Fanfiction - When readers become authors

Anyone who likes to read has found the ending of a story unsuccessful. Boring. Or illogical. Or too open-ended. Why not make up your own ending? Fanfiction was born out of such thoughts. Lovers of a story just keep telling it. But is it okay to do that? And where can you publish it?

What is fanfiction?

Fanfiction means using other authors' stories as the basis for your own. For this purpose, the plot is modified or continued; however, only characters, worlds or settings can be taken over. Another type of fanfiction consists of inventing stories about real people.

So it's fanfiction if you like a story a lot and make your own out of it. You might make up two Figures get married, even though they don't in the original story. You add new characters. You set the story in a different time. You let the characters travel. Or you get excited about the place where a narrative is set, so your story takes place there. A Thrillerin which a detective searches for a murderer in Venice would inevitably also be fan fiction. Because without Donna Leon and her Brunetti, it's hard to imagine.

Fanfiction that revolves around real people often has athletes or musicians as main characters. These stars usually want to protect their families. Therefore, they tell little about them in interviews. But big fans want to be a part of their lives. Maybe even play a role in it themselves. So they write fan fiction about that star.

What are some ways to get fanfiction published?

Authors often publish their fanfiction on the Internet. There are specialized portals and more general sites where you can post your story in the section "fanfiction". Because many who are interested in fanfiction visit such sites, it is easy to find readers. But often Authors of fanfiction also publish their stories in their own books.

What portals are there for fanfiction?

There are many portals specifically for fanfiction. Among the most popular are Wattpad, FanFiction.Net, The most you can find there is Harry Potter fanfiction. Other fanfiction portals are Archive of our own and Animexx. But also on more general platforms like Tumblr and Reddit there are large sections for fanfiction.

Is it legal to publish fanfiction?

So fanfiction can be found on many websites, but also in books - often in the Self-Publishing. Then it seems legal. Or not? There are different opinions on this and some see it loosely. But the decisive factor is the legal interpretation of the law.

It's not legal to publish fanfiction in many cases. The authors have the Copyright in their creations: in characters, worlds, plots, invented places. Only those who depart very far from the original and create something entirely their own are allowed to use what others have invented - perhaps, because it depends on the individual case. However, rights holders often condone fanfiction. Let's take a closer look.

The legal side - what does copyright mean for fanfiction?

If you write a story and publish it, you have a copyright on it. In Germany, this is regulated by copyright law. Of course, there are similar laws in other countries. As an author, you can also assign the rights (in part). Mostly to Publishersthat's what it says in the imprint.

What does that mean exactly, copyright? Imagine you build a pizza oven in your backyard. If someone comes at night, takes it apart, and takes the pieces away, that's a thief. It's the same with stories. It doesn't matter what the parts are. It's called fable protection.

No one is allowed to recognizably take over the policeman in his own book who hunts criminals with you. For example, there is a ruling that no one is allowed to publish a story about Pippi Longstocking without permission. No one is allowed to write their own story set on the planet you invented. No one is allowed to retell your story. But all that is the purpose of fanfiction. In this respect, fanfiction is basically - let's put it bluntly - illegal.

The "free use" of protected property

But there are exceptions. True, it does no good to try tricks. If your heroine's name is Bubbu Lungstramp, but she lives with a horse and is like Pippi in other ways, that won't help you. Your goal would have to be to achieve what's called free use. For example, you invent a hero called Paul Pipapo. He also lives in a house with a horse, but has no other similarities with Pippi. No problem, you can print that. But is that still fan fiction?

Another problem is that the standards for this "free use" are quite strict. You would have to reach a certain "level of creation". So you have to create something of your own. Whether you can just get away with your similar story or not, will be decided by a court in the end. You certainly don't want that, because it will be expensive either way.

Also, not only can you be prosecuted civilly for copyright infringement. It is also a criminal offence. However, the public prosecutor usually only becomes active at the request of the copyright holder. If at all, he will often prefer civil law, because he can get more money out of it.

By the way, authors of fanfiction also have rights to their work. So someone else is not necessarily allowed to simply rewrite such texts.

The practical side

So now you have to crumple up your fanfiction story at a sad moment in your writing career and throw it in your pizza oven? Comfort yourself with a crispy Quattro Formaggi? Not necessarily.

On the internet alone you can find fanfiction on many sites. Hardly seems to bother any of the rights holders, otherwise it would be taken off the net. And that's how it is. In practice, copyright infringements in connection with fanfiction are hardly ever prosecuted.

Authors and publishers often see fanfiction as advertising, writers are often flattered too. But that can easily change if someone tries to make money with fanfiction. So you'd better not become too successful with your story. If you only expect to make a small amount of money, you could also put in the imprint that you donate your earnings.

