On The Bookseller, Neill Denny reflects on how Fifty Shades of Grey is burning up the sales charts. He looks at it in terms of the overall spiciness of the erotic content, which goes somewhat beyond the boundary of what is normally considered “romance” and wonders if it will start a trend toward publishing more explicit books.

Certainly British society has been “pornified”—by strip clubs, the web, lads’ mags, you name it—on a level that would have been inconceivable a generation ago. Perhaps publishing has lagged behind the curve while a new mainstream market, more comfortable with explicit content, has grown up. That possibility is going to be put to the test as, in publishing terms, a bandwagon is now rolling. Everyone is scrambling to find the next Fifty Shades, or reinvent a dusty classic.

I wonder if Denny might be right but not for the reason he thinks. What if the trend it starts is publishers looking for already-complete long fanfic that is well-enough written yet sufficiently generic that they can get away with changing character names and rubbing out a few other serial numbers? They might conclude that, as with Fifty Shades, they wouldn’t have to wait for it to be written and it could start out with its own built-in audience who will be happy to shell out to buy the printed version.

If that does happen, it could be a pretty big boost for the “legitimacy” of fanfic, that publishers are finding multiple examples of it that are good enough to publish. I’m not sure that publishers necessarily want that to happen given the dim view a number of authors and publishers take of unauthorized fanfic, but on the other hand publishers do like new bestsellers, and what has that other work done for them lately

I also wonder how long would it be before the author of the original work that spawned such a recast fanfic took legal action? SF author John L. Beiswenger has filed suit against Ubisoft for allegedly copying some ideas from a novel of his, though the legal expert Ars Technica talked to stated he has a rather weak case. Beiswenger argues that Ubisoft stole some fairly general ideas, but a fanfic writer would at least have the Internet record to prove that the story was originally a derivative work based on his own. (Indeed, in that light I’m fairly surprised that Stephenie Meyer hasn’t taken any legal action about Fifty Shades herself.)


  1. Everyone is always scrambling to find the next Fifty Shades, or reinvent a dusty classic… this never changes.

    But the idea of “changing a few names” to create a new novel from fanfic sounds so litigation-likely that I can’t see it happening for long; one good court case will close the door on that, probably for good. More likely the novel will be legitimately bought and licensed by the franchise, in order to secure profits for all.

    I think Denny has a good point about more explicit books becoming more popular, though; we’ve already seen that trend, and I expect it to continue to boost book sales, especially now that it’s so much easier to hide your ebook title from curious eyes.

  2. Unless it’s by an established author who can sell with an outline, all novels have to be finished before they are submitted so fanfic offers no value in that sense.

    Romance with erotic elements has been around for over ten years so FIFTY SHADES has changed nothing including having all these pundits who claim it’s a new thing because they don’t even know the market. These pundits have been around longer than ten years.

    As someone who wrote a few fanfic stories some years back, I’d say that there is a distinct difference between writing fanfic and original fiction because of who you are writing for.

    Fanfic assumes that the reader knows the characters and settings so explanations, descriptions, and character development are not needed on the page. If that same story is presented, as is, with the names and a few facts changed, that story will be so thin it won’t please readers.

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