This is a guest post by writer and marketer, Hayley Zelda, on using fanfiction to build your audience, brand, and platform. She’s written on major writing platforms and worked with a number of self-published authors on marketing books to the YA audience.
Have you ever been so interested in an artist or musician that you searched to find like-minded people so that you could enjoy your idol’s works together?
Have you ever been so fascinated with a character or setting of a book or TV series that you wanted to create your own story inspired by them?
If so, welcome to the world of fandoms and fanfiction.
What is a Fandom?
Fandom is a term used to describe communities built around a shared enjoyment and fascination with an aspect of pop culture, such as books, musicians, celebrities, internet personalities, movies, or TV series.
Fanfiction archive website FanFiction.net declared the Harry Potter fandom as number one in their list of the most popular fandoms online. In fact, according to the data they released, there are around 821,000 stories about the books and movie series.
Fans of the Harry Potter series call themselves Potterheads and most of them know the wizarding world inside and out.
They have taken quizzes to determine what their Hogwart’s house, Patronus, and wand might have been if they were wizards and witches. And even though they may butt heads on their opinions about JK Rowling, they all agree that the series made their lives magical.
Another fandom that made it to FanFiction.net’s most popular list is Percy Jackson and the Olympian’s.
Fans of the book series call themselves Demigods or Half-bloods and they address its author Rick Riordan as ‘Uncle Rick.’ They share a common love for Greek mythology and a distaste for the Percy Jackson movie adaptations released in 2010 and 2013.
And of course, the Star Wars fandom also made it to FanFiction.net’s most popular list – not surprising since the fans of the sci-fi franchise are the most passionate people you’ll ever meet.
A lot of them invest time and money to collect memorabilia from the series, but there are also others who create amazing works of art inspired by Star Wars. You could easily spot them at conventions because they are usually sporting lightsabers and other merch from the franchise or are dressed as their favorite character.
What is Fanfiction?
In every fandom, there are members who are inspired to create stories based on their idols or set in the world of their favorite books, TV shows, or movies. These stories are called fanfiction.
Fanfiction, also known as fanfic, is any writing produced by fans that remix existing fictional stories, characters, or worlds to create unique stories. It is a type of creative writing that has taken the internet by storm.
Types of Fanfiction
There are thousands of fanfiction stories online. Each of them fall into over 20 different genres that may vary from traditional novels, short stories and poems.
In the article The Ultimate Guide to Fanfiction and Fanfiction Sites, Joanna Smith suggests checking what category a fanfiction falls in before reading it so that you can get an idea of what the story would be about.
If you want a light read, you would look for fanfics that are classified as fluff. They are fun and happy stories with romantic elements, but nothing too graphic.
On the other hand, if you are in the mood for something dark and edgy, you would read fanfics that are labeled as ‘angst’. They typically involve torment of the characters, depression, and sadness.
AU (or alternative universe) shorts would make a good read if you are looking for something unique. In this type of fanfic, the authors put the characters into a world that is different from their normal ones.
And for a quick read, you could consider reading one-shots, or ‘one-chapter’ stories that you can easily finish in one sitting.
Where to Share your Fanfiction?
If, after watching a movie or reading a book, you find yourself inspired to write fanfiction about it, the next step is to find people who would appreciate your work.
Well, with the increase of online writing websites and apps, you can easily find the perfect avenue to post your stories. Websites like Commaful and Wattpad are ideal to post fanfictions because they have community tools and messaging systems that would allow you to interact with readers who share the same interest as you. (For advice on how to promote on these types of sites, you can utilize this guide).
Is it Legal?
The legality of fanfiction is a valid concern for authors, and although what follows cannot be construed as legal advice, it may give you some guidance on what is, and is not, fair use.
Works that are out of copyright and works in the public domain like Dracula, Hercules, and others (the original books, not any of the animations, which are owned by the animators) are fair game and can be used or incorporated without permission from the copyright owner.
