agree, but I can at least respect it.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Hi Bo,

I can appreciate your position. You don’t feel that you were taken advantage of, so you don’t see any ethical issues raised by this fanfic author’s (or the other fanfic authors who have made the same choice) decision to publish her fanfic writing. But to me, as an outsider, it doesn’t matter if she went into this with impure motives or bad behavior or not. All I can see as truth is the result of her choices. And those choices don’t pass my personal smell test of ethics.

If it wasn’t calculated, does that make it better? I think it makes it less “horrible” but not better, if that makes any sense. :) When I wrote my post, I gave the author the benefit of the doubt. So my position doesn’t change regardless of where the truth lies for those convention/charity/behavior/respect “facts.” Thanks for the comment!

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Caren March 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Why do every single one of her fans say the argument is personal? I hate that this is the best defense anyone can come up with.

It’s not just about Icy, though the recent attention she’s received has brought the subject back into the spotlight. Just because her name and/or “novel” are being used as the biggest example does not mean she’s the only one guilty. Stop trying to make this personal when it’s not.

I don’t know, nor have I ever spoken to, Icy, but I’m still against everything she’s done to this fandom and what she’ll likely do to it if this continues.

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Sunny Snark March 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Bo,
Thank you for so eloquently stating what I feel, too.
The level of nastiness in this ‘debate’ eclipses any legitimate discourse. It surpasses the real issue and sets a bad point for any writers in FanFic or self-publishing.
And, I completely agree with you, Bo, it is interesting that the source of so much of vitriolic rants appear to come from some of the prior FanFic authors themselves.
I call on all the intelligent, sensible peeps in this fandom to join me in asking for a little peace and love for our hardworking authors and to celebrate their success, rather than condemning them.
PS: I was at one of the visits Icy made to the US, and she wouldn’t even permit me to pay for her drink, something a friend does for another; not payment for their ‘visit’.
Peace,
SS

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Hi Sunny,

I haven’t followed this debate through fandom, other blogs, Goodreads groups, etc. All I know about how the two sides see the issue are the comments here. I wrote this post for my readers, not the fandom at large (on either side). And while some comments on both sides have been more attacking than I usually allow on this blog, I worry that those who support this fanfic author are in denial about how her choices are playing outside of the fanfic community.

It’s very easy to assume that everyone who thinks she did wrong has a personal vendetta, but that’s simply not true. I’m holding myself up as “piece of evidence number one” on that issue. I had never heard of this book before a few days ago. I know nothing about this author. Yes, I heard of this book because it made the lists, but that’s not why I posted this article. Every fanfic author who makes these same choices–regardless of how successful they are–has the same questionable ethics in my mind.

I know who my regular blog readers are, and their comments aren’t lining up in support of this fanfic author either. So no, those who believe she made serious ethical errors are not all people with a foot in this fandom or a vendetta against her. Thanks for the comment!

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Roe March 6, 2012 at 9:50 am

The problem with these books is that the author cashed in on the popularity of the series and had planned to from the start. She didn’t give a damn about the ethical issues, nor about any kind of infringement of Stephenie Meyer’s characters. Dress it up any way that you want, the origin this story will never go away. It’s Edward and Bella with whips and chains thrown in for good measure. I hope one day E.L. James or Erica as I knew her, is exposed for this fact.

Sorry if that offends anyone. It’s just the truth. I liked this review because it’s honest. These are cold, hard facts.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 11:10 am

Hi Roe,

Yes, the simple act of making money on fanfic writing and the loyalty of the fans crosses the line in my mind. Add in the conflicting reports of her motivations and that pushes the issue into slimy territory. I hope for her sake that’s not the case. Thanks for the comment!

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Rae March 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm

I’m not in anyway supporting HER actions. I’m definitely not a fan of hers. It definitely sounds like she used the fandom. I’m just speaking of fanfic authors in general. Perhaps I’m not articulating my thoughts clear enough, I’m not sure. But when a story has absolutely nothing to do with the original characters I don’t see the issue (in a general sense. I don’t agree with Icy’s tactics).

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Rae,

No, I didn’t think you were supporting her actions. :) I’m not sure where that crossed wire came from.

And I agree. If the characters have nothing to do with the original characters (and as I mention to TRF, aren’t meant to evoke those original characters), that places the story on a different level. As long as the plot and world were unique as well, I wouldn’t call that fanfic at all. Thanks for the comment!

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AE March 6, 2012 at 10:20 am

Thank you for this post. You have been able to say what I have been unable to articulate.

It’s not the legal, it’s the ethical. I am a member of this fandom (writer and reader) and this just hasn’t sat well with me. I never read this story in the fanfic version, nor did I have any interest in spending $30 on a paperback (!) but I have read a couple of other fanfics turned published novels and they all lack the same thing. Character building, world building and massive edits.

But why wait to edit, truly edit, when you have hundreds of built in fans ready buy your $30 (!!) paperback and bump you up the charts and write glowing reviews, which again garners interest and bumps you up the charts and gains notic? Selling books is a numbers game (Amazon is the king of this) and when you have a built in marketing machine like the Twi-Hards behind you there is little you can’t do. Just look at Kristen Stewart.

I’ve been waiting for some authors to weigh in on this, because so far it’s just been sheer publicity. As an author you would know something seemed off and unusual about this situation and the massive success of this book. In a world where you have to be a BIG DEAL to get notice how did this little book make it? Dig around a little and the truth is there.

And another note: The fandom is quick to say this book is NOTHING like Twilight, yet over and over (Including the Today Show and other media outlets) they continue to compare FSOG to the “Twilight Franchise.” How do people know to compare this when it is nothing like it? Obviously they made the connection themselves.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 11:56 am

Hi AE,

“I have read a couple of other fanfics turned published novels and they all lack the same thing. Character building, world building and massive edits.”

Yes, and those are aspects that fanfic authors don’t have to worry about. They’re taking ready-made characters and world-building details and plopping them into a different story. Fanfic writing is great for some things. I learned a lot about plotting and story structure with my fanfic experience. But aspects that make for good fanfic writing–the ability to imitate another author’s voice or style for one–is often the opposite of what makes for good original stories. Thanks for the comment! :)

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Cora March 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

What’s interesting is that no one has picked up on the fact that The Writer’s Coffee Shop and Omnific Publishing are both independent publishers who started up to publish Fan Fiction. The majority of the books they accept are Twilight Fan Fiction because the people who started those companies were readers of Twilight Fan Fiction. For the most part, when they started they had no qualifications to run a publishing house. None. They gathered like minded individuals who saw the potential, and flew by the seat of their pants. (They might have employees on staff now that were already established in the industry, since it’s been two years, but at first they didn’t.) They were readers and lovers of Twilight Fan Fiction.

What were they good at? For a start, they were smart business women. They knew exactly who and what to tap into, targeting the big stories with lots of followers. Not the stories that were well written and with some substance, but only the ones which were popular. And in the Twilight community 90% of the time that means they are the stories that have a high content of sex. And we all know, sex sells.

So, maybe we should change the focus from these authors publishing their stories to these two publishers who have taken no ethical responsibility in the decisions they have made. You want to tap into an existing fanbase and start your company using your customers, fine. But do it responsibly and do it right. Push these authors to do their very best, and push yourselves to produce the very best. Edit them, edit yourselves, and pick up a godamn red pen. You want to be a publisher? Then do the job of one. Make your FF authors accountable for their work. Make them be better writers than the allowances Fan Fiction lets us have.

Don’t just print the money. Be better than that.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Hi Cora,

You make several interesting points here. Yes, in the age of Amazon self-publishing, any deluded writer can publish crap. So we have to wonder why these fanfic authors chose to go through an unknown publisher. I think you’re right–it’s because the people behind the publisher knew how to tap into the fandom.

You’re also spot on that these publishers could have made themselves completely legit, even if all they do is publish reworked fanfic. If they’d pushed their authors (freelance editors, anyone?) to go above the (too-often low) standards of fanfic, they would have been adding something to the body of literature instead of mocking it. Thanks for the comment! :)

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gaby March 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm

This is exactly what I was saying on twitter to some people. These publishing Co. Should be held accountable. If not for legalities than for ethical reasons too. They should b responsible for the work they throw out there. I can’t emphasize enough..”its all about the Benjamins”.

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V March 6, 2012 at 12:00 pm

This is a tricky subject. I still find that both sides have good arguments, at least the serious arguments, lol.

On one hand, why not let someone publish their stories? The storylines are often so OOC within the original work they were inspired by, that it just can’t get any father than that. The author will just have to prove herself later on with original works, but more than that, if people are willing to buy her books and as long as the authors don’t forget where they came from, I see no big issue. I personally wouldn’t pay for something I read for free though, but if people want to, why not?

On the other hand, I truly feel like as much as a fic author has an amazing story to tell, whether it’s AH or AU or whatever, it’s the fact that it was posted in a particular fandom that made people read it. In this case, would people have read MotU if the paring had been Esme/Sam? Alice/Aro? And so on? I truly don’t think so at all. It was because the story was under Twilight and the pairing was E/B that made people even take a look at it and THAT, to me, makes fics not entirely the author’s.

Yes, the storyline it’s theirs and it’s the storyline that makes people stay reading the fic, not just the pairing (at least in some cases), but they had in mind characters that were not theirs. It makes people enter the story with a certain idea in mind and that doesn’t change simply because the author later changes their names or physical features.

I write a little fanfiction and I love it, but I could never in good conscience publish something that was born out of someone else’s world (not that I would ever been asked to do so, lol). This goes beyond taking inspiration from a book, Lord knows that half the romantics movies were born from Jane Austen or ‘Romoe and Juliet’, etc. In the case of fics, it’s building your world with someone else’s foundations and not just taking inspiration. And to me that it’s just not right.

I’d feel much more accomplished if I build a world all of my own.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Hi V,

“I’d feel much more accomplished if I build a world all of my own.”

Hear, hear! And it’s not about whether or not people should be “allowed” to read a story they want to read. I’ve written posts before against censorship.

My point is–under what circumstances is it ethical for a fanfic author to make money off their fanfic writings? I listed some reasons that I think would make it okay, from going the straight parody route to not using the original author’s fandom to advance their cause. In this case, the fanfic author’s choices don’t pass my smell test. :) And the reason for my opinion is as simple as that. Thanks for the comment!

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TRF March 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm

About the storyline, one of the things I enjoyed of MOTU was how, being an AH, the twists in the story followed the original. There was a lot of parallelisms. I also can’t see the characters as others than E and B, and not just SM’s characters but the characters that many fanfiction authors have created, as a collective. You know what to expect when you begin a fic, despite the OOC it claims to be. So… I won’t buy the books. This is a personal decision. And I don’t find this path correct, fair to the sense of fanfiction.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Hi TRF,

“I also can’t see the characters as others than E and B … despite the OOC it claims to be.”

Interesting! And that’s a big part of the point I’m making. No matter how out-of-character the fanfic characters might act, if they’re meant to evoke thoughts of the original author’s characters, then the fanfic author is not creating their own character, but using someone else’s. Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda Collins March 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Wow! This one is a ‘hot button’ issue, isn’t it? A lot of comments already, but I’m still going to add my two cents worth. :D

No, I do *not* think it’s acceptable for an author to make money on their fanfic writings. It’s not original them (the characters, especially) , it’s someone’s else’s genius, heart, blood, sweat and tears. And the original author alone is the one who should benefit from the ‘fruits of their labor.’

Fanfic authors cross the line between honoring and taking advantage when they begin to charge for that work instead of looking at it the way it is most times: a fun learning experience (like you’ve stated). I almost want to say that my answer does depend on whether or not they’ve made significant changes, and that’s simply because the author could take ‘concept’ of the main characters and throw them in a different world (location, scene, predicament) to the point – most times – that the story and characters are nothing like the piece that inspired it.

I don’t think I’d support charging for fanfic no matter how fabulously written the book is. If the author is *that* good with their writing, get back to the computer, plant your butt in the chair, and plot out an original story. :)

Whew! I feel a little better. Sorry if that came out as a rant, but I saw that spot on the ‘Today’ show and it really just struck the wrong chord with me…especially since the rest of us are out here busting our tails so hard to come up with stories that are original, fresh, and strong in prose so we can become published and get our voices out there…all the while having that small hope that *maybe* – just *maybe* – one day we’ll see a rise in success like that after/if we become published.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hi Melinda,

Yes, a lot of people from the fanfic community have been visiting here, but I still want to hear from my friends too. :)

I agree with your take on the matter. We all take pieces and parts of various character background, plot tropes, setting details, etc. from other authors. After all, they say there’s no such thing as originality, only original ways of mixing them together. :)

And in this case, it almost sounds like the fanfic author did change many details. However, she didn’t change so much as to lose the connection the fandom felt to Stephenie Meyer’s characters. That’s where the issue first started.

If she’d gotten popular among the fanfic community for other stories and then wrote this story without the Twilight characters’ names and then mentioned to her network, “Hey, if you like Twilight and my fanfic stories, you might like FSoG because the characters are similar to Edward and Bella but without all the vampire stuff”, then I’d have no problem with this. Authors do “if you like x, you might like y” all the time.

But that’s not what she did. She purposely tied her story into the fandom for their support, and I find that unethical. Others are welcome to place that line somewhere else, and I want to understand their reasons why. Thanks for the comment!

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Mel March 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I appreciate this article very much because it has been able to convey the feelings of so many of us that have had a problem with ‘Fifty Shades’ otherwise known as ‘Master of the Universe.’

The main point this article hit on is ethics. James has made a mockery out of the Twilight fanfiction fandom and all that it has represented. We, as readers and writers, found our way to fanfiction after something struck us (good or bad) with the Twilight series. Many people have written for the fandom, including myself. Fanfiction, in and of itself, is taking parts, ideas, or any number of similarities, and applying them to a story of your own. What some fans of ‘Fifty Shades’ is failing to understand is, James used Stephanie Meyers characters to write her fanfiction. She read the Twilight series and something sparked the idea in her head. IF that had not happened, she would not have written Twilight fanfiction. She would have written her own original work.

Where the words her’s? Yes. Did she create her own ‘world’ for the story? Yes. However, that is where her independent ideas ends. She took characteristics of the characters and applied them to her story.
Example: Edward is a rich, controlling man who lives his life in solitude. He was adopted as a teenager and the trauma from that and what occurred, has made him incapable of having any romantic relationships. (Please note, I mentioned nothing about him being a vampire.)
Christian: He is a rich, controlling man who lives his life in solitude. He was adopted as a child and because of trauma is incapable of having any ‘normal’ romantic relationships.

Similar? I think so. Especially if you consider that James wrote her story after reading Twilight

Let’s consider another example. Bella vs. Ana. Bella: a young, naive virgin stumbles upon a handsome stranger in school who she is forced to work with. Her immediate draw to him is confusing to her, but she presses him even after she knows (and is told) he is of possible danger to her.
Ana: A college-girl, who is also naive and a virgin stumbles upon a handsome stranger for a school project, who she is forced to work with. Her immediate draw to him is confusing to her, but she presses him even after she realizes the possible danger to her.

These were just very minute examples. The entire story is based around a controlling, and sometimes violent, man who seduces a girl into his world without regard for inexperience or safety. So, you can tell me until you are blue in the face, “It was ALL James’ ideas! It’s NOTHING like Twilight!” and I will continue to tell you that you are misinformed.

She published a book that was based off another writers work. Plain. Simple. It’s wrong. However, James’ is the one that will lay her head down on her expensive pillows at night and have to deal with that.

My other issue, and again, another ethical one is that the author misled and blatantly lied to her fanfiction readers. As you can see by the conversation Caren posted above, the wheels were in motion for what she was planning to do before she ever admitted it. I was at the Comic Con 2010 panel James was on. She appeared to be exasperated when any question was asked of her, and even saying she was so burnt out with the characters of Masters of the Universe that she was doubtful that she would write any more of them. However, months later, when the transcripts of the conversation she had that Caren posted, and finding out that James was getting ready to publish, MOTU, it became apparent that she had pulled off the biggest scheme in Fanfiction history, complete with telling her legions of fans that she didn’t have it in her to write anymore to garner her even MORE attention, before pulling the rug out from under them.

Lastly, Me, along with oodles of other fanfiction writers, were approached by one of two ‘publishing’ houses to have our fic’s turned into novels. It seemed to be once your fic got to a certain level of reviews or gained some sort of popularity among the fandom, these publishing houses would begin to seek out the authors and entice them to publish and make money off the writing they were doing for free. For the most part, authors knew this was wrong, unethical and illegal and declined, myself included. However, a few, like James, thought this was a great idea–to profit off another persons work. So, yeah, while my seducing-nanny-get on-the-single-daddy doesn’t seem anything like Twilight, I WROTE it for the Twilight fanfiction community. Nope. Not gonna profit off that. It’s for fun. That is all. Working on original work now, THAT is hard. Not what James did.
Plus, let’s just lightly touch upon that fanfiction is not properly edited nor immediately ready for mass publication. I have to imagine James is mortified at the amount of errors in her book; both grammatically and research wise. The BDSM community isn’t showering this book with praise because it used to be fanfiction. They are angry because the lack of research James did for her ‘published’ story.

So, yes. THere are many of us that take issue with ‘Fifty.’ We aren’t jealous, mean, haters. We are women that are saying, “Hey! This is wrong.” Supporting a book, or sitting idly by while it makes oodles of dollars, when I know it is wrong, is something I don’t want on my conscience.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Hi Mel,

“[Y]ou can tell me until you are blue in the face, “It was ALL James’ ideas! It’s NOTHING like Twilight!” and I will continue to tell you that you are misinformed.

She published a book that was based off another writers work. Plain. Simple. It’s wrong.”

I agree with you. As I said in my comment to Bee, an author can’t have it both ways. Either a work is meant to tie into the fanfic community–getting all the attention that entails–or it’s so original that it doesn’t fit in with fanfic.

It’s disingenuous for an author (or their fans) to claim fanfic ties when it’s convenient and then to cut all ties (without a major story overhaul) when it’s not convenient. That’s another line of manipulative, unethical behavior that I wouldn’t cross. Thanks for the comment!

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Nell March 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Yeah, see that’s the thing. She DIDN’T change that much. The names, yes, the setting, sure but nothing else. The descriptions of their eyes, hair etc. are verbatim from the fic AND then Twilight as well since it was a knockoff to begin with.

There are PDF’s all over the internet of MotU and a side-by-side comparison would show that it’s barely edited. BARELY. Certainly not enough to say it was thoroughly edited by their “editing staff”.

Frankly, I’d love to see someone (that has that kind of time) do a side-by-side.

PS: Bravo to you for having the cajoles to post this. Icy fans are rabid and give the fandom a bad name in their white-knighting/inability to see another opinion.

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Beansy March 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Hi Nell,

You’ll find that a comparison of the first chap has already been done. Even the most basic of punctuation errors carry over to the retail version. I’m saddened that people have paid $7-30 for this. This generation is forgetting what good writing is all about.

The publisher should be held accountable for its blatant lack of respect and integrity.

The link is here:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/65785689/50ShadesofWTF.pdf

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Hi Beansy,

Thanks for sharing. I’ve said before–so this is in no way a slam focused on this particular fanfic author–writers who can’t be bothered to learn the craft shouldn’t expect people to be bothered to spend their time reading crap. Publishing unedited crap (whether through a veiled vanity press like these fanfic mills or through self-publishing) is disrespectful to readers. Period. The end. :)

And yes, I worry for the future literacy of the world as well. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Hi Nell,

Yes, I’ve seen several posts by people who have read both versions confirm the same thing. And I might have had less of an issue with this if the fanfic author had done a major overhaul on the story.

But if she kept her original plotline and changed the characters, would the fandom have still enjoyed it? Were the fanfic readers connecting to the plot events or the characters? I don’t know, and unfortunately, we’ll never know. However the fanfic author’s choice to keep characters that were based on Twilight pushes this further into unethical territory in my opinion. Thanks for the comment!

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Aredeetea March 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm

It’s funny how people are so up in arms about FSoG stealing from SM. Yet it’s perfectly okay to distribute ELJames’ intellectual material by posting the pdf to MotU all over the internet. Expending countless hours trolling each and every article, blog, and not to mention all the time it takes to create all those socks.

