Believe it or not, writing fanfiction can help writers everywhere score book deals. Victoria Lee, the author of the exciting new YA fantasy novel The Fever King is living proof.
Just how can fanfiction writers make their personal publishing dreams come true?
Victoria Lee shares her personal experience with fanfiction and novel-writing in this exclusive guest post.
How writing fanfiction got me a book deal
I wrote my first fanfic when I was eleven. It was a Sailor Moon spin-off about a new and obviously self-insert sailor scout named Sailor Libra. A year later I was committed to fandom: I had cornered the market on Rosiel fanfiction (for the manga Angel Sanctuary). I produced tens of thousands of words of fic about Luna Lovegood and various OCs for Harry Potter. I became an active player in several HP role-playing communities, where I developed a reputation for always (always, always) writing the villains.
I won’t say which fandom ended up being my main home (because my identity there will quickly become obvious). But I will say that I wrote actual millions of words in this fandom, and got in approximately as many arguments about the source material and whether we should romanticize the antihero and if it’s even possible to divorce politics from fannish discourse. There were about three years in college in which I didn’t participate in much fandom activity (aside from clutching cheap beer while feverishly reading the weekly updates on my favorite fic)—but after graduation I fell right back into it. I had a rough year right after college…lots of depression, lots of panic attacks. Fandom gave me a place to explore all that where I wouldn’t be questioned or judged. (Well. That’s not exactly true. But at least nobody who was judging me knew my real name.)
I didn’t stop writing original fiction during this time. But I’ll admit that while I was in fandom, that was my main focus. I had deadlines, the same way as I do as a published author now—sure, they were less high-stakes, but it mattered to me whether the fic I was putting up for a contest was posted in time. I cared if the one-shot I wrote for a fic exchange made it to its recipient on the announced date. I even had a self-imposed schedule: I updated my popular fanfiction every Sunday at 6 PM eastern time. My readers knew to expect it, and that meant I had to come through.
So I guess in a way, I was already prepared to write on deadline. And when I decided to turn my focus from writing fanfic back to writing original novels, I put into it skills you can only learn from years of obsessive fanfic writing. For example, when you’re posting fic on a regular schedule, people comment on that fic…and they don’t hold back. So every time I updated my story I would get near-instant feedback from my readers—both positive reactions and, occasionally, unsolicited “constructive” criticism. Even if people didn’t tell you what they thought in the comments box on AO3, you kind of knew anyway. People would talk about your fic on the fandom hashtag on Tumblr, on “anon memes” (anonymous communities on Livejournal where people could share more-or-less un/popular fandom opinions), on twitter…. After about the fourteenth time reading strangers’ opinions about how often you post updates, your choice in fave character, and even about your personal posts, you develop a thick skin.
But you also learn to identify what opinions are worth listening to. I developed a keen sense for diagnosing how to improve my pacing/characterization/prose/worldbuilding by reading between the lines of my readers’ AO3 comments. I could edit chapters with that feedback in mind and improve the story every time I posted an update. In other words, I learned how to revise. Equally as important, I started to pick up on what resonated with readers—what tropes were bulletproof, what storylines were most effective at breaking hearts. When people started guessing what would happen next, I figured out when I needed to introduce red herrings to throw them off-track…or when I needed to seed in a little more foreshadowing.
I’m not saying it was an easy transition, going from writing mostly-fanfic to writing my original stuff again. It was jarring to go from instant gratification in the form of AO3 comments every time I posted an update to…crickets. I had to become my own critic, my own cheerleader. I had to seek out critique partners who could look at the finished product and give me their thoughts on the book as a whole. But by the time I finished the first draft of the book that would become my debut, The Fever King, I’d learned self-motivation. I’d need every ounce of that self-motivation I could get when I had to start revising, too—first in Pitch Wars (a mentoring contest), then later with my agents, and finally with the editor at my publishing house.
Now that the book is about to be published, I’m having to draw on all those fandom skills all over again in preparation of hearing readers’ thoughts and reactions. And…yeah, it’s a little scary. I put so much of myself into this book and these characters, so of course I hope people love the finished product. But it’s also exciting.
In a lot of ways, being part of the writing community now reminds me of being in fandom. There’s the same strong community of writers and readers and bloggers online—the same capacity for building close friendships and connecting over favorite books and characters and tropes. The same sense of vulnerability—of exposing your heart to strangers and hoping they both see and understand you. It’s everything I loved about being a fanfic writer, just on a different scale.
Will I ever go back to writing fanfic? I don’t know. Maybe. If I find another fandom that makes me feel the same excited buzzy feelings in my chest as all my old favorites, then probably. But for now I’m happy building new worlds, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.