Once upon a time, I was a member of a fandom. My involvement with that fandom started from a love of the books—the canon, if I’m going to couch this discussion in fandom terms. I sought out other, like-minded readers online to discuss the series.
Eventually, this led to me reading fanfiction. The series, you see, was not finished at this point. Four books were out; three others had yet to be written. And the gap between books four and five was three long years—which we didn’t even know at the time.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I was involved in the Harry Potter fandom. Deeply.
So deeply, I sought out fanfic as a means of getting my fix and staying in J. K. Rowling’s wonderful universe a little bit longer. When I first sought out the Harry Potter fandom, it never occurred to me I could write.
Fanfiction, in the form of positive reviews and readers clamoring for more, taught me that.
In light of the recent discussions surrounding filing the serial numbers off one’s fanfic and publishing it for profit, I’ve been mulling over my fandom past.
Along with a few shorter works, I wrote three novel-length fanfiction pieces. They’re still out there on fanfiction.net. One of these was the sequel to a story which culminates in Harry defeating Lord Voldemort by sacrificing his own magical powers. In the sequel, Harry must learn to deal with living in a magical world where he, himself, no longer has any magic.
As I was writing this story, I often compared his experience to a soldier who comes home from the war having lost a leg. At one point, I contemplated rewriting this story as an original novel. Instead of Harry, I envisioned a soldier who lost his leg in World War II as a result of an act of heroism. He would have to come home to his wife, who, during his absence, had to step into what was considered at the time a man’s job and keep the family business running.
I got about five (?–I don’t remember now, and the files have long since disappeared in a computer crash) chapters in before I lost interest. I’d already told the story in one form and discovered I wasn’t interested in retelling it. This was in 2003 or so—four years before the final Harry Potter book was released and nine years before my first publishing contract.
I suppose my point here is, that while I considered filing off the serial numbers, they were well and truly filed off. I wasn’t writing about witches and wizards, but regular humans in a small town in Maine with everyday problems. Oh, and the small matter of the war. I was writing adults, not teenagers. Unlike Harry who stood a chance of getting his magic back, my hero never held any hope of regaining a leg.
No one would have been able to point to my original story and say it was based on Harry Potter fanfiction.
And that, in my opinion, is how it should be.
I can’t fault a fan for delving into fanfiction at all. If fanfiction didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have a publication contract. But, to me, there’s a line. Fanfiction would not exist without its canon, and the only person who should gain any monetary profit is the author of that original canon.
Have I profited from fanfiction? Certainly, but only in the metaphorical sense that it gave me confidence and taught me that I could write.