Many people aspire to make it big and become the next New York Times bestselling author, earning millions per book deal and surrounded by adoring fans. But the truth is that the traditional publishing industry is swamped with aspiring authors.
Literary agents, the gatekeepers and trendsetters of traditional publishing, receive thousands of manuscripts every year and only a fraction of these manuscripts ever see the inside of a publishing house. Even fewer manuscripts actually make it big instead of being trounced to the bargain bins of bookstores.
However, there is a way that authors can accumulate enough of a following that they can make the transition to traditional publishing more appealing. Whether their work ends up as e-books or paper books, some authors got their start by writing fanfiction.
The Fanfiction “Industry”
Some authors decided to flex their creative muscles and build a sizeable following before entering traditional marketing by writing fanfiction. This refers to works derived and inspired by other authors and media. Some authors wrote their bestselling ideas with characters from established franchises. For example, E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” series began as fanfiction based from Meyer’s “Twilight” sage. The allure of fanfiction is that it can help authors have a dedicated fanbase before they begin the process of self-publishing a book.
Fanfiction by itself is quite a powerhouse industry. Archive of Our Own, one of the largest depositories of fanfiction in the world, reached over 7 million works in 2020. Many of these fanfic authors enjoy sizeable followings, which can make them more viable candidates for publishing houses should they branch out to traditional publishing.
A Quick Lexicon of Fanfic Terms
If you’re considering delving into the fascinating world of fanfiction, you will need to know a few terms. Below are explanations of some of these terms.
The term AU stands of “alternate universe” and it’s used to describe fanfiction that takes place in settings other than the work’s original world. For example, a work described as a high school AU will take place in a setting where all the characters from the work that inspired the fanfiction are high-schoolers and attend high school.
Alternate universe fanfiction allow authors to play around with their own ideas and explore possibilities. They are essentially “what if” scenarios.
For as long as fanfiction has existed, authors have also been pairing up characters of the same sex and gender with each other. Works with this type of pairing are called “slash fiction.” Some first slash fiction were inspired by the intense friendship between Spock and Captain Kirk on the original “Star Trek.” The name of the term derives from the symbol “/” which is used to denote who the people in the pairing are. For example, “Character A/Character B.” Although all fanfiction pairings, regardless of the characters sex or orientation, will use the “/,” slash fiction specifically refers to pairings that are LGBT+ or same sex.
3. Canon Divergent
Another major type of fanfiction takes place in canon divergent settings. Unlike AU fanfiction, which take place in universe that are radically different from the established setting of the inspiring work, canon divergent fiction hinges on only one major different. For example, what if a character made a different decision at a key moment? What if the villain of the original work won? Canon divergent fanfictions have the potential to explore alternative outcomes the author of the original work may have not considered.
4. Citrus Scale
In the early days of internet fanfiction, people had no way of knowing whether the fanfiction they were about to click on would contain sexually explicit scenes and descriptions. Some hosting sites also forbade fanfiction authors from posting explicit works without warnings.
The compromise of warning readers that the work is sexually explicit without giving the game away was the citrus scale. Different citrus fruits are used to indicate what kind of activity can the reader expect from the work. A work rated “orange” means that characters may kiss and hug while a work rated “lemon” contains graphic depictions of events. In the advent of websites with actual rating systems, the citrus scale has mostly fallen by the wayside.
6. Dead Dove
Some fanfiction authors want to explore truly bizarre, upsetting or explicit concepts. Although a few of these authors use these concepts for deeper explanations or intricate plots, some simply want to indulge fantasies with no deeper level of analysis needed.
These works, which can be very upsetting or off-putting to most readers, may be tagged with “dead dove” or “dead dove do not eat.” This means the work is very gratuitous and the reader should not expect any depth. It also means that what the author tags it, whether its sexually explicit content or upsetting contents, is what a reader will get, nothing more.
The name comes from the sitcom “Arrested Development,” when a main character opens a bag labeled “dead dove do not eat” and exclaims that he really shouldn’t have expected anything else in it.
A drabble is a very short form of fanfiction, often less than a thousand words. It’s usually just an author indulging themselves and putting pen to paper, writing out a cute scene or evocative idea that came to them. The name comes from the word “dribble,” befitting its short form.
Fanfiction is wonderful gateway for many people to explore their creative talents. Some can even use fanfiction to indulge fantasies and spend more time with characters they love from other forms of fiction. Learning more about fanfiction can be as enlightening as it is entertaining.