Fan fiction is a great way for a writer to gain experience and build a following of readers. It can also be a lot of fun. But should you include your fan fiction writing credentials in a cover or query letter to literary agents or editors of literary magazines?
The online phenomenon of fan fiction is quite a craze. Writers who are fans of a certain television show, movie, or book will essentially create their own spin-offs based on the original story in question. Fan fiction can range in tone, style, and form, and it is not restricted to a given genre. Fan fiction writers who write regularly, and well, will often gain a following and be given awards by readers’ votes or the master of the website where they write.
While we at Writer’s Relief value all creative writing endeavors, our job is to help writers who seek publication with a traditional publishing house. We manage the submission process to literary agents, and we also help writers submit their poems, stories, and essays to literary journals. We work with our clients to write killer cover and query letters, and we’ve been assisting writers with composing professional bios since 1994.
There are a number of reasons that we do not advocate that our clients list fan fiction writing in their writing credits.
1. Fan fiction relies (to an extent) on other people’s imaginations. Writers of fan fiction (generally) don’t start from scratch when they compose a story. They work within the given framework of a preexisting canon, and they rely upon characters who have already been created by someone else. For that reason, the very concepts upon which fan fiction relies don’t fully belong to those who write it, and so literary agents and editors tend to turn a wary eye toward stories that a writer does not build from the ground up.
2. Anyone can post fan fiction. On most (though perhaps not all) fan fiction sites, anyone can post a story. Traditional publications are highly selective, somewhat difficult (though not impossible) to break into, and well respected in the critical writing community. Because fan fiction is so wonderfully open to any and everyone, literary agents and editors tend not to regard it as a formal publishing credit. Read more about publishing online: What Is Considered Previously Published Writing?
3. Many, many writers get fan fiction awards. Fan fiction communities are absolutely fantastic for building confidence in new writers. These awards are great in communities and among friends and family; however, because of the two previous points above, these awards don’t work well in literary agents’ and editors’ offices. For that reason, it may not be helpful to list such awards in your bio.
But what about all those spin-off books (like Star Wars novels) in the bookstore? Isn’t that fan fiction?
Yes and no. A professional writer working on a Star Wars spin-off novel is probably a fan and, technically, would be a writer of fan fiction. However, the novels that are stocked on the shelves at major retailers must have the Star Wars Empire “seal of approval” in order to be sold. In other words, the characters and worlds of Star Wars are protected by copyright, and they can’t simply be repurposed by any writer who wants to make a buck from a Han Solo spin-off book. Official Star Wars books, no matter how remote or tangential the plotline, are still sanctioned parts of the Star Wars commercial universe.
Why fan fiction is fantastic
Fan fiction is a fantastic life credit. Writers cut their teeth in fan fiction. They learn new skills and techniques. They discover how to please audiences and themselves. There’s a great energy in fan fiction communities that is contagious and supportive. Veterans can mentor new writers, and new writers can learn the ropes of storytelling from those who have popular acclaim.
Some writers have reported great success as a result of their work in fan fiction. Writers who gain a following might be noticed by industry big-wigs, including agents and editors. Many industry professionals appreciate the enthusiasm of writers of fan fiction and their dedication to writing popular stories.
Fan fiction forums are an absolutely awesome place for writers to evolve. And, as with most things in writing, we would never say that there’s a “rule” that you shouldn’t mention your fan fiction credits (in certain situations, doing so could be helpful). But we do encourage writers to build up their bios in more long-established markets as well as sticking to their fan fiction roots.
If you’re writing stories, essays, and poems, Writer’s Relief may be able to help you submit your writing for publication in reputable and well-known literary journals. After all, we’ve been helping new writers get published since 1994!