Can Writers Reuse Their Own Work?

by Jami Gold on December 11, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Printer control screen with text: Can We Copy Our Own Work?

On the surface, this might seem like a clear-cut question. Unless we’ve turned the copyright over to another entity, it seems like we should be able to reuse our own work. However the issues surrounding what is sometimes termed “self-plagiarism” are more complicated than they might first appear.

Many of us who blog will occasionally rerun blog posts, sometimes with updates and sometimes without. If we don’t acknowledge that we’re re-posting material, are we misleading our readers by implying the post is new and original? What about when we post material we’d previously submitted for a guest post?

I’ve rerun and re-posted blog articles. Granted, I think I’ve always acknowledged and updated the previous post, but I have to wonder how wrong it would be if I forgot. To a great extent, that depends on whom you ask.

Is “Self-Plagiarism” a Problem?

We saw this issue in the news several months ago with Jonah Lehrer, a former writer for The New Yorker. Although his problems turned out to be deeper than mere recycling of content, the fact remains that the discovery of his unacknowledged reuse of material started his downfall.

Many people reacted as though Jonah recycling his content was fraudulent. Some saw it as a lazy shortcut. And others didn’t understand why it was a big deal.

In other mediums, we expect that recycling. Workshop presenters, stand-up comedians, artistic painters, etc. all repeat their insights regularly. Why are those circumstances okay while repurposing the written form is not?

All Authors Reuse Ideas

The Slate article linked in the last paragraph above tries to make a case that Jonah Lehrer had become an idea person and that’s why he plagiarized himself:

“Lehrer has moved into the idea business. This is the world of TED talks and corporate lectures, a realm in which your thoughts are your product. For the idea man, the written word is just one of many mediums for conveying your message and building your brand.”

However, those of us who write books (non-fiction or fiction) are almost all idea people.

Non-fiction book-length authors usually try out their ideas ahead of time. Maybe their book is even a repackaging and updating of blog posts, anecdotal stories they’ve shared, or lectures they’ve given over the years.

Fiction authors frequently re-use ideas: themes, worldviews, character goals, etc. We might repeat turns of phrase from one book to another. Heck, I can think of several bestselling authors who reuse the same premise for Every. Single. Book.

Author Bob Mayer shared in a workshop about how he’d written a USSR spy story, and then the Berlin Wall came down and no one was interested in USSR stories anymore. He took the same idea, changed the characters and the location to China, and rewrote the story. Same idea, new story.

Yet even with that understanding, there are some circumstances when it’s not okay for a writer to reuse their work—at least not without significant rewriting. Enter fan fiction authors and the pull-to-publish movement.

Is There a “Right” Way to Pull-to-Publish?

Pull-to-publish (P2P) is when a fan fiction (fanfic) author pulls their work off a fanfic site (like fanfiction.net) and publishes the story for profit. If you’ve followed my other posts about the ethics of fan fiction or what authors should know about fan fiction, you can probably guess that a writer profiting off the fans, characters, or worldbuilding of another author doesn’t sit well with me.

Most P2P cases involve a fanfic author “self-plagiarizing” to publish their fanfic story with character names changed from those of the original author’s story. As I’ve previously pointed out, name-change-only stories don’t pass my ethics test.

However, in all those posts, I also stated that I thought there was a “right” way to publish a previous fanfic story. Like how Bob Mayer tackled his problem, fanfic authors can take their unique premise, change the characters, and rewrite the story.

Now some fanfic authors are doing (or claiming to do) exactly that. This has led to interesting discussions about all the reasons why P2P is ethically wrong and what exactly it takes to do it “right.”

The Many Shades of Pull-to-Publish

The P2P issue is typically described with one broad brush, but I’ve seen fanfic authors take different approaches, so I don’t think they should all be lumped together. At one end, we have the P2P stories that most would agree are unethical and other end, we have the P2P stories where the fanfic authors tried to do things “right.”

  • Name-Change-Only Stories

The fanfic author takes their story, including the characters they copied from the original author, and changes the names. The infamous Fifty Shades of Grey falls into this category. The Turnitin plagiarism software found an 89% similarity between Fifty Shades of Grey and its fanfic version Master of the Universe, meaning only the names were changed and some very minor rewording was done.

Stories like these typically appeal to the fans who loved the story in fanfic form and want the print version to keep. In other words, the ethics of this situation also includes issues about exploiting (or at least borrowing) fans of the original author.

Also, fanfic is more collaborative in nature than non-fanfic, so the hundreds, or even thousands, of reviewers (similar to beta readers in non-fanfic circles) have often significantly added to and/or changed the story. However, the ego and ethical issues of the fanfic authors who have taken this approach mean that many ignore the contributions of the fanfic community.

  • “Re-Worked” Stories

The fanfic author does some amount of reworking to the story. This might include deeper character changes, plot changes, and/or heavy editing. One Twilight fanfic story, The Office, recently sold in a two-book deal. The Turnitin analysis showed a 20% similarity between the to-be-published version and the fanfic version. However, no one is claiming the story itself is different, as one reason the fanfic authors decided to pursue publication was that several copycat stories were attempting to go the P2P route.

The fact that the publisher announced the deal in connection to Twilight and the fanfic story shows they’ve chosen to appeal to those fans of the fanfic. Some people will accept a 20% similarity as different enough and some won’t, and some will protest the release regardless, due to the fan exploitation issue.

Depending on the nature of the changes, reworked stories might still have benefited from the work of fanfic reviewers who added to the story. And depending on the ethics of the fanfic authors involved and how much they’re attempting to do things “right,” some might acknowledge those contributions and some will not.

  • Completely Rewritten Stories

The fanfic author keeps the premise and ditches virtually everything else. Like Bob Mayer’s approach, the author creates new characters, who no longer evoke—or are meant to evoke the original author’s characters. These new characters react differently to the inciting incident of the premise, which in a domino effect, completely changes the rest of the story, from turning points to plot events.

On Thursday, I’ll be interviewing one such author, and the Turnitin analysis shows only 1% similarity between the published version and the fanfic version of her story. In this case, the story itself is completely different, so the collaborative nature of fanfic reviewers is likely irrelevant, or nearly so.

Some fanfic authors who take this approach choose to maintain their ties to the fanfic world—possibly leaving themselves open to charges of exploiting the fandom—and some choose to leave the fandom in an attempt to make or break their story on their own. Whether or not we all agree on if there is a “right” way to do P2P, these fanfic authors have put in the time and effort to make the attempt.

Opinions Vary on How to Do P2P “Right”

In a Twitter conversation, agent Pam van Hylckama and I were talking about how much would need to be changed in a story before she’d consider it a new story. For agents, this could refer to P2P or to the idea of when they’d be willing to take another look at a story they’d previously rejected. Her response:

“Pretty extreme. Idea the same but reworked bones.”

