My newborn fanfiction book collection

I recently decided to start a collection of fanfiction books.

This may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, especially nowadays when most fanfic is published online and most fans aren’t even aware it exists in book form.  When you say ‘print fanfic’, most people think you mean fanzines.  But I’m talking about books, actual fanfic printed in book format. I can’t say exactly what spurred on my sudden decision to collect fanfic books, especially when a good portion of its contents already exist online, and free.  Maybe it’s just the bibliophile in me.  Maybe it’s just the librarian in me.  Maybe it’s just the collector in me.  Maybe it’s just the fan. Most likely it’s all of the above.

I was first introduced to the idea of fanfic in book form in the mid-2000’s when my sister’s friend sent her a beautiful illustrated book of her fanfic (which I briefly mentioned a long time ago in a previous blog post). It looked so gorgeous, so professional, that the concept stuck in my mind, and a few years later I published my own fic in book form. This was more for my own benefit than anyone else’s.  I just really wanted to hold my own words in my hands, to leaf through them, to annotate them, to put them on my book shelves just like the other treasured tomes I possess. It turned out that there were a small number of fans who also wanted copies, and so I opened up access to the books on Lulu.com

The first few books of my new collection…

It wasn’t until I started research on my Ph.D. that I discovered that the fanfiction book was more common than I first thought it was.  I was doing a random search for my ship on Amazon when I discovered a certain book that I may also have mentioned in a previous blog post. I bought a copy (for research purposes initially), mainly because I was intrigued that this book of fanfic was being sold (presumably for money) on a major online bookstore, and had an ISBN (Lulu.com will make these books available at major bricks-and-mortar bookstores, such as Borders, in this case). I haven’t linked to this particular book, since I don’t want to risk drawing the attention of rights-holders to the author, due to the work’s legally grey area.

At the Fan Studies Network Conference last year, I was shown some gorgeous fanfic books, also printed by Lulu, by an acquaintance, and this again reminded me that ‘this was a thing’. At this point, I actually did a little bit of digging into the phenomena and discovered the notorious case of Lori Jareo’s Another Hope, a Star Wars fanfic book that was sold in major bookstores, and was finally shut down by Lucasfilm in 2006. At the time, it caused significant ripples in the fan community, who were afraid that the furore would cause a backlash from the Powers That Be against fanfic itself.  Taking a look around the net, I was able to find that there was quite a sizeable amount of fanfic books out there, and since this seems to be a little-known area of fandom (and fandom research), I thought I would start up a collection of my own – for both research and entertainment purposes.

From a research perspective, there are three strands to my interest in collection fanfic books. The first centres around changing modes of publication.  In the digital era, print-on-demand (POD) has meant that self-publishing has become an affordable reality for many, and there is no longer the stigma of publishing through a ‘vanity press’.  This suggests that the internet has afforded yet more ways for fans to publish their work, apart from digital or amateur press avenues.

On the shelf…

The second area of interest revolves around the materiality of the book, and the fact that some fans still like to have their work presented in a physical format; and that others still like to buy physical written works, despite the free/gift culture that exists within the fan community.  I suspect that this may have something to do with idea of collectability – that there exists in the fan the desire to possess physical tokens of their fandom, the collective size of which may bestow fan capital.  This interest in owning physical works is especially interesting considering the recent decline in e-book sales. Could the phenomenon of fanfic books tell us something about why print books sales are once more increasing?

The last strand of interest for me is that old chestnut – copyright. Needless to say fanfic books occupy a grey area legally, and even if they are not being sold for profit (i.e. sales only going towards the cost of production and/or shipping), does this let them off the hook?  Do they still constitute fair use? And what drives fans to sell print versions of their fanfiction despite the legal nightmare experienced by Another Hope over a decade ago?

I’m not expecting my collection to answer any of these questions.  What it does make me think about however, is that fanfiction books occupy a unique place in the long history of print.  One day, I hope, my collection will be the basis of a public institutional collection that can be enjoyed by all.

