SparkNotes Blog

Five Ways to Take Your Fanfic Mainstream

It’s 2015, which means that any minute now, fan fiction will become as prolific and profitable as biblical fan art was in Renaissance Italy. We’re already closer than ever; Kindle will give you actual moolah if you write and publish in one of their Kindle Worlds fandoms (including Gossip Girl and The 100). Of course, E.L. James got a jump start on everyone; by now most of us know that her Fifty Shades of Grey began as a Twilight fanfic and an absolutely bonkers amount of drama.

But good ol’ E.L. isn’t the only one currently surfing the waves of fanfic stardom. Many authors are actively making a profit from their stories based in other people’s worlds. Here’s how you can, too!

Date 1/5 of a boy band.

If you can name all five (FOUR, SORRY) band members in One Direction, you’ve probably heard of Anna Todd and her about-to-go-mainstream fanfic After. It’s a story about a girl named Tessa who falls in lerve with Harry Styles—whose name is now Hardin Scott. But in this tale, Hardin and his buddy Zedd (Zayn, some might say) aren’t just delightful pop sensations. They’re kinda—well, creepy. They actually make a bet with each other over who can be the first to take Tessa’s virginity, and Hardin makes a dang hobby out of being emotionally abusive and manipulative. Tessa forgives the guy constantly, though, because he had a rough childhood and actually wants to be a writer (!?!?). The point is, with a book deal and a movie in the works, After makes us think that slightly-altered RPF is gonna be a thing. Just, please—when you dust off your old 1D stories, pick a better name than Hardin.

Be a grenre-savvy background character.

John Scalzi is an incredibly talented sci-fi writer and upstanding human being, whose Redshirts is basically Star Trek fan fiction—or at least, a very thorough love letter to it. If the title reference wasn’t enough, Redshirts follows the (mis)adventures of a low-ranking crew member aboard a starship who, in any other setting, would be killed off immediately thanks to his disposable nature. The book makes no secrets about what it’s referring to, but manages to be clever, charming, and delightfully refreshing. You could pull background characters from any other epic story and give them the same treatment.

Be Neil Gaiman.

This dude is one of the biggest fantasy writers alive. If you haven’t read his stuff, perhaps you’ve seen the episodes of Doctor Who he’s directed (“The Doctor’s Wife” and “Nightmare in Silver”). He would positively sparkle if you draped him in all the awards he’s won, and for good reason. His stuff’s great. He’s also written fanfic for Sherlock Holmes in the style of Arty Doyle himself, in “A Study in Emerald.” In 2010 he wrote a retelling (cough fan fiction AU? cough) of The Jungle BookThe Graveyard Book, where ghosts and supernatural beings raise the Mowgli equivalent instead of bears and big kitties. Sure, morphing into Neil Gaiman would be tough, but it’d certainly get you a head start on clearing all that Avengers fanfic from your hard drive.

Write fanfic based on old stuff.

What do Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, Christmas at Pemberly, Second Impressions, and The Pursuit of Mary Bennet have in common? They’re all stories written as direct sequels to Pride and Prejudice—hundreds of years after its first publication. The award-winning, critically-acclaimed Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre. A Monster’s Notes (Frankenstein), Wicked (The Wizard of Oz), March (Little Women)we could go on. Why are these even allowed to exist, let alone make moolah for the authors? Well, it’s because many old classics (see: the majority of works you’ll find dissected on SparkNotes) exist without stringent copyright laws, either because it’s too long after the author’s death or other clever legal loopholes. In Alexandra Ripley’s case, the Margaret Mitchell estate actually gave her permission to write Scarlett, the direct sequel to Gone with the Wind. We’re holding out for someone (you, we hope) to pen the continuing adventures of totally-still-alive Sydney Carton. Or a rewrite of The Age of Innocence if it took place in a college coffee shop.

You know what? Just write a Twilight AU.

Seriously, it’s starting to feel like all the famous published fanfic out there is a Twilight derivative. The Beautiful Bastard series is another Fifty Shades-esque story originally based on the tale of Bella and Edward. Like Fifty Shades, Beautiful Bastard features shady office romance, controlling behavior overlooked because the perpetrator happens to he rich and hot, and a young, impressionable main character who takes the guy back anyway. Yeesh! Look, we don’t wanna knock too hard on the original Twilight novels, because they’re definitely fun (and occasionally hilarious). But there definitely seems to be a formula for Twilight fan fiction success, and it’s high-powered job + basically insane dude + inexperienced gal =  $$$$. Get crackin’!

Aight, ‘fess up. Which of your fanfics is gonna top the NYT bestseller list?