When works are written about copyrighted works, like Harry Potter, things can be a bit more complex. In most cases, fanfiction can be argued under fair use, which provides some safe ground as it can be considered “transformative” and is more or less legal as long as it’s non-commercial.
For example, sites like Archive of Our Own have made the argument and held legal ground that fanfiction, if not monetized, is fair use.
How Authors Can Use Fanfiction to Build their Platform + Brand
So the question then is how can authors use fanfiction to build their platform, community, and brand – especially if the work can’t be monetized?
There are several ways, but here are a few examples:
1 // To gain exposure.
Because of the huge number of people who participate in fanfiction, authors can reach readers who otherwise might not be exposed to their writing.
If your fanfiction is good, these readers will be more likely to follow you to your original work – especially if they see familiar themes and ideas. The more stories and interactions you have within the fanfiction community, the more people will get to know your work and your name.
People will begin to recognize your style from your stories and begin to trust in your ability to provide what they are looking for. Over time, fanfiction can help you build a platform for your work because you’ll have the potential to reach thousands of people.
Additionally, it helps build your social media presence. Every story you write links back to your account, creating opportunities to further build relationships with your readers.
If your fans’ writing (based on your original work) is good and prolific, it brings more attention to you, your stories, and your brand.
2 // To build your readership.
Writing fanfiction can also be a great way to build up a readership. Fanfiction readers are loyal and often eager to provide feedback and excitedly share things they love with others.
And again, it also gives you the opportunity to be a part of a like-minded community, experiment in different genres and styles, and get immediate, constructive feedback on your work.
Authors that encourage fanfiction or run contests with their fans will automatically stand out. Create more buzz around your characters and story by running a writing contest for your fans with a cool prize (like a phone call with you or having a fan’s story posted on your blog), or encourage your loyal fans to create some social media content around your story.
Or, leverage fanfiction by writing your own fanfiction in overlapping fandoms. For example, if you know your target readers also love Harry Potter, you could write Harry Potter fanfiction. In the author’s notes, you can mention your book or give readers the option to get more from you.
You could even write your character into the fanfiction!
3 // To improve your craft.
Fanfiction also allows you to experiment. It’s a way to try or practice different styles, find your voice, and improve your craft.
Get used to having your work read and critiqued, and learn to cultivate plot, conflict, and characters that pull readers in – all while developing your author brand.
Reading and writing a variety of fanfiction will jumpstart your creativity, which should help you with your own creative works.
You’ll also have a pool of fellow writers and readers to seek help from and to build a network of co-creators or collaborators that grows your platform and author business.
4 // To get fandom-related inspiration for new work.
Every author knows that inspiration is sparked from the strangest of circumstances. A word, a smell, a place, a random thought or even a casual conversation can stir a writer’s creative flow of ideas.
So imagine the potential for new storylines, new characters, and new worlds if you take the opportunity to explore (or encourage) fanfiction!
There are plenty of fandoms online. Each have their own idols or favorite characters, but one thing they have in common is the undying support they give to the celebrities, book series, TV series, or movie franchises that inspired them, whether they show it through their artworks, collections, or fanfiction.
When you write fanfiction, you’re tapping into a new community and engaging readers that will happily back your future projects.
And as Sadie Trombetta states in her article on Why Fanfiction Is Good For Readers — And Writers:
On its most basic level, fanfiction is a great form of free advertising and marketing… But fanfiction is truly an expression of love and adoration, and in the literary world, it doesn’t get much more flattering than that.
Hayley Zelda is a writer and marketer at heart. She’s written on all the major writing platforms and worked with a number of self-published authors on marketing books to the YA audience.
[…] Marketing can be opaque to a lot of writers. Hank Quense shares free book market tactics, Brian Jud tells us how to write persuasive marketing copy and how to work with a book marketing consultant, and Kimberly Grabas explains how to use fanfiction to build audience brand and platform. […]