For people who write fan fiction (aka ‘fanfic’) – which are works of fiction based on existing universes and characters created by other people, and can be for any type of work from novels to movies to television shows and beyond – there is nothing to be gained. At all. At least, not financially.
Fanfic writers don’t get paid to write their stories – or at least, they shouldn’t, because that’s illegal, since they don’t own the characters to begin with. Fanfic writers can’t outwardly benefit their careers by writing their stories. In fact, in many cases quite the opposite happens, in that when someone admits to writing fan fiction, they’re immediately labeled as a wannabe…or worse. (See my previous blog posts for more on this.)
Evidently I’m one of those people who marches to the beat of my own drummer, because I am both a published novelist and a writer of fanfic, and I decided a while back that I wasn’t going to hide it. The fanfic writing, that is. Why? Because fan fiction was (and still is) a proving ground for me. It’s literally my practice field, and a place where I can get real, live, sometimes immediate feedback from readers about what I’ve written. And it’s a variety of readers I get to hear from, too, not just those who happen to like the one particular genre I’m writing in.
As a pro football coach, would you let a brand-new quarterback into your starting lineup if he hadn’t run through scrimmages with the team on your home field beforehand?
As a professional opera singer, would you step out onto stage to star in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly without practicing all the songs and warming up your voice first?
As dog trainer, would you let your Blue Heeler compete in the Cynosport World Games without even trying him out on a single obstacle course first?
For me, the world of fan fiction became my home field. It became my warm-up. It became my obstacle course. And what helped me immensely were the reviews left for me by my readers and fans.
I also, of course, have used what the world of fanfic calls “beta readers” over the years – these being the fanfic version of editors, more or less – for dry runs before posting my stories to the World Wide Web. And their insight, as with any editor’s, is always invaluable and oftentimes keeps me from really screwing up a plotline or veering off into left field with whatever I’m writing.
But the real test for a fanfic writer is what they hear from the public. And what a variety of ‘public’ there is! Every single age group from children to seniors. Every single ethnicity, race, type of person that exists. Any sex. Any sexual preference. Expatriates, people native to dozens and dozens of countries, not necessarily still living in those countries. People who speak different languages. Professional everythings. All walks of life. All income levels.
You literally have the world available to you as a fanfic writer, and what better place than that to test your skills?
Before the days of the internet making other people so readily available to you, all you had were typewriters, spiral notebooks, looseleaf paper and yes, sometimes word processors and computers. But you didn’t have the ability to share what you’d written with anyone except in hard copy format. So if you didn’t have anyone near you to hand your work over to for a look-see, you were left having to mail it to one or more persons, wait for them to get it , read it, make comments/corrections, and then mail it back to you.
And even then, those checking out your book before you sent it to a publisher were a limited number of people, giving you only a very narrow segment of your potential audience to get feedback from.
In the world of traditional publishing (meaning hard cover and paperback books that sit on bookstore shelves), you can spend years going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with your editor and/or publisher. Years of nobody seeing that book, nobody who’s your potential audience telling you if you do okay writing present tense or really suck at it. Nobody from your potential audience saying, yeah, we don’t like vampires so much anymore, especially not the kind that change into werewolves. (Or whatever.)
All you had was one or two jaded individuals who had to do this for way more people than just you, doing whatever they could to change the book to fit their standards, their ideas for what they think will make them the most money.
Nowadays, someone like me who isn’t writing fanfic just to ‘play with dolls,’ but is truly using it as both a catharsis and a training camp, can get instant feedback from readers. “You were trying to write bromance? No way, that tripped over into romance, girl.” Good to know, if I wasn’t intending to write romance! Or “Oh, my, God, this was so moving.” Which helps when you wonder sometimes if you’re being too sappy. *grin*
I might have a person in England wonder WTH I meant by X, because it’s an Americanism of some sort, whereas an Aussie might say they got something, but that it also had a double meaning in their country that I should be careful about. I might have a teenager bouncing off the walls over an angst-ridden piece I posted, whereas a sixty-year old is rolling their eyes and going, “Really?”
Getting reviews on fan fiction helps me really learn who my readers are, and what their preferences and tastes are. I will bet that the majority of those who enjoyed my Hawaii Five-0 story “If I Was Your Vampire” will absolutely love my original novel “TAKERS.” The people who read my fanfic and are kind enough to take the time to leave me a review, are my thermometer. My Litmus test. They are the voices of those who may potentially become people who will pay $2.99 to download my novel from Amazon.com.
So getting to know them, really, can only benefit me. And trying different things out on them, helps me grow and evolve as a writer. It teaches me things that I can then utilize as I proceed along my professional writing path. The readers of fan fiction are kind enough and generous enough to be my guinea pigs, and I love them for it.
I don’t make any money off my fan fiction. Never have, never will. I get paid in words of praise, words of criticism and words of assistance.
And while I’m really not in danger of making tons of money off my first novel yet (LOL), technically, it’s something I get paid for. But does that mean reviews aren’t just as necessary as they are for my fan fiction? Absolutely not.
Especially since “TAKERS” is my first published original novel, I’m really keen to find out what people think. I’ve taken the world of vampires and twisted it just enough to make it something nobody’s ever done before (to the best of my knowledge, and believe me, I searched!). This isn’t just a one-off book I’ve written; this is going to wind up being at least a trilogy, if not an entire series of who-knows-how-many books.
That’s why it’s important to me to understand what readers think of the world I’ve created. Of my characters. Of my version of ‘vampire lore’ – which in this case, would be called Taker Lore. Is it nice when you see someone’s purchased a copy of your book? Of course it is! That’s the whole point of putting it out there, after all!
But what I’d like even more, is to know how people actually feel about it. If they love it, if they hate it, if it’s confusing, if they’re surprised, if they’re appalled…whatever the case may be. Since my book’s selling on Amazon.com (it will be up on Smashwords soon, my publisher assures me!), that’s probably the best place to get a review at the moment. It may help others who are considering the book, decide if they think it’s worth their three bucks.
I’ve also got a place right here on my blog for people to discuss whatever they want to about the book. Look up at the menu bar and you’ll see a link for a discussion forum. You can also leave me comments on my posts (as long as you register first). And there’s always Facebook, Twitter and Email, all of which you can get to through the right sidebar of my site here.
The long and short of it is that reviews really do make a difference, at least to me. I pay attention. I may not actually change a critical part of my plot, or a character’s personality, or the way they interact with other characters just because someone says they don’t like the way I wrote it. But I will listen, internalize and consider the feedback – both positive and negative, because it’s the book-buying public I want to make happy.
For those who’ve either publicly or privately reviewed “TAKERS,” thank you from the bottom of my heart. And to all of my fan fiction fans who continue to wait daily for the next new thing from me and make me feel really good about life in the process, a big huge thank you for continuing to review and tell me what you think and how what I write makes you feel.
Because truly, there’s nothing like a review where a fan tells me about something very painful and personal that what I wrote is helping them remember and work through. There’s nothing like being told I’ve touched someone deeply because of a few hundred words I put out on the internet in the form of a short fanfic story. And there’s nothing like knowing I’ve made people laugh out loud, cry or have warm fuzzies, all because of something I wrote.
A writer feels good when they know they’ve touched another human being with their gift of words. And a reader gives an even greater gift to a writer, when they tell them so.