Fanfiction, Amazon, and the End of Literature as We Know It (Sarcasm)

When I first came back to writing, after over twenty years of not writing anything more than a check or a hasty letter, I wrote fanfiction. Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction, in point of fact.

Why? I had no confidence in my ability to create a character, create a setting, or write a coherent line of dialogue. As I gained that confidence, I added original characters (not, I might add, Mary Sues) to the mix. And then I quit writing fanfiction altogether and began writing completely original fiction.

I posted my fanfiction stories in small communities, not in the major outlets. I confess that I’m a bit ambivalent about Amazon’s plan to market fanfiction. It could be interesting — especially as Amazon is getting permission from the creators. Or it could be a disaster.

What’s all this rant about, you ask? You don’t ask? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. I’ve been reading some anti-fanfiction posts and articles here and there. They gripe my cookies. I no longer write fanfiction. I no longer read it. But for me, fanfiction made for a comfortable set of training wheels when I didn’t think I could ride the fiction bike any more.


All right. Let’s say, just for argument, that Polly Prolific has written a novel. She thinks it’s a marvelous piece of literature, for sure. Now Polly could send out a query letter—or seventy-three queries—and contact agents and publishers, or she could go indie and self-publish.

This being today and not, say, 2006, Polly decides to go the indie route. She works up a cover, maybe hires a freelance editor, formats her book, and publishes on Kindle. So far so good.

Then she starts the marketing and promotions. She arm-twists her mother and sister-in-law into downloading a copy. She persuades her preacher’s wife and her next-door neighbour.

Finally she picks up a few reviews on Amazon. Five stars (and she’s thrilled!), four stars (and she’s happy), three stars (and, instead of being pleased, she’s annoyed but can’t quite figure out why). And then, of course, it happens. The blasting, flaming, scorching, “I hated this book and everything about it right down to the punctuation!” review.

Now, how is Polly going to react?

Every writer gets those reviews, even the greatest.

Lately, I’ve seen a few writers, mostly indies, administering a smackdown to those whom they feel have “wronged” them in their reviews. Right there in the comments.  Telling the reviewers that their opinions weren’t valid, that the points they made were wrong, that – in the words of one I’m thinking of now, “giving this book a two-star rating is just wrong!” Well . . . I have a bit of a problem with that. The review is that person’s opinion. See that word: OPINION. It’s not gospel. It’s not going to ruin your book if someone doesn’t like it.

I know, you put hours—weeks—even years into writing this book. But calling out reviewers who don’t happen to care for it isn’t mature, isn’t wise, and in the long run isn’t going to win you any fans.

Grit your teeth. Take a deep breath. Ignore the living daylights out of a bad review.

Unless, of course, the reviewer has bothered to mention something you might need to take note of. When I write a less-than-happy review, I always give my reasons: bad grammar, shifting point-of-view, errors in punctuation. These things need to be fixed, not fumed over.

Sometimes a bad review can actually intrigue a reader anyway. I have picked up a couple of non-fiction books precisely because a reviewer went off on such a clearly biased rant that I wanted to see what the fuss was about.


“When I grow up, I’m going to be a princess. Princess Ruthie. My dresses will be satin and silk. Pink satin. White silk. I’ll wear pink ribbons in my hair, my long blonde hair. I’ll have a zillion pairs of slippers and they’ll all have silver buckles. With diamonds. And pearls.

“I’ll carry a rod — what they call a sceptre — and everyone will curtsy and kneel. They’ll all have to do what I say.

“Oh! I’ll have a stable of white ponies and the grooms will keep the ponies’ hooves polished and their manes and tails combed. I’ll go riding every day.

“My little fuzzy doggie will be named JoJo and he’ll go everywhere with me.

“Twenty footmen and twenty butlers and twenty tall soldiers will take care of me.

“I’ll marry a Handsome Prince and live happily ever after.

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a princess.”

* * *

“Ruth? Honey, it’s time for bed now.”

Her blank, pale blue eyes turn to him. She still knows her name. She’s still as lovely to him as she was sixty years ago. Before the cruel disease he can’t pronounce stole her mind, leaving just the shell of the vibrant woman he still loves. She hasn’t spoken in months, but he murmurs soft words to ease her way as he gently lifts her to her feet. Such tiny feet barely filling out the soft pink satin bedroom slippers.

His big rough hands, hands that speak of a lifetime of hard labor, tenderly stroke her fluffy white hair. He’s become quite the hairdresser in his old age. He lifts her onto the bed and straightens her pink gown, always mindful of her modesty. With the ease born of long practice, he slides off her slippers and replaces them with warm socks. He covers her wasted frame with a blanket.

She whimpers once.

“Here he is, Ruthie. You don’t think I’d forget little JoJo, do you?” A ragged stuffed puppy tucked into her arms settles her down. The toy had belonged to their older son when he was a child. Now it is one of the few things bringing peace at bedtime.

He seats himself on the edge of the bed, taking her cool, birdlike hand in his. He strokes the back of her hand with his thumb. She always had been a bird in his arms, so tiny. Fragile. But strong. Strong enough to raise two fine tall sons. He croons, “Gone to soldiers, every one.” It used to be her favorite song, before they both did “go to soldiers.”

A rare smile lights her face. For a flicker of time, a moment, a heartbeat, she’s truly there.


Then she’s gone, her face blank, her mind wandering in unknown lands, her eyes like blue marbles, beautiful but unaware.

Harold leans over his wife. Kisses her brow. “Good night, Princess. Sleep tight.”

* * *

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a princess.”