What percentage qualifies as “pretty extreme”? Anything over 50% reworked? Only something close to 1% (which any two random stories in the same genre might trigger)?  Everyone might have a different idea about what percentage is necessary to avoid the ethical issues.

In my polling of several anti-P2P people, some saw the 20% case as acceptable, some thought only a 1% case would be acceptable, and some didn’t accept even the 1% case because the entire idea of removing a story from the fandom is disrespectful to the fans (especially to those who put in the time and effort to leave comments and reviews, all of which are deleted when a story is pulled).

The Problem with Lumping All P2P Together

Several places list Twilight P2P books, such as TwiFanfictionRecs and a Goodreads group, but these lists don’t differentiate between name-change-only, reworked, or rewritten stories. They’re all being treated as equally bad, regardless of the intentions and ethics of the fanfic author.

Most fanfic authors don’t have the benefit of knowing and being able to point to their story’s Turnitin percentage of similarity. And I’m sure many more fanfic authors claim they’ve reworked their stories than have actually done so to a significant extent.

However, as I said last March when I was first aware of the P2P issue, I personally don’t think all fanfic authors deserve to be tarred with the same brush. If some have taken the time to attempt to do things “right,” I think we should allow them the opportunity to reuse their unique premise. A premise does not a story make, and I wouldn’t even call that situation a P2P story.

Those authors might still make missteps, like reaching out to (and possibly exploiting) their fanfic readers more than some are comfortable with, or like pulling their fanfic stories to avoid those exploitation issues without realizing that’s disrespectful to their reader-reviewers. But those missteps are not—in my opinion—on the same level as stealing characters and blatant exploitation of the fandom. I do see shades of gray in the P2P issue. *smile*

Do you think a writer can reuse their work? Have you ever reused some of your writing? What do you think about P2P? Is there a “right” way to do it? If so, how? Or are all P2P stories equally bad?

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52 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Taurean Watkins December 11, 2012 at 7:43 am

Jami, I used to write fanfiction, but that was for fun, and never took it to the extremes of what you cite above, and put it behind me when I started writing my original stuff.

I’ve got enough problems in my life without the weight of federal litigators kicking down my door. I want to feel good (Both ethically and personally) that my name’s on something I wrote because it’s 100% ME, not dovetailing on someone else, that’s why I struggle with people who compare my work to X author in my genre when I’m trying to do my own thing. But I’m trying to be less extreme in my reactions, if only to stay civil and sane. (NOT always easy…)

But I’m touchy on this issue, but for WAY different reasons-

1. I’m fed up with thinking about anything related to FSG. Period.

2. I’m struggling with people accepting I’m NOT imitating such and such book or author. As opposed to the opposite thing that Jami cites above.

While I don’t advocate lying and scheming, I strongly believe some
(Not all, of course) of these extreme cases come about from the mixed messages agents, editors, and various authors sometimes who stress how we have to play the “comparison game” (when we go from writing to selling our writing), and I think to some extent that’s wrong.

I mean, as much as writers get told over and over that we need to embrace our uniqueness and not let bestsellers dictate everything we write, yet also tell us to think like a ruthless businessperson who analyzes the “competition” and slant our work as such.

This is the part of trying to lure an agent that tries my soul.

All that said, I haven’t repeated my blog content, but I think at some point I’ll have to during times when I can’t update with a new post, if only to show I’m NOT dead, and still care about my blog.

But it’s MY content, no one else can claim it as their own, but I would just make a note that I posted it previously, and I know on Janice Hardy’s blog, she replays her blog posts at times, sometimes updated with new info or just to give new readers a taste of her now extensive blacklist of content, and just to keep the blog from dying between new posts and updates.

I guess a question bloggers need to ask themselves is “What’s worse? Going ‘Dark’ a few weeks/months or repeating older content that YOU alone are responsible for?”

Sorry if I sound really mad, I’m not, but this stuff just gets my hackles up, and I’m not even doing this shady stuff (Sigh…)

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 9:23 am

Hi Taurean,

1. I can so relate. :) I wish the whole issue would go die quietly under a rug somewhere.

2. I understand. On some level, all of us who do original work want to be recognized for our own voice and insights, and people assuming we’re imitating (or trying to figure out who we’re imitating) can be insulting to our efforts to not imitate.

I’ve often said that Kresley Cole is one of my favorite authors. I wouldn’t mind if people compared my stories to her–but only on the level of how I appreciate her skills in combining dark stories, interesting characters, and unexpected humor. Those are aspects I aim for in my own stories. However, I don’t in any way, shape, or form attempt to imitate her writing. In fact, I haven’t even read her last FIVE new releases yet because I don’t want to accidentally pick up her writing style. I’m fairly confident in my own voice and writing style, but I’ll give it another book or two before I let myself be exposed (even though it’s killing me not to read them!). :)

I understand what you’re saying about the mixed messages as well, and it’s even worse for those in the fanfic communities. I didn’t get to touch on this in the post (it was already long!), but outside any fandoms, it’s considered normal to appeal to fans of another author. That’s the whole point of front-cover quotes by a known author–that their “testimonial” will invite their fans to check out this other author. Amazon tags and general recommendations do similar things: “If you like A, you might like B.” However, in the fanfic communities, some look down on that form of comparison. I can understand that. The fandoms are there to celebrate the fanwork of the original story, not to be ready-made target markets. But it certainly leads to mixed messages about whether or not it’s okay to tell the fandom about your non-fanfic stories.

I think I can count on one hand the number of blog posts I’ve rerun or re-posted, which works out to once every six months or less. I have a regular Tuesday/Thursday blog schedule, so I’d rather rerun a post than go dark. But as my numbers indicate, I try really hard to avoid it. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Kimberly Gould December 11, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hi Jami,
I’m always interested in the ethics surrounding fanfiction and pull2pub. My fanfiction (fanfiction.net/~kimmydonn) is almost entirely canon. I couldn’t pull2pub if I wanted to. Recently, however, I wrote a short story for the Word Count Podcast (rbwood.com) that had summer and winter fae and a forced marriage between the two. I’m thinking, if I expand it to a novel, I can pull some of my ideas (maybe a couple whole scenes) from my story about a werewolf imprinting on vampire. Throughout that story, I reference hot/cold. The vampire is like ice, the werewolf runs hot. I don’t think that’s a problem. It will be a few scenes largely re-written.
No, my real question is about my serial on picprompt.blogspot.com that I posted on TheWritersCoffeeShop (http://www.thewriterscoffeeshop.com/library/viewuser.php?uid=19228) I’m thinking about editing this story to release under my erotica penname. Is that a case of pull to pub? Especially if the blog has been inactive for six months and the read count on TWCS is only 140? It’s not like I’m drawing on a big fan base. It’s also not possible to simply brush it off and publish it. I don’t think it makes a novel right now, it needs work.
So, based on your post, would this be that middle “re-worked” story? Does it matter if it was widely read or not? Just curious what you and others think.