And kudos to you, Jami, for never mentioning the author by name. So respectful of you to skirt around trashing someone by not making it personal.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Hi Aredeetea,

“not to mention all the time it takes to create all those socks.”

LOL! Believe me, I’m keeping an eye open for sockpuppets on both sides of the issue. So far, I haven’t identified any for certain, and for the most part, people on both sides have been respectful enough to recognize that I’m trying to discuss the ethics of the situation in general.

Have there been snarky comments that could be taken multiple ways? Absolutely. But the truth is that I’m perfectly happy to allow comments linking to lists of other fanfic published works here–because my post is questioning the ethical choices, not simply this specific author.

As for the issue of people distributing MotU, I don’t know what the rules of fanfiction.net are about sharing and/or copying material posted to the site. However, I suspect that her posting the PDF to the site and then taking it down is the equivalent of closing the barn door after everything’s already escaped. Thanks for the comment!

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tulchulcha March 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm

The MotU pdf was not taken off fanfiction.net, and fanfiction can’t be copyrighted. It’s perfectly legal to distribute. As the book is almost exactly word-for-word a copy of the fanfiction I don’t know what implications that has for the legality of sharing the book, however most could read the fic and get the same exact thing out of it.

See the side-by-side comparison here – http://dl.dropbox.com/u/65785689/50ShadesofWTF.pdf

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Hi Tulchulcha,

Yes, Beansy had already provided that comparison link. But you bring up a great, fantastic, oh-so-important point. :)

“fanfiction can’t be copyrighted.”

I want every author reading this to pay attention, right here, right now. As soon as we post work of any kind on a fanfic venue, we are declaring that we don’t own it. So we should be very careful about what we choose to post to fanfiction.net or similar sites.

And this goes along with what I said about making money off fanfic. We can choose to make it our own (by changing enough details) or we can choose to label it fanfic. We can’t have both. Once we label it fanfic and try to appeal to the fandom, we lose the ability to make other choices.

Thanks for the comment! :)

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Bo March 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Ah, but can it be copyrighted? Maybe not officially registered as a copyright, but many publishing firms are beginning to recognized FF work as property of the writer. Recently, a FF author had her story stolen, sent to a publisher who was actually getting ready to publish the book in paperback. It was word-for-word the FF story, with the names changed. Readers of the original FF work let the seller (Amazon) know that the work was plagiarized. The publisher pulled the book, contacted the original author to apologize. Let’s face it – the Internet has opened a can of worms in terms of copyright and intellectual property issues. The lines are so blurred and the areas so grey (no pun intended) that even the lawyers are reluctant to give any absolutes. One of the FF authors I mentioned in my previous post who published her story after it was completed had her first FF story stolen and didn’t discover it until the book was out, marketed and purchased by many consumers. It’s my understanding the legal wrangling took quite some time. This is new territory.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Hi Bo,

I agree that this is new territory, which is why I think it’s so important for this ethical conversation to take place. As I mentioned in my reply to aredeetea, plagiarism is different from copyright, and most legit publishers will pull plagiarized material regardless of whether it’s a copyright issue or not. Acknowledgement of plagiarism does not confer copyright status. It’s an interesting issue, that’s for sure. :) Thanks for the comment!

P.S. And yes, I fixed the typos. One of my blog policies is to change a commenter’s comment for typos if I know they want it fixed. :) No worries.

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Diana August 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Exactly! if a PDF of the fic with due credit to the author it’s doing the rounds on the net, theres nothing said author can do because that’s what you expose yourself to once you decide to post what you write on a free for all site, such as FF.net is.

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Beansy March 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Hi Aredeeta,

The material I posted from 50Shades is readily available as a free download on multiple sites where you can purchase the book. In fact, I took it from one of those sites. I’m not distributing it or charging for it. In fact some would consider it’s promoting the material.

As for the FF side of it, that can’t be copyrighted. It’s FF.

Regards,
Beans

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aredeetea March 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I’m not talking about the portion of the story for comparison sake. It’s well-established that EL wrote both, MotU and FSoG. I’m not sure what point people are trying to make with that. She wrote them both. Everyone knows that and no one is disputing it.

I’m talking about people who are posting links to the full text of MotU, often with the comments – “Why buy this crap when you can read it for free?” with the link.

And as for the copyright laws related to FF, granted I’m not in any way, shape or form a lawyer, but I know there was recently an issue where someone stole a fanfiction story and had it published as a book. Basically word for word. I don’t know the details about the publishing house. The publisher, though removed the book from publication. I’m not sure if any legal action was taken against the plagiarist.

Obviously it’s not as simple as saying it’s been on the web, so it’s free access. There IS such a thing as intellectual property even if it was posted online. Even more so if it was removed by the author in my opinion.

And along with the concept in this blog of the distinction between what is legal and what is ethical, I would certainly make the point that distributing MotU, weather legal or not, is being done in a less-than-kind manner.

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tulchulcha March 6, 2012 at 2:29 pm

You’re confusing the matter here. Bottom line according to law fanfiction can’t be copyrighted. Period. Many slap “copyright” statements on their fic but the bottom line is once something is posted as fanfiction it cannot be copyrighted. It’s a derivative work.

Now, the thornier issue of books that have been published to Amazon by people who do not own them. That’s the downside to self-publishing. First off, “publishing” something you did not write is both unethical and illegal. Doubly problematic is that you’re claiming copyright and making money off fanfiction that can’t be copyrighted or sold for profit. Most likely the “publishers” would take it down for both reasons.

Once something is posted as fanfiction it’s out there, and the author can’t do a damn thing about it because it is not copyrightable. If people distribute it you have no recourse. You can’t sue over the distribution of a work you hold no copyright to in the first place. That’s what makes this situation even thornier. Can FSoG be copyrighted since it’s an almost word-for-word copy of the derivative work? That’s entirely unclear in the law.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Hi Tulchulcha,

Oh, don’t get me started on all the ways an author’s work can be stolen and how little retribution authors can take. :) There have been multiple instances of supposedly legit publishers relinquishing the copyright and yet continuing to sell the book without giving the author a penny. Seriously, some days all these issues are almost enough to make me want to give up.

I’d love to see this case go to court simply so we can get some clarity on the legal issues (and I say that for whichever way the court decided). Thanks for the comment!

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allryans March 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm

“I’m not sure what point people are trying to make with [the portion of the story for comparison sake].”
They are trying to make the point that she made minimal, if any, changes to what was Twilight Fanfiction and what has become a NYT bestseller. No overhaul. They aren’t saying anything about whether or not she authored them both.

“There IS such a thing as intellectual property even if it was posted online.”
Intellectual property like the intangible aspects of a character well-established by another author? Oh yeah. Intellectual property means a lot of things. It is far more correct to assert that the inherent presuppositions readers brought to a story labeled “Twilight Fanfic E/B” have more ownership with Stephenie Meyer than to say that the word for word reposting of any Twilight fanfic (when giving the original fic author credit) has any ownership at all.

“I would certainly make the point that distributing MotU, weather legal or not, is being done in a less-than-kind manner.”
Distributing MOTU is only mean-spirited depending on where you stand on the issue. I personally feel I am doing readers a service giving them a link to the fic pdf because it saves them money. And pulling a fic offline does NOT entitle you to police its distribution. Check the ff.net TOS. You do not own your fanfic. In any form.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Hi Allryans,

“[P]ulling a fic offline does NOT entitle you to police its distribution. Check the ff.net TOS. You do not own your fanfic. In any form.”

Thank you for this insight. I suspected the TOS was as such. And this reiterates so many of my points here. Authors simply should not post material to fanfic venues if they ever want to publish it for money. We need to choose one or the other, but we can’t have both. Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Hi aredeetea,

I’ve slammed plagiarists in the past before too, so I understand your point. :) However, believe it or not, plagiarism does not automatically invoke copyright law. In other words, plagiarism alone is not enough to bring suit. (Yes, that concept boggles my mind too.) I’m not familiar with the case you mentioned, but most legit publishers will pull plagiarized material (regardless of whether copyright law applies or not).

You bring up an interesting issue on the ethics of those distributing MotU. Is it a violation of ethics to distribute someone else’s fanfic against their wishes? I say yes. However, do the original ethical violations of this particular case outweigh the later violations? Hmm. Tricky question.

On the one hand, two wrongs don’t make a right. On the other hand, if someone was trying to charge for (my mind is drawing a blank, so I’ll use a stupid example here) oh, say, the air over their property, would it be unethical for someone else to stand right beside the property line and gather the air from the property that the wind blows their way and distribute that for free? Like I said, stupid example. :) But my point is that I can see where some would argue that she never had the right to charge for the fanfic story to begin with, so they’re not harming her by taking away her inability to make money off the story.

Interesting issues–thanks for bringing it up! My mind is certainly not made up on the question, so I welcome your opinion. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Athena Grayson March 13, 2012 at 11:14 am

Jami, sadly, that thing about the air being copyrighted is actually manifesting out here in Corn Country (or should I say, Soybean country) where farmers who use non-GMO seeds that *aren’t* from Monsanto are being sued because the wind blows Monsanto seeds onto their fields from other farmers who do. It’s a strongarm tactic used to get every farmer to use Monsanto seeds, which are patented, non-reproducing, and have to be bought again every year, instead of heirloom seeds which produce plants that are fertile and produce seeds that can be saved.

Aside from more than you wanted to know about farming (LOL!), publishing fanfic for profit is NEVER a good idea. Because the First Rule of Fanfic Club is that you don’t talk about Fanfic Club.

Look, fanfic exists in that gray twilight (pardon the pun) of not-quite-legal and maybe-not-ethical-all-depending-on-motivations. In the case of fanfic, it is ALL about the fanfic author’s motivations. I’ve been a member of fandoms with very aggressive IP lawyers who are not afraid AT ALL of backing over the fandom with a large legal dumptruck for any number of reasons, and we all get that. That’s why we police ourselves. Even ff.net respects the requests of authors who’ve come out firmly against fanfic, even as homage, like Anne McCaffrey.

Most creators know that having a fandom implies a certain cachet–it means you’ve Arrived (somewhere, even if it’s just a sci-fi convention in the boondocks). People care enough about your creative work that it sticks with them enough to want to riff off it. And for most creators, that’s kind of awesome. But very troubling, because if you acknowledge and/or support the fandom, you come off as a.) that douchebag that’s in his or her own fandom, or b.) (more legally) giving tacit approval for derivative works that weakens any case of serious copyright infringement on your intellectual property, so when some other creator or company slaps your tagline, logo, title, characters, whatnot into something that’s not fit for human consumption, you don’t have much of a leg to stand on to legally get them to stop selling terrible pr0nz with your title and characters all over them.

Sooo…long story short, when you’re in Fanfic Club, you never approach the creator with your fanfic (because you might as well walk up to him or her and slap them in the face with a dead fish and call ‘em a hack because you did it better). You don’t disrespect the Canon that way. And you never sell it, because when there’s money involved, things get messy, and that area of effect will take down a lot of innocent people who genuinely just wanted to have fun and share without harm, and tarnishes fandom altogether. If this happens often enough, you’ll see more and more creators putting the brakes on fandoms right out of the gate.

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Jami Gold March 13, 2012 at 11:54 am

Hi Athena,

Wow, I think I’ve read about that Monsanto issue, now that you mention it.

“[T]he First Rule of Fanfic Club is that you don’t talk about Fanfic Club.”

LOL! But I do want to touch on the tacit approval you mentioned by authors not defending their work. I don’t know how much this issue has been tested in court, but within the law itself, Copyright Law is worded very differently from Trademark Law. Trademark Law requires the holders to protest in order to protect the trademark. Copyright Law specifically says that the copyright remains in effect whether the holder takes any action or not. So there shouldn’t be any erosion of the copyright during the Life Plus Fifty Years term.

As for the potential of authors shutting down fandom right out of the gate, I know this whole issue has gotten me to think about how I would approach fanfic if my writing ever gained fans. So yes, this is a very real risk that these pull-to-publish fanfic authors are taking that might affect the whole fanfic community. Thanks for the comment!

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Rae March 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

The only book I’ve read that was at some point fan fiction is Sempre. And Jessica did heavy editing, as Caren said in an above comment to Gaby. There were entire plot points changed, characters were changed, the content was obviously cut down significantly and was written in third person narrative unlike the fanfic (which was 1st person, alternate POV change). That takes a lot of work. She didn’t “ctrl+F and replace” as I understand FSoG to be (I did attemp to read MOtU so I am familiar with the story) . It’s not even recognizable as fanfic. And she donates a percentage of the profits gained from the book to a Anti-Human Trafficing organization.

I think making the jump from fanfic to original fiction and using parts of the fanfic story are fine.. afterall the authors spend hours and hours working on these stories – putting blood, sweat and tears into their writing and ideas. They put themselves out there emotionally. I’ve read an embarrassing amount of Twilight FanFic in the last 3 years and I believe there are A LOT of amazing fanfic writers who could be published. And A LOT of stories have absolutely no resemblance to Twilight (other than character names). I think alot of authors also had these plot ideas before even becoming involved in the fandom (as I know to be the case with Sempre/EP) and the fanfic arena gives authors the confidence to continue on if their writing is well received. If fanfic authors have aspirations to be a writer, then why wouldn’t you put part of something you worked so hard on into your original novel? But you have to make it your own. You can’t just replace the names and call it good. I don’t disagree with fanfic authors publishing their stories necessarily, but like I said they have to make it their own.

(just my thoughts on the whole issue!)

Thanks for starting this conversation Jami! It’s been great and there are so many great ideas and opinions. We needed a place to have a civilized discussion. This is quite controversial in the Twi fandom right now as you can imagine.

xo
Rae

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Hi Rae,

“I think making the jump from fanfic to original fiction and using parts of the fanfic story are fine.”

I agree. As authors, we reuse phrases, themes, even plot events, from one story to another all the time. That’s why I said that publishing former fanfic would be okay if it was significantly changed–to the point of being unrecognizable as fanfic.

And I agree that some of these fanfic plotlines are so “alternate universe” (AU) from the original as to make it seem like the fanfic author had a unique story in mind and pasted known characters into the story. In that case, they made the decision to reach out to the fanfic community to get validation of their writing. There’s nothing wrong with that. My experience with fanfic taught me that I could finish a novel-length story and write a coherent plot. :) All those types of goals are what make fanfic great.

Now, if one of those very AU stories were to become published, I’d like to see the fanfic author first change the characters. Maybe find characters that fit their unique plot better. After all, good fiction isn’t just about “and then this happened,” but about why is it happening now and why with this particular protagonist. Protagonists shouldn’t be interchangeable. The stakes should be specific to them. And I think if an AU fanfic author thought about those unique qualities of their story, they’d find ways to make the characters fit their story better. Voila! Unique story and unique characters–no longer fanfic. :)

There, that’s my recipe for transforming fanfic into original material that justifies charging money for. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Rae March 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Thanks for your thoughts! I really appreciate it! This is such a great discussion.

(I posted a comment above in the wrong spot..oops! I thought it was me you replied to, but instead someone with a similar name)

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Rae,

Ah, that explains the crossed wire. No worries. :)

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gisellelx March 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm

“Protagonists shouldn’t be interchangeable.”

I absolutely cannot tell you how much I applaud this statement. This is the argument I’ve been struggling to articulate for over a year. Not only is this practice fairly unethical, it’s also a sign that either the fic, or the book, or both, did what they were trying to do poorly.

If you drop a completely different character into your story and nothing changes, something is wrong with the story. (Or, perhaps, the character isn’t as different as you think he is.)

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Hi Gisellelx,

Yes, I love that concept. (And it’s one that writers who haven’t written a story from scratch–including characters–might not understand.)

One of my favorite bloggers has a fantastic post about it: What’s at Stake? How Do You Make Readers Care About Your Story? She points out some major story flaws to watch out for:

- If the protagonist walked away, what would change? (Because the plot needs them to continue is not a good answer. Low to zero stakes there.)
- If the sidekick (random person, whatever) stepped into the protagonist’s slot, what would change? (This shows whether the stakes are personal.)
- What does your protagonist lose if they walk away? (If they have nothing to lose, low-to-zero stakes.)

Storytelling is way more than “and then this happened” and writers who fail to learn that won’t last long-term. Love, love, love this concept. (Can you tell? :) ) Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee March 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Hey, Jami. I hadn’t heard of this particular incident before you brought it up. I agree, that fanfic authors shouldn’t profit from fanfics that have their serial numbers filed off.

But here’s why I can’t unilaterally agree with you: some fanfics aren’t fanfics.

Some “fan fiction” is so AU† and OOC†† that it has no resemblance whatsoever to the original story, except the character names and locations… maybe. Sometimes those aren’t even the same.

It’s like someone watches Firefly and Serenity and says “Hey! What if River were a guy and Simon a girl—and they escaped on their own, without Mal and crew—and they aren’t space pirates, they’re air pirates, like airships—and Simone (’cause she’s a girl, yanno) is acrophobic and guy River has to use his psychic powers to keep Simone from realizing they’re off the ground—and—and—and…”

…At which point the author has produced a story that’s actually original despite the Whedon kickoff. The story may or may not even be in the same genre.

In that case, I see it as the author being inspired by the originals.

The problem then comes from such actually original previously being published online as fan fiction. Which is a problem, I think, because it’s admitting a tie that might leave you open to lawsuit.

Hey, I have a Star Wars AU vignette—which is still posted over on FF.net—that needn’t be considered fan fiction. I’ve actually come up with a novel idea wherein that would be the prologue. It contains no names, and it’s vague enough that it’s applicable to more stories than Star Wars.

Would it be unethical for me to take that AU vignette—which is actually a flash fiction piece illustrating Battered Wife Syndrome—and write a story that fits it? I’m not convinced it would be.

Now, if someone wants to mirror the original story and thinks that just changing the names will be enough… That’s a huge no.

But if a writer realizes, “Hey, wait. Why am I calling this a fanfic?” when it’s not actually a fanfic, and it’s just inspired by a piece…

*shrug*

I’ve not read the story in question, so I can’t judge how derivative it is. Maybe it’s glamorized fanfic, maybe not. I don’t know.

But if it is

That’s called “plagiarism.”

—Carradee

†Alternate Universe
††Out Of Character

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Hi Carradee,

Good to see you jumping in. :) And actually, we don’t disagree about that point. (However, as you can see from my essay-long comments here, I was already running too long in my post to go into everything, including the different “levels” of fanfic. :) )

As I just responded to Rae, I can easily see an AU story being so different from the original as to qualify for a unique work. However, in that case, the fanfic author has usually co-opted some of the original characters for the story (if not, why would it be posted as fanfic?). I think the fanfic author could then take that same unique story and change the characters to unique characters that better fit the story (making the stakes more specific to them, etc.). Once they have a unique story and unique characters, I’d have no problem with that story being published.

And in your particular case, taking an AU fanfic flash fiction piece and later turning that into a longer story? Yes, I definitely would have no ethical qualms about that. :) First you have the AU aspect, and then you add in changing the story from flash fiction to something more. The core idea might remain the same, but that’s about it. Heck, like themes, we reuse core ideas all the time. :)

On a related note, as you said, if an author wonders whether a piece is fanfic at all (rather than just inspired), they might be hurting themselves by labeling fanfic to begin with, as the law might one day rule that they relinquish copyright simply by posting in a fanfic forum. So then the question for the author becomes, should they engage the fanfic community (risking copyright but tapping into fandom) or should they keep the story on their own? Only the author could answer that question, and issues like their approach to validation and whatnot would all play into it. Thanks for the comment!

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Juliebee March 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Apologies in advance as I’m writing on my phone.  One other thing that I don’t think has been mentioned is the fact that the twilight fandom’s sense of “betrayal” (for lack of a better word) is that Ms. James used a number of Twilight “fic-isms” in her story.  What do I mean by that?   There are a massive number of Twi fics that all use certain fandom cliches which I *don’t* believe were part of the original Twilight series (e.g. Bella’s serial lip-biting). That has been done to death in fan fiction.  In addition, before jumping on the so-called BDSM bandwagon, another Twi-fic trilogy written by Tarasueme (The Submissive, The Dominant, The Training) were wildly popular for their time.  In my opinion, more enjoyable stories and well written. 

