It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s now almost a year since Dear Author posted a comparison of Master of the Universe and 50 Shades of Grey. I worked hard on that analysis, as did a number of other people, and we used a variety of methods to demonstrate the overwhelming similarities between the two. I contributed to this project because I thought it was important to show that Vintage, the respected press that acquired 50, was being dishonest when it claimed that MOTU had been substantially edited and revised for publication. The number everyone remembers is the 89% similarity rating that the Turnitin analysis yielded. But every other method of comparison did the same thing. Fifty is P2P fanfic.
Since then, a slew of books have been picked up by once-reputable publishers. Gabriel’s Inferno and its sequels have been picked up and published by Penguin Berkeley. Simon & Schuster is publishing a “reworked” fanfiction as Beautiful Bastard (note: Turnitin is a tool, not a final judgment, so the argument that it’s only 20 percent the same isn’t compelling to me without seeing the raw data).
I’ve spent years believing and arguing that there are distinctions to be made between the books published by major presses and self-published work. I didn’t think that New York publishers were always driven by lofty goals and integrity, but I thought that their good moves outnumbered their bad moves.
Then today I heard that P2P fanfic by a writer with the improbable nom de plume of Tara Sue Me has been acquired by NAL, which was established as a respectable publisher of literary and genre fiction. They have published authors ranging from James Joyce to Jim Thompson. And now they are publishing Tara Sue Me. Yes, they are keeping her fanfic author name, presumably to enhance the brand value.
I avoid P2P. I avoid published fanfic. I have a variety of reasons, which I don’t expect other people to agree with or follow, but they’re mine and I’m sticking to them. This post and the subsequent comment thread encapsulate much of what I think is problematic about the fanfic-to-publication trend:
Whatever one’s feeling or opinions may be on p2p, no one can deny it’s changed the fandom for the worse. It’s all the cons, none of the pros. It’s put a clear dividing line between author and reader. No one trusts anyone. Everything seems suspect. Every move in fanfic is observed as being a possible marketing strategy.
What was once a fun and creative atmosphere of peer interaction has turned into something profitably strategic.
I think this latest acquisition may signal the nadir in the fanfic-to-respectably-published-book juggernaut, but I’m afraid to say so out loud. There is always lower to go. And so I can only repeat the safe word from Ms. Me’s trilogy:
TURPENTINE!!!!! I SAID TURPENTINE!!!!!
Unfortunately, no contracts were signed beforehand, so I don’t think the author, the publisher, and the P2P industry more generally are likely to stop.