niledawk: (money)
vee ([personal profile] niledawk) wrote2014-06-03 02:12 pm

006. the writing soapbox rant

 (i wrote this on tumblr as a response to some shitty post that was making the rounds, something along the lines of "haha all the books i find in the bookstore are about cis white relationships why would i ever want to buy those, i have fanfic!" the entire theme of the post seemed to be "thanks for trying, writers, but online i have these magical stories that appear out of thin air that are inclusive and engaging and free!" at least that's where my brain, which tends to extrapolate it, took the meaning. because i extrapolate too much)

(when drafting this post at work that day i had LIKE FIVE MORE PARAGRAPHS i eventually edited out that went more into the psychology of writing and creating an engaging and believable world, and why that's not always conducive to the sort of social networking writers are "expected" to do in order to make it big, but anyway...)

(i deleted the post after less than a day because i was like "no, that's really stupid and ranty and indulgent so, bye)

(but i like to think i have the experience and legs to stand on, in fandom and in the writing scene, that i've earned my right to get a little ranty)

Oh no, soapbox time. I tried to keep it short. I failed. I haven't been writing a lot lately, so I obviously had a lot of words saved up. 
For the most part the authors of these fics aren't told that their writing, their work, is worth anything monetary. The culture of fanfic is flourishing on its way to becoming an amazing place for young authors to develop; however, it also brings to light one of the saddest truths of fan culture at large.
Thank goodness in the last decade fan culture has grown to respect fanartists more, and these supremely talented folks can earn some extra money on commissions here and there, sell their work at conventions, etc etc. Even if they don't want to take commissions, they can strive to produce work they can sell as prints. Not every artist can make money doing this, and popularity of fandom is an unfair curve, but it's a possibility.
There's no truly comparable way for fanwriters to earn this sort of scratch, and let me tell ya... Those brave and unique stories you want? You're probably not going to read them online. Because if an author isn't purposefully keeping the work private for fear of having it stolen or running into complications with a publishing contract because it became popular and was too widely circulated, they're dealing with the crushing futility of trying to generate interest in an original written work within a demographic that's by and large only excited by the visual medium. I've seen some fascinating original projects build momentum and a fanbase only after having art attached to the story, presented with the story. In the world of scrolling and instant gratification, there's just no time to sit down and become invested in a project unless you can get some immediate glimpse if what it's about -- as much as any one of us loves words, it's far easier to pique interest with imagery. That's the way it is, and it's not a bad thing! 

