Anyone who knows me knows that I love my Sterek fanfic. For those who don’t know me but have somehow stumbled upon this post, Sterek is fanfiction based on the slash pairing of Stiles/Derek from the TV show Teen Wolf. I’m also quite fond of Steter, which is Stiles/Peter. And I’ve read a few Stisaacs I totally enjoyed, which is Stiles/Isaac. You guys have all spotted the common denominator right? Yeah, I just love Stiles. And who doesn’t?
But back to the shitfight.
Lately, a lot of enthusiastic readers have been adding Sterek fanfiction to the Goodreads database. This has upset some fanfiction writers. I don’t know how many, and I don’t know how representative they are of the fanfiction community.
Fair warning: I may be quite vague in this post, because I’m not going to name names, and I’m not going to link to Tumblr posts. Why? Because I’m writing this post to get my thoughts in order, not to call out anyone whose opinion may be different to my own. I welcome discussion or debate wherever you find this post, but I won’t be taking it to anyone else’s virtual doorstep.
What is Goodreads?
Initially, it seemed like some of the fanfic writers thought that their works were being uploaded to Goodreads. This is absolutely not the case. Goodreads is a catalogue, and any published work including work published online can be added by users. And, once it’s in the database, any user can review any work. That review is then shared on a timeline with the reviewer’s friends. It is also visible under the work’s main page. Users can like reviews, and comment on reviews, and reviews show up in our timelines. I found a lot of great Sterek fics because friends raved about them, and I’m not going to apologize for that.
One thing I will say about GR is that it’s not just meant for professionally published and edited works. It’s meant to be a database of, well, everything, from Shakespeare and Chaucer to web comics to fan fiction.
What was added to author profiles and book pages?
Here’s the part I’m not clear on. I understand that artwork was added as covers to fanfic that was either unattributed, or wasn’t intended for that fic. And that’s wrong, and shouldn’t have happened. A simple email to GR support or a request to a librarian would have sorted it out in minutes though.
There’s also been some talk of writers worrying about being outed, and stories of people who’ve lost jobs and custody of kids for writing “smut”. Erotica writer here, you’re preaching to the choir. But I don’t think that linking from a GR author page to an AO3 profile is suddenly going to bust the whole thing open. How could it? If any information other than that was added, then yes, that was wrong. But I’m not aware of any incidents where that happened, and I’m not sure how it could happen if the information wasn’t already available online anyway.
Fanfic is for fandom
You read Sterek? You recommend Sterek? You spend a lot of time at A03 leaving comments and kudos for Sterek? Surprised to find you’re not part of the fandom? So were many of us.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people in private groups who are absolutely gutted, because all the Tumblr posts going around about “fanfic is for the fandom only” make them feel like they’re not allowed to be part of the club when their only crime was to love something they read and want to share it with their friends.
I can’t pretend to be an expert on the fandom culture, except to say that I’ve seen enough posts in the last few days from writers who have no problem with their works being added to the GR database to suspect that the writers acting as the gatekeepers of fandom have no mandate to do so. And, as one prolific fanfic writer put so eloquently: Fandom is where fandom goes. Well, here we are.
The culture clash
I understand that the fanfic community is very different than the one on GR, but most of the people reading and reviewing fanfic on GR are doing it because they love the fandom. It may be accepted practice on AO3 not to offer any criticism, constructive or otherwise, and I have some sympathy for writers who have checked out their works on GR and suddenly discovered they have star ratings.
But that’s how we do things here. That’s how we approach what we read. And as a writer, you can’t actually control how readers interact with your work. To those of us on GR, reviewing and recommending fics here is no different than doing it when we connect on Facebook or Tumblr or anywhere else online. GR is how I’ve found so many wonderful fics that I otherwise would never have read. And that is why they were added to GR – because people were so enthusiastic about them that they wanted to share them with their friends.