My point is this:   The twilight fanfic community really is that – a community.  Many women have forged real friendships here.  These are women who visit each other, phone, skype, etc.  They pre-read each other’s stories and offer advice and never ask anything in return.  I think that possibly having an insincere opportunist among us really hurt many.  

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me part of the bad taste that this leaves in my mouth is that the author also used other fandom stories, phrases, and ideas that weren’t hers to begin with – over and above the more obvious link to Meyers’ original stories. 

I used to be much more involved in the fandom but over time events have forced me to move on. When I was more involved I found this author and a certain contingent of her “fans” to be unbearable.  Stepping back, I have some perspective and although I still fall on the side of being against this, I can do so much less passionately. 

Either way you look at it, this is a fascinating situation.  James may be
right about one comment she made to angstgoddess.  She may just have revolutionized publishing.  It will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

The long and short of it is that horny housewives from Manhattan (or wherever) that enjoy this book aren’t going to give two craps about fandom politics.  Apparently James knew that all along.  

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Hi Juliebee,

Interesting. I hadn’t heard of the Twilight “fic-isms” issue before, but I know exactly what you mean. The phrases, situations, or plot elements are almost like inside jokes to the fanfic community. Stories in the community build off those that came before. I can definitely see how this fanfic author’s choices would lead to a different sense of betrayal among the community due to that internal coherence. Thanks for the comment! :)

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Athena Grayson March 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm

It’s not just “fic-isms” within a fandom, either. There’s a certain shorthand when writing derivative fic that comes into play. In original fiction, it’s up to the author to set the stage and build the universe from the ground up for the reader. With fanfic, the universe is already built, the stage is already set, it’s just a matter of the actors acting in or out of character. It’s like having a pre-determined set with props and set pieces that everyone already knows, which by definition precludes the need for the author to do the work to set the stage.

To a much lesser extent, genre itself has its own shorthand (I don’t need to tell you about romance’s shorthand) that outlines expectations that the reader and writer both agree to when writing and reading for the genre…but fanficcing takes it to a more granular level.

Juliebee speaks of the “betrayal” of the Twilight fandom and that’s probably what rubs me most the wrong way. I’m neither a Twilight fan nor in the Twilight fandom, but I *get* fandom, and fandom is firmly rooted in the bonding of people rejected by the rest of the polite world, whose tastes are by definition not in the mainstream. Fen carried torches for 30 year old science fiction shows that never did very well in the ratings to begin with. Fen passed around grainy VHS bootlegs of British sci-fi that baffled American audiences for decades, and little old ladies sat in hotel rooms and traded mimeographed Starsky and Hutch slashfics that made their way across the country *hand-to-hand*. Fandom creates safe harbor, and when that safe harbor is breached by an opportunist looking to use it for commercial gain…it’s a betrayal of the worst kind.

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Jami Gold March 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Hi Athena,

Interesting points about shorthand. Yes, our expectations as readers fill in a lot of blanks within certain genres or fandoms.

“Fandom creates safe harbor, and when that safe harbor is breached by an opportunist looking to use it for commercial gain…it’s a betrayal of the worst kind.”

Great observation! Especially given that from what I’ve read, this fanfic author didn’t even particularly like the fandom, which just makes it sound so much more coldly manipulating. Thanks for the comment!

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Jan M March 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm

I am an avid Twilight fanfiction reader– probably bordering on fanatic. I read this story originally as fanfiction and was fairly blown away by it. The story itself is original– quite original, in fact. Yes, in the original version, she used the character names from Twilight which is what drew me to the story in the first place. The subject matter was something quite foreign to me and was an eye opener. The original story has been pulled and the author totally re-worked it into something that doesn’t even come close to any of the original Twilight stories. The ages of the characters, names, the locations, the plot lines all deviate so completely from Twilight that I fail to see where any ethical lines are being crossed.

Every author and writer gets some of their ideas from somewhere else; as an author yourself, you know this. Most of the writing in fanfiction is dismal, but occasionally I come across stories that are just so good. Master of the Universe was one of those stories. I not only read it once, but read it again. I am thankful for the fanfiction writers who practice and hone their writing skills in the Twilight fanfiction genre. The stories are free and they all attribute their source material to Stephenie. No one is profiting illicitly from Stephenie’s material.

E. L. James wrote a good story. It certainly isn’t literary excellence, but it simply is a good story. It was obviously so good that it simply did not deserve to languish in Twilight fanfiction. Ms. James put in her time and took out all the references that tied her story in any way to Twilight. She deserves to sell her original story and gain from it. I think this article is a paltry attempt to disguise envy as some high-handed essay on ethics.

James is one of the few who managed to create something quite original and was recognized by Twilight fanfiction readers for that creativity. She deserves her success. If you had actually read the original and then compared it to her reworked version as I have, you would see for yourself that any subtle strains of Twilight that were there in the original have disappeared entirely. I’m calling foul on your arguments. I also am an intelligent and educated woman who rather resents the insinuation that I have been exploited. I can see through the smoke and mirrors and exploitation and calls of unethical behavior are simply screens for something much different.

You are entitled to your opinion and I respect your right to free speech, but I totally disagree with your premises and conclusions.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Hi Jan,

“I think this article is a paltry attempt to disguise envy as some high-handed essay on ethics.”

Not once have I ever assigned motives to the fanfic author in question (or named her–even through all these comment replies). On my blog, I expect you to treat me with the same respect–and not put motives to my actions. If you’re incapable of that, then you are playing into the hands of those who say the fanfic author’s fans are rabid, overly hormonal bitches.

Is that really the impression you want to give me–a disinterested third party who is merely questioning the ethics of a situation–and all my regular readers? If you wish to delete this comment and reframe your words so as to not create that impression, please let me know and I’ll make that happen. Otherwise, this comment will stand as evidence.

The fact that you do not “feel” exploited does not change the fact that to the outside world, it has occurred. Thanks for your comment! (And I mean that!) :)

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Jan M March 6, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I did not say I “feel” exploited. You said that. I don’t see exploitation where you see it– on that we shall just have to agree to disagree. To me that is an insult to me and any of the readers you are referring to. I do not sell short the many fanfiction readers who liked her story enough to give her the incentive to take the next step and sell her work. We may not be paid publishing house reviewers, but we recognize a good story when we read one. We thought the story was good enough to publish and sell and it has. She used the resources available on the internet to get her writing “out there.” Had she just gone the traditional route, she would more than likely have received the typical publishing house rejection letter. Now, she’s not only published, she is profiting monetarily, and as badly written as many now say the story is– that “poor;ly written” story is a hit– a popular sell. And to an author, that is success.

I have been stuck for awhile in the Twilight fanfiction world simply because I am finding good fiction and writing there. James’s story was one . Interestingly, as someone else mentioned, so many of the really good fanfiction stories are so totally opposite of Twilight– other than the character names. These stories are thoroughly engaging me during my leisure time and I don’t even have to go to Amazon to buy them. Some of the stories are good enough, though, to read more than once and if they are pulled to publish, I might buy them. I am an avid reader, but I have read more fiction in the past 3 years than I have in decades– thanks to the fanfiction authors . I am not being exploited by anyone. If anything, it is the fanfiction authors who are being exploited. It is a wonder that any of the authors have the fortitude to stick it out at all in the fanfiction sites with some of the things that readers write to them.

Therefore, I am in truly in awe of James. She may not be a literary genius, but she sure spins a great yarn. She realized that when the story was a fanfiction story, and then decided to re-work it without the Twilight references and has a hit out there in the non-fanfiction world. The internet and technology has truly changed the writing game, obviously. She’s one of the pioneers utilizing technology to hone her skills, and then further utilizing it to market and sell her product. More authors should be looking to do the same as it is one way to get their writing past the publishing house reviewers and in front of the people who will actually be reading their books. Writers who would never have made it the traditional way are now finding a new way to market themselves using new technology. More power to them.

Finally– IMO, you ARE questioning the ethics of her procedure – that is what your article is about. You don’t have to name her because I know perfectly well who you are talking about and which story. Your motives are yours alone to know, of course, but I am not going to think you have none. I am sorry that you feel I am not showing you proper respect. I am simply disagreeing with your point of view and have given you what I think may be underlying reasons for that. Thank you for allowing me to do so. I do not retract my opinion. Therefore, you are free to think of me as one of those “rabid, overly hormonal bitches”– as you wish. However, I have discovered that ad hominem attacks never make for intelligent discourse.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Hi Jan,

Yes, I’m absolutely questioning the ethics of her choices. That’s different than ascribing motives for her choices.

As a writer, it’s my job to be able to come up with 10 different motivations for every action. :) I can rewrite an entire scene, changing the whole focus and point of the scene, by changing only the motives–and leaving the actions of all characters the same. So no, I do not assume I know which of those 10 possible reasons drove her to choose to act the way she did.

Those reasons are irrelevant to me. I don’t care if she did it because of greed, because of her fans, or because she needed the money for cancer treatment. Seriously. I. Don’t. Care.

But as an observer–outside of fandom and outside of the “did she purposely do blah, blah, blah” debate–her actions and the choices that led up to those actions strike me as unethical.

I still haven’t heard any of her supporters give a reason for why they feel it’s not unethical. Where is the serious discussion about “well, if an author changes xyz and does abc and not def, I think it’s okay”? Not one of her supporters has put their butt on the fire here to state where they think that line is. Why is that? Surely her supporters don’t all believe there is no line.

As for the exploitation issue, I happen to have known some cult members throughout my life who would agree with your perspective. No matter how much money they had to hand over, they did it voluntarily, so in their mind it wasn’t exploitation. The outside world disagreed. I’m not comparing her fanfic supporters to cult members, but I am saying that the call of whether something is exploitative or not doesn’t always depend on those “inside.” Those on the outside will always have a different perspective and will call it like they see it. It’s often hard to say who is right.

As for this fanfic author’s ability to tell a story. I’ll grant you that. I even said as much in one of my first comments to this post, pointing out that plenty of Twilight fanfic stories didn’t receive the reviews her story did. And if she’s that good of a storyteller, I’m disappointed that she didn’t make different choices so I could support her success. Thanks for the comment!

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evaporation March 28, 2012 at 11:30 am

Jan M, Hi! I am so relieved to read a response from a well informed Fan Fic afficianado! I loved MoTu from Chapter one. Robert Pattinson is my whole reason for looking at Fan fiction at all.Not Edward! Icy created a story line that I and a lot of women totally enjoyed. Obviously the proof is in the publishing.Ethics I think here is not the problem….jealousy is.I bought all her books.I reread them all the time. She has given a lot of women something wonderful to fantasize about.I thank her for them.I hope she continues to have great success! I am one of her rabid fans!

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Jami Gold March 28, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Hi Evaporation,

The interest in Robert Pattinson came from the Twilight fandom, so this is still a take-off on the issue of exploiting the fandom no matter what brought you to the fanfic. I don’t deny that many women have enjoyed these books, but a passel of fans does not make the ethics issues moot. So, no, there is no “proof” in the “ethics is not the issue” simply because of the numbers willing to follow her on her path.

I find the people who claim “If someone handed you a stack of money to do the same, you would” appalling and disturbing. Really? That many people put a price on their moral character? I, for one, do not. I would not sell my fanfic for a billion dollars. Period. Some may not believe me, or think that it’s easy to say until I’m in that situation, but I’ve faced moral decisions before, and I know how I’ve chosen in the past. This is not blind naivete speaking.

As for the jealousy charge, I and plenty others have addressed that in other comments, so I won’t repeat the facts here. Suffice it to say that I don’t want that level of fame. There is such a thing as fear of success, so don’t ascribe your motives to others because writers each have their own path they want to walk. My path is not fame and fortune, nor do I want it to be. I want to touch people with my writing, through enjoyment and/or making them appreciate things more, and I want to retain my integrity while I do it. Thanks for the comment!

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Elizabeth March 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm

I absolutely am sick of people saying that it’s just that we’re jealous of Icy. As a member of the Twilight fanfiction community, I choose not to support ANY of the P2P stories. These were stories that, while time and work went into them, are still based on someone else’s characters.

Someone else’s world.

Someone else’s IDEA!

The built-in Stephenie Meyer reader base is (and let’s be honest) what gave these books the initial word of mouth. Take a gander at the early 4 and 5 star Amazon and GoodReads reviews: they are people who read it as a fic and had a relationship (however strong or vague) with the author. Now, add someone who had no idea of its beginning, but was just looking for a book to read. They see that a book has a lot of high ratings, and picks it up based on that (I do it all the time when considering books!) and a sale is born.

They like it, they don’t… that’s not the issue. The issue should be that they potentially bought something based off of reviews that are kind because of a fondness for the story or author, and you’ve all been used to be word-of-mouth guinea pigs for free!

I would absolutely buy an original story from many of my favorite fanfic authors, and have, but asking me to pay for something that was published for free is a slap in the face and greedy. At some point, you just know that these stories got to be so massive that dollar signs started popping up in these author’s eyes and a bad idea was formed.

Sure, an all-human fanfic is different in that the characters aren’t off hunting down deers to eat, but at the core of it, the story is still the same.

I want to say (and forgive me if I’m off, as I refuse to pay to read this) that the 50SoG characters still retain many recognizable character aspects: the female character is shy and has low self esteem, the male character has “hungers” that some would consider “monstrous”; the girl is a brunette, the boy has untidy, bronze colored hair.

Let’s be reasonable here, folks. Which characters do those descriptions remind you of right off the bat?

I refuse to buy anything from the Twilighted/Omnific offerings, same as The Writer’s Coffee Shop…or anyone that self publishes a fanfiction. The characters are not yours, no matter if you give them a whip or a mafia background or a disease or make them a firefighter, an English major, or a doctor.

And that is the problem, at least in my opinion.

A book should be edited to within an inch of its life, and reworked and reworked until all characters have a full background, reasons for actions, wants and needs, and a reason for being there. Bad writing, good writing, blah blah blah…that shouldn’t be the issue. I’ve read plenty of crappy books that a reputable publishing house has published. That’s not even my issue with the whole thing!

With Twilight fanfiction, it’s assumed that Bella is a shy girl and Edward is domineering because those are character traits in the original story. We go into reading these stories with an understanding that the characters are going to act a certain way, and react a certain way, based on how they’ve already been cast in a series of novels we read however long ago.

Stephenie Meyer (however thinly) supplied her own reasoning for this, and as fanfiction writers, we rely on those built in character traits. Character motivations are still the same because that’s what the readers want, and very, very few fics go above and beyond what’s already supplied.

Why craft a world when one is already there for the picking!

Why give your characters motivations and aspirations when you can just borrow someone else’s hard work?

50SoG, while not involving vampires, is still a loose rendition of the original story. Just because it’s in a human setting doesn’t mean that it’s not still heavily borrowing from underlying themes available in the original story. Self esteem, showing someone that they can overcome their past, a girl looking for love and acceptance in whatever way she can find it—even if that way is not the “norm”—are all things I picked up on in reading Twilight, and oh, look, here’s a set of books that are using those tropes, too.

We review fanfics. We talk to the author and tell them what we do or do not like about a chapter. We theorize what will happen next. Sometimes those reviews are taken in to consideration and can actively change the outcome or plot of a story. Are you being paid for that service? Do any of you see a suggestion you made in a book that’s now being sold to the public? If so…well, you should be really, really mad. You got used, again!

Pulling a fic and turning it around with minimal editing (and this is a general statement that encompasses MOST of what we’ve seen in the twilight fandom, and does not only refer to Miss James), sometimes only a quick copy and replace, is lazy and dishonest. If someone wanted to write an original story and get word of mouth, they should go out and do it the tried and true way. I would think that’s so, so much more satisfying.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Hi Elizabeth,

Exactly! I don’t know this fanfic author from a random person on the street, and I support other authors to a fault. Many–many–of my dear friends are published authors, and I wish them all the best. In fact, whether anyone believes it or not, I’ve never been jealous or envious of any author. (Not even the one on the bestseller lists I don’t like and make fun of. ;) Thinking he takes writing shortcuts? Yes. Jealous or envious? No.)

I don’t believe writing is a zero-sum game, so one author’s success does not affect mine. And I’m not attacking this fanfic author as a person, I’m questioning the ethics of the choices she (and several other fanfic authors) have made. Period. Anyone attacking me in response for that just makes me laugh. :)

I agree with your points on how this book made it onto the bestseller lists, and that’s what initially irked me about the fanfic angle. And I also agree with your take on why a fanfic story might be alternate universe and still have too much in common with the original. It comes down to the characters. Not only their immediate situation (vampire or whatnot), but also about their background history, their strengths and weaknesses, and their motivations. If those aren’t changed, the essence of the character might still evoke the original too much to claim “original” fiction.

Thanks for the comment! :)

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Jan M March 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm

The world is not static, Elizabeth. With the advent of the internet, anyone can and many do become authors. Blogs are all over the place with previously unread and aspiring writers. Blogs aren’t the tried and true way– but let’s face it technology has changed things.

Fanfic writers are pulling their fics all the time for numerous reasons– not necessarily to sell them either. Why are you having such a problem with E.L. James pulling her fic, rewriting and publishing it? I got it, YOU wouldn’t do it that way– YOU wouldn’t take something you put out there for free and later — re-work it and turn around and try selling it. Why not? If you spent your limited time and resources to create something that people really liked when they got it free, and others would probably like it too if you made them pay something for it– why the hell wouldn’t you do it? Is there something wrong with all the inventors in the world who created something– a product or a food — that they gave away for free but eventually marketed and sold? The internet has usurped the tried and true way of doing many things– writing being one of them. Tried and true ain’t cutting anymore.

I personally am delighted that I no longer have to depend on the somewhat narrow and limited views and opinions of the editors at publishing houses to find my reading material. The internet now makes it possible for me to find so many things that I enjoy reading that I simply would never have been able to with the tried and true way of doing things.

E. L. James found a way to write and eventually profit from that using the internet. Many others are doing the same. They are the visionaries who are seeing things that others aren’t– and are realizing financial rewards. No one is forcing anyone to buy Jame’s books. But plenty are– she found a new way to put her writing on the best seller list. She is profiting from that because of it. Good for her. You don’t have to like it– and you can remain static and spout tried and true until the cows come home. But honey, you are missing out that way. You are stuck. And don’t tell me you aren’t jealous of James. . . your post smacks of it.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Hi Jan,

Just because something is possible, doesn’t make it right. I understand that you don’t see an ethical issue here, but plenty of others do. Attacking those who feel actions like this are unethical doesn’t change that fact.

“Tried and true ain’t cutting anymore.”

This issue goes beyond “tried and true.” I fully support self-publishing and expect to self-publish some of my stories someday. The issue isn’t that she found a way around the publishing industry’s gatekeepers. The issue is all the ethical considerations brought up with her methods. Again, I’d love to support a fanfic-turned-published author who makes it big and who doesn’t stink of questionable ethics. This fanfic author isn’t it. Thanks for the comment!

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allryans March 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I read a self-published novel just a few months ago that quickly landed in my top five books of 2011. Fantastic. I bought it in ebook and paperback. I bought a few copies and gave it away. The author is self-publishing the sequel this summer. I cannot wait. I don’t have any issue with self-publishing, but I do find it completely unethical to publish what was once fic and charge for it.

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Elizabeth March 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

*applauds*

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Hi Allryans,

Yes, I’ve supported several self-published authors before, to the point of mentioning them on my blog and tweeting their “buy” links. There are legitimate ways for authors to approach issues of fanfic and gatekeepers, but this fanfic author didn’t choose that route. Thanks for the comment!

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Jan M March 6, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I have yet to see specifically something she did that is unethical which is not either hear-say or sour grapes. So much of what is leveled against her is based on little more than gossip, rumor, and innuendo. The rest of it seems to be nothing more than sour grapes because she’s made it big with her books. It is too bad that people can’t be happy for her success instead of wanting it to go away which is envy at its finest. After all, it is a great story on its own. Someone could actually write a good story using elements from her personal story and success. But instead, it seems to always be easier to attack personal success.

Thanks for letting me comment!