Thanks as always for the great blog content.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 10:24 am

Hi Kimberly,

In the first case you mention, I don’t see any problems with reusing the theme/motif/symbolism of hot and cold between the couples. You already have different characters, so you’d just be applying the ideas of their confrontations/conflicts/obstacles. As you said, you’d have to rewrite those scenes quite heavily (due to the fact that fae are nothing like vampires and werewolves ;) ) and by the time you were done, only the kernel of the scene would be the same.

In the second case, those are interesting circumstances. Would you feel the need to pull the story or would you be okay in leaving it there because nothing is happening to it anyway? I don’t know which approach would be better/worse in the eyes of those in the fandom. It looked like this was labelled “original fiction” too, is that correct? So technically this appealed to fanfic readers in general, but wasn’t part of a specific fandom?

Between the low read and review count, inactive website, and original fiction angle, I, personally, think you should be able to do whatever you want with this. Some authors are taking and reworking their releases from defunct publishers to self-publish as they get their rights back. I see this as more similar to those circumstances than to a fanfic story on a fanfic website that uses the fandom’s feedback to gain buzz. :)

However, as I said, that’s just my opinion, and although I’ve written Harry Potter fanfic before, I was never in any of the fandoms, so I won’t pretend to know all their “rules.” :) Hope that helps and thanks for the comment!

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Kimberly Gould December 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Hi Jami,
Yes, this was original fiction. I’d pull it from TWCS, but I’d never touch the original blog posts. Those would be there forever as far as I’m concerned. The blog started with a group of writers from the Twilight Fandom but morphed to original fiction within a few months. I wouldn’t be stepping on any author’s toes, except my own.
Thanks for answering my questions.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Hi Kimberly,

Ah, yes, that makes sense. Good luck with the story! :)

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Angel December 11, 2012 at 11:59 am

I was just talking about this the other day. I’ve written fanfiction and used an original element in one of my short stories a year or so ago. I thought that this characteristic would be interesting with a character I’m writing in an original work. I asked a couple of fanfic friends if they thought this was cheating. All of them said no. I don’t think it IS cheating but it’s funny how some of us are really willing to do our best to create wholly original works while others are spending a lot of time reworking something that was never fully theirs in the first place.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Hi Angel,

Very true. And I’ll add my two cents and say that reusing an original element in an original work shouldn’t be considered cheating. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Stephanie Scott December 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Very interesting thoughts. I admit I didn’t know much about the fanfiction world until recently–other than it being the butt of a joke (dismissing someone’s writing as fan fiction quality). I realize that fan fiction is so much bigger than I ever realized, and it’s actually pretty cool how the communities are built around it. I’m conflicted on whether fanfic writers should profit off of work based on someone else’s creation; as you said, 1% similarity vs. 89% is a huge difference.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Hi Stephanie,

Yes, fanfic is a bigger and more complicated situation than most realize. I think for me it comes down to believing that writers should be able to reuse their unique premises. Many of the alternate universe type fanfics (which are especially prevalent in the Twilight fandom) are unique. However, the collaborative nature of fanfic means that many things that seem unique compared to the original story are actually tropes taken from other fanfics. They build on each other like an evolving story.

That’s why I don’t like fanfic authors keeping more than just the premise. These writers think they have more unique elements than they really do if they start including characters, backgrounds, motivations, goals, worldviews, plot events, turning points, etc., as many of those are tropes from within the fandom. By limiting themselves to just the premise and starting over, they have a much better chance of creating something truly original. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Tamara LeBlanc December 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm

This is fascinating, Jami.
I’ve never heard of P2P. I have heard of fan fiction, though, and I’ve also heard of the similarities between 50 Shades of Grey and Master of the Universe. 89% is HUGE to me, and very, very wrong.
I actually think that 20% is too close as well, but 1% gets iffy for me.
There are no new stories. Everything has been told before in some shape or form…it’s just that authors worth their salt must take a premise (a very basic premise, mind you) and add their own twist to it in order to craft what reads as an entirely different tale.
That being said, I tend to stay away from reading novels by authors I really love for exactly the reason that you do. I don’t want to accidentally pull something from the plot, character, GMC, whatever, in their writing that might taint my own work. That’s someting that’s on my mind all the time.
I feel very strongly about plagarism in fiction. I’d hate to write something and then realize I inadvertantly stole bits and pieces from another writer.
So I haven’t read a novel in quite a while. :(
Getting back to fan fiction, I’ll be honest. If an author of fanfic, let’s say Twilight, decides they want to pull to publish by simply changing some names and the basics of the plot, I think it’s wrong. And I also think it’s wrong for the publisher who might ultimatley buy that work.
We work hard on our stories, on constructing the characters and the worlds and the premise. In fact, I’m struggling right now to add 20,000 wrds to my novel. It’s like pulling teeth.
And if someone came along trying to profit from my ideas, and use them as their own I’d be pretty pissed.
In reference to self-plagarism, I say let people know you’re reusing your work (like in a blog) I just started mine, so I haven’t had to recycle, but I’m sure there will be an occassion when doing so is unavoidable. I’ll certainly make sure to add a disclaimer.
Thank you for this riveting topic, Jami.
Have a brilliant evening,
Tamara

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Hi Tamara,

Yes, when I’m drafting, I’ll read from genres outside my own. For me, that usually means reading a lot of historical, which should be fairly distinguished from paranormal. :)

Great point about how publishers are at fault for a lot of this mess by paying for and encouraging name-change-only stories. *sigh* Thanks for the comment!

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Marcy Kennedy December 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I have to admit that all the fan fiction debating gives me a bit of a headache. Aside from the ethics of it all, I often wonder how it influences the public perception not only of writers but also of how difficult it is to come up with good ideas and turn those good ideas into a compelling story. My husband and I were just talking last night about where the “intellectual property” lines fall because if you gave three writers the same idea and told them to independently execute that idea, you’d come up with three very different stories. Definitely not a cut-and-dry area.

In terms of reusing old blog content, I don’t have a problem with that at all as long as we’re still producing fresh content as well. Life happens. For example, Lisa and I shut down Girls With Pens last spring. I’d written a lot of posts for GWP that I was proud of. I didn’t want to feel like they were disappearing because we weren’t maintaining GWP anymore, so I’ve been slowly updating them and reusing them on my new site. Because it’s my content, I feel I should be able to use it however I please. I try to make sure that at least 90% of the content on my site in any month is fresh content though.

