The promise of fan fiction, Wattpad, Nanowrimo… oh, and RPGs

Today, I was doing my normal morning commute, picking up a stray copy of Metro left behind by a prior passenger. But unlike every other day, I was surprised to see my name in the paper! I’d done the interview a good few weeks back, and since I hate talking on the phone, the fact that I’d done it had sunk right to the farthest reaches of my memory.

Read the article here: “How Fan Fiction is Conquering the Internet and Shooting up the Charts”

((Of course, they got my name wrong, but that’s a hazard of having a name with multiple accepted spellings. So this came from “Amy McCullough, HarperFiction’s commissioning editor”. I should have known better than to not clarify the spelling after CityTV in Ottawa once interviewed my dad and said his name was ‘Angus Mugulack’. Note: not an accepted spelling.))

The topic of the interview is a hot one at the moment: the rise of Fan Fiction. Since I recently published Abigail Gibbs’ amazing book The Dark Heroine, the Metro wanted to talk to me about how fan fiction is becoming a bit of a publishing phenomenon – kicked off by Fifty Shades, followed swiftly by Gabriel’s Inferno, Loving the Band, and – of course – The Dark Heroine.

I don’t actually see The Dark Heroine as fan fiction. Yes, Abbie is very open about the fact that she was inspired by Twilight, but none of her character’s started out life as Edward and Bella in the way that Christian Grey and Ana Steele did. Instead, what first piqued my interested as an *editor* about Abbie’s book was the fact that she’d amassed this incredible following – 17 million hits and tens of thousands of fans – through her writing on Wattpad, over the course of three years. She was no flash in the pan; she instead did what I consider to be a very brave thing: she learned to write in front of an audience. She took in their feedback, absorbed it, and learned how to become a better storyteller. That is what I meant by saying that it’s almost a Dickensian way of publishing – by serializing her work, she was able to respond to her audience demand (although not be dictated by them) and adjust accordingly. Of course, then it helped that the book was great too, and that she’d put a lot of hard work in to editing the book since its draft stage on Wattpad, so it was a no-brainer for me! You can learn more about her editing process from this amazing guest blog by Abbie on the Huffington Post website.

Every writer needs to learn to write. And the best way to do that? Why, to just do it of course. Just as Neil Gaiman reminded the audience in the Cambridge Theatre of the old writing adage that you’ve got to write a million words before you write a good one, practice really is the only way to improve. Some authors end up with loads of ‘trunk novels’ that will never see the light of day. Some fill notepad after notepad with stream-of-consciousness writing. But fan fiction websites give that opportunity too. So do websites like Wattpad, and Movellas, and Authonomy. So do events like Nanowrimo. That’s why I never think any of those sites or events should be disparaged, because if people are writing, then good for them – that’s the way to achieve that dream, and to find a community of like-minded others in the meantime. (If you wrote your first novel and every word was perfect and you landed a deal straight away and no one has ever criticized your work then go away, we’re not talking to you :P)

That some of that writing ends up being developed and polished enough to be considered for publication is inevitable. And publishers would be silly to ignore someone that has arrived with a built-in audience – although there’s no guarantee that an audience used to getting something for free, will suddenly pay for it. But if the writing is of significant enough quality, they will – like in Abbie’s case.

In my case, I didn’t use fan fiction or Wattpad or even Nanowrimo to develop my writing. But I did write my million words. My method was *nerd alert* PbP roleplaying. Yep, all through high school I was writing page after page of horrendous purple prose on message boards scattered in dark corners of the internet. No, I won’t go into detail about what kind of RPGing it was. Still, it didn’t bear any relation to my novels except for the fact that I was writing every. single. day. Without fail – or else I wouldn’t be able to participate in the game. Simple as that. And let me tell you, some of the other players were about as brutal critics as you can get! Still, when I left RPGing, I felt almost bereft. I didn’t have my outlet any more. I realized that I’d grown to need to write as much as I needed to breathe. And so, instead, I turned to novels.

Whatever your outlet, whether it’s as private as a notebook or as public as a phone app, every word is getting you one step closer to your writing goal. Practice makes perfect. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, practice will make a book deal.

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6 thoughts on “The promise of fan fiction, Wattpad, Nanowrimo… oh, and RPGs

  1. Emma Pass says:

    Fab post Amy – I really liked the article too. When I started writing, aged 13, my first novel was a sequel to a film I loved, featuring many of the characters, and a friend of mine and I went on to write many sequels to our favourite films and books, and give each other feedback about them. The internet wasn’t commonplace in people’s homes then, so the term ‘fanfiction’ didn’t really exist, but that’s basically what it was, and it was GREAT practise for writing. I wouldn’t have got started without it!

    • amymcculloch says:

      Thanks Emma! Yes, I think everyone has to start somewhere. That sounds really cool that you’d write film sequels! How fun! I bet some of them were better than some franchise sequels that end up getting made 😉

      • Emma Pass says:

        Errr… they really, really weren’t (I seem to remember ending one with the main character falling into a bear trap because I couldn’t think how else to finish it)… but thanks! 😀

  2. Jess A says:

    I’d forgotten the amount of time I spent in highschool on rpgs… Thinking about that just now is pretty funny. I promise will keep our secret as to the type of rpgs they were. 🙂

    • amymcculloch says:

      Oh god, I blame you for starting it! In the best possible way 🙂 Still, I think I experienced more teen drama in message boards and chat rooms than in actual high school, so it was probably a good outlet!

  3. Airam says:

    I totally agree with the comment ‘Dark Heroine is not a fan fiction’. Abbie may be young but her writing style is not. Yes she loved Twilight like the rest of us soppy so and so’s but she also loved FSOG and Harry Potter and loads more. Her story is nothing like them and this is the first in what I know will be an interesting series. Writing on Wattpad and other forums like these allow writers to get immediate feedback. These sites allow you communicate and share your work with people from all corners of the earth and they become a great source of inspiration. You trust that they will tell you if something is confusing, great or just ‘meh’ and it is a wonderful hobby and outlet. Whether you get a publishing deal or not your work has already been read by thousands, if not millions of people and at a pace set by you. Making up stories has never been so much fun.

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