"But there are people who write stuff on commission!" This is uncommon practice, and rarely even worth putting the effort into it. I've written a couple of fics as pledge rewards for Help Japan and Help Haiti, and wow, uphill battles of effort vs payoff. Commission work, for artists in visual mediums, can be the sort of stuff you wouldn't want to ever show anyone else, but the artists I know often (with the patron's permission) use past commission works as part of their "commission examples" portfolio -- it's instant advertising, even if that particular OC or scenario or pairing has no connection with anyone else. You still get a sense of the artist's style and personality. You can look at several of these pieces and judge whether you're willing to pay $xx to have your own idea brought to life.
Rarely will anyone read a fic on the same basis. Visual art and writing are both indispensable expressions and celebrations of creativity, but they require a different depth of commitment. And often, writers converge and connect with an audience less on a level of "I like this author's style" and more on "I like what's going on here, I like what's being said." Commissioned work doesn't lend itself well to the written word for that reason. 
And it can be crushing to know that reader attitudes about fanwriters are often flip, fickle, and entitled. Even saying "I just write what I want - read or don't read!" is a struggle for writers who want to actually enter the professional creative writing world. Few writers I've known -- good, bad, young, old -- write with no desire for feedback or encouragement to keep going (yet somehow the ability to write this way is seen as noble, contributing to the notion that "real writers write for themselves, not to please others," adding to an overall sense that writers shouldn't want money for what they do). Occasionally, you're writing with hope that someone will remember your name and what your writing means to them when you finally spend the money out of your own pocket to self-publish that blood, sweat, and tear-soaked original story you worked on for five years and edited for two more... the sort of story traditional publishing doesn't want because it's a niche market... the sort of book that's perfect for fandom... Only to be crushed by the knowledge that either the interest isn't there or the willingness/ability to pay for it is nonexistent, and you can't afford to market yourself to a new demographic you're not even sure exists. You've gotta either write what sells or dedicate countless hours, a few shreds of sanity and self-esteem, and potentially a lot of money to stick with writing what you believe in -- what your heart tells you people will love.
Am I saying that authors who produce fiction for the lowest common denominator and make that money for real for real for real for real are the enemy? No, I'm saying the odds are stacked against the publishing industry taking too many chances -- the old school publishing industry that has hundreds of locked and arbitrary gates mostly guarded by stodgy old white men. They're the powers that be when it comes to what's on the shelves at your local bookstore, what everyone is told to buy and therefore read, even what's most likely to make it to your kindle.
I'm also saying that some authors prefer to create in the fanfic world, despite it not being "the big payoff," and to treat any of those authors with an attitude that they're disposable and exist as "story genies" to conjure up what you want to read because no one's publishing that... can you see where I'm going with this? Bear with me for a few more paragraphs, let's see if we end up in the same place.
I'm so old for fandom. Every time I say that, I get a small handful of people crawling out of the woodwork to say "I'm old and in fandom, too!" and I know you guys are out there. I love ya for it. But fandom has given me joy and opportunities for expression that I haven't otherwise had in my life. I've been writing since I was in middle school but I didn't join fandom until the Internet became a big thing in the late 90's. I've always been working on my original projects in the background, but I love producing shit for fandom, even when the internet at large looks at the fandom scene and considers it the Logan's Run of hobbies -- at a certain age, you're too old. This was all warm-up, practice for the real world. No more time for that, off you go! 
And I think that attitude might contribute to the myth of the disposable fanwriter. The transient nature of fandom doesn't help, either -- most people stay highly active in a particular fandom for a short period of time, and even with some amazing fics out there over the years, there's really only one fic everyone knows and respects as an achievement (yeah, The Shoebox Project) years after they've moved on to a different fandom. Most fics are remembered for how bad they are, how cheesy or terrible. They're anecdotes. There might be that one fic that really touched you or even changed your life but man, that was like five fandoms ago, and that author's not going to just follow me around writing for new fandoms!
It also doesn't help that fandom has been "duped" before -- LaptopGate comes immediately to mind. History like that makes fanwriters less likely to put a toe out of line. No one wants to be the next Cassie Clare, even if the money looks really tempting. So they don't say anything to the effect of "man if only I could get paid for writing fanfic," for fear of seeming like one of Those Fanwriters. 
Because the only thing that makes a fanwriter "successful" is popularity. Popularity is a double-edged sword (this applies to any fan-creator who can relate). Often it springs up from a genuine place, an appreciation of a good story or backlog of stories. But then it gets going and starts churning and you're not in charge of your own fandom presence anymore, you're not in charge of how your work is interpreted or how people will treat you or talk about you. It's a microcosm of creating something successful by traditional, non-fandom means.
And let me just say, sometimes you sit back and think "man, this waterfall of shit would be a lot easier to deal with if it paid the bills. Even one bill. Just pay one of my bills, fanfic, and you'll be worth this."  
In a way I suppose fanwriters ARE "story genies", a wish fulfillment source. This is why you scour tags on fics. This is why you make and check rec lists. This is why people get incredibly angry about misleading descriptions or an ancilliary ship being tagged. Reading is a time investment. You look at a picture, and you get it. Your brain starts to process it immediately, and unless there's a hidden meaning in it, it's all at face value. But these stories? They are just to be consumed, to fulfill that specific thing you wanted to read at that specific time, and yes you can search for them and find that perfect little slice of fandom creativity, and that's the greatest feeling. If it's not what you were looking for, burn the whole house down, that was not the wish I made.
So yeah, I see where the attitude stems from. 
But the same logic that tells us, beyond reproach, that a fanartist is worth the money for their time, resources, and talent, does not make that connection for fanwriters. And the community says: "There's no effective way to patronize fanfic writers!" "The copyright laws blah blah blah!" and the really worrying one, "What if I'm one of many patrons for this fic and the author ends up publishing it as an original story and yanking it off the internet, anyway? There's no contract there! Money wasted!" 
The authors are saying/worrying about/stymied by these same concerns.  
It's the same all over, for all media creatives, but the odds are stacked a little higher against writers who actually want to make a living writing, much less start a revolution. Because the "new frontier" of fiction? The one that's seeing stories take off in the fandom world and giving a spotlight to bold new talent that would probably never make it in the traditional publishing game?
The gatekeepers there are totally different. It's mired in an attitude along the lines of "if it doesn't exist, write it yourself!" in which everyone is potentially a fanwriter. Which is a great attitude, to some extent. But because of an over-saturation of contributors, it's easy to see writers as disposable, easily replaced, machines that cater to the latest fandom or trend and will probably produce more under the influence of enough encouragement and community.
I have no solution to the problem. I really don't. And that's why this is such a difficult opinion to express, especially having been vilified for daring to yank, polish, and publish my fanfiction. I just wish it were a viable option, to not see that sort of betrayal of one's readership as the only way to make the effort into something worthwhile and build a career of legitimately published work. 
For every author that's producing fic I love to read, and for every time I wonder "why isn't there more fic like this?" I know there are probably ten authors that gave up because fandom tends to treat fanwriters shittily, and a hundred times someone dissuaded themselves from taking the chance on a $10 independently published book because "fanfic is free."