I also don’t have a problem with writers taking their blog content and expanding it into book form. I know Kristen Lamb has done just that, as have many other NF authors. I think those authors should be honest about it and let people know that part of the content was blogged first, but again, it’s their content. How they want to use it should be up to them.

That’s my two cents anyway :)

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Hi Marcy,

Those are great questions. I think most creative people can come up with good ideas (I’ve joked about being able to come up with 10 story ideas every day if I tried), but the trick is turning those into good stories. That’s one of the reasons I think fanfic authors should be able to reuse their premise ideas. As you said (and as I went into in my “what if our idea has already been done” post), people handed the same premise would come up with different stories.

As for blog content, yes, if we keep in mind our goal with our blogs–which would usually mean concentrating on the readers of our blogs–we’ll naturally make sure we’re continuing to put out fresh content. I also don’t have a problem with bloggers releasing their material in book form. The only thing that would make me upset was if they advertised the book was new, fresh content and it wasn’t, but I can’t think of any time that’s happened to me. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Avery Cove December 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Wow! Really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for writing it Jami!

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Hi Avery,

Thanks! It’s a long one, so it took me forever to write. :)

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zkullis December 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Jami,

I’m a newbie author, so I don’t have too much experience in any of this to have much of a voice. My work is “young” enough that I find myself going through a seemingly never-ending circle of writing – fixing – writing – fixing.

But, I also have very strong feelings about plagiarism. This is my opinion; cannibalizing another person’s writing, without the other individual’s permission, especially when a profit is made, is simply wrong.

I would like to thank you for writing this post. It never occurred to me that the amount/timing of changes to one’s own work could constitute a form of plagiarism.

Zack…

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Hi Zack,

Yep, I know those will-this-learning-curve-ever-level-out days. :)

Thanks for sharing your opinion about this issue. I became aware of P2P just last spring, so when I went back through my comments to those old fanfic posts before writing this one, I was surprised at how much my opinion had remained the same all along. I guess that’s a good sign my opinions are informed by my internal sense of ethics and not just the emotions of any one situation. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Kimberly Gould December 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Hello again,
I wanted to make another comment after reading the comments.

I hate to think that writers aren’t reading for fear of plagiarism. We write because we love stories. Also, reading is part of how we learn to be a better writer. Yes, you might have an idea that was sparked by something you read in another book, but if you’ve really taken that idea, worked with it for 60 000 words, it’s not the same idea anymore.

And in terms of my book is like X, I think we as authors need that for marketing. You need to know your audience to find them. I know this because I SUCK EGGS at it. I write in many genres and styles and so my audience is constantly changing. It helps (a lot) to be able to say, if you liked X you might like Y. Otherwise you run the risk of snagging readers who aren’t into your thing and getting a bad response because of it. Oh, this was a fantasy, but it wasn’t a unicorn fantasy. Oh, this was sci fi, but it wasn’t speculative like I wanted. Oh, this was dystopian, but it focused on kids instead of teens. etc. etc. etc. I use similarity in my signings all the time:
*teen walks by*
Hey, did you like the Hunger Games? You might like my book!
Is my book a rip off of the Hunger Games? No.
Is my book written in the same style as the Hunger Games? No.
Does my book deal with a dictatorial style government in a post-apocalyptic society with a game at the heart of it all? Well, yes, it does. However, that society is VERY different from the one in the Hunger Games and people don’t usually die playing Cargon. See? Different. Yet, similar. That’s good. I sell my current manuscript as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer is stuck in Groundhog Day.” Is it a rip off of either of those properties. No. Is it a strong female lead who kicks butt and is stuck in a time loop. Yes!

Okay, rant over. I wish I had more time for reading! I’m not avoiding it for fear of getting an idea. It makes me sad to think people are. (Although, I’m worried about this fairy idea looking too much like Julia Kagawa, so I understand the concern!)

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Hi Kimberly,

Great point! I can speak only for myself, but when I say I’ve avoided reading Kresley Cole’s stories, that doesn’t mean I’m not reading at all. I’ve been reading mostly historical romance lately, which is a far cry from paranormal romance. ;)

So to anyone who’s worried about unintentional plagiarism, I’d agree with you about not stopping reading and to maybe instead pick genres and/or authors that don’t as easily carry over to our own work. Also, as you said, we’re all inspired by ideas from countless sources, and ideas alone aren’t a story.

For me, I’m not worried about picking up on Kresley’s ideas so much as her writing style (turns of phrase or whatnot) or character traits. I never want to think, “Oh, this character I’m writing is sort-of like so-and-so.” I want my characters to have their own lives and voices unconnected as much as possible from outside influence. My next big project won’t be as similar in genre and tone to hers, so I’ll be able to catch up then. :)

And thank you for sharing your ideas on how we can compare our stories without implying that we’re copying others. :) Thanks again for the great comment!

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ChemistKen December 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm

I discovered how much I enjoy writing fiction when I began writing an HP based story a couple of years ago. Now I’m using that story to develop my writing skills. I’ve never had any illusions about publishing it, although I’m sure I’ll upload it to fanfiction.net when it’s finished (assuming it ever is). My critique partner has suggested I take out the HP references so that I could publish it, but that would require a massive rewrite to remove all traces of HP.

Perhaps if no one pays any attention to the fanfic version, I might just go ahead and attempt that rewrite, but I’d always be afraid it would sound too much like the original.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Hi ChemistKen,

Yes, sometimes rewrites are possible and sometimes they aren’t. If you’re willing to put in the work to rewrite the story, I’m sure you’d be able to figure out a way to do it. :)

This brings up a good point about how the different fandoms have different “rules.” The HP fandom hasn’t experienced the surge of P2P the way the Twilight fandom has because JKR has shown a willingness to go after people in court. Twilight‘s Stephanie Meyers hasn’t shown that same willingness, so that fandom is currently a Wild West of seeing what they can get away with. Thanks for the comment and good luck with your story!

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ChemistKen December 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Jami, I knew that JKR has gone after people who wrote and published Harry Potter Guides that involved lifting and copying material off the Internet, some of which was written by JKR herself. Do you know of any instance in which she went after someone who tried to publish a fictional story based on her world?