* I’m currently taking donations to my collection.  If you’re interested in donating, please reply to this post, DM me at @ludiprice on Twitter, or email me at Ludovica.Price.1 (at) city.ac.uk. Thanks! 🙂 

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Review: Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom by Abigail De Kosnik

9780262034661Ten years ago Abigail De Kosnik introduced her concept of ‘archontic literature’, which describes fan texts (and indeed many other texts in the canon of Western literature) as additions to a global archive of cultural texts, an archive that writers draw upon to create their own works, thus expanding and enriching the archive that already exists (Derecho, 2006).  Works such as Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James build upon the ‘archive’ of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice narrative; Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead builds upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet; countless tales around the world build upon the archive of ancient folklore and mythology that have enthralled us across many eons.  As a student of Library and Information Science (LIS) – and an avid fanficcer – the idea of fan texts as literal and figurative documents in an ever-growing and ever-expanding archive of human culture immediately appealed to me.  The appeal grew to reinforce my opinion – or intuition – that LIS and fandom are intrinsically intertwined.  For if fanfiction is archontic literature, part of a grand cultural archive, who then are the archivists?  The answer, of course, is the fans themselves.

In Rogue Archives, De Kosnik updates the concept of ‘archontic literature’ to ‘archontic production’, crucially expanding it to include other forms of fanwork that do not involve creative writing, such as fanart, fanvids, fanfilms, podfic, cosplay, mods etc.  This expansion of the ‘archontic’ concept here is much more satisfying in that it brings in the entire range of fan production and allows it a space within the cultural archive.  Fanfiction is no longer given precedence but is simply a part of the sum of fandom’s archontic outputs.  Whilst the expansion of the term bolsters its theoretical implementation, it also brings it more in line, both conceptually and metaphorically, with actual archives, which of course are not merely repositories of the written word.

As far as I know, Rogue Archives is the only book that explicitly links LIS to fandom.  Within fan studies, there have been several articles that comment upon classification practices and information behaviour within fandom (e.g. Versaphile, 2011; Johnson, 2014; Thomas, 2016), although few draw explicitly upon the field of LIS and its methodologies to do so.  Likewise, the field of LIS has done little to engage with fan information practices, despite a growing interest in information behaviour within leisure contexts.  LIS literature on fan information behaviour is few and far between, though some does exist, e.g. Hart et al. (1999), Adams (2009), and Bullard (2014; 2016), albeit with limited impact.  What Rogue Archives does is unequivocally link the language of both disciplines (admittedly with a focus on the fan studies angle, which is understandable given the context of the book) for the first time.  From my perspective at least this is a welcome surprise, if only to reaffirm that I’m not in a club of one.

What is also fascinating about Rogue Archives is the fact that it also incorporates concepts from performance studies – an angle which the library school I’m studying at, #citylis, is also heavily interested in (we recently held a symposium, Documenting Performance, which brought together parties from both performance studies and LIS to discuss the ways in which we (can) document complex documents such as live performance).  De Kosnik’s book was an enlightening foray into the idea that fanworks sit squarely on the boundary between the documents of the traditional analogue archive, and the embodied, temporal works of the performance arts. There is an apparent dichotomy between what we call the archive and what De Kosnik and others call ‘repertoire’, as she explains:

“Repertoire” transmits knowledge through processes of embodied mimesis, one person imitating what another person does, while “archive” transmits knowledge through recording technologies […], one person decoding the knowledge that another person has encoded in fixed form. (p.54)

What Rogue Archives does is to break down this seeming dichotomy, by showing how fans use both traditional archival practices and repertoire in order to build the ‘rogue archives’ that fan archives encompass (i.e. they are universal, community-driven and alternative).  Whilst fan archives, such as FF.net and AO3, do seem to be like the usual digital archives on the surface, they reject many of the practices employed in traditional archives.  There is no formal collection policy; archivists are ‘techno-volunteers’ who learn their tasks through repertoire, through following the example of more experienced fans or mentors.  They are based on passionate practice rather than professional practice.  They represent active cultural memory rather than passive cultural memory.

What is important here is that popular culture is constantly moving, evolving.  Fanworks (which are now largely born-digital) are also constantly shifting and dynamic.  They are subject to the whims of their creator, constantly edited, abandoned, unfinished, remixed, reworked, deleted, lost.  Ephemeral, dynamic and rarely instantiated in a single, fixed form, fanworks share much in common with performance art and it is therefore difficult to submit them to the rigidity of formal archival process.  This affinity with complex documents leads fan archivists – ‘techno-volunteers’ as De Kosnik calls them – to effectively bridge the gap between the immovable, analogue world of the traditional archive, and the performative, non-reproducible world of repertoire.