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Hi Jan,

Thank you for the serious reply. :)

I know there are a lot of comments here, so I’ll reiterate my “recipe” for making a fanfic into an original story. :)
- First, change the details of the setting and world-building–alternate universe and whatnot. This fanfic author did that. Bravo.
- Second, change the characters to the point where they no longer evoke–or are meant to evoke–the original characters. This fanfic author did not do that. Boo.

I won’t pretend to speak for a fandom that I’m not a member of, but several commenters who are members of that fandom have said here that they feel exploited and/or disrespected by this fanfic author’s actions. I understand and respect that you don’t. But that means your perspective can’t speak for all of fandom either. In my mind, if any–much less many–of a fanfic author’s fans felt exploited and/or if the fanfic author was warned against this action because of the ethical considerations, then that method for using their fandom network was unethical.

If I had to question whether something was unethical, I wouldn’t do it. There shouldn’t be an ethical question in my actions. That’s my personal moral code, and I understand that others might not agree. But disagreeing with my moral code doesn’t mean the action suddenly becomes ethical. Does that explain my perspective? Thanks for the comment!

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Jami's Tech Guy March 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Jan, I realize it may be inconceivable to you but this word “envy” may not mean what you think it does. It certainly is not an all encompassing “get out of criticism free” card.

You didn’t like it when you thought Jami was putting words and feelings in your mouth. Please don’t do it to the rest of us. Please recognize that people might in good faith have different views and opinions than you do.

I’m not a writer. I am a very avid reader and as I stated earlier, that includes some fan fiction. And in my mind, the author for whom you are a fanatic of did wrong. In fact, I very clearly remember fanfic.net suspending the account of one of my favorite writers on the site for aggressively trying to monetize her stories.

Here’s a musical equivalent: It is taking the rhythm of a song and changing some of the melody and then calling it their own. Ask M.C. Hammer how that worked out for him.

Finally, it amuses me to note you’re a “fanfic” fan. Or if I expand the abbreviation, you’re a “fanatic fiction fanatic.” :) *wanders off to work on his TBR pile*

-Jay
@jaytechdad

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Elizabeth March 6, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Honey, I’m not missing out on anything. I buy self pub often. I think it’s a great way to get new material out there, and I’m not knocking it by any means. I do, however, have a problem with the ethical issue of using someone else’s world/characters/themes and piggybacking off of that person’s fame and fans. I mean, really? Go back to the bunker, babe.

Could I take a fic I wrote and publish it? Who knows…clearly, there’s a market out there for anything and everything, so I could sure try.

Would I? Nope. I think that half the fun of it would be building my own idea and making it as good as I possibly could. It’s simple, really. If you have an idea that you think would make an interesting book, don’t write it as fic, put it out there to get attention, and then charge for it when you’ve got the fame you sought. It’s. Not. Right.

If James had wrote an original piece of fiction not using someone else’s ideas, I’d be thrilled for her. And I do mean that. Clearly you don’t know me, and you’re probably the type I stay away from in fandom, so…I’ll take you’re hackles-up post with a grain of salt, because you missed the point of it entirely.

I think there are many authors around our parts who can and should publish original. I’d buy their books in an instant, because I want to see the women in our fandom succeed–I just don’t like when they do it so unethically. I’m in the middle now of reading something self-published from a fandom author that’s original, and I’m loving it. Static, no? Sick of attention mongers? Absolutely.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Hi Elizabeth,

“If you have an idea that you think would make an interesting book, don’t write it as fic, put it out there to get attention, and then charge for it when you’ve got the fame you sought. It’s. Not. Right.”

Exactly. And as you said, I’d be thrilled for her if she wrote original fiction that wasn’t meant to evoke Stephenie Meyer’s characters–even if she gained sales by tapping into her network of fanfic supporters. My issue here isn’t how she built her network, but how she used them to gain profit on writing I consider unethical. Thanks for the comment!

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Jan M March 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Ideas for stories do not happen in a vacuum, Elizabeth. Every idea is based on another idea and so on. When one gets to the foundation of the ideas, it always comes from someone else or someone else’s idea. That is fundamental. Many have even gone so far as to say there is no such thing a truly original idea anymore. One can take anything and pick it apart and make comparisons to something else.

The books in question are original to the core. I have read the Twilight books numerous times and James’s books are not Twilight. That she originally wrote her story as Twilight fanfiction should not matter since she was totally out of canon with the storyline. Her story was and is good and there are plenty of readers who are now enjoying her published version who never would have if they follow your narrowly prescribed rules of writing. Substituting names and ascribing some characteristics that make story character interesting is not stealing. There are some universal features that all writers tend to use with various characters to make their stories good. So it started out in Twilight fanfiction– but in reality, it was as far afield from Twilight as day is to night.

Like I said before, you wouldn’t do it and I wonder why. Have you written anything that even comes close to the story James wrote? Are you a writer? I am not and for that reason I do not rule out something until I have been in similar circumstances. In this present day economy, an author who has received the response James received would be a true fool to not attempt to take the story to the next level, get it published and make some money off it.

I still am seeing nothing that is specific — that isn’t either here-say or sour grapes showing James was unethical. You certainly haven’t pointed out anything specific. Your argument that she originally wrote it with Twilight characters doesn’t hold water since the story, characters, and places that ended up in her published version are not Stephenie Meyers. It is an entirely different story with different type characters. But of course, that is a bit hard to determine unless one has actually read the published version. Have you?

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Hi Jan,

“Are you a writer? I am not”

Hmm, and as I mentioned on an earlier comment, I wonder if this is what the issue really comes down to. Those of us who are writers wouldn’t want someone else to do to us what this fanfic author did to Stephenie Meyer.

I know it’s easy to think that all writers are envious or jealous of each other and chalk it up to that, but if you’re not in the writing community, you wouldn’t know how awesomely supportive we are of each other. 90% of my friends are writers, half of them published, and I’ve never been jealous or envious of a single one. So please don’t ascribe motives of envy to those writers who have serious heart palpitations over the fear of someone stealing from us. As Melinda said above, if we wouldn’t want someone to do it to us, we shouldn’t do it to others.

You’re a reader. You liked her stories and want to see them spread. I get that. I’ve loved many author’s stories and wished I could single-handedly push them up the bestseller lists too. But from an author’s perspective–and some readers–this fanfic author’s actions were wrong.

Since you’re not a writer, you’re only guessing at what goes into making a fully-formed, three-dimensional, non-cardboard character. So let me explain.

Characters–good characters–go much deeper than their job, their human/non-human status, their name, etc. If a good fanfic writer changed characters to the point as to not evoke the original characters, then the story/plot/dialogue would also change, as real characters are born out of their history, family background, worldview, religious beliefs, moral code, etc. Changing any of those on a deep level–much less several of them–would cause the character to react and act differently in the story.

However, most fanfic–no matter how out-of-character the characters might act–still intends to have their characters evoke those of the original author. In order to evoke that image in a reader, most of those things I listed above would need to be similar to the original. Yes, a character might not be a vampire anymore, but is their worldview the same? Etc.

In other words, authors see a sharp line between characters meant to evoke the original versions and those that are truly unique on a subtextual, deep level. Unless a fanfic author has changed enough to not evoke those original characters anymore, they haven’t changed them on a deep enough level to avoid the appearance of theft.

So while readers might look at the superficial level of characterization and say, “Yep, they changed xyz, so they’re not the same anymore,” authors look at those differences and know that superficial characteristics are the least important aspects to a character. I can change one of my character’s hair color, eye color, clothing, job, number of siblings, etc.–and not change who they are on the inside.

Theft goes much deeper than those superficial markers the supporters of this book seem to be looking at. So yes, this story stole Stephenie Meyer’s characters because for many readers of the original fanfic–both those who still support the fanfic author and those who don’t–the characters in FSoG still make them think of Edward and Bella. The fanfic author didn’t change those deep-level character aspects before publishing her story and that’s what makes her choices unethical.

I hope that explains things from an author’s perspective. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Elizabeth March 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I wish James and the other P2P writers had just taken their ideas and published them (self or traditional), I really do. I’d wish them every success with it, and I really do mean that. The pit-stop in the fandom, though, is what makes my teeth curl. Would you have known about and spent the money on these books otherwise?

I am a writer, and if this crazy storm happened to my ideas that I worked so hard on to get published, I would yank the rights to fanfiction in a heartbeat. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars.

You have said you are not a writer, so maybe you didn’t know this… but in the upload section of FFnet, there is a list of authors who do not allow fanfic of their work. I love Twilight fanfiction for the stories and great people it has introduced me to. We ALL know how much S. Meyer can get when she throws a fit–Midnight Sun–and I’d truly hate to see her get super upset about the number of stories (again, MoTU is the one we’re talking about here, but there are more that are equally in the wrong) that have been spawned from her work, and decide to pull the plug on it all. It can happen.

And look where we’d be. You could go back to Amazon and pay for stories you say you enjoy finding for free, and those people we giggle with on Twitter and Facebook and all of the Twilight sites would slowly start to trickle away. Because a few handfuls of people decided to capitalize on the fame writing Twilight fanfiction in the Twilight fandom for the Twilight fans brought them? That’s just…sad.

As a reader, you’re looking at the overall story, and that’s cool. Everyone reads differently. There weren’t Mormon-esque vampires in the original story getting it on left and right, ya know? So, to you, that’s original, and that’s the way you see it.

To me, who reads things critically to try and deconstruct them and get to the root of a character’s motivations and wants, traits (and I don’t mean simply eye or hair color), this book has more to do with Twilight than you seem to think.

I saw a review on a regular, non-fandom site, where the reader of the published version of this fic didn’t like the book. She pointed out all of the flaws of the female character, and said that there was just something about her that didn’t sit right. She found out later in comments that it started as a twific, and instantly knew why she didn’t like it: She didn’t like Twilight, and once she knew of its origin, could draw a direct line to canon Bella and her flaws.

The characters are similar, no matter if they’re human and older, or not. At a surface level, it’s different than Twilight, sure, but at its base, it draws on a lot of Twilight’s themes.

And I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, so this will be my last comment to you. You see it how you do, and those of us on the other side see it as we do. You think no wrong has been done, and I look at all of the ethical issues in a different light. We’ll never convince each other otherwise so let’s leave it at a civil parting of minds.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Hi Elizabeth,

“[I]f this crazy storm happened to my ideas that I worked so hard on to get published, I would yank the rights to fanfiction in a heartbeat. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars.”

Exactly! I just talked about this in my reply to KN. It seems to me that the supporters of these opportunist fanfic authors are choosing the fanfic author over the original author, and I. Don’t. Get. That. Thanks for the great comment!

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Elizabeth March 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I agree, Jami. I just hate that those that oppose the actions of a few are deemed as “haters” and jealous harpies, when most of us are upset over the whole P2P debate, not just James. Any way you put a spin on it, it was indeed opportunistic.

Also, your well thought out responses have earned you a new reader, girl. We seem to be like minded :) I’m going to go check out your other posts, now!

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Hi Elizabeth,

Yes, I don’t know the fanfic author well enough to know if I should “hate” her or not. :)

And thanks for reading and for the great comments! :)

Athena Grayson March 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm

How many people would have read, cared about, or known the story if the characters didn’t start their lives being named “Edward” and “Bella”?

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Caren March 6, 2012 at 7:43 pm

But she DIDN’T rework it. I’ve seen the comparisons. Looked at both the PDF of MotU and of FSoG and they’re nearly identical. With the exception of find/replace on character names and some slight editing for punctuation (hello ellipses…), it’s the same thing that was posted as Fanfiction.

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Jan M March 6, 2012 at 9:54 pm

The story was hers the character names and some of the locations and character references were not. Twilight was and is not even close to the published story (it would probably fry Stephenie’s eyeballs to read it). The fanfiction story was also her original story (Stephenie’s eyeballs wouldn’t fare well here either) – she got rid of the Twilight references in the published version. The story is James’s story not Stephenie’s. That is the difference. The fact that it was originally in the Twilight fanfiction genre doesn’t negate the fact that it was then and still is James’s story. She came up with the characters and their back stories, the plot, etc. without it being Twilight. It was all human and the characters were different ages from the Twilight characters. The story itself was not close to Twilight even when it was posted in fanfiction.

Does she not have a right to her creation regardless of where it originally was written? The story itself did not need to be totally re-written because that part came from James– not Meyers. The Twilight references were re-worked so the story is not and never will be an extension of Meyers’ work. It was the story that makes it good. Those of us who look for good stories in the genre read them because we like reading about the same characters in altogether new situations and circumstances. Then we get involved in the stories which are for many– original creations in plot and story line that totally differ from Twilight itself. Each one of those authors owns their stories regardless if it is in fanfiction or not. Many of the stories are not as original and too many of the details are so Twilight related that to re-work it would mean writing a new story altogether. Other stories– and in my opinion– James’s is one– are so original and different from the Twilight story and message that it would be much easier to re-work it by putting in new character names and geographical references so that it doesn’t relate to Twilight anymore. That is what James did. This is not unethical behavior.

James put her creation in fanfiction and it received an unprecedented response from readers. She pulled the story out of fanfiction, re-worked by removing the Twilight references, and published under a different name. Many of her readers followed her and were able to promote the new version for her. This is not unethical nor do these readers feel James exploited them. Things just took off from there.

Now if her story was a vampire version, she probably would not have had the same result. She would have had to re-do the whole thing and that may not have been such a popular read. It was her original story and ideas that have caught on. It is different, titillating, and much more riviting than so many stories– fanfiction or not. Whether or not she got things correct with the BDSM elements is immaterial and is not unethical. Fiction is fiction and the author has the leeway to create their world however they see fit. The actual story in fanfiction was an original work and so it is in published form. She rode the wave and figured a way to stay on it. She isn’t going to be able to please everyone – EVER. But she managed to become a published writer after jumping off of fanfiction with her original story. Anyone that read and enjoyed MOTU would have hated the published version if she had re-done the story– which was then and still is her original creation.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Hi Jan,

“…putting in new character names and geographical references so that it doesn’t relate to Twilight anymore. That is what James did. This is not unethical behavior.”

Thank you. This is the first I’ve seen from any of her supporters on where you think the ethical line falls. That’s your opinion and you’re welcome to it.

However, as I explained in my essay of a comment about how authors write characters, names and geographical references are the least important aspects in what makes a character who they are on the inside. So the opinion of myself–and most authors and some readers–will be that those changes aren’t enough. Changing those superficial details alone isn’t enough to avoid ethical issues in regards to stealing characters.

I won’t repeat my whole big comment here, but theft of character goes much deeper than that. (And now I seriously wonder whether all of her supporters are non-writers, and whether that’s really the issue underlying the debate. :) ) Thanks for the comment!

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Jan M March 6, 2012 at 11:14 pm

I think that for many people, Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson will forever be type cast in their minds as Edward and Bella. That is always a problem for actors who become known for certain roles. That is really what you are referring to here. Even though, the characters in the published version are totally different from Twilight characters, some people (readers) will type cast the characters. But it will only be some of the fanfiction readers who will be doing that. For the new readers of the published version type-casting will not be a problem. I do think you may be correct too in your final assessment that many of her supporters are going to be readers and not writers. Readers tend to see things a bit differently than a writer who has so much invested in their character and how they play their roles in the story. From a reader’s angle, much of what you are saying appears to me to be akin to type-casting, whereas I realize from your point of view, your characters mean something much more than just someone playing a role. Maybe you are seeing apples and I am seeing oranges simply because you are a writer and I am a reader.

I sincerely appreciate your allowing me to debate some of the points you made with your article. I thank you for your view from an author’s perspective.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 9:15 am

Hi Jan,

That’s an interesting question. Would people coming to this story outside of fanfic suddenly picture Kristin and Robert as Christian and Ana after they learned the story started as Twilight fanfic? In other words, are the characters still close enough (my point of evoking the original characters) that people would say, “Oh yeah, now that you mention it, I totally see that. That explains the whole lip-biting, x behavior, y action, z mannerism thing”? Or would they laugh at the thought and say, “Really? I don’t see that at all”?

You–as a reader of the original story–are not a good judge of that. I haven’t read it, so neither am I. :) That’s why I’m not saying “YES, she definitely stole the characters.”

However, I can look at the fact that the fanfic author’s characters were close enough in MotU to evoke the original characters for readers. I can then look at the fact that the fanfic author didn’t significantly change the characters between MotU and FSoG. From that, I think it’s reasonable to suspect that the FSoG characters still are too close to the original characters. Non-original characters equals fanfic. Fanfic cannot be owned. Without ownership, the fanfic author can’t/shouldn’t publish.

Again, to my ethical code, there should be no question about this. If I were a fanfic author looking to publish a fanfic work, I would change the core essence of the characters to avoid any appearance of ethical issues. To me, that seems like a “duh.” :) I wouldn’t want to piss off the original author or my old readers or my new readers, etc. That’s bad business in the long term.

And yes, I’m a long-view planner and not after the quick buck. The number of authors who debuted huge? Very small. The number of authors who debuted huge and were able to keep up that level of success? Almost zero.

No one here has said that this fanfic author shouldn’t have been able to publish her story at all or ever. I agree that like many AU fanfic authors, she found an original plot for the characters. But without changing the core essence of the characters, the voices in that author’s head aren’t hers.

She may think they’re hers because she sees them as “her version” of the Twilight characters. But creating characters from scratch is very different than inviting someone else’s characters into your head and hearing their accent change slightly after they’ve lived there for a while. The characters in a former fanfic story ready for publication shouldn’t be anyone’s “version” of any other characters but theirs.

So yes, maybe it’s a case of apples and oranges. :) But tell me this, who’s the one who going to feel stolen from and consider legal action? Not the reader. The author. So maybe–just maybe–this is a case where the author’s perspective of what makes a character original should take precedence. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Diana August 21, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Jami, you are SO right! creating characters from scratch is really dificult and I say this as someone who has only made two attemps at writing Fanfiction. I understand that starting to write something with a base that’s already there it’s much, much easer than start from the ground.

DMarie June 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I read FSOG didn’t buy it but I read it BEFORE I knew it was a Twilight fanfic. I had no idea but I saw Bella and Edward. They were the same characters, they had the same voice, tone, mannerisms and personalities. When I found out that the story was a Twilight fanfic I literally slapped my head and said “That’s why!” James may have a different STORY but the characters are not her creation. THIS is why it is unethical.

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Jami Gold June 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Hi DMarie,

You aren’t the only one with this reaction of having all the pieces fall into place after discovering FSoG‘s fanfic origins. *sigh* Thanks for the comment!

allryans March 7, 2012 at 7:38 am

“Changing those superficial details alone isn’t enough to avoid ethical issues in regards to stealing characters.”

This is the point that most of pull2pub author supporters don’t understand. And because it has been well-argued many times over on other blogposts as well as this one, they may never understand it.

I would go so far as to say that MotU is MORE like Twilight than many of the other AU fics in that fandom. Bella/Ana is nearly a carbon copy of the character SMeyer wrote (in terms of her CHARACTER, not just the way she looks or where she lives or what she calls herself). And Edward – other than not being a vampire and a virgin – retains the same character traits as well. ALL of them. There are plenty of fics where Edward isn’t a controlling, stalking, dominating, self-loathing, piano-playing, gorgeous loner. MotU wasn’t one of those.

Sometimes AU fics have a dominant, proud, confident, unwavering, talented Bella and a timid, unassuming, fumbling, incapable Edward. Those fics have even less to do with the characters from the books than MotU ever did. And readers that cannot see that, will NEVER understand the ethical quagmire we’re talking about.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 10:35 am

Hi Allryans,

Thank you for providing those details. :) I’ve read all the Twilight books but I haven’t read MotU or FSoG, so I can’t compare how similar the characters are to the original versions. I know the MotU characters were similar enough to evoke the Twilight characters, and I know the fanfic author didn’t change them before publishing FSoG, so I knew there were still enough similarities in the published version to trigger ethical questions.

If someone isn’t a writer and/or writes only fanfic (and therefore hasn’t ever created a character from scratch), they probably have no idea about what good writers do to create full, rich characters that come alive in our heads and on the page.

We all learn (or should have learned) in school how to draw conclusions about characters from their actions. What is another word for “reading between the lines”? Subtext. A huge percentage of what makes up a character exists only in subtext. And that percentage makes up the parts that matter to who a character really is, not the superficial stuff. Readers can’t possibly judge whether how a writer does their job is ethical or not without this fundamental understanding of what that job entails.

