Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My (generally disorganised) thoughts on the current fanfiction shitfight on Goodreads

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. 


Christopher said...

I haven't been able to bring myself to read any Sterek fics (or any other type of fic, to be honest) since this happened. It's just too damn depressing having people tell me I'm not 'fandom' enough to be reading their stories. This felt like it came out of nowhere and one day I woke up and I was being called a bad guy for something I did out of love of these stories. Like I said, depressing.

And I've lost upwards of 30 stories on my shelves since this had begun, and probably will lose more. That's 30 stories I will probably never get a chance to reread or recommend. And a bunch of authors who I wouldn't touch now with a ten foot pole because they thought tearing me and others down just to build their (highly unfounded) case was a good idea.

Lisa said...

I think a lot of readers are feeling the same way, Carissa, and it's a real shame because you're right, readers loved those stories. That was the only motivation I ever saw behind adding them to GR and sharing them.

Josie said...

I agree with everything you said except I love published fanfic. I love the fact that authors get recognition that isn't the same as it is in fanfic. I found MM through fanfic and to this day some of the best stories I've ever read are fanfic even though I've read 100sof MM stoies

Julio-Alexi said...


too many in the fanfic crowd don't understand how goodreads works, nor what they're doing when they write and distribute stories based on characters that belong to other people.

those copyrighted properties are permitted them by means of good-will and practical judgement. fair use is *not* just a matter of changing names; and 'transformative works' is a far more complicated concept than the vast majority of fanfic authors I've read appear to ever have given any consideration.

thank you for this.

Lisa said...

Ho Josie! I have so much love for fanfiction precisely because it's different to so much traditionally published fiction. A writer can experiment, and have fun with it, write free of any outside expectations at all. Fanfic produces some wonderful stories. I hope that it continues to do so, just like I hope readers are continue to share them however they choose.

Lisa said...

I don't know that any of this has been tested in court yet, but given the amount of money some former fanfiction is raking in, I think the lawyers will get involved sooner than later.

It will get interesting, that's for sure.

TimePieceClock said...

Oh don't whine so much. You haven't lost anything. the fanfic is still uploaded exactly where it was before. All you've lost is a few minutes of convenience.

It's criminally easy to get an AO3 account or an FFnet account, just for the purpose of reading fanfic. Once you have that, you can like or bookmark or favorite any fic you like. You can save it under the "mark for later" list feature.

Readers are a vital and welcome part of fandom. But if you want to consider yourself part of fandom, freaking act like it. Respect the boundaries of the people whose work you consume. Fanfiction is a gift-based economy, built on a shared understanding of NOT THROWING EACH OTHER UNDER THE PUBLIC BUS.

You want in fandom, you're in! It's super easy. Literally, you think therefore you are. But if you want the perks of being in fandom (i.e. the respect of other fans) then respect us in return. Don't put fandom shit in the spotlight. This is like kindergarten level "don't talk about fight club" shit. If you can't see why people maybe don't want fanworks on goodreads where they'd be treated like published works, then maybe you need to think compassionate thoughts for a few minutes and grow a heart for Christmas.

It's almost new years day. How about for 2015 you have some empathy for people who don't want their hobby paraded in front of a review board.

Julio-Alexi said...

it's on the internet. for anyone to read. how are you even conflating one's ability to feel compassion with one's desire to discuss what one has read?

it's like getting together with your friends for a little fashion show. you know, for fun. you each wear a goofy outfit, and then you walk, walk, fashion baby—

except you choose to do it in times square.

you can't expect there won't ever be passersby going "ooooh, gurl, that skirt. just.... no."

Lisa said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment.

I don't need AO3 explained to me though, since I'm already a member, and so are most of the GR Sterek fans. We do understand how the bookmark features work. However, we chose to use GR because of the additional features there that allow us to share recommendations, do buddy reads, and actually have conversations about a work rather than just leave a comment.

You might have missed the part in my post where I said I do have sympathy for the writers whose work suddenly has star ratings. That's true, I do. I also have sympathy for the reviewers who countless hours writing reviews and joining in discussions and sharing fun pics and gifs, who have now lost all of that because suddenly the places that they're "allowed" to discuss the books and stories they love has been limited to them.

GR and AO3 don't have to be mutually exclusive, but there needs to be some understanding on both sides.

GR isn't the antichrist. The people who reviewed fanfic there are fans, who this last week have been made to feel like the scum of the earth.

Christopher said...

TimePieceClock, I have no idea if your rant was in response to the larger post in general, or my comment, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn't single me out to bitch at even though you don't know me or anything about me.

But I will say that the tone you take when posting here is exactly the reason that fandom people on gr are annoyed with some fanfic authors. I, and the others, are not whining, as you put it. We are venting our frustration that we were never consulted before some people went on a rampage on tumblr, calling us fakes and frauds. Had any of the authors taken five minutes out of their day to actually talk to us, like grown ups, we could have resolved this w/o everyone getting all bitchy.

Putting aside the fact that I find the bookmarking system on AO3 to be a shitty way to keep track of all the fics i've read in the last year (something like 500 in all different types of fandoms), I use gr as a way to keep track of everything I read. It's just easier that way. I don't want to have to navigate yet another website for each type of book that I read. It would be a real pain in the ass. If putting fics on gr actually hurt anybody (and I've yet to see a clear example of this, though I'm willing to be persuaded) I would, of course, change my actions. I don't do this to hurt anyone. I do this because I think fanfics are awesome. And I think more people should read them. I think there are some fuckin awesome authors out there that don't get read b/c they are not published, and that is a shame.

No one is trying to throw anyone under the bus. To be honest I don't even know where this bus is, that you claim we are throwing you under? No one is moving your stories, no one is pirating them. No one is doing anything other than talking about them and telling people about them.

