Fan Fiction as Advertising

I’ve always felt that studios, writers, graphic artists – the owners of various movie, television, and graphic novel characters and worlds – were missing out on a very good marketing plan.  What do they want?  What is their motivation for providing shows and movies, books and comics for their particular audiences?  Of course part of it is pure creativity.  Writers write and artists pen because it wells up from somewhere inside, from the author’s fea (to borrow a Tolkien term).  Write or die.  Create or stifle.  I get that.

But, come on, isn’t a part of this creative process motivated by money?  We all have to feed our kids, pay our mortgages, and buy the cool new Chucks.  So, logically speaking, the more people that watch your show (and buy the advertisers’ products), go to your movies, buy your books and comics, and pay for your autographs at DragonCon, the higher your revenue and the more opportunities you have to do what you love – create new worlds.  Even I can do that math.

Advertising is expensive.  Without discussing the craziness that is Super Bowl ads, just a 15 second ad on television can cost as much as $100,000 (during a mid-rated show on a major network in prime time) and that does not include the costs of production or overhead.  While networks do handle promotion for their shows, the money they are willing to spend increases with the show’s popularity.  Give and take.  You wash my back, I’ll wash yours.  (Or is it scratch?  That has always confused me.)  In other words, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and, when you pay the piper, the piper is willing to play a lot of 15-second jingles for you.

Back to topic.  Advertising.  More eyes on your product, more ticket sales, more people lining up at your table to get a $30 to $100 autograph.  As Joel Grey taught me, money makes the world go around.

So, why aren’t studios and authors and etc., etc., utilizing a totally and completely free method of advertising that has been known to gather new fans and raise audience interest for their products?  Why aren’t they endorsing fan fiction?

I had neither notice of nor interest in the excellent BBC show “Sherlock” until I came across some stories about it on fanfiction.net.  Read a few stories, found the show was already a year old, went to my local Barnes and Noble and bought season 1, watched season 2, bought those DVDs, and am now waiting on pins and needles for the next season to begin.  And, believe me, if either Smaug or Bilbo happens to find his way to my favorite sci-fi conventions, the lines for his autographs will be out the door, around the corner, and down the highway.

I’ll ask the question.  Why isn’t fan fiction popular with stars or studios?  Why aren’t they thanking the fan fic writers, pointing people to the stories, and generally hopping on the band-wagon of excitement and enthusiasm?

Some answers are obvious:

Some of these stories are horrible.  Yep, fanfiction.net has no editor, no proof-reader, no one who is on staff to read these stories and toss away the hundreds wherein the writer has no interest in grammar, has only a passing knowledge of the use of a period, let alone a new paragraph, and couldn’t express a coherent thought if it bit him on the nose.

Also, some of these stories are horrible.  Death, dismemberment, eye gouging, cancer, kidnapping, brutal brutality, rape, sexual slavery, and general nastiness are featured widely.  Gruesome, grim, and horror-lific.  Yikes.  I kid you not; tread lightly when you see warnings for violence or “dark scenes.”

Thirdly, some of the characters are not in character.  Gibbs weeps.  Spock pouts like a whiny pouter.  Military men are caricatures who only know how to a) be thick-necked jerks, b) kill people because they like it, or c) terrorize anyone not up to their physical standards.  (Just because this also happens in mainline fiction and television doesn’t make it any more appealing in fan fic.)  I totally understand if studios, actors, and writers do not want to see their beautifully carved, wonderfully alive characters turned inside out until they are all but unrecognizable.

These three problems could be overcome with the simple addition of an Editor.  Someone – or some ones – who can filter out the badly written, the graphic, the out-of-character stories and allow the thin stream of pure creativity to drip through.

Enter Kindle Worlds.

http://www.geekwire.com/2013/amazons-kindle-worlds-program-promotes-licenses-fan-fiction/

Brilliant.  Only an entity as huge as Amazon.com could do it.  Only a company that is forward thinking, exists by setting up business on the cusp of technological development, and has a wealth of personnel and resources could possibly tackle these problems and overcome them.

And, suddenly, fan fic is in the open marketplace.

Not many television shows have signed on – and please notice those that have – very teen angsty (with a supernatural twist) dramas.  Clearly, someone up there has decided that fan fic writers are mostly teenage girls.  Interesting.  Not true, but interesting.

Fan fic writers are watching with baited breath.  We’re waiting.  Waiting to see if our favorite obsessions are going to show up.  If shows that have been off the air for decades will be given a green light.  If studios and writers and creators will be able to get over that last huge hurdle that has forever kept them from acknowledging that fan fiction could help them, could boost ratings, DVD sales, and royalties.