Characters are so much deeper than readers realize because subtext registers subconsciously. So readers don’t consciously recognize what all goes into their understanding of a character. They might describe a character as being a “good” person, but when asked why they think that, they might say, “I just got that sense from them.” That’s subconscious subtext at work.

Good writers understand this and try to grasp a basic level of psychology to delve into those depths. The blog The Character Therapist is dedicated to that concept. :)

So yes, I agree with you. Non-writer readers are at a disadvantage for understanding this issue. And a role-reversal AU fanfic sounds interesting! :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jane March 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I’m a non writer – so my attitude is explained perhaps. But fictional characters- that understanding of a carefully crafted original character – it’s all very illusory / untrue

http://t.co/OfUfMr6U – Like life we don’t really ever know what a character would do & why. We kid ourselves, jump to conclusions. For a writer- wouldn’t you have to replicate the descriptions exactly if it’s such a very subtle tricky process- creating an original character. If so, even changing 1 word might change readers idea of what a character might do?

Yet James used all diff words, ideas, settings, psychiatric diagnoses for her characters – yet came up with identical result ? How did she do that?

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Hi Jane,

Ooo, thank you so much for the link to that article. I love brain science, fascinating stuff.

The concept they talked about in the article–where people make up rational sounding explanations for their actions and deny the subconscious triggers–applies perfectly to how writers take multiple inspirations and create something new. When I come up with a character, I’m often not conscious of the pieces and parts. I hear their voice out of the blue and learn about them by talking to the voice. (Yes, writers are insane. ;) ) Once I know them a bit better, I can analyze them and see they have an orphan past like so-and-so A, a shady history like B, a code of ethics like C, and so on. In other words, yes, all authors take inspiration from multiple sources and then add their special zing that they’ve never seen anywhere.

The difference with fanfic characters is that the writers are listening for the voice of a character someone else created. All the pieces come from one source. And while with AU or AH stories the fanfic author is adding their unique zing, they’re still wanting the characters to evoke the original characters and appeal to fans of the original author. So the fanfic author’s not changing as much as they think they are.

As for your questions about how a fanfic author could evoke the original character even though they’re using different words and situations (great question, by the way!), it partly has to do with how the brain works. We are very suggestible. :) So the fanfic author uses the original character names and tells the reader, this is who these are supposed to be. Ta-da. We picture the character in our head.

But it also has to do with the personality, mannerisms, ways of speaking (pet phrases and whatnot), etc. developed by the original author. Honestly, most fanfic writers probably don’t do all of this consciously. It happens automatically because they’re listening for a specific character’s voice in their head, and their brain subconsciously provides the details to make it happen.

So, many fanfic authors probably don’t realize how much they’re borrowing/stealing. They see the words they wrote on the page, and they feel they created them. The problem is that–like the article you linked to says–the brain is very good at rationalizing explanations for things that arose from the subconscious.

The point is this: If the fanfic author was trying to listen for a specific voice/evoke a specific character, then yes, their subconscious will fill in stolen details without the author even realizing it.

That’s opposite to the approach that most non-fanfic authors take, where the character starts talking to us without us having to go listening for them. Writers debate whether the plot or the characters come to them first, but it’s often a combination of both. We see a situation (plot) and we hear the voice of who in the world would ever find themselves in that situation. :)

In other words, developing a fanfic character that is copied from another author is almost opposite to the process that happens for original characters. Thanks for the comment and the great discussion!

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Paige March 29, 2012 at 3:33 am

If the FF method of pull2pub is ethically wrong, why is FF able to be published? Is it not illegal as well? Won’t there be legal ramifications regarding FF that is published? i.e. FSoG? This aspect is rather confusing. It appears that being legal to publish is all that is being considered by the authors. Because it is legal, the question of ethical is up to the author, or publisher? Your thoughts, please. Thank you for hosting this lively discussion.

Caren March 7, 2012 at 6:48 am

The story was originally Edward and Bella. Just changing names/locations does NOT change the fact that this story was built on another writer’s work.

The idea is hers, yes. But if she were planning to publish such an idea, she should have started with her own characters from the beginning. Doing it this way is unethical and it makes her look like a thief in the eyes of any author who values their work.

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Jami's Tech Guy March 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm

*Makes popcorn & enjoys the debate*

Gee Jami, you could have warned me you were going to start another bar fight. Sheesh. I just cleaned up the server after the last one.

I love fan fiction. Especially for worlds that ended too soon (Firefly & Sarah Connor Chronicles). I’ve even donated a couple bucks to assorted authors for good stories. (I don’t see that as any different from kicking a couple bucks to a musician with a tip jar.) My line is drawn when someone specifically uses another author’s world and then charges for it.

The Twilight world isn’t -that- different from ours. So if the author builds their world from scratch & charges, it’s good. If the author takes SM’s world then adds their own layers, it’s derivative and immoral to charge.

-Jay
@jaytechdad

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Hi TechGuy,

Ha ha. You act like I purposely look for debates. :)

Good point! I agree with you about the tip jar vs. specifically charging for a story. Thanks for the comment!

*psst* Pass the popcorn. ;)

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Melinda Collins March 6, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Haha! I *love* that comment! I’ve been sitting here for the past hour just reading through and absorbing everyone’s comments. I like the comparison you made to a musician’s tip jar – it truly is a ‘I support your talent,’ not ‘I support this one particular story you’ve written.’

I can understand both sides, and am truly amazed by how the fandom is rallying behind her, but my heart trembles when I think of ‘what if that was my story, my characters, my hard work that someone else was basing their story from and making money from it?’

Good rule of thumb that our mother’s always taught us:
“Would you like it if I did that to you?”
Us: “No.”
Moms: “Okay then, don’t. Do. It!” :)

*Stuffs mouth with a Reese’s Cup then passes one over to Jami* ;)

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Hi Melinda,

“my heart trembles when I think of ‘what if that was my story…’”

Exactly. I wonder how many of this fanfic author’s supporters are strictly readers, or if they write whether they write only in fanfic communities. In other words, I wonder if they’re missing the ethical points because they don’t see the original author’s perspective. I don’t know. Just a random thought I had. :)

““Would you like it if I did that to you?”
Us: “No.”
Moms: “Okay then, don’t. Do. It!””

Word. Word. Word. :) This is how I live my life–not by whether or not I can get away with something.

Thanks for the comment and the chocolate! :)

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Jami's Tech Guy March 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Thanks. :)

Fandom seems more split on the debate than I expected. It is interesting to observe the different attitudes displayed by producers and consumers of content.

BTW, do they have the dark chocolate Reese’s Cups in your area? I highly recommend. They’re almost as good as the dark chocolate Kit Kats.

-Jay
@jaytechdad

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Melinda Collins March 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Hi Jay –

Yes, they do have the dark chocolate ones here but I haven’t tried them yet. Looks like I’m making a chocolate run after work tomorrow! ;)

Thanks! :D

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Scarlet March 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I post my own fanfiction and I find the feedback (good and bad) greatly improves my writing skills, but I am stuck between both sides of the fence here.

In a lot of Twilight fanfiction, the authors characters are nothing like those in the book and the plot is completely different. The only way to actually identify it as fanfiction, are by the character names. A fanfic about Edward as a gay crack addict, would not be recognised as fanfiction, if the names were different. Just because the same names are used doesn’t mean they have the same personalities as SM’s characters. That’s why part of me doesn’t see anything wrong with publishing fanfiction, If the plot is good and origninal.

However, I decided not to by the Fifty Shades series, for a few reasons. The first being, I read the story as fanfiction when it was MoTU and i now picture those characters as those who played the twilight cast ( Rob and Kristen etc). Reading the same story but with different characters, holds no interest for me. The second is the cost. I by no means begrudge paying for an authors work, but i found the price very steep for something I’ve already read for free, and that’s been published by an otherwise unknown, unestablished author. I’m also cautious of her view of the fandom. I have not ever seen any evidence of some of the things being said about her, but i would be disappointed in someone who wasn’t appreciative and thankful to her MoTU fans and instead used them for money.

In the end i don’t think fanfiction can be grouped together, each case should be judged separately depending on what the author is trying to publish. As somebody else pointed out, others have published books based on there fanfic writing and there wasn’t much complaint then.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Hi Scarlet,

I understand your point. But then we get back into the issue of the risks and rewards of posting something to the fanfic community. Risk: You don’t own your work. Reward: Engaging with the fandom.

I’ll be honest, as much as I support the good things fanfic can help authors with (practice, connecting with others, etc.), I don’t think it’s in an author’s best interest to post extremely AU or OOC stories to the the fanfic community. And I say that from a business/entrepreneurial perspective. By posting a work to the fanfic community, an author gives up all rights to their work and labels it fanfic in a free-for-all. If they want to later claim that’s it’s not really fanfic because of a, b, c, it’s too late. They could still significantly change the story again and create something new, but just changing names on a OOC character probably wouldn’t be enough to suddenly invoke copyright law after the author knowingly gave it up previously.

Again, this is why I say that it’s safest–for propriety’s sake (not exploiting the fandom) and for the author’s right’s sake–to choose a fanfic route or a non-fanfic route for each story. One or the other, not both. Unless the author is prepared to significantly change the story beyond just character names.

I agree there’s no sharp line here delineating how much change is enough. But there are more risks to publishing previously free fanfic than most people realize: original author rights, lack of copyright for fanfic, disgruntled readers who don’t want to pay for something that used to be free, etc., etc., etc. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Athena Grayson March 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm

If you’re going to post extreme AU fanfic, that’s fine. But when you get ready to publish something, let’s see you do it from scratch, without the fanfic crutch. Start brand-new, unique characters in unique situations. Make the original fic unrecognizable from the fanfic. Sure, shout it from the roof tops to your fannish friends, if you like, but don’t put it out there *as* fanfic, then pull it and use the fandom to boost your rankings.

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Toia March 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Last week when the article was published in the New York Post I emailed my creative writing professor because I wanted to discuss it in class. The general consensus in my class was that they felt there where ethical issues not only with the writer but also with the publisher. I took it to my class because I am a member of the fandom so I thought maybe my opinion was skewed. But after a lengthy discussion we largely agreed with a lot of what has been said by previous post. There is an ethical issue.

My Professor had a very clear stance on the subject. She flatly said it was stealing. No matter how you edited it. She now very interested in fanfic and will be spending spring break researching in.

I quess in the end of the day we all have our opinions but these authors have answer the question if they feel comfortable with their actions. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable co-opting the fandom for monetary gain.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Hi Toia,

“I am a member of the fandom so I thought maybe my opinion was skewed.”

LOL! Well, not saying anything about you personally, but I do suspect those heavily involved in fanfic and fandoms in general see this issue from a different perspective than readers and authors at large. We all get so involved with our hobbies and interests that our life revolves around that to some extent, and we forget those same things are less than irrelevant or silly to others. :)

And I’d love to hear your professor’s final take on the issue after she has a chance to study it. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Ash March 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm

TOIA!
Thank you. I love that you brought this up to some unbiased participants. Their reactions are very interesting. As people with not a lot of vested interest in the subject–unlike published authors or readers & writers of FF–it’s refreshing to see an ethical consensus on the matter.

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Ash March 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm

To say these FF stories that have been turned into saleable works are nothing like the source material is such a fallacy. Whether one writes Edward as canon or writes him as a human, domineering CEO, we all take our inspiration and source material from the same place. We “borrow” the author’s property in good faith. We use it, build a house, live and play there for awhile. But that land is not ours. We do not own it, and we definitely shouldn’t be selling it no matter how much we disguise it. Sure, we can try to sell it, but that doesn’t make it right.

Perhaps someone should take these FF writer’s own stories make the characters inhuman, and rework their stories and sell them. I wonder if the shoe was turned how they would feel about it?

Anyone up for Vampire Christian who likes pain? Or Homeless Alien Blake from Poughkeepsie? Maybe Demon Gabriel Professor?

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Jami Gold March 6, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Hi Ash,

Yes, as I’ve mentioned in other comments, it doesn’t matter what a fanfic author changes the character names to, if the essence of the character–that was intended to evoke the original character–still exists in the “reworked” version, then it’s not reworked enough. Either the characters are meant to evoke those characters belonging to someone else, or they aren’t. That’s my line of ethics. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Fiona Ingram March 6, 2012 at 11:55 pm

While I am eternally grateful to Stephenie Meyer for kickstarting my YA daughter’s fledgling reading habits into full-blown book lover, I think ‘crazes’ are shortlived in the writing world. Fans can lose interest if a new writer, or a piggy-back writer does not offer something fresh and novel. I bought my daughter a second batch of vampire-inspired romances and she read them. When I offered her yet another writer’s series, she said, “No, thanks, they’re all the same now.” She asked me to buy her “Angela’s Ashes” and “Tis,” both highly intellectual compared to Bella and Edward’s antics. She then asked for “War Horse.” My point: even popular original writers have to create fresh appealing material that they invent themselves. Somone who cribs from a successful writer will run out of steam sooner or later. Or else they will cross a legal line called plagiarism. In the e-publishing world the problem of poor quality work is enormous, just because it’s too easy to cobble together something popular. I think as the e-book revolution stabilises, readers will start becoming more choosy. Good luck to the instant e-book millionaires, but I wonder how they will fare when their source of ideas runs dry because clearly they haven’t much creativity inside themselves to start with.
Another point is this: anyone who wants to be considered a serious writer should take heed of what top agents and publishers feel about ‘same-as’ books. After the Harry Potter phenomenon I read quite a few agents’ blogs where many commented ‘no boy wizards, thanks!’ So, even publishers know that readers want different, creative material, not same-old rehashes. The Twilight series ended when it did because the story had to end. I mean, who really wants to read about Bella and Edward’s problems because little (vampire’s name) isn’t sleeping at night, or she’s cut her first set of fangs, or the werewolves are trying to kidnap her… (Sorry, Stephenie). I’d love to see where these fanfic writers end up in a few years. It’s easy to envy the seemingly instant popularity of fanfic writers but (excuse me while I gnaw my figernails in a jealous rage) any ethical writer serious about their craft should continue working at their writing the old-fashioned way i.e. using their own ideas! I mean, imagine Stephen King stealing from Dean Koontz!!!!!

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 9:26 am

Hi Fiona,

Thanks for daring to step into the fray. :)

Good point. As I mentioned in other comments here, I wonder how this fanfic author will follow up this success. There’s a certain level of storytelling ability there, but is she capable of creating characters from scratch? Will she improve her writing craft? Will her publisher even be interested in original, non-fanfic stories? Will her fanfic fanbase be interested in original stories? Will all the NY “mommy-p0rn” readers be impressed enough by her story, her writing, her characters to care about her next book, or are they all just following the latest trend? Only time will tell, but I think she has her work cut out for her to be anything more than a one-hit wonder.

Fanfic readers often read fanfic specifically because they’re looking for “more of the same,” but general readers want new things, new characters, new situations, new emotional depths to plumb. Fanfic readers are not always the best measuring stick for how to move forward with writing. These books made the NYT bestseller list because they were new to the mass readers outside of fanfic. A similar story as a follow up won’t grab their attention like this one did. Thanks for the great comment!

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allryans March 10, 2012 at 11:51 am

With regard to James’ ability to shell out more original work, I will say this: If the speed with which she wrote her fanfic is any indication of her authorial prowess, she could have written three or four more lengthy novels in the time since Fifty Shades Freed was “published.”

MotU was written in a rapid-fire manner. Chapters were put out within a few days of one another. A week was an unusually long wait for a new MotU chapter. James would ask questions on twitter and forums about Americanisms (such as what do Americans call a trench coat, or a suitcase), and then those items would show up in a chapter a day later. There was little forethought put into the development of the story other than the general outline of where she wanted it to go, and a few mile markers she wanted to hit. She said as much several times. The speed with which she finished the original story (and the piecemeal way that the events of final chapter 88 were put together) proved that she simply wanted it finished as quickly as possible. Especially since she had been promised the publishing deal before she completed it.

Granted, she may be sitting on her “perch” crafting another lovely story, and this time doing it with forethought, effort and skill. I make this point on to say that the story that brought all this about was written quicker than most college essays, and yet it has sparked a tenacious devotion. So surely, at least in the minds of those who support her, she’s capable of something similar, yes? No? No.

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Hi allryans,

From what I’ve heard, her chapters are short. I believe that’s typical for fanfic authors. Among most non-fanfic authors, chapters are typically 5-20K words. Chapter one of MotU is about 1500 thousand words. That’s nothing compared to the number of words I typed into the comments in one day when this post first went live on Tuesday (7500 words).

In other words, authors can certainly write those numbers of words in a couple days. Most authors aim for 1-3K words a day. So honestly, finishing a fanfic-length chapter of 1-5K in about 3 days is nothing to get a gold medal for. ;)

The next question is, are those words coherent? Are they grammatically correct? Are they good quality? Some authors can write 2000 or more words an hour, but they’ll be stream of consciousness and need heavy editing. I can write 1000 words an hour and need minimal editing. I’ve mentioned before that my blog posts are close to first draft quality.

Writing is more about rewriting than drafting. Any author who doesn’t have the skills to revise won’t be successful in the long term. Publishers don’t edit anymore (as proven by Knopf’s choice to re-release her books “as is”). Then of course, there’s the issue of whether a writer can come up with their own deep, multi-layered characters.

From what I can tell, most of those who enjoy these books fall into two camps: those who knew the story as fanfic (and thus don’t need the fanfic author to do characterization because Stephenie Meyer did it for them) or those who are getting a thrill out of reading an erotic story for the first time. I’ve seen many of those readers in the second category stating that the writing is bad, the dialogue is cheesy, and the characters are cardboard at best, but they don’t care because they’re loving the illicit nature of reading this type of story. In other words, it’s not about the fanfic author, or her talent, but about the erotic aspects of the storytelling.

So in that respect, yes, there is something about this fanfic author’s storytelling ability that captures reader’s attention, but it seems to be more of the novelty of the BDSM elements than about the story or the characters. So if she writes an original story, will those readers really come back? I don’t know. Now that they’ve crossed the line into erotic, will they venture into other (better written) examples and never look back at the author who opened that world to them? Will they try her next story, but find it boring the second time around because it’s no longer as scandalous to them? Again, I don’t know.

In other words, there are more variables here than just an author’s ability to write fast. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jane March 7, 2012 at 5:19 am

Thankyou for this thoughtful post. A borrowed fan base so true, but is that how it so often goes.
Could there be another definition of originality for a few? For me it’s about what I get to take away from a story. I want a writer to make me understand more about our human condition- make me smart about things I’m not imaginative enough to ‘get’.
I can see as you say all the plot similarities and that common themes were played with, extrapolated here – there exist in the world few basic themes to play with ? But the whole feel of the 2 stories and what I took away from Twilight & Motu were worlds apart- could not possibly have been more different. Twilight; wonderful, so well done, the heady addiction of 1st romance- sexual tension so very vivid. Isolation, loneliness – but not defined in any way I could use.
Motu/50SoG- a truthful also vivid insight but into the well hidden mind and experience of real people we deal with every single day in our world. People who live silently with an awful legacy of suffering. I have learnt something that I can draw on now. Same as ‘The Line of Beauty’- opened up the isolation of homosexuality for me for 1st time. Again love, suffering and isolation.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 9:31 am

Hi Jane,

I agree that plot-wise, Twilight and MotU are very different. I know there are a lot of comments, but I’ve been talking more about the similarities in the characters–not on the superficial characteristics, but on their core essence of what makes them who they are inside. Others who have read the fanfic books might chime in on any plot similarities they see, but for me, as an outside observer, I see a fanfic author who didn’t change the characters before turning fanfic into published work. So the characters (again, their essence, not the superficial stuff) belong to the original author.