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Jami Gold December 11, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Hi ChemistKen,

I’m not well versed enough in that fandom to speak to the question one way or another. All I know is the reputation of the HP fandom vs. Twilight‘s fandom and what others have said about her being supportive of fanfic…to a point. I don’t know of any specific quotes to point you to, but I’ve gotten the impression from others that she’s said that publishing fanfic for profit would be a no-no. However, a rewrite to remove all aspects of the fic and the HP world/characters should make that a moot point. If others here have more insight, maybe they’ll weigh in. Hope that helps! :)

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Vanessa December 11, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Hi Jami,

Wonderful post as always. This is a very big subject in terms of publishing and fanfiction. As per your previous post, the ethics of publishing fanfiction, that’s were it comes down, the ethical decision.

In every fandom I was in, I wrote canon, sometimes a Canon AU like What if Edward was too late to save Bella when Renesmee was born, what would Edward’s relationship be like toward Renesmee? I wrote things like that. I don’t write as much, while it’s fun writing stories continuing the adventures, it’s not my world.

However, now and days you really can’t re-work a fanfiction without the fandom suspecting it’s direct p2p. And when an author announces p2p some feel like the Gabriel’s Inferno incident.

There are fanfic authors who have one chapter of the fanfic posted, and then when they write more of it, they begin to realize the story is not a fanfic, so they take down the current chapter that is posted, and begin to make changes to change the story from it’s origins. However, Beautiful Bastard is a prime example, here is a review from a book reviewer who got a copy
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/467729895

Once again no on in the HP fandom really p2p because about 90% of the fanfics all follow the universe of JKR. Only one HP fanfic has been published and I will not reveal reveal it in comments. But when I read that book/fic, it does not relate to the universe of JKR so it does prove a certain person can get away with it. In Twi, the P2P authors think “well the story doesn’t have sparkling vampires so SM can’t sue.” I’m very grateful to those who have pdf’s of the fanfics and have done side by side comparison on the published fanfics and how similar they were to the ones posted online.

To me personally, it really doens’t matter how much a fanfic author puts into reworking their fic, the origins are still there. I don’t understand the time spent into reworking a fanfic, just write something new from scratch. If aspiring authors asked published authors about thefirst book they ever wrote, they would admit, it was completely horrible, so what do they do write another. With that first book, sometimes you can spend so much time reworking it to make it perfect it’s just too horrible so they write another. A fanfic author shouldn’t rework their fanfics, they should just write something new and entirely.

Thanks for letting me comment

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Jami Gold December 12, 2012 at 9:06 am

Hi Vanessa,

Thanks for the insight! (And for those who aren’t familiar with the fandom, the Gabriel’s Inferno incident refers to a fanfic author who built buzz during the first half of his/her fanfic story and then pulled it with the attitude, “If you want to read the rest, you’ll have to pay for it.”)

That review you listed is the perfect example of how reworking is different from rewriting. Reworking–even if it’s 50% or more different from the fanfic version–could still be a case of polishing a turd if the fanfic author isn’t overcoming the inherent problems with the fanfic format itself:
- the one-dimensional characters (because those who read fanfic can fill in the blanks with what they know of the original characters),
- the dragged out pacing (fanfic is notoriously high word count with short chapters so fanfic authors can update as frequently as possible),
- the fanfic tropes (that seem unique because they’re different from the original story but are actually copied from other fanfics or hundreds of original fiction stories, such as the boss/assistant trope that’s already been done to death by Harlequin, thank you very much), etc.

Rewriting–completely starting over–stands a better chance of overcoming those problems if the fanfic author has studied writing craft and knows how to create three-dimensional, unique characters and how to plot a story. Reworking a story can overcome those problems if the author has studied writing craft as well, but too many aren’t aware of their weaknesses to fix them. There are exceptions in both cases, of course, rewrites that still fall flat and reworked stories that fixed the problems inherent in fanfic, but I’d suspect the “throwing them into the deep end of the pool” nature of rewriting might do a better job of revealing to these fanfic authors that they have a lot to learn about writing original fiction. :)

Great point about how most published authors have first books they now recognize are too horrible to do anything with. I’ve stated before that I suspect the fairytale story about how Stephanie Meyer dumb-lucked out with Twilight (she was first vetted by an agent’s assistant who didn’t know what to look for with stories to reject) has contributed to that particular fandom’s attitude toward what it takes to be published. And as I mentioned above, too many of these fanfic reworkings are polishing a turd, and they’d be better off to start from scratch and learn how to do it right. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Vanessa December 12, 2012 at 10:11 am

Hi Jami,

Fanfiction has always been known as amateur writing. Which is why the p2p fanfics read horribly, it was the authors first attempt at writing. I find the whole “i can’t write an original book” to be utter bullcrap. If you can write a 200k AU/Crossover fanfic don’t tell me you can’t try to write your own original novel.

Yes the SM publishing story is a hoax (assistant of big agent was so new didn’t know what to do with queries), it’s almost similar to the Josephine Angelini publishing story. Josephine and her family were struggling, Josephine wrote Starcrossed, when it was finished she gave it to her husband to read, and he was impressed. Not knowing anything about the publishing business, her husband went on facebook and found a Hollywood manager and sent her a message with telling her to read the manuscript (even though the website says unsolicited material) and liked it. The manager was bored, read it, liked it then went and contacted her friend who’s a big NY literary agent and gave her the manuscript, then Josephine gets a big book deal from Harper Collins. Angelini was lucky. Those were INCREDIBLY LUCKY circumstances.

Thanks for letting me comment.

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Carradee December 12, 2012 at 10:26 am

Fanfiction has always been known as amateur writing.

Not really, not if you’re active in the fanfic community. I’ve read some that are as good or better than licensed works. Some fanfic authors are very good, and they use fanfic to decompress without having to worry about making original fiction. Others use it to experiment with techniques and such without taking the risk of slaughtering their own characters, etc.

Fanfic can be good practice for learning how to put a story together without having to worry so much about getting the description and backstory right, because readers know it.

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Vanessa December 12, 2012 at 11:08 am

Hi Carradee,

In the literary world, Big 6 and Agents do consider fanfiction writing as amateur writing, which is why it’s surprising agents and publishers are now acquiring fanfiction for publication, mind you the very same people who have always viewed fanfiction writers as ‘amateurs who can’t write their own universe’.

I’m not saying fanfiction is evil. I’m the last person in the entire world to say fanfiction is evil. I wrote fanfiction for countless years, in multiple fandoms for T.V shows and my favorite books. My early fanfics were truly horrible. My favorite fandom was in fact the HP fandom. I never p2p, first off my stories are canon. Yes there are good writers in the fanfiction community, some I know don’t want to be published authors, they write for fun. A friend of mine who writers for he Twilight fandom is a doctor, but she just writes for fun, it relieves her stress from work.