De Kosnik is skeptical of what LIS can do for fandom.  As she notes herself, fans have been “dedicating themselves to digital cultural memory work [since] the early 1990s, just as the Internet and the World Wide Web were becoming integral to daily life” (p.12) – ironically, fans have been digital archivists a lot longer than digital archivists have, and have the corresponding expertise.  This is mirrored in the responses of some current LIS students I surveyed earlier this year for my ‘Fanfiction in the Library‘ paper, delivered at FSN2016 in June (Price & Robinson, 2016).  There was the idea that fans manage their own archives ‘just fine’ themselves.  There is also a wariness of LIS imposing itself on the practices fans have already developed in order to preserve their own cultures.  That is why I believe that any attempt at collaboration should involve the utmost respect and understanding on the part of LIS in preserving digital fan culture.  It is also why I believe that there is a lot LIS can learn from fans, which is why I am researching what I am – and which is what Rogue Archives proves in spades.  I am reminded of the Games Culture Summit earlier this year, where one of the speakers talked about her institution working with gaming fans on the best methods for archiving and preserving videogames.  I think this serves as an encouraging example of what can be achieved when fans and LIS professionals work together.  Pooling together our different but equally important expertise can help create a ‘best practice’ for the preservation and organisation of a growing type of complex and/or dynamic materials that LIS professionals are currently finding a real challenge to deal with.

At the very least, what Rogue Archives proves to LIS is that ‘serious leisure’ (Stebbins, 2001) has been the breeding ground for many new, innovative and significant ways of preserving human culture, methods that it has taken little notice of in the past, but that may yet be able to inform the discipline’s future.

References

  • Adams, S. (2009). What games have to offer: information behavior and meaning-making in virtual play spaces. Library Trends [e-journal] 57 (4). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/lib.0.0058
  • Bullard, J. (2014).  Values and negotiation in classification work. CSCW’14 Companion. Baltimore, USA, 15-19 February 2014 [online].  New York: ACM.  Available through: ACM Digital Library
  • Bullard, J. (2016). Motivating invisible contributions: framing volunteer classification design in a fanfiction repository. Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work – GROUP ’16. New York, USA, 13-16 November 2016 [online].  New York: ACM.  Available through: ACM Digital Library
  • De Kosnik, A. (2016). Rogue archives: digital cultural memory and media fandom. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
  • Derecho, A. (2006).  Archontic literature: a definition, a history, and several theories of fan fiction.  In: K. Hellekson & K. Busse (eds.), Fan fiction and fan communities in the age of the internet.  Jefferson: McFarland, Ch. 1.
  • Hart, C., et al. (1999). The bibliographical structure of fan information.  Collection Building [e-journal] 18 (2).  Available through: Emerald Insight
  • Johnson, S. F. (2014). Fan fiction metadata creation and utilization within fan fiction archives: three primary methods. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 17.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0578
  • Price, L., & Robinson, L. (2016). Fanfiction in the LibraryFan Studies Network Conference 2016, Norwich, Norfolk, UK, 25-26 June 2016.
  • Stebbins, R. A. (2001).  Serious leisure.  Society, [e-journal] 38 (4). Available through: Springer Link
  • Thomas, P. (2016). Wikipedia and participatory culture: Why fans edit. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 22.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2016.0902
  • Versaphile (2011). Silence in the library: Archives and the preservation of fannish history. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 6.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.v6i0.277
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A (very) belated report on #FSN2016

They do say that if you want to write a blog post about an event you have to do it straight after, otherwise the glow soon fades.  I regret to say that in the case of the Fan Studies Network Conference 2016, I fell prey to what seems to be the bane of the blogosphere – you go to the event, you leave all jazzed and inspired, you get home and real life distracts you, and then the ship sails and it’s too late.

But they also say ‘better late than never’, and so here I am, writing my blog post on #FSN2016 after nearly 5 months of reflection.