And I agree with you about what we look for in stories–enlightenment on the human condition. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jane March 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Thanks for taking the time to replay. True & I wonder if it was in fact the main characters and their interesting particular relationship that was a key inspiration for Motu . Does this belong exclusively to the original author. I may well be missing something basic but this lengthy (sorry) link says it for me . Hope I’m not being obscure. Saw this – Picasso ‘s fanfic of Velazquez. Rip off?? or just taking identical characters & their relationship in totally diff direction
http://bit.ly/xCYlk2
But I saw the main characters & their relationship as very different in small important ways & more broadly I wonder if a story where 1 stronger person helps another weaker to find his identity has probably played out before somewhere in literature- –but it’s all endlessly debatable – does it matter?
Got to wonder about those court cases where 1 author says – he stole my line etc . Precious? Cutting & pasting large swathes- that would be another matter

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Hi Jane,

Interesting point. (And I shortened the link since it was displaying weird. :) )

I know nothing about copyright for images or how derivative works are determined for them. Also, that example wasn’t under U.S. copyright jurisdiction. ;) However, I understand what you’re trying to say, so let me take a stab at it.

In the case of Picasso, was he purposely trying to appeal to Velazquez’s fans? Did he hope some of them would then become his fans? Did he have his work shown in a gallery where Velazquez was featured?

In other words, in addition to the issue of whether Picasso’s work was derivative, we have to look at his behavior for a clue of the artist’s intentions. Homage or rip-off? That would shed light on the general ethical questions of the case.

In the case of FSoG, we know the answers to those questions. Yes, the fanfic author was trying to appeal to Stephenie Meyer’s fans. Yes, she wanted Stephenie’s fans for herself. Yes, she presented her work in connection to Stephenie’s.

As for the character issue, I agree that a strong male/weak female relationship is nothing new. When we pull back and look at the big picture, every story falls into very generic buckets, the whole “boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back” type tropes. What differentiates them are the specifics and the journey.

And in this case, the specifics were meant to evoke Edward and Bella in readers’ minds despite being human and being different ages. The mannerisms, the clumsiness, etc. carried over from Twilight. That’s very different than an author writing their take on the relationship between a random strong guy and a random weak female. Thanks for the comment!

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Claudia March 30, 2012 at 4:42 am

I’ve been to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and I’ve seen that particular painting and many other studies he did about Velazquez’ work. The difference is that Picasso didn´t search profit out of those apintings. Actually he donated them to the Museum. Those are just essays he did on how the world will look like under a cubism prism of some sort. I really don’t thinks this applies.

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Jami Gold March 30, 2012 at 8:49 am

Hi Claudia,

Thanks for sharing that information! As I mentioned in my comment to Jane, I wasn’t familiar with the case at all, but your insight makes a great deal of sense, especially the “looking at the world through a cubist prism” aspect. In that case, he was taking something known and showing how cubists would view it. That’s much different than brand or fan exploitation. Thanks for the comment!

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AE March 7, 2012 at 6:50 am

The idea of “betraying” the fandom by using common words and phrases is interesting. I think this is pretty spot on in a lot of ways. Again, I write for the fandom and have also written other original works. When writing the original pieces I feel a need to remove some of the habits I formed as a FF writer. These habits are common words or phrases, most originally pulled from the initial books (the lip biting is one, Edward pinching his nose, expensive and fast cars, Italian food, Edward’s possessive and domineering behavior, etc.) These are little “tells” inside the fandom that invoke a feeling or reaction simply by using a word or description. We know what these things imply and we react to it appropriately. There is also a developed standard of manipulating these original ideas to common alternate fic ideas (living in Seattle instead of Forks, Edward being an OLDER possessive domineering jerk, Bella being a student, writer, teacher.) These are our fanfic norms. It’s cheating and lazy in a way, but all in good fun. Inside the fandom.
I am a huge believer in the spirit of fanfiction. I love it. I think it is so much fun and a great way to work out some mental frustration with characters or explore ideas BASED off of someone else’s creation. The one reason I think twific is so popular is because the original books are fairly flawed, even though we all became obsessed with them. These flaws allow us holes to dip into and develop something else–other lives for these characters.

When you read mainstream books you can often “tell” which ones are from the fandom anyway, or some kind of fandom. I’ve read a couple that as far as I can see have no real fandom connection but I’m suspicious. The “tells” are there. But the point is….I can’t connect the dots. These must be either a coincidence or an original work by someone who read or wrote in the fandom but expanded. Which is fine. At least it is original.

That was very rambling. I have no idea if it made any sense!

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 9:36 am

Hi AE,

Yes, it made sense. :) And thanks for your insight on the “tells” of fanfic.

Wow, so with that list of common fanfic changes to the Twilight world, these stories sound even less original than I thought. I can definitely understand why other fanfic authors feel betrayed as well. On some level, she stole from them too.

So again I wonder how her supporters break down: fanfic readers only, fanfic readers/writers, fanfic readers/original writers. I’m very curious to find out if she has writers (fanfic or original) who still support her, and if so, where they draw the ethical line. Interesting! :) Thanks for the comment!

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AE March 7, 2012 at 10:16 am

Exactly. There is a lot of “inner fandom stealing” but again, it is usually seen as okay, although sometimes arguments break out of this also.

The first Twilight Fanfics were written in 2007-2008 (I think) and even back then (yes, I was reading then) these characteristics were prevalent. I remember reading my first All-Human and thinking “Oh! Look at the things you can do!” and inside this was a pushing of SM’s original ideas. Edward’s hair goes from “bronze” to “Red.” His skin goes from Vampire pale to..well, pale. The money, the jobs (Dr/Professor/teacher/cook/writer) are typically the same.

The reality here is that James didn’t branch out AT ALL. There are other stories that are set in truly different places and times. Those are bordering on Original Fiction. The AH-AU version James gave us is a story that has been passed around the Twi-verse for years. I think THIS is what is rubbing people the wrong way. This story was nothing most of us around here haven’t read/seen before.

There are a lot of reasons a Twi-Fic becomes popular. Usually, as in many forms of entertainment, sex sells, especially the further it’s pushed. But to really “carry” a fanfic to a higher level of popularity a story/author tends to need a pretty intense fanbase. Icy’s fanbase really went above and beyond what typically happens. The Girl’s Weekends etc, are a different level of fan involvement and I can see how this would translate over.

The good news about this is that there are fic authors who are pushing forward and becoming better writers. I think we will see more and more take the skills from this environment and transfer over to the legitimate side of things. I’m excited to see that happen.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

Hi AE,

I’m excited to see any writers (fanfic or otherwise) push themselves to new levels. As I’ve mentioned, I started with fanfic and worked damn hard to grow above that level.

Writers know that ideas are a dime-a-dozen. I have more truly unique ideas than I’ll ever be able to finish in this lifetime. (Seriously, if I tried, I could come up with 20 unique ideas a day. No joke.) What matters is the execution.

Writers who have a great idea? Wonderful for them, but that’s not enough to earn my respect.

Writers who develop the skills to implement that idea? Respect all the way. :)

So to those supporters who say, “But it was such a great idea, it deserved the light of day,” I say ideas are worthless if the writing craft, talent, and skill isn’t there to back it up. And anyone who publishes before that professional level is achieved looks like someone who didn’t respect their readers and was simply looking for the easy shortcut.

Here’s to all those writers pushing themselves and earning respect. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jen DeSantis March 7, 2012 at 11:22 am

Hi, Jami.

I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful blog post on a touchy issue right now. I started writing fanfic, in the Twilight fandom, about two years ago. I truly don’t think that I would have had the guts to try and write original fiction had I not practiced with some well-loved characters first. So I’m very grateful to Ms. Meyers for allowing me to play with her characters in that venue.

It saddens me that I’m seeing so many members of our fandom come here and say that this is just a personal attack on Ms. James. The truth of the matter is that James has become the poster-author for this issue because her story has become so successful. Yes, we are using FSoG to talk about it more because it is the book that everyone knows; that doesn’t limit it a personal attack on the author.

For me, the issue has never been in question: profiting off of something that was posted as fanfic is unethical. Period. As an author, I know that we take our inspiration from literally everything that we soak in as human beings. It’s nearly impossible for someone to claim anything as completely original. What is different about gathering inspiration from many and varied source and fanfic is that fanfic is derived from one source material. That’s the very nature of the beast. It’s why we come back to read about Edward’s bronze hair and Bella’s blush. Because we know that those things will be there.

What’s done is done, and clearly Meyers knows about FSoG now. It would be hard not to with all of the attention it is receiving. Clearly she’s not going after legal damages and that’s her choice as an author. Still, I think a healthy debate such as the one you posited here is important. As authors, we need to be able to discuss where the ethical line lies in borrowing material from others. It’s an important issue, and one that we could all use some discourse about. Thanks for taking on this sensitive topic with grace.

~Jen

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Hi Jen,

I agree. None of this post is meant to slam fanfic in general. I know I learned tons during my fanfic experience. But I also know I’ve learned much more since then. I did at least 95% of my growth as a writer after working on my own stories and characters. What makes a good fanfic is not the same as what makes a good professional-level book.

Just as I hold all fanfic authors who have turned their fanfic writings into published material (without the massive overhaul necessary) to the same ethical standards (meaning I’m not limiting my questions to this one fanfic author), I hold all published writing to the same standard–whether they published through a Big 6 publisher, vanity publisher, small publisher, or self-published. I refuse to patronize a fanfic author by judging their published work by different standards.

Someone might be an all-star sandlot baseball player, but if they want to play in the major leagues, they’ll be judged against other major league players. That’s not a personal attack. That’s simply the expectation of quality when one claims to be ready for the pros. :)

“[F]anfic is derived from one source material.”

Great point! Inspiration (rather than “ripping off”) comes from a mixture of sources. I think I mentioned in another comment somewhere in here that original writing is mixing things in new and different ways. If a fanfic story only uses a single source, they’re not mixing things. Especially if any other main source is limited to other fanfic. The whole concept sounds rather incestuous, in fact. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jen DeSantis March 7, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Agreed. Though fanfic readers may not hold writers to the same standards as those who are paying for novels, I’d argue that there are many fanfic writers who hold *themselves* to those standards. I think as writers we are always growing. If we ever stagnate, it’s probably time to hang up the proverbial gloves. :)

Incestuous. That’s a great word for it. I have friends who have written “one-shots” (a fan fic short story), and rehauled the plot to create a full novel. THAT I can get behind. Because to take something from 5000 words to 80-90,000 words, you have to do a heck of a lot of reworking and polishing. You have to make it your own.

I’ll be honest here, and this is totally my own perception, but if you have a full-length fic and you try to make a novel out of it, regardless of how much work you put into it, I just don’t know that you’re ever going to get the fic out of it. It’s SO much more than changing names, locations, descriptions; it’s rearranging character relationships, changing mannerisms, hobbies … the list just goes on.

Anyway, I just wish that people could separate the “personal” from the “practice.” Once we throw our work out into a public forum, be it fanfiction.net or for sale on Amazon, we open ourselves to criticism. And it isn’t personal; it’s business.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Hi Jen,

I agree. “Fanfic author” is not some special badge exempting one from writing standards. :) Plenty of writers of all stripes (traditional, self, fanfic) enjoy learning and growing in the craft and value higher standards. Look at any culture (as this issue goes way beyond just fanfic writing) and the most successful are those where the people are always striving for “better.”

Oh yes, I definitely agree with you about the overhaul of a short story to a novel qualifying as a reset button from fanfic to original. As I mentioned somewhere in here to Carradee, at that point, the author is taking the core idea from the fanfic and that’s it.

“[I]f you have a full-length fic and you try to make a novel out of it, regardless of how much work you put into it, I just don’t know that you’re ever going to get the fic out of it.”

That’s a good point. If we change the characters so much that they react differently to plot events, wouldn’t that change the effect from that cause and so on down the plotline? I don’t know. I guess it might depend on how out of character they were to begin with. Then the actions might stay the same but the motivations revealed in the internalizations might be different. Thanks for the great comment! :)

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elusivetwilight March 7, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Jumping into this with both feet, hope the water is nice!

I read the original MOTU fanfiction to a point. And it did not surprise me in the slightest when she published it. She enjoyed her fandom ‘perch’.

Her choice to publish nauseated me.

Much as it nauseated me when Sylvain Reynard pulled to publish his own work. As I recall, SR was very blatantly honest after pulling to publish that fanfiction was an experiment to see how successful he would be.

That attitude is just so full of WRONG WRONG WRONG to me.

How dare you take advantage of the free feedback fandom willingly gives you? How dare you allow fandom to hold your hand and give you real time feedback as you write your book? And then to pull it from fandom and expect that same support when you publish it?

Disgusting. That sort of arrogance (imho arrogance…) makes my skin crawl.

But who is the mug here?

Is it the fans who have willingly given feedback but see none of the royalties as the P2P author laughs all the way to the bank?

I find it all very shady.

And.

As a fanfic author myself, I would feel really gross knowing my first outing as an author, big or small, was in some way not entirely mine. I would feel incredibly embarrassed if those characters/plot/etc were even remotely someone else’s idea. (see: Russett Noon by Lady Sybilla and Cassandra Claire’s HP fanfic now the Mortal Instruments series…)

I remember reading Cosette several years ago. It was a book written as a sequel to Les Miserables. Being a HUGE Les Mis fan (having read the book countless times) I was saddened by how wishy washy Cosette was.

Could Cosette be considered fanfic?

What about that god-awful book, Scarlett, written as a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind? That thing was horrid.

Do I feel taken advantage of for reading Scarlett or Cosette? Hell yes I do. I regret paying money for them, hoping for some small piece of the characters I missed so much.

So yes, I think it’s taking advantage of fandom when pulling to publish. Feedback of any sort is invaluable but I feel like there is huge elephant of an ethical issue that some people (fans/authors) do not seem to be able to grasp.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Hi Elusivetwilight,

“As a fanfic author myself, I would feel really gross knowing my first outing as an author, big or small, was in some way not entirely mine.”

Yes, and that’s exactly why I see this as an ethical issue. What does it say about a person who made a different choice? What does it say about an author if they let their book be published without heavy editing (much less the overhaul)?

Some supporters here have claimed, “I know she must be cringing at all the editing errors.” Really? Did the publisher grab the book out of her hands and lock her in a dungeon so she couldn’t edit it before it went to print? Um, no. Publishing doesn’t work that way.

She chose to publish with those errors. Whether because she simply doesn’t care or doesn’t know enough about writing craft to realize it, I don’t know.

Aside from ebook formatting errors and a stray error here and there (5 or less per book typically), real books from real publishers don’t have those types of craft issues. And since the publisher didn’t hold her at gunpoint (I’m guessing here ;) ), guess whose fault it is? The fanfic author.

Gah! Authors who don’t respect their readers disgust me. They really do. (And yes, I’ve ranted about this many times on my blog, so this is in no way a “personal” attack. :) ) Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee March 9, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Er, actually, I could name some “Big 6″ bestsellers with way more than 5 typos per book. Proofreaders have a history of being the least-appreciated editing step, and I’ve heard some companies actually require authors to do their own proofreading.

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Jami Gold March 9, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Hi Carradee,

I’m sure that’s true. :) But numbers above that don’t seem to be the norm. And even at 10 per book, that’s still nowhere near the error every other page typical of some fly-by-night publishers. Thanks for the comment!

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KN March 7, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Jami, thanks for taking the time to moderate this discussion. It’s an issue I struggled with when I started writing fanfiction. I view fanfic as an apprenticeship–a place to sharpen my skills and find out how people respond to my ideas (and the executions thereof).

I made the personal decision that I would do everything possible to keep my fanfic separate from my future original fiction. There will be no crossover in storylines, author names or promotion. The fanfic characters and universe belong to the original author (to whom I am extremely grateful–she graciously allows us to play in her sandbox with her toys). As a guest in her world, I try hard to be respectful of her work and that includes not infringing on her right to monetary income from the use of her characters. My storylines are definitely AU, but if the author chose to exert her rights and used them, I would be the first to cheer her on.

Fanfiction is a gift the authors grant to their readers. Those of us who write fanfiction have a duty and a responsibility to understand that it is a gift, and treat it with the respect and honor it deserves. Otherwise, I can see a future where no author will allow fanfiction, and the stories we enjoy now will be lost.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Hi KN,

I think you’ve taken a great approach to your involvement with the fanfic community. That matches with what my advice would be to anyone asking how to balance their fanfic and original writing. I mentioned earlier that I think it would be okay to mention in a fanfic community, “Hey, if you like my fanfic writing, you might also like my original stories,” but that’s as far as I’d take it. (No spamming. ;) )

“As a guest in her world, I try hard to be respectful of her work and that includes not infringing on her right to monetary income from the use of her characters. …

… Those of us who write fanfiction have a duty and a responsibility to understand that it is a gift, and treat it with the respect and honor it deserves. Otherwise, I can see a future where no author will allow fanfiction, and the stories we enjoy now will be lost.”

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! :) Now I’m not in the fanfic community, so maybe I’m missing something here, but it seems to me that these opportunist fanfic authors are pushing the envelope to the point where they’re forcing the original authors to step in. Is that really what all the supporters of these opportunists want? To have the authors say, “Hey, this isn’t cool”? Do they want fanfic cut off from them? Are they really choosing the fanfic author over the original author? *shakes head* Yeah, I just don’t get it. Thanks for the comment!

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Lori M. Lee March 8, 2012 at 7:06 am

Is it ever acceptable for a fanfic author to make money on their fanfic writings?

Unless it’s for charity, NO. Absolutely not. Fandom has been known to put together auctions of fanfic and fanart in order to raise donations for various relief organizations, which I think is great. But fanfiction for one’s own profit is NEVER okay.

There was this disturbing trend of fanfic writers taking fanfic commissions in order to make an extra buck–the same fanfic writers who put disclaimers at the beginning of their stories saying ‘These characters do not belong to me, I make no profit from writing this.’

Riiiight. *headdesk*

In short, I like this post :)

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Jami Gold March 8, 2012 at 9:01 am

Hi Lori,

I agree with you on the charity aspect. I’m all for turning something that doesn’t mean much into something meaningful in the bigger picture. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Camaro March 8, 2012 at 10:12 am

Seems to me that this story has deeply polarized people. You either love it, as in SQUEEEEEING about it to everybody and their aunt, or you hate it. And then there are some like me who firmly fall in between. I tell everybody who asks about this series that I have a complete love/hate relationship with these books. There are things that I found really enjoyable and things that completely annoyed me. Incidentally, I find the P2P topic fascinating because of my own roots as a fanfiction writer (for a completely different fandom).

I do have to say that I find the reasoning of the people who claim that these books have “nothing, absolutely NOTHING to do with Twilight” quite naive. I read FSoG knowing that the book used to be Twific and I could definitely tell. I recognized the Twilight ensemble of characters quite easily, hell I recognize a LOT of other things quite easily. It is surprising that at this point no one (that I know of) has bothered to really connect the dots and prove how the stories are similar. Seems like the logical thing to do. This is my humble attempt as I am tired of people not seeing it for whatever reason.