Fanfiction is good writing practice. I look at my early fanfics from when i was a child and I cringe looking at them. My writing has come a long way. Do I plan on publishing them like others do? No, first off all my fanfiction writings are canon, so publishing them would mean a big fat lawsuit. Secondly, my ethical view is I couldn’t live with myself or take any pride in making money off something that isn’t even my world or hard work.

Writing your own book is a lot of work. You’re a writer so you understand what I’m talking about. When you come to world building for that first novel it’s really hard. I want to be a writer so I am taking creative writing classes so that I can be better. Writing is practice. I now took what I learned from the critical feedback I got from my readers and applied to my own novels that are being submitted to publishers. I have no problem with authors using fanfiction as practice, it’s when they begin fandom exploitation by publishing their fanfics is when the problems arise.

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Jami Gold December 12, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Hi Vanessa,

Yes, I certainly won’t dispute the impression many have about fanfic and quality. :) And it does bring up an interesting question about why the agents and editors are now chasing these writers. Honestly, I think it’s all about the numbers–the money they think they can bring in by tapping into the fanfic authors’ platform. They see views in the tens or hundreds of thousands on the fanfic story and they think that will lead to multi-thousands of readers purchasing the books. That will probably be the case with some of these stories, but definitely not the case for all. The numbers people at publishers are always trying to find new ways to quantify “chance of success,” but just like Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc., fanfic views don’t always equal sales. We’ll see if they learn this lesson. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Vanessa December 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Hi Jami,

Because of all these publishers and agents picking up fanfic writers, I sometimes wonder if I put into my query letter, “I wrote fanfic for over ten years, and one of my fanfics had over 500,000 reviews and the readers said they would buy anything I write” would that grab their attention?

And that is now the new trend in fandoms, people joining fandoms, to get readers to sell their books, UGH

Thanks for letting me comment!

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Jami Gold December 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Hi Vanessa,

Oh, I’ve stated before that I certainly think the popularity of the Twilight fandom has created many of these problems, as opportunists are now taking advantage of the captive audience. *sigh*

Jami Gold December 12, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Hi Carradee,

I agree. I know of several published authors who continue to write fanfic because they enjoy playing in someone else’s world where there’s less pressure. :)

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Jami Gold December 12, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Hi Vanessa,

I wouldn’t agree that all fanfic is amateur writing. I know of several multi-published authors who continue to write fanfic just because they find it fun. Is a higher percentage of fanfic at the amateur level compared to published books? Absolutely. I’ll fully admit my fanfic was my first attempt at writing, was amateur, and was crap. :) But that doesn’t mean no fanfic rises above that level.

Not sure what you meant by the SM publishing story being a hoax. The agent’s assistant did know what to do with queries, but didn’t remember to pay attention to the word count. I think SM’s query listed a 130K word count, which is long for any genre, much less YA (especially back then). So if the assistant had been paying attention, SM probably would have been form rejected just for that. :) SM has admitted all this (not sure if she still has it, but the story used to be on her website).

Regardless, yes, INCREDIBLY LUCKY circumstances. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Vanessa December 12, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Hi Jami,

With the one fandom I was recently in, a lot of people complained about he quality, meaning poor grammar, but about 75% of fanfic writers are teens, and the stories do have some of the most amazing plots. I’m not as picky with reading fanfics like I am with published books. In a published book I HAVE seen lack of editing from the Big 5.

Bleh sorry, meant the whole SM publishing story was too dream like, personally that agent should have given the assistant what to look for in a query.

Thanks for letting me comment.

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Jami Gold December 12, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Hi Vanessa,

Good point! Yes, many fanfic writers are indeed teens who are exploring the possibilities of the written word. :)

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Carradee December 12, 2012 at 5:35 am

I actually have a short story that’s technically fine as-is, but it’s short and of a style that suits one of my pennames. I started tweaking it to fit in one of my urban fantasy worlds of my main penname, and I’ve ended up with plans for a 3-novelette trilogy.

So I’m seriously looking at publishing both, though I have the added difficulty of the two pennames being intentionally unconnected, so someone who read both stories might think me a plagiarist. I can’t change the setting or too much of the wording without changing the mood, tone, etc. that produced the story to begin with.

That said, my perspective on the 20% fanfic is that I’m okay with it, but I think that the opinion of the original fandom’s author regarding fanfic should be taken into account when considering “How much is too much?”. An author who doesn’t like fanfic to begin with is different from one who just ignores it is different from one who enjoys it and is (or has been) active in the fanfic community.

With E.L. James, her story was a fanfic, and now it magically isn’t, on account of some name changes. If she’d started her story from the outset as a work triggered by the question “What if Edward was a rich Dom, and Bella…?” etc., I’d have no problem with it.

But it was a fanfic. Someone waved a magic wand, and now it suddenly isn’t.

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Jami Gold December 12, 2012 at 9:24 am

Hi Carradee,

Interesting! Yes, “self-plagiarizing” under different pen names could certainly make things complicated. If you want to maintain the distance between the two pen names, the easiest solution might be to release the stories at the same time. If they all came out on the same date, or within a few days of each other, it would be harder for anyone to make any accusations. Just a thought. :)

Great point about the attitude of the original author in regards to the appropriateness of fanfic itself. As you alluded to, some authors “disallow” fanfic at all, so a reworked story that still incorporated more inspiration from their stories than from anywhere else would be problematic.

Yes, I agree with you about the trouble of thinking changing names is a magic wand that erases the copyright, ethical, or fanfic issues. *sigh* But like you said, if all they’re starting with is a “what if” and going off into an original story with original characters from there, I don’t have a problem with that. That’s essentially a premise and we all get our “what if” ideas from somewhere. In fanfic, the problem comes from the deliberate intention to evoke the original characters and/or world of the original author. In original fiction, we’d take that “what if” and follow our own muse to come up with something that didn’t try to evoke anything else. Thanks for the comment!

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Kat Morrisey December 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm

This is a tricky question, the one about re-using one’s own work. I’ve had students in my writing class ask if they can hand in an essay they’ve done for other classes and argue with me about whether it’s plagiarism or not. The area is gray and oddly, the administration at the school I teach at wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I’ve since put in my syllabus that only original work for MY class would be accepted in terms of handing in assignments. I require this mainly because I want the students to do the action of writing; not because I think one can ‘self-plagiarize’. (Well, technically of course someone can. What I mean is, that though there might be ethical questions of this, I don’t see any legal implications of someone re-using their own personal work for their own purposes.) When it comes to blog posts and such, I think re-using a post and just noting at the top that is was used before (or that it’s been added to) would be the best approach. But I say this not because of the act of re-using it, but more as a courtesy to readers.

