Why I Don’t Read Fan Fiction (of my characters)

Someone on Twitter asked me this and I said the response was too long for 140 characters, or even 280 or 420. I’ve answered the question a couple times over the years, but probably mostly in private messages to people who’ve asked if it’s okay for them to write fan fiction of my characters.*

* The answer is yes, it is okay, with three provisions: (1) Be respectful of the characters and world; (2) Please post acknowledgment of the original work–a link to where people can find it would be nice, too; (3) Don’t expect me to read it. This last one is where the question comes up.

There are a number of reasons I don’t/won’t read fan fiction, and here they are in approximate descending order of importance:

* My reading time is very limited. Right now I would like to read at least some of the five novels nominated for a Hugo award before voting closes on July 31. I would also like to read the Coyotl-nominated works before voting closes on August 15th. I have to read five or six books for the Rainbow Awards by August 31st. I’ve just finished reading a novel written by one of my workshop colleagues, and that workshop reading happens year-round. Add to this that I would like to read the published things that people keep telling me are amazing and that I should read, and that I need to have time to actually write and do my job, and there’s not a lot of time left over to read anything else (this is also the main reason I do not read any fan-written stories people ask me to read).

* I’m still working with a lot of my characters. Even characters whose main story arcs have ended might show up in other stories, let alone side characters. I have two big open worlds, and over on my Patreon I’ve been writing stories about some of the side characters in those worlds, at least a couple of which were interesting enough that I’ve been thinking I might want to revisit them. And if/when I do, I want the ideas about them to be 100% mine. My fear is that I’d read something in a fanfic and then feel I couldn’t use that idea because…

* I don’t want you to get mad/sue me. There is precedent for fan writers suing authors when they felt the author stole their ideas. It’s not common, but it’s happened.┬áMore likely, especially in our small community, is that you’d write a fan fiction, maybe see something of mine that resembled that, and then kinda wonder if I’d stolen your idea. You might write a blog post or a tweet about it, you might feel bad, you might not care. Yeah, it isn’t a likely outcome, but there’s really nothing positive to weigh it against to make it worth the risk for me. I’d get to read a neat story? There are literally a million places I could go to do that that don’t interfere with my own writing life.

Look, I know you don’t think you’d get mad at me. I’ve had people offer to sign written documents to the effect that they promised not to sue me over idea theft (I’m not sure you can sign away those rights, but it’s a nice gesture). The point is that now-you is not five-years-from-now-you, and things might change. It really is just not worth it to me in any way, for all of the above reasons, to read fan fiction.

For the same reason, please do not e-mail me your ideas for future books starring my characters (as opposed to “I’m anxious to see how X situation is resolved,” which is fine–I’m talking detailed plot outlines). After “Uncovered” came out, I had people send me summaries of how they thought the fifth book would/should go, and I had to delete them unread. Again: I really appreciate the excitement and the passion you guys have for these books. It’s wonderful, and I feel really bad about not reading them. I just have to be really mindful of the consequences.

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