Can you sell fanfiction


Fanfiction is an area of great enthusiasm and creativity, creating new spin-off stories based on beloved original works. But can you sell fanfiction? Most of us who pen these stories do it for the love of storytelling and the joy of expanding on universes we adore, but the question remains; can these pieces of writing be turned into a bonafide money-making endeavor? This article will explore multiple aspects regarding the legality, ethics, platforms available, and the potential markets for fanfiction.

1. Copyright and Intellectual Property Laws

The most significant obstacle to selling fanfiction is copyright law. The characters and worlds that fanfiction uses as its foundation are usually protected by copyright, which means selling fanfiction could potentially infringe on those rights. Fanfiction stands in a legal gray area. Some copyright holders, seeing the potential for free publicity and fan engagement, are willing to turn a blind eye—or even actively support fanfiction—under certain conditions.

Can you sell fanfiction

However, selling fanfiction directly challenges the economic aspect of copyright by making money from someone else's intellectual property. Unless the original work is in the public domain (think Sherlock Holmes or Pride and Prejudice), this is likely not legal and could land a fanfiction writer in hot water.

2. Ethics of Selling Fanfiction

Even if the fanfiction writer decides to risk the potential legal backlash, there's also the matter of ethics. Many fanfiction communities are built on a shared love of the original work and a mutual respect for the creator. Selling fanfiction without the creator's approval is often seen as an exploitation of that creator's hard work for personal gain.

Not all creators and fandoms view fanfiction the same. Some authors like J.K. Rowling actively encourage fanfiction, while others such as Anne Rice have been outspoken against it. This highlights the importance of knowing and respecting the wishes of the original content creators. Doing otherwise could lead to further legal troubles and damage the relationship between official creators and fan communities.

3. Transformative Works and Fair Use Argument

Fanfiction writers often use the “Transformative Works�argument to defend their activities. Transformative works add something new or different to an original work, enough to make it distinguishable. US laws include fair use clause which allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as commentary, parody, criticism, or educational use, which potentially could encompass some fanfiction.

However, the definitions of transformative works and fair use are complex and frequently debated in legal circles. As a rule, transformative works need to change the original substantially, making it a different entity, and merely changing a character's clothing or placing them in a new setting might not be considered transformative.

4. Fanfiction Publishing Platforms

In the digital age, various platforms have emerged where writers can publish, share, and engage readers. These include FanFiction.Net, Archive of Our Own (AO3), and Wattpad. While these are primarily not-for-profit platforms, authors can gain exposure and build an audience, indirectly benefiting their writing career. However, directly selling fanfiction on these platforms is not permitted.

On the other hand, Amazon's Kindle Worlds was a platform that allowed fanfiction authors to legally sell their works, after obtaining licenses from the original content owners. Despite such an attempt, the program didn’t prove to be particularly successful and was discontinued in 2018. This shows the complexity and challenges of monetizing fanfiction.

5. Professional Success from Fanfiction

There exist examples of fanfiction writers who have converted their popularity into commercial success. Perhaps the most famous case is E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, initially a Twilight fanfiction. James replaced the names of Bella and Edward with original characters, creating a different, original work, which then became a bestseller.

However, such a path serves as an exception and not a norm. Most fanfiction writers struggle to gain a significant readership, and even popular fanfic authors may not successfully transition into professional writing. It demonstrates the difficult journey of turning a fanfiction into an original, sellable work. Thus, writing fanfiction might lead to professional success, but probably not directly through selling it.

Questions and Answers

Q: Can anyone sell their fanfiction?
A: Technically, one could attempt it, but it likely breaches copyright laws, and thus, is not advised.

Q: Are there any cases of successful fanfiction sales?
A: Yes, there have been successful instances, but they are rare. An example is E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey.

Q: Can someone sell fanfiction on platforms like Ao3 or Wattpad?
A: No. These platforms prohibit the selling of fanfiction.

Concluding Thoughts

While the passion for fanfiction writing seldom wanes, it’s crucial to understand the legal, ethical, and market considerations involved with selling fanfiction. Overshadowing these factors is the consensus that fanfiction is a practice driven by the love for fictional worlds and characters, and the joy of creation rather than economic gain.


[1] Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), This is the organization that maintains the Archive of Our Own (AO3) site. They are also involved in legal advocacy around fanworks.

[2] U.S. Copyright Office, Fair Use Index. This resource provides information on the legal aspect of fair use in regards to copyright law.

[3] Leav, Lang. “Can Self-Published Authors Turn Fan Fiction Into Gold?,�The Guardian, 13 Mar. 2015. This article offers insight into the relationship between fanfiction and professional success.

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