On a somewhat related note (related to the comments at least), I will admit that though I’m somewhat active in the blogosphere and on twitter, I had no idea about the fan fiction issue and p2p until recently. In fact, and this may make me sound stupid, but when I read 50,I had no idea it was Twilight related. I didn’t even see a connection to it. I suspect this is the case with a lot of those who read it. The book blew up and everyone was buying/reading it, but most of those ‘everyones’ have no idea (or didn’t at the time) that it started as twilight fanfic. If I had known, I wouldn’t have bought it because I wasn’t that big of a fan of Twilight. Now that I know (and I’ve looked into the whole fan fiction/p2p issue) I’m ultra paranoid about buying books–wondering whether something is Twilight related and if so, whether the hammer of fandom/the blogosphere will come down and strike me dead for reading, and maybe even enjoying, one of “those” books. (It sounds silly I know, but I get anxious…so to anyone that knows me, this paranoia is totally normal for me LOL ) And, in looking at my Nook, I’ve apparently read quite a few of these books that were fan fiction originally, but again I had no idea until literally a week ago they started out as Twilight fanfic. (In some I still am finding it hard to find parallels. Maybe this is because I read Twilight so many years ago?! Or I don’t pay attention when I read…)

Anyways, my long winded point is, I don’t know what to do with all this . Do I shun the authors of these works? Never buy a book from them again? What if they’ve written other books that aren’t fanfic? Is it a situation where one has to take a “side” or does each book determine whether it’s a “reworking” or a “rewriting”?

Lastly, I agree with what you said about the “what if” situation. If an author starts out with that as their premise and writes the story with their own (and that of their characters) voice, tone, setting, plot, etc…then I would agree, it’s their own. If I read a book and conjure up an image of “edward” or “Bella” or someone else from a book in my head, then I can see the issue more clearly and will likely think “ripoff”. I will point out however that, if I view it in this light, all those newer books about the Jane Austen ‘world’ are doing the same thing (in some cases anyways). The only reason authors get away with writing books that continue Austen’s stories is the copyright on the original work ran out. In most fanfic cases, the copyright is more than just a little alive and kicking! So I guess, to be fair, this issue with Jane Austen’s world bothers me too (and others who take classics and ‘rework’ the world to fit their characters. Where is that author’s own muse? Is it a case by case kind of thing?). Hmmm, lots to think about…

Thanks for the blog post Jami! It’s been such an enlightening and informative discussion (though my brain hurts from all this thinking! :D )

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Jami Gold December 12, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Hi Kat,

Yes, I think this recognition of “self-plagiarism” is fairly new. I’ve seen some blogs state they’ll accept guest posts only if the material is all new–similar to your class policy but for different reasons. :)

I agree with you that when we reuse material on our own blogs, placing a notice is mostly a matter of being courteous to our readers. My local paper will occasionally rerun an article in the main paper that had previously been run in one of their mini-papers covering part of the metropolitan area. They’ll sometimes state that the article had previously been published–but not until the end, which doesn’t help readers from thinking it’s new and updated–and sometimes they won’t fess up at all. Either way, that’s just annoying. :)

As far as you accidentally reading former fanfic, I certainly don’t blame you for that. No one can stay abreast of every situation. :) And yes, I can understand the difficulty in seeing the similarities. Twilight fanfic is often not canon, meaning they take Edward’s controlling, stalker-ish behavior and Bella’s personality (often adding in Kristen Stewart’s tendency for frequent lip-biting) and place them into contemporary romance situations. The stories are typically Twilight-based not in worldbuilding, but in characterization, character worldviews, family backgrounds, etc. This comment to my post about the ethics of fanfic summarizes some of the typical similarities.

Only you can decide your own comfort level for how to handle your new knowledge. I’ve known some authors who have done a reworking style of P2P, and I still speak to them. As this post should make clear, I see nuances in almost every situation. :)

But like you, despite the lack of copyright issues with Jane Austen’s stories, I still cringe at many of those Austen take-offs. *sigh* Probably a big determining factor for me in both the Austen and fanfic issues is whether the writer was respectful to the original material or not. I’m not a fan of disrespect under most circumstances. :) Thanks for the great comment!

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Jeanne December 13, 2012 at 11:56 am

I think there are a couple of problems with this entire argument. The first of which is the title of the post. Can Writers Reuse Their Own Work? Already you’ve implied the answer in how you’ve formed the question. After all, how can you not own what is your own work? Yet, you’re ignoring some key aspects of publishing fan fiction, or rather REpublishing fan fiction, that counter this argument which misrepresents what’s actually happening.

The reality is that when a person posts (shares) their fan fiction online it has been published. The story has been read, often copies have been made and it is now in the greater consciousness of an audience. It could be argued, from a legal standpoint, that because the story was published as a derivative work the minute the author publicly declared it a fan fiction they relinquished all claims of ownership over the work. Most traditional fan fiction authors spell this out very clearly in the disclaimers they put on their fan works (something many Twilight fan fic authors never truly understood or ever consistently used).

Let me frame this in a different manner to make the issue of ownership a little clearer. What if an author was commissioned to write a novel set in the Star Wars universe? They are given the legal rights to utilize these trademarked characters in a new “original” story of their conceiving. They write the novel and it is published.

Now, if/when that novel goes out of print or is no longer available to “new” readers. Is that author within their rights to recycle that story (change the names or manipulate the plot) and republish the story as their own? Many would say yes, others might debate the legality and others would argue that the copyright holder owns every aspect of that book, including the plot.

Who would be right? Doesn’t this author own their own ideas? THAT is what you’re arguing when you frame an argument about an author’s ownership of their work in relation to publishing a fan fiction. Because this is not a clear cut situation.

If it is true that no one can own an idea, it is also true that once a story is out in the great cultural consciousness it no longer belongs to the person who put it out there.

That includes fan fiction. No matter if an author deletes every post of their fan fiction, threatens legal action against readers who exchange copies of it and argue they own it, they cannot completely erase it from people’s minds. The genie is out of the bottle, and they’re the ones that opened it in the first place. Screaming at the people who you shared it with, demanding them to forget and pretend it didn’t happened doesn’t change anything. It especially doesn’t make you a good writer.

The other issue that arises from this attempt on the part of these authors to do essentially a take back to recycle their story, in whatever form they choose to do it. One of the biggest negative repercussion of doing this is not the affect this has on the readers and community that helped foster this author’s creativity (which is very damaging), but it is how this process stagnates the talents and career of the author themselves.

Because, as any author who has tried to revise a trunk novel can tell you, when you rewrite a story you’re not writing. You’re editing. Especially, when the purpose of the editing is to hide or obscure aspects that were once fundamental characteristics of said story. “Rewriting” fan fiction isn’t writing, it is repurposing.