However, it's best to just ask the author or publisher for permission. It doesn't cost anything to ask. And it's not so rare for authors to hear - and listen to - such requests. So just write a short email.

Sometimes authors even call for fanfiction. In contests, for example. Then there are no legal problems as long as you stick to the guidelines. If they agree to fanfiction in principle, that's a kind of carte blanche for you. But the copyright still remains. So be careful.

Is fan fiction about celebrities allowed?

But if you write fanfiction about a real person, their personal rights are affected. They are even in the Basic Law, right at the front in Article 2. This is especially important if you make up something bad about a star. Rape, murder, that kind of thing. They don't like that. And then their management asks you not to do it. That's gonna cost some serious money. Even if you might end up being vindicated. Cause you're gonna have to get a lawyer.

But freedom of art is also protected. However, there must be no doubt that your story is fictional. So you should avoid writing too close to reality. Your readers should not be able to believe that you have actually observed what you write. Udo Lindenberg flies to the planet Alpha Psi and drones himself with stardust? Shouldn't be a problem. Justin Bieber seducing an underage girl in a bar and you, as you write, watched it closely? Better leave it alone.

There seems to be little problem if you write fanfiction about a star in which there is nothing negative at all. Justin Bieber gives a concert, everyone is totally excited and at the end he invites a group of fans to a fancy restaurant. What could Mr. Bieber possibly have against you making up a story like that? But who knows, some celebrities are supposed to be sensitive.

What do authors think of fanfiction about their books?

You might think that authors are also jealously guarding to make sure no one steals their ideas and characters. But in most cases, that's not true. Some even talk about fanfiction in very positive terms. For example, Joanne K. Rowling has expressed several times that she thinks Harry Potter fanfiction is good.

A counter-example is Anne Rice, author of the "Chronicles of the Vampires". She has expressly forbidden the publication of fan fiction. The film company Paramount Pictures has even taken legal action against fan fiction for "Star Trek".

But most see fanfiction writers as their own fans. And they generate sales. Buy their books. They are their target audience. Why should they fight them when they get no harm from fanfiction in the first place?

Success stories

And so there are many successful works of fan fiction that have found numerous readers. One of them is "Shades of Grey". Because this erotic bestseller has a completely different story as a basis: the "Twilight Saga" by Stephenie Meyer. Only later did the author E. L. James then changed the names of the characters, among other things. Ms Meyer didn't mind at all, because she was already a multimillionaire. And so she allowed her imitator to become one too.

Probably the most copied story: Harry Potter

Many tales have inspired readers to write their own stories about them. So it's no wonder that there is also a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction. Perhaps there is no other modern work that has been retold more often. The fantastic world that Joanne K. Rowling has dreamed up is an invitation to invent something about it. On the portal for example, there are almost a million stories of Harry Potter fan fiction. Some Harry Potter fanfiction has been published as books. Most of the time, the authors chose to self-publish.

Earlier examples of fanfiction

The word "fanfiction" is as much of the modern era as the Harry Potter series. It makes you think of readers who love a narrative and its characters. Like they're their own family. Who might even dress like them sometimes, i.e. cosplay. But people have probably been retelling stories since there were stories in the first place. Someone made one up by the fire and it was good. Listeners who barely had proper clothes on yet made something up to go with it. Retold it around another fire.

If you understand fanfiction that way, then the best-selling book in the history of the world also contains some: the Bible. For what else but religious fanfiction are the four Gospels? They all tell the same stories about Jesus. Goethe also wrote fanfiction when he set out to write his "Faust". For there were many older stories about the inquisitive Faust and the devil Mephisto who seduces him.

Training for own stories

So if you want to follow Goethe and "Shades of Grey", write a book of fanfiction too. But publishing remains a grey area legally. So you might want to avoid problems completely. That's possible. Because as long as you only share your fanfiction with your closest friends and family, no one can touch you. Because then you haven't published it.

Or you can consider your fanfiction as an interesting introduction to writing and as an exercise. After all, you don't have to worry about much anymore. A world, places and characters already exist. The plot is already laid out. The book you're writing the fanfiction for will stimulate your imagination.

This way, you can gain writing experience with your favorite story at your leisure. And at some point, you may want to develop your own stories and worlds. Then you won't have to worry about copyright. Maybe someone will even want to write fan fiction about the book you've published. And then you'll have to decide for yourself whether you object or not. Or if you're cool with it. Like Joanne K. Rowling with Harry Potter fanfiction.


Rewriting other authors' stories or using them as the basis for your own book is extremely popular - but legally very tricky. If you don't want to infringe copyright, you should either ask the publisher or author of the work in question for permission - or write fanfiction only for your own pleasure or that of your private circle and not publish the texts. In any case, fanfiction can help you as a writing training and inspire you to write your own stories.



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