Speaking as a writer, the biggest obstacle, that huge hurdle to overcome seems to me to be this:  Ownership.  I have created these characters and this world, says the writer.  I own these concepts, this dialogue, these identities, say the studios.  They are in my head and my heart and they speak and act inside me.  They are MINE.  And how dare some 45-year-old wannabe think she can spin my characters in any way that would be acceptable?  Rank plagiarism.  Theft.  Get your own characters and ideas.

Yes.  Of course.  I understand.

To a point.

But, as Adrian Monk would say, here’s the thing:  there have, for many, many years, been books that “add to” the canon of feature films or television.  Go to the bookstore – or, in some cases, the used book store.  There you’ll find Man from U.N.C.L.E™ books.  Doctor Who™ books.  Starsky and Hutch™ books.  Then wander into the Star Wars™ aisle and prepare to be amazed.  These books are stand-alone stories set in that show’s particular universe using existing characters.  Licensed by the studio, these books are generally not considered “canon;” they are “other adventures,” set in between episodes or tales that expand the show’s universe long after it was cancelled or ended. 

The main difference between these stories and fan fiction?  It’s not quality or readability, believe me.  Just pick up a couple of the Stargate Fandamonium books and you’ll see that good story-telling and good characterizations are not always the standard.  Heck, I remember reading one Star Wars book back in the late 70s that had Luke and Leia married and raising kids.  George Lucas has since explained that these two are brother and sister, but that hardcover book did indeed exist.

The difference is that these books have been vetted by the owners.  They have been given a once-over (too often it’s a bare flipping of the pages – seriously, when did Colonel Maybourne become Colonel Mayberry, people??), the writers have paid licensing fees, and the owners have signed on the dotted line.

It’s about money.  And pride.

Sometimes you have to swallow one in order to get any of the other.  And vice versa.

I encourage studios to consider fan fiction.   Treat it as a marketing strategy.  An investment.  Do you want to sell DVDs?  Finance a reboot?  Bring your characters, your world, back into the public eye after too many years out of syndication?

List your demands.  Be specific with your requirements.  Set up your editors and gate-keepers.  Tell us what we have to do to get our so-beloved characters back from limbo and onto the page again.

I promise we’ll take good care of them.  You can watch over our shoulders to make sure we do.

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6 thoughts on “Fan Fiction as Advertising

  1. Denise Jones says:

    Interesting! So, will Amazon play ‘editor’ for these stories, or will they continue to be a mix of ‘horrible’ and ‘outstanding’? We’ve been saying for a long time that the intellectual property owners should realize that this is free advertising for them; it keeps people interested in their work (TV show or movie). I do hope they expand this–a lot. 🙂 P.S. Sherlock S3 in 2014!!

    • marzipan77 says:

      Yes, Amazon is doing the “editing” chores – at least the point of reading a story and saying “yeah” or “nay.” Some other sources have given a list of “no-no’s” for writers to submit stories. I have no problem with that – tell us, tell us what not to do. We are fans, first! We’d be honored to write with your world and characters, just let us! I hope they expand a lot, too – especially for shows that are long gone. I am SHERLOCKED!

  2. Amy says:

    Wonderful entry. I agree that the studios, show creators, actors and et all, are missing a huge opportunity. Like you I found Sherlock after reading a very well written piece of fan fiction. Fan fiction and fan made videos have, over the years, led me to discover new passions that I would never have otherwise found. I didn’t watch The Sentinel when it originally aired, didn’t know anything about it. But one weekend in New York, spent with fans from Stargate, someone put a tape on that had music videos from The Sentinel, those videos got my attention. Then someone recommended a couple of stories and next thing I know I’m on Amazon buying season one, and I’m booking a flight to California to support a zoo on Sentinel Day.

    • marzipan77 says:

      Videos -yes! I’ve seen videos made by fans that have inspired me to start watching, start buying, just like you. Wonderful work – I have no talent in that direction but I give uber-kudos to those who do. I also own seasons of Sentinel solely from reading fan fiction! (I know you’re surprised!) Here’s hoping that other studios/creators jump on the bandwagon that has bee waiting for them.

  3. Deb says:

    So right! There is a huge market out there, untapped. We read, watch, go to cons, pay money for photos and autographs, We dress up in costume, learn to write better, to make costumes more realistic and dramatic……… and we go to have FUN!!!!!! Sometime all this starts with one little story. Someone needs a wake up call and it isn’t the fans and writers of fan fiction!

    • marzipan77 says:

      One good story with beloved characters in a world we love can lead to greater audiences and greater revenue. Studios and production companies need to understand the market they’re missing!

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