- both Edward and Christian were adopted.
- both Edward and Christian have a deep, dark, dangerous secret that no one is privy to, except for the heroine and by extension us
- both Edward and Christian are rich and more sophisticated than the heroine
- Although I find that their personalities do have differences, both Christian and Edward have stalker tendencies and are domineering
- Both Edward and Christian have reddish/bronze tinted hair
- Both Edward and Christian give the heroine a car (can someone please reconfirm this on the Twilight side, been a while since I read Twilight)
- Both Edward and Christian are piano-players (a little detail I found fascinating while reading FSoG until I rediscovered it was derived from Twilight)
- Both Edward and Christian have a loving supportive adoptive family comprised of Carrick/Carlisle (the father), Grace/Esme (the mother), Elliot/Emmet (the brother), Mia/Alice (the sister). The remaining two members of the ensemble, Jasper and Rosalie discussed below.
-Jasper and Rosalie/ Ethan and Kate in FSoG. Rosalie and Kate are both blonde, beautiful and a high contrast to Bella. Kate and Elliot end up together as a couple which is reminiscent of them also being a couple in Twilight (Rose and Emmet).
- Jasper and Alice are a couple in Twilight, Ethan from FSoG ends up setting his sights on the proto-Alice character in FSoG, Mia. BOOM!, there you go, your whole Twilight Cullen cast/ensemble, reloaded.
- Both Twilight and FSoG have the couple following the arc of initial attraction, hero attempting to separate himself from heroine by stating he’s not right for her, heroine pursuing relationship, heroine finding out dark secret, heroine still pursuing relationship, couple briefly parts/breaks up and then reunites, couple marries, goes off to exotic/romantic honeymoon, heroine gets preggers prematurely, hero reacts extremely negatively, heroine still has kid. Hero eventually comes around about kid.
- Both stories are set in Washington state.
- Jacob/José (Twilight/FSoG) both dislike the hero because they want to be with the heroine. The heroine is not interested in Jacob/José but Jacob/José continues to pursue her until he gives up and realizes that the heroine chose the “bad guy” over them.
- Anastasia is essentially, Bella (more so than Christian being Edward, where there are more differences). She has pretty much all of Bella’s mannerisms. She talks like Bella, she acts like Bella, she says the same things Bella would. She is highly clumsy and uncoordinated, she is quiet, reserved, not popular, odd one out, like Bella. She bites her bottom lip like Bella. She feels a bit like a fish out of water in the presence of the Greys just like Bella feels in the presence of the Cullens. At most she is a proto-Bella but essentially the same character at the core.
- Both Bella and Ana have a bit of an excentric mother that lives somewhere else and has remarried several times (at least twice from what I remember).
- Both Bella and Ana have a father that they love, that lives by himself (is a bit of a loner), that has a great relationship with them, even if slightly distanced. The main difference is that Ray (FSoG) is a stepfather to Ana, while Charlie (Twilight) is blood father to Bella.
- Both Charlie and Ray have a love of fishing.
- Both stories feature a stalker (Lauren/Leila) who stalks Bella/Ana and wants to hurt/kill her.
- Jasper and Rose pretend to be twins in Twilight. Ethan and Kate (their parallels) are twins in FSoG.

These are all the things I recognized and I am probably even forgetting some. I’m not even a Twi-hard, I’m not a super fanatic of it and I still found a LOT of parallelisms so it is frankly mindboggling to me how so many people keep claiming that no relation exists, and no similarities are evident. Really? You can, in all honestly sit there and tell me that? Granted, the plot, however weak in FSoG, is not the same as Twilight’s because there are no paranormal elements. All of these elements I listed above are disguised (and in many cases, not even) but they are not difficult to find. COME ON am I the only one here that sees it. Please. do not attempt to tell me that there is no deriving from Twilight other thant the “names” because that is simply not true.

Now, as far as the ethics, legal case goes, I am not going there in this posts. I find that to be a highly debatle topic with many good points on both sides, but the fact that a lot of people claim they couldn’t find any similarities and thus they simply don’t simply surprises me. Dig a little, just scratch the surface, you might be surprised at what you find.

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Jami Gold March 8, 2012 at 10:35 am

Hi Camaro,

Wow, thank you for that analysis. I haven’t read the FSoG books, so I wasn’t familiar with the plot and secondary character similarities. I knew only about the Bella/Ana and Edward/Christian issue.

People can say all they want that every author gets inspiration from other sources (and that’s very true), but as Jen DeSantis pointed out in her comment, the problem with fanfic is that it’s all taken from one source. That’s not mixing things to create something truly new.

“[S]he is a proto-Bella … essentially the same character at the core.”

And that’s exactly what I’ve been saying. :) My post today goes more into why changing names isn’t enough. Thanks for the comment!

P.S. I fixed the typo issue and added the other item you mentioned so it will all read clearly. No worries. :)

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Jess March 12, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Happy to point out more twilight similarities

Ana often references classic literature and E L James uses this to shape the plot (tess of d’urbervilles) for the 1st book. This is just like Twilight where SMeyer uses Romeo & Juliet, Wuthering Heights and The Merchant of Venice to shape the plot in the 2/3rd/and 4th book. In fact, one thing i haven’t yet seen a reviewer pick up on (and an editor worth their weight would never have allowed this) is that the Tess references never come to a conclusion. They are just thrown in and out as if the author wants us to know she is smart, but not prepared to used them effectively. SMeyer actually used hers more effectively, and in the case of the 4th book, quite subtly.

When Ana walks out on Christian, in MoTU we all laughed that she would make the next chapter blank like SMeyer did in New Moon. But Icy wouldn’t have done that, she would have been lynched online!!

I’ll post more similarities once I think of them.

Esme & Carlisle/Grace & Carrick never thought their adopted son would find happiness and was destined to be alone. When Bella/Ana comes along it becomes ‘possible’ for their son to finally find happiness.

Mia/Alice are obsessed with clothes. Edward/Christian are really close to his adopted sister.

The Cullens & the Grays have loads of money and Bella/Ana is intimidated by this.

The Cullens brought clothes all the time for Bella. Ana also receives designer clothes.

I think the character of Bella is designed smartly by SMeyer in that she is the everyday girl, she’s just like you, not feeling like she belongs. Ana is structured similarly, in that she sees herself plainly and different to others. Such a device is used by story tellers to help the reader feel like the narrator is just like them, making it easier to feel empathy for them.

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Jami Gold March 12, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Hi Jess,

Thank you for this! Yes, in the time since I first posted this article, I’ve now seen enough reactions from those who read the books without knowing the Twilight fanfic connection to know that some react with a “No, really?” and some react with a “Yep, that explains it.”

Neither of those reactions are inaccurate. People are simply reporting what they noticed or didn’t notice, and some people pick up subtext and connections more easily. For example, I’d never picked up on The Merchant of Venice connection in the last Twilight book. Then again, I’m not as familiar with that story. :)

Regardless, just because someone doesn’t notice these similarities doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The fact remains that any similarities along these lines are there because the fanfic author put them there on purpose to evoke the Twilight characters. There can be no doubt that she wanted people to think of the Twilight characters as she was writing. And since she didn’t make major changes from MotU to FSoG, that means the Twilight characters are still there on the page.

One thing I’ve found interesting is that many reviews mention the email exchanges between Christian and Ana in a positive way. The reviewers think the heart of the story and the characters show through in those sections. Some even mention that they seem like completely different characters! Well, guess what? I think they are.

I’d bet those email exchanges fall outside the Twilight-in-a-fun-house-mirror plot echoes of MotU/FSoG (I haven’t read the books, but this is my guess of how they fit in–or rather, don’t fit in to the Twilight plot remix). More importantly, those sections demonstrate what the characters would be like if the fanfic author wasn’t restraining her own characters to copy Stephenie’s. The extreme differences in readers’ perception of the inner workings of the characters in those sections provides an example of what I mean by “evoking” the original characters. Those emails are more unique and outside the Twilight story. Unfortunately for the fanfic author’s case, that just emphasizes how much the characters are the same in the rest of the story. Thanks for the comment!

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Jess March 13, 2012 at 5:33 am

Good point re the email exchanges, you are right they are not in twilight. I always thought the emails achieved two things, one it allowed Bella/Ana to seperate herself from Edward/Christian thereby allowing her to say what she couldn’t in front of Edward due to him being domineering. Secondly the emails were also a nod to how interconnected we all are in this web 2.0 world. Like you said, they also achieved the aim of differentiating the story from Twilight.

From the early days when MoTU was still a story, I was encouraging of seeing her write her own stories. I do think she has talent, and with the right editor could go places. There are a number of fanfic authors out there who are doing this, writing original fic. More power to them. Part of me does feel proud that Icy is now on the NYT bestseller list, I just wish it wasn’t for a rehased MoTU.

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Jami Gold March 13, 2012 at 9:17 am

Hi Jess,

Yes, the fact that those email exchanges are mentioned as the favorite sections for so many shows that the fanfic author does have talent. In those sections, her characters are alive for her and her readers in ways they aren’t in the rest of the story. Which just goes to show how much it’s a shame that the rest of the characterization couldn’t live as unique characters because the fanfic author was tying them to the Twilight characters so much.

I really wish she’d do an original story so we could see that storytelling and characterization ability fly free. But no. One interview said she’s working on a fourth installment of FSoG. :( Thanks for the comment!

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Diana August 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Camaro: wow, indeed! The ones that say it’s totally different are totally deluded. I haven’t read it but find your analysis quite enlightening. In some cases James didn’t even change the initial of the names! now talk about shameless!

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fanny March 8, 2012 at 11:24 am

This is such an interesting debate.

I’m not an author of fan fiction but I’ve read hundreds of them. There are a lot of stories in the Twi-fic world in which the plot is really creative and has barely anything to do with the original Twilight story. Some of them could be considered original stories if it wasn’t for the use of the characters’ names. But in my opinion, MOTU is definitely not one of those stories. One of the things that attracted me to this fic were the parallelisms between the original characters, the original Edward and Bella, and the ones in the fic. They’re human. They’re not in Forks. There are not vampires or warewolves in MOTU. But the simmilarities in their personalities are there and some of Edward and Bella’s traits inspired the fic.
Edward’s complicated past makes him a tortured soul who considers himself unworthy of love.
Bella is a normal girl, shy, a virgin, who meets Edward and feels connected to him and is always capable of seeing beyond his flaws because she loves him completely.
The question is: Can this description be applied to both Twilight and MOTU? In my opinion, the answer is yes. So the facts that the story deals with a BDSM topic or that the locations are changed don’t make it an original work. Characters already created are being used again. Those characteristics are there and were basically the ones that inspired the story so you can’t claim your story as original if you use the characters with the same traits.

As a second point, I don’t understand why when others writers of fanfiction declare that they’re against these publications because there’s an ethical issue there, they’re automatically accused of being jealous. Don’t poeple see that these authors are taking advantage of someone else’s work (in this case S.Meyer’s) and taking advantage of their readers? That’s why fanfiction writers criticize it. As I said I’m not a writer but I know they put a lot of work into their stories. Some writers are incredibly talented and I’ll be forever grateful for their wonderful stories. But pulling fics down and selling them as original it’s just an easy way of getting money and of taking advantage of those readers that have been following your work. I’m pretty sure that if some of my favourite authors in fanfiction write an original story and publish it, I would give it a try and buy it. But I would never buy a work that’s taking advantage of someone else’s creation.

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Jami Gold March 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Hi Fanny,

Yes, the more I hear about this story, the more I think it’s a straight parallel to Twilight. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, but it means the fanfic elements (that is, those aspects belonging to Stephenie Meyer) are integral to the story. A major overhaul of the characters and their actions/reactions and core essence would be necessary to get past that issue.

And I can’t explain why the “jealousy” issue is so prevalent among the supporters of these opportunists. They’re living vicariously through these fanfic authors and therefore protective? They assume all authors are back-biting harpies? LOL! Don’t know.

As you said, fanfic authors could be using their fanfic to get people interested in them and their writing. Plenty of authors post free flash fiction, short stories, and the like to give people a taste of their writing so they’ll be willing to spend money on the “real” stuff. Fanfic writing can be used the same way. But to try to sell the fanfic writing instead? Ugh, no. Thanks for the comment!

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Bones March 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

My question:
How different is FSoG from the porn spoofs?
Look at SPACE NUTS (referenced by The 40 Year Old Virgin): A ridiculous explicit take on Mel Brook’s SPACE BALLS, which was a goof on STAR WARS, which was a retelling of a little known Kurosawa movie.
Okay, so maybe Princess Hubba Hubba is a long way off from Yuki. But to be fair, Christian Grey is no Mr. Darcy.
But are folks really so angry that FSoG got published? Or is the issue that it’s popular?
I don’t see this much buzz about about “Shaving Ryan’s Privates” or “A Clockwork Orgy.” (I’m not making these up. Seriously. They exist.)
Derivative porn has been around for ages. Why the upset now?

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Jami Gold March 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Hi Bones,

That’s a good question. I’d guess the answer lies in your question, where you called those “spoofs.” Spoofs, also known as parodies, are protected by law (at least in the U.S.). Fanfic does not fall under the umbrella of parody legal-wise.

If this case goes to court, her lawyer might very well challenge it on that notion. However, U.S. law sees a line between derivative works that are truly transformative in nature–meaning vastly different genre, different audience, different medium, etc.–and those that are merely “taken from.” Going from a PG-13 to an R rated story is not enough. Going from an “x” style of romance story to a “y” style of romance story is not enough. And as the readers of the fanfic prove, the crossover in audience is huge. I can’t pretend to know how the courts would rule, but the fact remains that this story was meant to appeal to the fanbase of the original. That makes a difference in many cases.

As for why the picking on FSoG… I’m against all previously fanfic stories that are published without major overhauls. FSoG simply is brought up as an example because it’s on everyone’s radar screen. I could have written this post using a different fanfic-to-published story as an example, but it wouldn’t resonate with people if they hadn’t heard of the situation. Any time anyone or anything reaches a level of awareness in the culture, people will begin using that as an example for something. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Bones March 8, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Very good point.
The parodies, pornographic or not, have no delusions of ever being independent of the original. They pay homage, mock, or get their freak on with full admittance that they wouldn’t exist without the source.
And to clarify, I did not mean to imply that you were “picking” -in a bullying sense- on FSoG; you’ve been quite diplomatic.

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Jami Gold March 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Hi Bones,

No worries. :) “Picking on” was my word, not yours. I didn’t think you meant anything bad by your question. Thanks for the comment!

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Lotta March 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Thank you Jami for a really good and interesting discussion!

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Jami Gold March 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hi Lotta,

You’re welcome. :) Thanks for stopping by!

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Pavarti K Tyler March 10, 2012 at 8:18 am

I agree with you on every point. I think publishing fanfic is a really difficult thing and generally completely unethical. The publishing house you’re talking about has sent me a number of books to review as a blogger and with one I could smell the fanfic in the first 2 pages.

The flip side is I’m considering putting one of my stories out. It’s a Jacob/Bella AU AH story with them as adults. I wrote it as an OF but the writing community I had at the time was Twilight Fanfic so I put it there. I believe it’s strong enough as it’s own creature to publish, however, out of respect for the fanfic community I’ve decided it will be available free and any profits that may be made will be donated to Alex’s Lemonade Stand (the charity Fandom Gives Back uses).

If you’d be interested in reading in (short – only 30k words or so) I’d love to have your input as I make this decision.

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Jami Gold March 10, 2012 at 9:21 am

Hi Pavarti,

Yes, I’d just visited your blog posts talking about your decision yesterday (here and here). :) I very much respect you for the choices you’ve made.

I don’t think offering reworked fanfic for free is unethical, but if you’re worried about the implications of going with a wider distribution despite the price, I’m always willing to butt in more with my opinion. ;) Thanks for the comment!

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Addison March 10, 2012 at 9:12 am

It’s always nice to see someone profiting off Stephenie Meyer fans. The ‘borrowed’ elements are far from subtle and I’m completely dumbfounded that she is getting away with this. How pathetic. She didn’t even bother to change the location.

Not to mention that it is a completely unrealistic, poor, and all around disgusting depiction of true BDSM relationships and scenarios. It’s insulting to people that actually participate in the lifestyle. I’ve been a submissive for many years, and I’ve spent time in a contracted relationship and it is not something to be treated as a disease, or practiced only by those with a dark past, as the author makes it out to be. She portrays it as something shameful, and that is ridiculous.

This story was a joke as fanfiction, and even more so now that people are supporting her blatant plagiarism. His name may be Christian Grey here, but really he’s just Edward Cullen with a riding crop, because that’s exactly what this started out as.

She used the fans, she used SM, and that is all there is to it. You can argue this until the end of time, her fans will simply say that we are jealous of her success. No, I am appalled that someone could be this disturbingly unethical and immoral. Period.

Wonderful post, by the way.

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 11:59 am

Hi Addison,

This issue is far from settled on the “getting away with it” front. As far as I know, a copyright holder can challenge at any time. Unlike trademark law, the right does not diminish over time if the right’s holder fails to challenge. Fifty years from now, Stephenie Meyer’s kids could take the fanfic author’s estate to court and get a monetary judgment.

Thanks for weighing in on the BDSM issue. I mentioned that in the post, but most comments have steered clear of the issue. ;) I’m not a BDSM author, but I’ve seen enough details about the difference between true BDSM and MotU/FSOG‘s depiction of it to know its BDSM elements are shockingly inaccurate to the point of being unhealthy and dangerous should any readers get ideas about bringing it into their home.

Like you, I’m appalled at the situation, for many reasons. Thanks for the comment!

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T March 10, 2012 at 9:16 am

Two things that I find interesting as a member of the fandom and a once-avid fanfic reader:

1. I’ve seen more articles, blog posts, tweets, etc about her ethics (or lack thereof) than her talent as a writer or the quality of her book. Way to jump into the ultra competitive world of publishing!! If this black mark is ever erased from her reputation, I will spend the $30 on her paperback, even though I read it for free 2 yrs ago. (likelihood? slim to hell no!)

2. Instead of understanding that everyone has different tastes in books and is entitled to their own opinion, her stans attack on one of 2 fronts (the only 2 legs they can stand on, frankly): you’re either jealous of her success if you’re not begging for Christian to tug your tampon out, or you’re all for keeping a new female writer down (see Jennifer Weiner). Or they mix it up and accuse you of both. Acclaimed authors have to praise/rec every female author even if the books suck? Those stans are embarrassing-they blindly seek and attack. Their namedropping and asskissing are doing Icy’s rep as, well, icy no favors at all. Their automatic defending of a book that other (award-winning, respected) authors have bashed (on merit) gives the fandom (once a happy, fun environment) yet another bad name.

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Hi T,

Yes, there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about the quality of the writing (or lack thereof). As you mentioned, Jennifer Weiner (multi-published, always on the NYT bestseller list in the top ten) was slammed by the fanfic author’s supporters after bringing it up on Twitter. In other words, it’s dangerous for authors to bring up the issue, and it’ll be up to readers in general to have that conversation.

As an author, I can point out that good writing shouldn’t be overwritten with repetitive ideas or internalizations, should have deep characterization, should vary sentence structure to avoid a robotic rhythm, needs to have realistic dialogue, etc., but if I make direct accusations about a book’s failings in those areas, some will cry “sour grapes” no matter how true my statement is.

What I find appalling about this situation in this respect is that Knopf–from everything I’ve heard–won’t be editing the book before the U.S. re-release. Again, her supporters can not claim the fanfic author is cringing over those errors, because she’s letting them stay. Again. And don’t even get me started on what that means about Knopf that they’d publish it as is. *sigh* Thanks for the comment!

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Jess March 13, 2012 at 4:24 am

Just a comment on the writing in the book. I’m not American, so I wouldn’t pick up on a lot of the poor choices re American English. I did think this was one of the better written stories in fanfic, but I say that when I read the book chapter by chapter and not as a whole. Completely different experience reading it all in one go, where the repetitive nature of plot, word use etc woul more easily be picked up.

I would however like to mention that poor writing is in many ways is a way many writers unwittingly paid homage to SMeyer. Her book had glaring grammar errors, poor structure and repetitive word usage. Her book was published by a major publishing house who didn’t seem to care, or pick up errors in subsequent reprints (something many publishing houses do, I know this because I work for a major one, which is not Random House!).

I do agree that not all novels, even one’s that garner a high online review count by definition deserve to be published. Also not everything that is published is beyond critical review and someone questioning why it was published over something else.

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Jami Gold March 13, 2012 at 9:04 am

Hi Jess,

“I read the book chapter by chapter and not as a whole. Completely different experience reading it all in one go, where the repetitive nature of plot, word use etc woul more easily be picked up.”

Yes, there’s a great article on edittorrent (a blog run by two editors) about why agents/editors might not love what your critique group loves, and one of the reasons it mentions is this same issue.

“[T]hat poor writing is in many ways is a way many writers unwittingly paid homage to SMeyer.”

Interesting. I almost got the impression through some of the comparison first chapter I read that the fanfic author was purposely writing badly for this homage idea. Which of course, just means that the joke is on all the readers who are now eating it up. :) (And you’re right, most publishing houses won’t correct errors in subsequent print runs. I’ve heard many authors complain about this.) Thanks for the comment!

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C March 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm

First off, let me just commend you for taking on this war. You might not have been privy to the hellacious battlefield that this has become in the Twi fandom, but you most certainly are now. (As an aside, I try to stay away from the minefield and the negativity it promotes, but good gracious, it’s everywhere these days.)

