Entertainment Weekly announces controversial fan fiction writing contest for January

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Entertainment Weekly has declared January to be Fanuary with a whole month of content related to fans and fandom. As part of Fanuary, EW announced a fan fiction contest, open to all fandoms. The winner will have their work published in EW, both in their print magazine and on the website. This contest has already sparked some backlash from the fan community, with fans on Tumblr concerned about giving up ownership of their work to a major media company and the lack of understanding of what fanfic and fanart is from those outside fandom. Aja Romano has an excellent roundup of these concerns over on the Daily Dot.

EW is not the first company to run a fan fiction contest. In 2012, MTV ran a fan fiction contest for Teen Wolf fans. Writers could submit entries under 3,000 words, with the winner getting a trip to the Teen Wolf writer’s room and a meet and greet with Jeff Davis, the series creator and showrunner. This contest did not receive nearly the same kind of negative response that the EW contest has. Instead, MTV was lauded for “knowing what its fans want.”

Riana Elliott, the winner of the Teen Wolf fanfiction contest with her story “Side Effects”, says that she would have entered the contest if the prize was only publication of her work “simply because there was no other fandom she’d been a part of that had ever offered such a chance before.” Elliott notes that the creators of the show were very involved with fandom during the time period of the contest, and that interaction made the show special. “There are a lot of differences between the TW contest and this one,” she says. “To start, my work was always my own, although the contest did state they could use it for about a year after I won. EW seems to strip all authorship away. Second, the TW contest was about interaction between the fans—this one seems to just want to ‘cash in’ on the success of titles like 50 Shades of Grey, which has of course become the awful face of fan fiction as a whole.”

Winning the contest actually ruined the show and the fandom for Elliott. “When I had first won, I was ecstatic,” she says. “Then, as news hit, I was getting hundreds of messages. Most were encouraging, but there was the occasional death threat and smear. Then there was the digs at my writing itself, claiming I had nothing to offer and was chosen because I was a ‘safe bet’ (that is to say, the fanfic I entered had no pairings or shipping).” She says she doesn’t regret winning and the experience led her to add a creative writing minor to her degree, but it did leave her bitter about the show and the community.

Fan fiction contests and discussions of fandom in the mainstream media aren’t inherently bad, but when companies are simply trying to cash in on fandom at the expense of fans without any understanding of the community, then we have a problem.

1 comment

  1. Truth be told, Entertainment Weekly (EW) can actually be sued if they choose the wrong fandom for their magazine and website (specific authors/artists have made it clear that they don’t approve of fan-meddling), so they are running a risk because it could turn into a very litigious process for the magazine, if their editor(s) don’t do their research and accidentally pick the wrong work for publication.

    Despite all the furor over the EW disclaimer, the reality stands that– except for under special circumstances where estates and/or companies grant permission to established authors (think Neil Gaiman writing a Sherlock Holmes story)– fan fiction does not belong and can never belong to the fan fiction writer. A fanfic writer is committing theft; make no mistake on that front. They are usurping a proven and successful product from the marketplace, often one with a major company that is backing it (TV network, publisher, or the like) and where millions of dollars have been spent. Fan fiction is where someone else holds the copyrights… so they are, and will always be, the one in the “wrong” from a legal standpoint. Some artists are more forgiving than others when it comes to indulging the fans, but even those tolerant ones are adamant about there being no profit made off their ideas without their say-so.

    As far as fandoms themselves? Oh, we’d like to think that they’re harmless and fun and just a bit of nonsense, but people can and often do get very possessive and bloodthirsty about their assumed positions of power within that world (“I have tea with so-and-so, the star of the show, every weekend” or “I’m on close terms with so-and-so’s agent”). If you stay in any fandom long enough, you will rub the wrong person the wrong way, and then their minions pop out of the woodwork to defend them, thus beginning a back-and-forth that spells doom for your fun… and your online reputation, more often than not. You, yourself, will grow tired or cross with others who write “fluff,” or repeat already-told stories, or who travel into subjects that you don’t approve of with the characters.

    Again it’s inevitable. Death threats and slander are no stranger to fandom groups– call it jealousy or resentment, label it as a power play or ignorance, but there is always going to be someone that takes offence, gathers their forces and launches online attacks against another. Then retaliation. Then the conflict continues until someone is driven out. It’s an established pattern. Fan groups, particularly those with an intense fan base, will always get ugly. It just might not happen out in the open.

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