Taking back author agency with FanFiction

I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve been writing FanFiction for years and have amassed quite a following. This isn’t the post where I reveal who I am on Archive of Our Own, but, yes, I do write there and have been doing so for years now.

Some have guessed I was the writer of My Immortal, the best FanFiction ever created, in my humble opinion. I can assure you that I’m not that clever, nor am I that funny.

Side Note, The Wiki entry has some amazing dramatic readings of My Immortal. Find all My Immortal related pages here.

I’d like to compare my private writing with my public writing and kind of illustrate why I write where nobody knows who they’re really praising. Of course, if you eyeball enough stories, unfortunately, my style gives it away. Editors and readers, I know in real life have assumed it was me, and, of course, they were right but other friends have talked about me in third person, exclaiming how this writer is amazing on AO3 without knowing it was me at all.

In this wave of marketing sludge, buried deep under hype where all kinds of technology will innovate our lives and will, well, something, the best compliment I could have ever received is after hearing people talk about me in the third person, forcing me to read work I created myself, it’s a humble feeling.

I’ve been thinking about audiences and writing. I, of course, know I’m writing for an audience when I write books or novellas or similar. But on AO3, I can just create worlds and backstories to side characters and force people to reconcile with this thing I’ve created, rather than mistakes I’ve made or my opinions or, well, my looks. It’s a kind of power that few writers get to experience. Publishers dictate how public we are. Contrary to popular belief, we lose the right to privacy in many eyes because we put art out into the world. It all goes back to this constant devaluing of writers and devaluing art. Our agency is always removed when it comes to marketing and publicity because, well, it’s all part of the game.

Don’t get me wrong. There are certain aspects of the game I like. Interviews, for one thing, when I publish something public, like, through a publisher of some kind. I like collaborating with a team. I like collaborating with people to bring my creation to life and getting it into people’s hands,

But I don’t know why I enjoy this whole other side of FanFiction marketing more. It’s purely word of mouth. It’s all emotions about the story, good or bad. The debates are about the stories rather than the brand. Of course, some drama happens within Fandom spaces, but, for the most part, it’s that separation of writer and brand I really like.

Publicly, I must be a brand, as much as I absolutely hate that word. Any problematic thing I do is at once attached to my brand without chances for redemption. In the Fandom community, it’s just me and my fantasies, and people loving my fantasies.

It isn’t just publishers that have willingly forced us to give up our agency. I’d argue readers had a part to play as well. Certainly not as much as publishers, but, again, society still daily devalues writers. In societies eyes, we don’t deserve any ounce of privatization because we’re forced to be brands instead of authors. Instead of the publisher doing what they are supposed to do and promoting our books and marketing our books, the responsibility has been shifted to writers. Indie publishers are guilty of this abuse too. They claim they don’t have marketing budgets. While true, they can still do things like talk about books from their backlists for releases more than four years ago. Indie publishers can engage in unique ways if they want, but they also force writers to become brands. This is why I adore my private corner of the web, where I don’t have to be a brand, I can just indulge in my fantasies and publish my fantasies and possibly aid someone else through my angst and happy endings.

You might ask, why not just publish stuff under a pen name. The problem is, I’m really not smart enough to keep a professional pen name going. I guess I could start writing under the pen name mister WaggleNose, but then, ah yes. Taxes will come around. People will inquire if I know my pen name. It will get very convoluted, very fast. And, Let’s be real, I’m too egotistical to stay professionally hidden forever.

That being said, FanFiction isn’t a joke, nor should it be taken as one. In fact, it’s been the best free writing class I’ve ever attended. It’s helped me improve my spelling, well, somewhat. It’s helped me become a much better critique partner. It’s helped me become a better development editor. It’s even helped me when reading criticism. While I’m the most thin skinned person you could ever meet online, no, seriously, I fume at other people’s social media posts and book reviews of books I’ve fucking loved to death then wished they’d get crushed under an avalanche of ice cream cones, unable to escape the wrath of yummy Rocky Roads, as they beg for relief under a mountain of gooey chocolate and vanilla.

I started writing FanFiction because I want to have a space where I don’t have to be a brand, where I can just make stuff and have people hate it without hating me, if that makes any sense. Again, no, I’m not the My Immortal author.

My audience is far bigger in Fandom than in real life. Maybe one day, I’ll reveal myself. That won’t be today. There’s an aspect of FanFiction I can’t get enough of and that’s the aspect that things you’re supposed to do as a writer usually don’t apply. I, for one, actually love reading author avatars and author inserts in stories because I love understanding how a fellow Disabled or other marginalized person would navigate this world. Oh sure, there are always going to be negative reviews, but still, because there’s no career expectations, publishing doesn’t carry weight like it does when you’re publishing outside Fandom.

FanFiction allows me to wrench back my privatization and just create whatever. I’m a writer on AO3, not a brand. Readers can’t force themselves into my space because they know who I am, so, therefore, they just automatically assume that they know my name, Robert Kingett, they believe they deserve full access to me. I don’t know how publishing trained readers to think we’re brands instead of authors, but it was very clever. If we’re brands, then any failure we have is our fault. It isn’t the fault of our publisher that has bucket loads more money than we will see in our lifetime. We’re just bad at marketing. We suck at making connections. It’s all our fault.

On AO3, it’s just our existence we’re responsible for. There’re no expectations at all. That’s what I like best about the Fandom space. It’s a community many will never be able to understand. We’re supporting each other and, yes, sometimes getting sucked into drama, but overall, we’re populating the space with our words rather than things we should hype.

Of course, I’ll never stop publishing professionally. I’m too narcissistic and egotistical! Just kidding, or am I? I can do both. Of course, this is why my FanFiction takes a backseat sometimes but I’m glad I dove into FanFiction. It’s the best writing class I could ever take. You should try it. You’ll be surprised.

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