I wonder if that is what is bugging you. That the authors no longer have control over what people are saying. Commenting is all well and good on AO3 when you want to compliment the author...but what if I don't want to talk to the author? What if I want to talk to other people in the fandom? What if I find tumblr a time suck and mostly a huge waste of my time because I don't like looking up 12hrs later and realizing i have done nothing but look at pictures for the last day? What if all I want to do is say "this book was awesome, you should read it?" What if, heaven forbid, I wanted to have a discussion about what I am reading?

What if, at the end of the day, I want to talk about the things I love...without being told that I'm not good enough to do it?

What if, perhaps, you and a handful of authors do not in fact control a fandom and should stop trying to be gatekeepers of something that was not meant to be exclusionary to begin with?

Anonymous said...

Imagine this. You are a young author who has been battling severe depression. You write fanfiction as an escape. One day, you realize that there is a page where people have posted your little soul-soothing pieces of fanfiction, the ones you wrote on the bad days, the ones that kept you going even when things were at their worst. And those people are judging it, judging YOU. They are giving it stars and ratings and critiquing it, and all you want to do is cry your heart out because it's one thing to accept kudos, and to enjoy when people leave you comments, but it's another to see a little star rating judging this little piece of happiness in your life. How does that make you feel?

I'm sorry you and others feel that you are entitled to drag fanfiction, and fandom in general, into the great big world of literary culture on the internet. I'm sorry you feel that us "gatekeepers" are spoiling your fun. But I am not sorry for how this whole thing has made feel feel. I will not apologize for being uncomfortable by the way my work was displayed and how sad some of the critiques on it made me. I can't unsee that. I can't ignore that it was there.

I can't speak for the fandom, but I certainly never intended for you to feel like you couldn't be a part of fandom. All I'd like to see is a little respect and courtesy, and this?

This is not it.

Lisa said...


Nobody has dragged fanfiction out into "the great big world of literary culture on the internet." Do you know what GR is? It's like Facebook, for people who like to share book recs. It's a social network, not The Times Literary Supplement. And fandom is not some secret underground movement that nobody had ever heard of. Fanfiction is freely available for anyone to discover.

And I am certainly not asking you, or anyone, to apologise for how you feel. I have said repeatedly that I am sympathetic to writers suddenly getting star ratings against their work when that's not what they expected. However, how is rating and reviewing on GR any different than sharing our opinions or recommendations on Facebook or Tumblr or any other site?

Why are some sites ok for fanfiction to be shared, and not others?

Respect goes both ways, and when the knee-jerk reaction from so many fanfic writers has been "You don't belong in this fandom", then of course people are upset.

For the record, I love fanfic and I love fanfic writers. I also love the GR community, and I hate to see them demonised because of this. When it comes to bad reviews, I've had more than I care to recall and, yes, that's my choice because I write professionally, but they still hurt. The only thing I can promise you is that if readers don't like what you wrote, they're not judging YOU. They're judging what you wrote. And, once a story is out there, you can't stop people giving their opinion about it.

I didn't write this blog post to change your opinion, and I don't expect I will. I wrote this post so that at least I could make an attempt at presenting the other side of the story.

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond.

Anonymous said...

But here's the thing! Goodreads is nothing at all like tumblr. It's one thing to share recs on a blog, and entirely another for a page to be dedicated to rating and reviewing a story. Very rarely do you find critiques of fanfiction on tumblr, or facebook. Recs, sure, and sometimes people will post their own views on the story, but that's something else entirely, and I'm not sure why that's so hard to understand.

I don't mind people recommending my work. If you wanted to post on this blog or on tumblr or wherever tomorrow about a fic of mine you read, fine, great, go for it! You can even chew it to shreds if you want, because it's your personal space. Public or not, it's YOUR space.

A public forum like Goodreads, where every story has its own page where anyone who wants can come and rate it, is ENTIRELY DIFFERENT, and not something most fanfiction authors signed up for.

I just don't get why this is so hard for GR people to understand. Maybe we're just not explaining our point of view well enough? I don't know. :(

Christopher said...

The thing about tumblr's great if you have a lot of people following you, but if I was to open up a tumblr today and make a post, no one would see it. Because while someone who has 500 followers might get some likes, little ol me would get nothing...because who would actually see it. Then say I spend the next six months of my life on tumblr (and i've done this so I know exactly what will happen) and I want to find the post again...but it would virtually be gone unless i wanted to spend 3 hrs going thru my archive.

And this isn't even covering the fact that every time i try to do tumblr it becomes a life-suck. And that would be fine if tumblr is all i want to do. But I have books I need to review and stories I need to write. I don't have the time to a) build up a following so I have have discussions on the stuff i'm reading or b) waste time on something that as soon as i post it it vanishes into the aether.

What we fundamentally want to do is talk about the books we read. That's all. And the stars are so incredibly subjective that they only mean something to the person who posts them that they are not all that meaningful to the group at large.

And the thing about gr is i don't have to spent months of my life convincing people to follow me. I have wasted countless months doing this before and I find it just depressing. I just want to talk about the fics i read, and gr gives me the space to do that w/o having to involve myself in a popularity contest (that i'll never win).

And if gr is something you don't know you could just avoid it.

What it feels like to users of gr is that a few authors decided they don't like bad reviews so they decided to take everything away. All the good books, all the bad book, all our reviews, all our discussions...and it was all done w/o once thinking that we might want a say in it. If only to come to some type of middle ground. You guys own the stories, no one is disputing that...but we own our reviews. We own our discussions. And they were deleted w/o any real warning at all.

Can you see why we would be upset about that?