First I’d like to say that fanfic is awesome. A lot of people will try to make you feel ashamed about having written fanfic. I’ve read blogs where readers have said ‘I loved that book! Now I know it was fanfic once, I feel betrayed.’ I don’t personally understand that attitude, but I know it’s out there. I know there are people who naturally assume all fanfic is cack, and who say so. There are people who assume all fanfic lacks any kind of originality. There are writers outside fanfic who think fanfic of their work is tantamount to abusing their babies, and there are people inside fanfic who seem to feel that a fanfic author who goes pro is betraying the community in some way I’m not entirely clear about.
If you decide to convert your fanfic into original fic, you are going to find yourself the target of all this. I suggest, personally, that the solution to this part of the problem is simply to say ‘fuck them all’, because if you get published, that’s proof that you’ve written something publishable, and if you’ve written something publishable, you deserve to be proud.
One thing that’s become more obvious since 50 Shades of Grey, is that although you know you’re going to get moral outrage for publishing your fanfic cum original fic, the legality of publishing de-fandomed fanfic has never looked better. If there was going to be a lawsuit, you’d think it would happen between the massive juggernauts of Twilight and 50 Shades. The fact that there hasn’t been, even though everyone knows one is ex fanfic of the other shows that – to the best of our current knowledge – successfully filing off the identifying marks from your story means there is no legal case to answer.
As far as ‘filing the serial numbers off’ goes, my feeling is that’s not going far enough. You don’t want to just slap a false beard on your fic and hope that no-one will notice. I prefer to look at the process of conversion as being one of turning fanfic into original fic. Breaking all the connections to the fandom, replacing all those things that you owe to the fandom with other things that belong only to you. Just filing the numbers off isn’t enough. Turn that thing into original fic by taking out everything that isn’t yours and replacing it with stuff that is.
The first thing, obviously, is to change the names. It’s striking how much difference it makes, psychologically, to you as an author when you’ve changed your characters’ names. This is the big break, where you cut that umbilical to the fandom. Cut it thoroughly. Don’t do a half-assed job by giving them names people in the fandom can parse. Don’t rename your pirate ‘Jim Finch’ when you mean Jack Sparrow, for example. That’s a case of not letting the fandom go, and it will hamper all your other efforts to make this thing your own. Renaming is vital, not just for legal reasons but because this is the first step of making the characters someone else altogether – and although it will feel like murdering them, it’s actually the first stage of allowing those characters to become your own.
After that it becomes easier to change everything else. Give them slightly different personalities. Alter the settings, change their jobs, their hair colour, the era the story takes place in. Even go to the trouble to edit out turns of phrase and metaphors specific to the fandom. (For example, I knew instantly that one book had originated in Thor fandom when the big blonde character was described as being like a golden retriever. However apt it was, it was a dead giveaway, so it should have come out.)
And once you’ve cut the link to fandom, firmly, it also becomes easier to see where you need to start putting new stuff in. Suddenly your readers don’t know these characters from Adam, and it’s apparent that they need backstories and context and establishing scenes… etc etc.
This sounds like a lot of work, and it is… but it’s still less work than writing a new book from scratch, and some of it can be done with ‘search and replace all.’
After which you can apply to publishers with it. I recommend being up-front with them that it is re-worked fanfic. They will probably not mind. If it was wildly popular in fandom, that will actually be a recommending feature suggesting it’ll be wildly popular elsewhere too. And if they do mind, it’s best to know at once. If it’s good enough to be published by one publisher, another one will take it.
Looking back on this, I see it’s more a summary than a detailed walk through. So when I get back from London on Monday, I’ll follow it up with a ten step guide. In the mean time if you have any questions, hit me up and I’ll answer them then 🙂