You may have heard the T.S. Eliot quote that says mediocre writers borrow, but good writers steal. Sometimes this can be astonishingly literal: PaidContent reports on a New York Times bestselling erotic novel that started out as alternate-universe Twilight fanfic, originally posted in its entirety to (though later deleted from) fanfiction hosting site

The novel, Fifty Shades of Grey by British author E.L. James, reimagined Twilight set in contemporary Seattle, apparently without the supernatural elements found in the original vampire novels: instead of a werewolf, Edward is a “masterful billionaire with secret sexual predilections.” Presumably the published version has had the names of the characters changed and other serial numbers filed off.

The publicity for the book has, of course, downplayed its fan-fiction origins, and Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books noted that the similarity to Twilight comes in the themes of “secrecy and the temptation inherent in the world of both narratives, and the alpha male who is opulently, ridiculously wealthy”, rather than in any specific plot points lifted from Twilight. I suppose it’s not terribly surprising; after all, thousands of romance novels are published every year that have relatively similar themes to each other, and people keep buying them.

This isn’t the first instance of fanfic leading to published novels, of course. Mercedes Lackey’s Secret World Chronicle grew out of characters originally created for roleplay and fanfic in the universe of the City of Heroes computer game—though in that case the authors took their own established characters and created an entirely new and different world around them. Fifty Shades of Grey started with Bella and Edward in a new and different world, then filed the serial numbers off.

I wonder whether we’ll see more fanfic writers make the jump to commercial publication in years to come? As the publishing industry looks for ways to stay relevant in the new digital world, it could be one way of finding new talent, or interesting stories that can easily be rescued from their fanfic roots.


  1. Interesting, because this supports both pro- and anti-fanfic positions. Pro: “look, fanfic can totally lead to success in a commercial market! It’s not just someone’s sex fantasies!” Anti: “Sure, but none of the supposed original property is reflected in the published work, so why didn’t the author just invent her own characters right from the start?”

  2. Thanks for alerting me to this latest publishing trend. I forsee a slew of Vampire Diaries fanfic writers turning their works into YA novels.

    Fanfic to original novels CAN be done but not in the way this author has supposedly done it. Apparently, one blogger compared the original fanfic to 50 Shades of Grey and found it to be 89% similar. If I was a reader of her fanfic and bought this book, I’d be annoyed that I paid for something that was once offered free, and was tweaked and repackaged to be sold, instead of something original.

    Now, if I were to turn a fanfic into an original novel, I’d take some plots bits that have potential, build and entirely new world and cast of characters and perhaps even use some bits of dialogue that I like. Even that makes me wonder if that’s okay. It’s very tempting, of course – a lot of the work is already done.

    Apparently, many well-known authors were fanfic writers at one point in their lives. But I dont’ remember any of them “filing off the serial numbers” of their fanfics though.

    PS: By the way, Edward is a vampire, not a werewolf.

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