Secondly, I’d like to say that it’s a welcomed reprieve to get a non-biased, outsider’s perspective on this matter. As a fandom community member since early ’08- both FF reader and sometimes writer- I often have wondered what the opinion of others outside of our three-ring circus would think about all of this hoopla. I thought your argument, as well as your comment replies, was respectful and accurate.

Honestly, I have no horse in this race (she’ll continue to make her money, people will continue to argue the ethical-or lack thereof- high ground, repeat), and mostly find the dramatics of it all unwarranted, but I do have my opinions.

Many times, I’ve seen fanfiction authors put disclaimers on their fanfiction stories. It was presented somewhat along the lines of “DISCLAIMER: All the characters, plot, settings, and blah blah blah belong to S.Meyers. No copyright infringement intended.” It’s been many years since I attempted to read MotU and I don’t recall if she ever put a disclaimer on it, but the point I’m trying to make is that most FF authors recognize that no matter how “original” or incomparable their work is to Twilight, they still drew some type of inspiration from Meyer’s work, whether it be from the characters or the romance or whatever. The very fact that their “FANfiction” is being read at all is because of the ready-made fanbase of Twilight. So, do I feel like pulling a fanfiction, changing the character names and few other details, and putting it on the market to make a profit is unethical? Absolutely, but that’s just my opinion. I’m not the moral police, so if others disagree with me, they’re free to do so.

That being said, my biggest fault with all of this is simple. This author (as well as other P2P authors) are capitalizing on Twilight-remade stories. I know of ff author (some are even friends) that did well in the community, and they’ve decided to walk the hard road. They stepped away from writing fanfiction, birthed ideas FROM SCRATCH with their own original characters and plots, slaved away on it, submitted to various agents, got agents, and are now looking for publishers. Others are in various stages of this process. Some even took their ideas and ran with the self-pub route, which I have no qualms with at all. Yes, I’ve known them from their days of dabbling with fanfiction, but I feel like I can *support* them because they aren’t trying to sell me something I’ve already read for free or a story that was built upon someone else’s foundation. Had 50SoG’s author took her massive following and presented them a story that was her undeniably her own with no relative ties to Twilight or its fanfiction, I’d have nothing to fault her for at all. Sadly, this is not the case.

~RantyPants

P.S. Sorry for any errors, my phone screen is way to small to discuss properly.

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Hi C (or should I call you RantyPants? ;) ),

“The very fact that their “FANfiction” is being read at all is because of the ready-made fanbase of Twilight.

… Had 50SoG’s author took her massive following and presented them a story that was her undeniably her own with no relative ties to Twilight or its fanfiction, I’d have nothing to fault her for at all.”

I agree with everything you said. :)

One other thing I want to point out here. Some people have said these fanfic authors deserve not letting all that hard work go to waste. I can understand that.

But at the professional level of publishing, it’s common for authors to write multiple stories before reaching the level where they’re publishable. Most published authors have 1-10 “trunk novels”–those stories metaphorically stuffed into a trunk and hidden under the bed. It’s a good lesson for authors. Not everything we write is good enough to deserve to be published. Even after they’re published and have made a name for themselves, authors sometimes have to delete everything in a story they’re working on and start over.

Is the time we spend learning to ride a bike with training wheels “wasted”? No. It was a necessary step in our learning process. But we shouldn’t expect the same accolades for successfully wheeling down the block with training wheels as those we receive once we’re able to ride the same path on our own.

It’s not enough to be able to write. We have to learn discernment and the ability to judge whether our work is good enough to have our name attached to it.

Some authors care more about their name and their readers than others. Some never learn that discernment and think their crap is gold. Some are in it just for the money. Some suck it up and recognize that much of their time and energy spent writing is “wasted” on the sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books that will never–and should never–go anywhere.

The choices an author makes show us which category they fall into, and how willing they are to take shortcuts at the expense of their readers. I’ve written over 300,000 words on my various stories so far (that’s not including the additional 250,000 or so words I changed in revisions; that’s just the final word counts), and I’m not published yet because I’ve decided not to publish–even self-publish–until I know my writing is at the level where I won’t disrespect my readers and their time.

I make my choices as a reader the same way. I won’t buy stories–no matter how much I like, admire, whatever the author–if the writing in the story isn’t ready for prime time. If the author doesn’t respect my limited reading time by putting out poorly written crap, I won’t buy their books. I won’t download poorly written Kindle books even when they’re free. My to-be-read pile is already large enough without having to wade through crap. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Lea March 10, 2012 at 8:19 pm

First of all thank you for putting it so eloquently, it has been said over and over, at some point I hope someone listens.

I never liked this fanfiction, it was poorly written and the British sounding Americans to this day makes me shudder a bit.

I do not agree with pull to publish at all. 50 Shades for instance is word for word still the fanfiction, so that means the character formerly known as Edward, is still controlling with a touch of OCD, he still has green eyes, still unruly “copper” hair. At least brown with reddish streaks. The girl formerly known as Bella is still clumsy, has dark brown eyes, and brown “boring hair”, yes all Twilight fanfiction use that phrasing… directly from the Twilight book.

You’re taking someone else’s characters, characters the original author put their heart and soul into and making a profit.
It’s morally wrong, even though you can’t prove theft, to me it is.

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Hi Lea,

Yes, the spelling of FSoGrey emphasizes the British origin as well, just another sloppy issue that could have been easily fixed if anyone cared. (U.S. spelling is gray–with an “a” not an “e.”) I agree with your take on how the characters were stolen from Twilight. Thanks for the comment!

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Kris March 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Bravo my dear. This was brilliantly said. I hope you don’t receive too much crap for posting this. Her fans are very… passionate about this book.

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Hi Kris,

I’ve noticed some people who defended her signing up for my newsletter. Whether that’s because I wowed them with my logic or because they’re waiting for me to publish so they can give me bad reviews remains to be seen. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jess March 10, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I’ve been a twilight fanfic reader now for nearly 3 years, and have watched this fandom grow and unite with good causes, and tear itself apart with jeolousy. I’m a woman in my 30s and yes i did read MoTu from the early stages.

Thank you for writing this post questioning the ethics of fanfic. You may not have realised how many comments you would receive, but having read half of the comments above, it’s great to see many fn fic authors/readers weighing in on this topic. The twilight fandom often provided little room for intelligent discenting, you were either with the author or against them and by author I don’t just mean just Icy but all the big named authors.

I would like to discuss a question of ethics not raised here that goes beyond the question of publishing fanfic. Twilight is a series of books aimed toward the teenage audience, and yet fanfics like MoTU, and many others were actually x-rated. Once these fics became high in their review numbers, fanfiction.net did threaten to remove them, or asked for authors to tone it down. Of course fanfiction.net didn’t really want to get rid of them, as these were the stories that brought in the ratings for their website.

By the time Icy began posting MoTU, BDSM fics were hardly original.
Icy often referenced to Tara Sue Me’s The Submissive as inspiration to her story (it’s still up on fanfiction.net). Fanfic writing had now become increasingly competitive, and it was not uncommon for x-rated stories to feature eplicit sex, and to include sexual practices not common among most women as if they were quite normal (anal sex anyone!).

My ethical concern then is how many teenagers who were brought into the twilight fanfic fandom by Stephanie Meyer, a deeply religious Morman, to then have here books used to write scripts that wouldn’t be unusual for porn films. Will many of these teenagers think they’ll need to get a Brazilian before they lose their virginity, will they think oral and anal sex is what all women are doing in the bedroom every night!.

The ethical questions shouldn’t begin and end with whether one author is making money, the proliferation of x-rated content on the internet isn’t just in visual form, but also in written form. Fanfic is an example of this. If there is a sociologist reading this, there is a lot of intersting things to study out of the fanfic genre. If you read these stories over time, you’d see how quickly the genre in some ways degenerated into taboo subjects, with stories like MoTU were actually at the light end of this. I’ve been involved in fanfic for other stories for a long time now, and it’s a common trend. Author’s trying to one-up one another. What may be the result of all this madness over publishing, is that the genre of fanfic may end, with author’s no longer allowing other to try and write stories using their characters. For every story that pushed the boundaries (and got a lot of reviews for that), there are many stories where this did not occur.

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Hi Jess,

Ooo, fabulous observation! Yes, we have the ethical issues of younger (or older and insecure) Twilight fans being exposed to fanfics like this and thinking that they don’t measure up. That’s a huge issue with porn in general–the setting of unreasonable expectations. The romance genre gets dissed a lot for this as well, but unlike porn, no characters are demeaned for titillation during the story.

However, I had a related thought while I read your post when you said:

“Author’s trying to one-up one another.”

All writers want to grow, expand, try new things, etc. But with fanfic, writers are limited in scope in ways that non-fanfic writers aren’t. Their cast and general genre is predetermined. Yes, there are all-human Twilight stories, but that doesn’t effect the nature of the story as much as going for a horror, scifi, mystery, etc. genre story (I could be wrong about this genre thing. Are there fanfics along those lines?). In other words, there’s a limited number of ways for them to push the envelope. So I wonder if they’re pushing the sex envelope so much simply because they can’t grow in other ways. Interesting. Thanks for the comment!

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Jess March 12, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Very interesting observation about why authors might be pushing the envelope due to limited scope. I hadn’t thought about it from at perspective. I always viewed the reason they did this was for ratings (or review count). The more controversial, the more reviews you got telling you how shocked they were by the chapter, but please hurry up and post the next chapter!!!

I’m not the best so much on the different genres, but I think you can divide by AU (alternative universe), AH (all Human) and then Canon. Within that there is also OOC (out of character) to indicate whether the character would play outside the normal character. Ie, if Bella was confident instead of a plain jane, or for more serious changes.

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Jami Gold March 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Hi Jess,

Yes, I knew of those. (And you could very well be right about your observation as well!) I was thinking more of how the plot–and perhaps more importantly, tone–would be different if a different genre was used. Imagine the Twilight characters in a cowboy Western. Then again, maybe don’t think of that. I get a brain cramp at the idea. :) Thanks for the comment!

P.S. If any fanfic author wants to run with that cowboy idea, you have my permission. As I mentioned in a different comment, I get oodles of ideas. Ideas alone are worthless without good implementation. I won’t ever implement that one (or the Twilight as scifi, horror, or mystery, either)…so help yourself. :) *handing out story ideas like candy*

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Jess March 13, 2012 at 4:30 am

I think someone has already done Twilight as cowboys. To be fair to the twific fandom, lack of ideas was never their problem. Bella & Edward have literally been everywhere in time and place, and done everyone (quite literally, there was no end to pairing, straight, gay etc).
The restrictions came more from plot structure, ie Edward and Bella most likely needing to end up together. If Edward or Bella were the cheating kind, there were rabid fans that would target the author and the story on twitter. It could get viscious. There is a rumour that one author was so bullied that for writing a possible cheating story that she faked an illness so she didn’t have to finish it!

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Jami Gold March 13, 2012 at 9:07 am

Hi Jess,

“I think someone has already done Twilight as cowboys.”

That wouldn’t surprise me. :) And interesting about the rabid fans targeting any fanfic author who didn’t have Edward and Bella end up together. That goes back to my comment about how fanfic authors are limited in ways other authors aren’t. Hmm… Thanks for the comment!

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Athena Grayson March 14, 2012 at 9:13 am

I’m not at all worried about teenagers being “exposed to shocking things through reading” as the same has been said about the romance genre in general. Women, young and old, are not that impressionable. We know what’s fiction and what’s reality.

My real concern is that the teenagers stumbling into this will think it’s okay to lift someone else’s characters, file the serial numbers off, and call it their own…and be rewarded for it.

Erotica in general is part of the way women express dialogue about sexuality and sexual fantasy as part of the larger body of fiction. Exploring erotic themes in fanfic is nothing new, either in literature or on the internets.

This is all about being honest.

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Jami Gold March 14, 2012 at 10:05 am

Hi Athena,

Yes, I’d hate to see the conversation get hung up around whether BDSM is a suitable topic within books. (Which is why all the U.S. media tittering over this book like a bunch of junior high schoolers is driving me up a wall. People, can we act like adults? Please? *sigh*)

Not only am I against censorship, but I’ve also written posts about the misunderstandings people have of the romance genre. As you said, people know the difference between fantasy and reality. Even I–with my insanity of talking to my characters like they’re real people–know the difference. And I also know I wouldn’t want to be with so-and-so romance hero in real life because…honestly, he’d scare me. LOL! They’re the perfect match to the heroine, not to me. So I don’t have any “unreasonable” expectations about relationships, from romance novels or any other source.

So while I might be concerned about the Twilight YA crowd reading stories like this, any call about what to do about it should be left to their parents. I certainly wouldn’t want to see any general restrictions.

As you said, this bigger issue is what message this sends about plagiarism and whatnot. I know too many teachers who struggle with this issue in their classes, and adults behaving badly and getting away with it doesn’t help. Thanks for the comment!

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AD March 11, 2012 at 6:29 am

First, I would like to commend you for attacking this subject in a non-biased, mature fashion. I really appreciate that you are not making this personal and that you are asking people on both sides of the fence to give their opinion on the ethical implications of repackaging fanfic. This is one of the most interesting blog posts that I have read in some time.

I fall on the side of repackaging as unethical. Let me state that I have no problems with fan fiction. I think it’s a fun way of playing with writing and testing one’s skills. The world and/or characters exist so authors can use this medium as a way to practice their technique.
I also do not have a problem if an author were to pull a story and rework a plot with completely new characters and a new world in order to publish it as long as the plot is not a carbon copy of the original story/tv/movie that the fic was written about. The key word here is rework so that the author makes the piece their own.

I do have major issues with what this author and others have done with their fanfic in order to publish it. Renaming characters does not qualify for making a piece of literature their own. In fanfic, the plot and world may be completely different but if the characters are inspired by the original characters in any way (for example, Bella is clumsy or Edward is adopted) then the work is not original and it is copied from canon.

It’s important to note that FSoG is not the first published fanfic to do this; it is simply the first one to gain success by doing so. There are many other fanfics out there repackaged. Omnific Publishing was started by the founder of Twilighted, a Twilight fanfiction web site that’s an alternative to fanfiction.net. If you were to go to http://www.omnificpublishing.com, most of the fic listed (from what I can tell) is repackaged fanfiction. Stories such as Boycotts and Barflys, Passion Fish, Poughkeepsie, and Trust in Advertising all started out as fanfiction, were pulled, and are now being sold. In my opinion, this is wrong.

But whose fault is this? Can we blame the authors for trying to see success? Or do we blame the publishing house? Omnific was started by fanfiction, that is TWILIGHT fanfiction, authors. Now they are selling their fanfiction and see no ethicial issues whatsoever by doing this. They believe that since the story is all-human that it is different enough from the original canon to not consider it stealing. To them, it’s okay if the hero has coppery hair or a brother that is Emmett-like that ends up with the heroine’s best friend that is a gorgeous blond like Rosalie.

What the folks of Omnific should have done is start a publishing house and invite the best fanfiction writers to submit original work. The authors of the fiction mentioned above are talented and could have produced quality work that would have given this publishing house a similar starting point to those unfamiliar to fanfiction. There is no need to rename characters and sell fanfic when the authors are talented enough on their own to be original.

I cannot help but wonder what the ramifications of this debate will be. It’s obviously well known that FSoG is “repackaged” fan fiction. Will it bring the subject to center stage? Will SM find out and take any legal action? Will folks continue to buy it? I don’t know but I do think that these authors that are simply renaming characters need to think about the ethical implications of doing so and that some people may consider it stealing.

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Hi AD,

“But whose fault is this? Can we blame the authors for trying to see success? Or do we blame the publishing house?”

Those are good questions. I blame both. :)

I blame the fanfic authors for trying to take shortcuts. I blame them for being impatient. I blame them for not wanting to put in the work to redo the story with new characters. Yes, they didn’t want their work for this story to go to waste. As I said in this comment, I (along with the 99% percent of published authors who have multiple novels they finished but never sold) say, “Too. @$*%&. Bad. Stop thinking that everything you write is gold and needs to be published. Fine, you wrote a story. If you’re a real author, it shouldn’t be a big deal to go and write another one–an original one this time, please.” That’s what writers do. They write.

I also blame the publisher. However, in the case of Omnific and TWCS, these aren’t “real” publishers. They’re vanity publishers in many respects, who are in it for the money. This new deal with Knopf has me disgusted. I blame them. Big time.

As for what will happen? That won’t be settled for a long time. As I mentioned in another comment, fifty years from now, Stephenie Meyers’s kids could take these fanfic authors to court and get a monetary judgment. The issue won’t be settled until she takes them to court or fifty years after Stephenie Meyers dies, whichever comes first.

Anyone who sees the fact that action hasn’t been taken yet as a condoning of these fanfic authors’ actions is a fool. The fat lady hasn’t even arrived at the theater yet. ;) Thanks for the comment!

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Natalie March 13, 2012 at 8:54 am

I think the definite distinction between Omnific and TWCS is that at least Omnific edited the books and took out more than eye/hair color etc.

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Jami Gold March 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

Hi Natalie,

You could be right about that. I haven’t bought any of these pulled-to-publish books, so I’ll admit I don’t know if the two publishers pushing that path take different approaches to editing. Thanks for the comment!

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Kelly November 2, 2012 at 12:00 am

I disagree. Every single character in the world has been inspird by something else. A historical figure, a friend, another character.

I believe that authors have the right to write stories based on another book and publish it.

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Jami Gold November 2, 2012 at 9:06 am

Hi Kelly,

You’re welcome to disagree. But your opinion is just that–an opinion. The courts disagree with your opinion and that’s a fact.

Characters–when written to the level of detail that copy another character–are copyrighted above and beyond the story itself. That’s written into US Copyright Law. Fact. And it’s hard to argue that this fanfic author wasn’t copying the characters of another when she specifically tried to evoke them.

Copyright law gives the original authors the right to control derivations of their work. Fact. Wishing that fanfic authors had different rights does not make it so.

I do agree with you that characters are often inspired by something else, but inspiration is very different from copying. Inspiration means taking character A’s background, character B’s job history, character C’s personality, character D’s strengths, character E’s weaknesses, and mixing it together with the author’s own special unique twist to create character Z. That’s what real authors do.

However, in this case, the fanfic author was trying to copy a specific character in order to evoke them for the reader. That’s not being “inspired.” That’s copying. Thanks for the comment! :)

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The Chaser March 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Hi All

I don’t think being one-eyed is the answer. I mean, defending the author to the point where the ethical issues are deemed irrelevant. I have read both MOTU and 50SOG trilogy and the changes are all superficial. I think you bring up some very interesting points about what is ethical in the realm of ‘homage’ and then the desire to make a buck out of aforementioned homage.

Seems like a few issues are at play here – the whole ‘mommy porn issue’ – ie the content, the whole fanfic issue – adding to the popularity and then at the very core the ethical dimensions to publishing this work without common reference to the original story. Shouldn’t Stephenie Meyer get some sort of acknowledgement?

Here is a article I read this morning that started me on this tangent because I didn’t like how the journalist failed to do his research – he is a well known journo in Aus.
http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/online-erotic-tales-hit-the-spot-20120311-1usot.html

I did add this link in the comments section so I hope you don’t mind.
While I didn’t mind the trilogy in either of its forms, badly written and subsequently badly-published, I do think this whole thing smells a bit off that the author and publisher haven’t come clean with the genesis of the books.

In my humble opinion, I think it’s great that E.L. James has managed to pull of such a creative coup in terms of popularity. Clearly, it’s got to do with the amounts of sex and the type of sex in the books (I thought Fifty Shades of Freed was shite – Fifty Shades of Darker was the better of the three) but at the same time, could you sleep at night knowing it was all a bit skew-iff?

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Jami Gold March 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Hi The Chaser,

Wow. Thanks for providing that link. That article is blatantly misleading. Beyond the lack of background, which unfortunately is the norm as far as I can tell, the article claims the fanfic author wrote the 2 sequels after FSoG took off. Um, no, no, and no. Gah! The misinformation is disgusting. Thanks for the comment!

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Kelly November 2, 2012 at 12:02 am

For an article that needs some fact checking you do a lot of critisizing.

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Jami Gold November 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

Hi Kelly,

For a comment that claims a lack of fact checking without pointing out any specific errors, you do a lot of criticizing. ;)

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