So does publishing fan fiction really teach someone how to write an original story? In my opinion, no. Quite the opposite, in fact.

At the end of the day, this isn’t and shouldn’t be an argument about ownership, but rather a discussion of what it means to be a good writer. How to grow and become the very best writer you can be. I truly believe a fundamental part of that process is learning to let go.

Yes, I think it’s cool that Mr. Mayer was able to repurpose his spy novel, but I also wonder what it says about his characterization of the Soviets and their role in the plot of the novel that he could replace them with the Chinese without it ultimate changing the entire foundation of the story. That’s another discussion of problematic writing choices, for another day. While it shows that a story can be repurposed in order to still make it marketable, it doesn’t address the questions of should it be?

Especially, when it has already been published and that first edition was a derivative work of another author’s creation. That is a truer representation of ownership in the P2P controversy. One that has both legal and ethical consequences.

Side Note: While I understand the concerns for authors who “do the hard work” being lumped in with the ones who “take the easy route.” However, your phrasing implies that every person who stands in opposition to published fan fic, is part of a mob at the ready to “tar and feather” the accused authors. A characterization I find as insulting as it is in accurate.

My choice to identify and shelves published fan fiction is one I made to aid myself and friends, who follow my GoodReads account, to avoid supporting this unethical and damaging practice by not buying P2P books. A personal choice I have a every right to make.

With close to 100 published fan fics out in the market, it is very difficult to keep track when looking for something new to read. Which is why I employ the shelving. That being said, I work hard to keep accurate records and even include links to articles like this own to help anyone who looks at my shelving to make an informed decision own their own.

Thanks so much for continuing to try to work through the details of this issue and giving us a neutral platform to debate and discuss.

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Jami Gold December 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Jeanne,

As I stated in the introduction to this post, some act like authors can’t reuse their own work no matter the circumstances, so the complications go beyond the P2P issue (which are already complicated enough–LOL!).

But you bring up a great point with the commissioned work for a Star Wars book. I suspect that the premises of many of those books are so ingrained in the worldbuilding that it would be difficult to take out the fic aspects even by starting over with a blank page. I could be wrong, and I’m sure if the author went general or high-level enough they could rewrite the premise from scratch, but I wouldn’t consider those the same story in that case. (If they tried just doing a name-change-only version, I certainly hope the franchise would be all over them. *sigh*)

“as any author who has tried to revise a trunk novel can tell you, when you rewrite a story you’re not writing. You’re editing.”

Great point! I called this approach the “reworking” method in the post, and I completely agree–this is editing and the only question is the matter of degrees. Like you said, the fanfic author isn’t making as much progress in their craft that way. We see this with non-fanfic writers all the time. They get stuck on a billion edits of their first book when they’d instead learn so much more about the craft and their writing style, their voice, if they moved on to another story.

What I called “rewriting” is instead starting with just the premise and a blank page. In that case, I think it’s more likely (still not guaranteed though) the fanfic author will learn about the craft and plotting and pacing and all that good stuff if they start from scratch rather than doing the degrees of edits approach.

“I think it’s cool that Mr. Mayer was able to repurpose his spy novel, but I also wonder what it says about his characterization of the Soviets and their role in the plot of the novel that he could replace them with the Chinese without it ultimate changing the entire foundation of the story.”

That’s an interesting point, but the impression he gave was that he did a start-from-scratch with just the same basic premise of a spy novel and not just a find-and-replace. I have no idea how accurate that claim is, but I can see that approach working just fine. As long as an author is willing to have the entire story–including turning points and plot events–change, I can see how the high-level premise rewrite can work.

I write by the seat of my pants, so I think about my stories in high-level concepts all the time. My turning points aren’t “and then this happened” but “something will scare her here.” I often have no idea what that “something” is until I get there. :) Maybe because of that, it’s easy for me to understand how this “rewrite from scratch and reuse just the premise” idea can work. For me, it’s not the plot events that make me want to write the book, so I could write endless stories from the same premise that all played out in opposite ways due simply to the different characters and their different ways of reacting to the premise.

Some authors might be better at that high-concept approach than others, and I’d never thought about how my way of thinking made this approach seem more reasonable to me than it might to other people. :) I can see some people who outline and latch onto specific plot events having a harder time understanding how this would even work. Thanks for making me think! ;)

As to your side note, oh gosh no! I’m so sorry for the unintended insult. I’m against P2P as well (as you know), so I certainly didn’t mean to imply that all those against P2P should be lumped together into a “mob” either. :( Please forgive me for creating that impression. Thanks for the comment!

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Vanessa December 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Jeanne,

Your comment is everything I have been wondering about myself. It’s true once something is online, it stays in cyberspace. And I’ve also wondered if some of the writers really understand about the disclaimer in fanfics.

Thank you for giving a professional insight.

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Sefton May 14, 2013 at 7:24 am

Here’s an in-reverse question for you: I have an original story which I’d like people to read. (Currently languishing unread on my hard drive). I would like to change its characters’ names to be those from one of my favourite fandoms and post it as an AU (alternate universe) fanfic on ffnet. My aim: I want people to read and enjoy it! I will be using the fans, in I hope a non exploitative way, to see what they think of my story.

Is that ethical?

Can I still keep my original fic and publish it later?

Your thoughts would be much appreciated.
-Sef

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Jami Gold May 14, 2013 at 9:59 am

Hi Sef,

The main part of your plan I would question is the “publishing the original fic later” aspect. Whether the story started off as original or not, once you publish it as a fic, it is a fic. Publishing it with that label gives it that label. Of course, you could still publish the original version later, but at that point, it would be considered pulled-to-publish fanfiction and thus of questionable ethics, regardless of its original genesis.

Also, once something is published as fanfic, copies will exist out there. People can take your idea and run with it themselves. If you tried pulling it, others could repost it from the copies they made, etc. In other words, once you publish it as fanfic, you lose some amount of control over your story.

Now, if you just want people to read this story, and you’re okay with people seeing it in relation to fanfic, you certainly could publish it as fic. Others have done the same. They figured that fic readers are better than no readers. :)

I wouldn’t consider that exploitative at all either. You’re just sharing your story. :)

Published authors will sometimes write fanfic just for fun or because they enjoy that story universe so much. Maybe they could have saved that story idea for their original fiction, but many authors have more story ideas than they know what to do with, so it might not be a big deal to give that story idea to the fandom.

The risk of exploitation comes in only if you tried publishing the original version after that point. Would you pull the fanfic version? Would you try appealing to those readers of the fanfic version? Would you let them know the original version is now for sale? That’s where it gets tricky. :)

I hope that helps. Good luck with your story no matter what you decide, and thanks for the comment!

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