The salacious novel 50 Shades of Grey is taking the world by storm, but other than creating the so called “mommy porn” revolution, this is a story of the triumph of citizen media. What you may not know is that 50 Shades of Grey actually started as a fan fiction project by a former television executive.
Fan fiction is a trend that was born of the Internet. Because of the free and ubiquitous nature of the net, anyone can write stories and get them distributed worldwide to an audience of millions. Fan fiction is simply when rabid fans of a particular story, often sci-fi and fantasy genres, write their own story surrounding the characters and universe of the original story. Internet sites are loaded with stories from Star Trek and Star Wars to Harry Potter and Twilight among others. Some are written relatively well, others not so much. 50 Shades of Grey was a Twilight fan fiction story called Master of the Universe from Erika Leonard, writing under a pen name at the time. The story was very popular and eventually Leonard reworked the story with original characters and an original setting. The rest is history.
It’s also a great example of the democratization of fiction. Becoming a published author used to be one of those audacious goals people had that was very difficult to make happen. Now, who needs to be a traditional author anymore? What’s your publisher going to do, get you into bookstores? How may bookstores are still in existence these days? Everyone has open access to the Kindle market now, so in effect, we are all published authors anytime we want to be.
Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone is reading your stuff however, so I shouldn’t poo poo traditional publishing too much. Traditional publishers will give you promotion, advertising and maybe a shot on tv if you’re really lucky. I have known authors recently signed to traditional deals, however, that got squat from their publishers, so that’s not a golden ticket either.
The key in all this is the distribution. What publishers use to get authors was access to the distribution channel, namely bookstores. Now that channel is rapidly changing and going online. As it goes online it is also opening up to people other than big publishers. The same is true for television and radio. The distribution channel used to be tied up by big broadcasting companies. Who can gain you access to those channels are kingmakers in a sense. Now, Podcasting and YouTube have given the channel to the public. It’s the democratization of media as driven by the democratization of distribution channels. Say that 50 times fast! Ha.