“Someone that reads gay fiction and goes to GR is not the same as someone from the TW fandom that reads gay sterek fic with mpreg on AO3”
That’s an actual quote from an actual Tumblr post. Google it if you want to find it. Like I said, I’m not linking. And I’ve only got one thing to say in relation to that statement anyway: Bullshit. Bull-fucking-shit.
I read gay fiction. I read and write m/m fiction (not the same as gay fiction BTW. Ironically, m/m fiction has its origins in slash). And I also read gay Sterek fic with mpreg, A/B/O, and whatever other tropes you want to throw in there. I love them all.
And so do the hundreds (possibly more, I haven’t counted) of other GR members who are part of the various fanfiction groups. But you just go on worrying that we don’t understand the tropes you’re using because apparently fanfic is a different language that we can’t possibly, you know, pick up by reading it. Like you all did.
You do not own fanfiction.
In the past few days I’ve seen a few writers claiming their “intellectual property” is being shared without their permission. And here’s where I have a real issue. Yes, you wrote your fanfic, but you don’t own it. In the case of Sterek, MTV owns those characters.
Sidenote: I also saw a particularly hilarious disclaimer on A03 that stated:
“I do not give permission to this work being read aloud and/or shared with the press, or anyone working on said production of Teen Wolf, including but not limited to cast, crew, writers, or producers. I also do not give permission share this work on third-party websites such as Goodreads, which I believe is a resource intended for published works outside of fandom.”
I read it aloud anyway. Like the fucking rebel I am. Again though, here’s the misunderstanding of what Goodreads is. Goodreads is for any published works, and yes, that includes works published online. And yes, that includes fanfic.
I absolutely believe that fanfiction only exists because studios and copyright holders allow it to exist. It's an act of goodwill, and most copyright holders recognise the fact that fanfiction, in all its forms, is good for their bottom line. I know that I've dropped money on the Teen Wolf DVDs because of Sterek, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
I also believe though, that once fanfic writers start calling fanfiction their "intellectual property"--something I've seen thrown around in a few places the last couple of days--it will cause copyright holders to sit up and pay attention.
If claiming ownership will cause copyright holders to sit up and take notice, it will be P2P that might just force them to take action. In my opinion, fanfiction writers who think they own their fanfic and who pull it to publish will be more damaging to the fanfic culture that anyone reviewing and sharing recs on any platform including GR will ever be.
Interestingly, one of the most vocal of the fanfic writers is a writer who is publishing a non-fanfic book soon. This book, which will retail for around $12 on Amazon, is a former Glee fanfic that has been pulled to publish. Except last time I checked it hadn’t actually been pulled, it was still on AO3. In short, she has an issue with people sharing fanfic recommendations on Goodreads, but no issue attempting to make money off something she built using someone else’s intellectual property. And it doesn’t matter if the thing is as far removed from the original as Fifty Shades was from Twilight. In my opinion, it’s ethically wrong.
Maybe a Find & Replace of all the names is actually legally enough to get the work considered transformative. Legally and ethically aren’t always the same thing and, personally, I hate P2P fanfic and refuse to purchase it.
But hold on, isn’t Goodreads removing fanfics?
Yes, yes it is. Despite their own guidelines, GR has been removing fics at the request of fanfic authors. They don’t have to, but they are. Which means that all of those lengthy reviews with hundred of comments and gifs and pics are also being removed. And people are upset about that.
On GR we make friends over the reviews were share and the books we love. Those reviews and those conversations are now being deleted. Some people have lost tens of reviews, if not more. That’s a lot of hours of work, and you know why they did it in the first place? Because they loved a story and wanted to share it.
Oh, and I write fanfic too.
Yeah, I do. Just started, but it’s going to be a thing for me. Because it’s fun, and I like to share it with people, both on AO3 and here. And I know a lot of writers who do the same. AO3 and GR aren’t oil and water. They aren’t matter and anti-matter. You don’t have to pick a side, really.
You’ll find me on AO3 as Discontented Winter.
Feel free to share, recommend, or rate my fics any way or anywhere you like.