Selfie with Henry Jenkins. It had to be done. ;)

Selfie with Henry Jenkins. It had to be done. 😉

What I will say first is how much FSN had grown even since 2015.  There were so many more people, and the atmosphere was buzzing – there was a general feeling of excitement in the air.  Of course, the buzz may have been something to with the fact that Henry Jenkins was giving the keynote; but in my case it probably also had something to do with the fact that I was presenting this time, along with my supervisor, Lyn Robinson, on the ‘Using the Archive’ panel.  Our presentation, “Fanfiction in the Library”, sought to give an overview of fanfiction in libraries within the UK.  This might seem an unusual area of research, as one is very unlikely to have ever seen fanfiction in a library before.  I feel that our interest was prompted by two main areas:

  • The growing evidence (as seen in my doctoral research) for fans as accomplished practitioners of information work, who build their own collections (both on and offline), who display highly sophisticated information behaviours, and who work collaboratively to create, share and maintain collections;
  • The growing interest in the fanwork as a cultural document worthy of collection, not merely by fans themselves, but by memory institutions (e.g. the expansion of fanzine collections within UK libraries).

Three different methods were used to glean an overview of fanfiction (and fandom) in libraries within the UK:

  1. A literature review of past and present research into the concept of fanworks as documents, or as parts of a wider collection;
  2. A study of the collection policies of 10 UK libraries, and whether the collection of fanworks or fanfiction comes under their remit (it doesn’t);
  3. A survey of current #citylis students and alumni, asking them about their current awareness of fanfiction and fandom, and whether fanfiction or fanworks should be collected in libraries and other memory institutions.

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    Fanfiction in the Library!

The intention was not to promote the collection of fanfiction in libraries across the UK per se; rather it was to begin a dialogue between the LIS and fan studies communities on the subject.  Whilst there seems to be a strong feeling amongst the relevant literature and most of the surveyed students in our study that fanfiction is culturally important and worth preserving, there is an equally strong feeling that collecting it is fraught with issues.  Both fans and librarians can agree that fanfiction is not like the ‘usual’, standard literature one might find on the shelves.  Most fanfiction nowadays is born digital, and is rarely instantiated in one fixed state – it can be constantly updated, edited, reworked, rehashed, removed, and sometimes just never even finished.  What if the author does not care for their work to be collected?  What about the perennially thorny issue of copyright?

These are just a few of the valid questions raised both by the #citylis students and the audience during our panel.  It was heartening to find that there actually was a dialogue to be had about this topic, and that many people in both the LIS and fan communities were interested in preserving fanworks – or at least in entertaining the idea.  During the research phase, I was particularly interested to find that a large proportion of the interviewed students were aware of fanfiction and were fans themselves – and that some of them read or wrote fanfiction, or had created their own fanfiction collections.  This indicates that there will be a sizeable percentage of both future and current library and information professionals who are willing to entertain the idea of collecting, curating and managing fanworks and other non-traditional media in more mainstream and/or professional bibliographical contexts. Likewise, the interest shown from the fan studies audience at #FSN2016 indicated a willingness to start thinking of ways in which fan culture and its many outputs can be preserved for future posterity – or indeed, whether it should be preserved at all.

#FSN16 conference dinner at The Library, Norwich. Somebody knows me well ;)

#FSN16 conference dinner at The Library, Norwich. Somebody knows me well 😉

I think that goal – the goal of starting a dialogue – was achieved in abundance during #FSN2016.  I’m not sure whether the dialogue has continued, but I’d like to see it do so.  At the very least, I feel that there is so much that LIS can learn from the collaborative, participatory, creative and generous model of information behaviour that fans show.  But do fans want to make a concerted effort to preserve their creative work, and should information professionals become involved in that process?  The contributions of volunteer librarians and other professionals, as well as passionate amateurs, on AO3 shows the greatness that these kinds of collaborations can achieve.  The recent publication of Abigail De Kosnik’s Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom has convinced me that this is a more timely moment than ever for us all to work on the cultural preservation of fandom.  I’d be happy to carry on the conversation with anyone else who’s interested. 🙂

A long overdue thanks to the amazing folks at #FSN2016 and the fan studies community for the fun and intellectually stimulating conference!  I had a whale of a time and yet again met some truly stellar people.  I just wish I’d had the time to meet more.  But then, I guess there’s always next year! 😉

 

The “Fanfiction in the Library” presentation is available here.  (The paper is currently being edited with a view to publication).

You can read Lyn Robinson’s blog post on #FSN2016 here.

The #FSN2016 programme and abstracts can be found here.

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