By now, most (if not all) of you will have heard of a series of novels starting with "50 Shades of Grey." They're usually spoken about with nervous whispers and twittering giggles or wink-wink, nudge-nudge looks because "you know what kind of books those are." (BDSM erotica, for those who don't.) The books have become a phenomenon unto themselves, as has the author.
They've been talked about on various writer sites and blogs, and discussed at length on message boards, but not necessarily for the reasons you'd think. You see 50 Shades began, not as a commercial work of fiction, but as a decidedly un-commerical work of FANfiction.
For those of you not in the know, fanfiction is what you get when fans of a particular book, movie, TV-series or whatever decide to write their own piece based in another writer/artist's universe. These are usually posted for fun, and not intended for profit as US copyright prohibits people from profiting off of others' work. Sites like Fanfiction.net, and others that focus on a particular fandom, allow anyone with an account to post stories set in established universes that may or may not involve canon characters. It's a complex set-up that could fill its own technical manual.
Now, the point of this post isn't 50 Shades of Grey, or whether or not the book should have ever been sold. Nor is it the pros and cons of being a fanfiction writer who branches into commercial writing (there are some big-name successes out there, btw). It's more basic than that.
I wrote fanfiction. I wrote in more than one fandom, with more than one screen name. I wrote for a spattering of short-lived vampire TV shows, and did some "written-to-order" Harry Potter fanfic. (seriously - never write in HP-land if you don't have a strong constitution - seriously. Yes, it requires seriously on both sides. It can be intimidating territory, with awesome pay-offs in the form of followers, but the sheer size is daunting.) There were others which I will never admit to...
When I got my agent, the fanfic disappeared from the net to the best of my ability (though no fanfiction is every "completely" gone). And yes, sadly for those who were reading them, some disappeared unfinished - for which I apologize.
I liked writing fanfiction. It's great for practice, especially with voice if you're trying to match a character to the way he/she was written by the original author. It takes the pressure of world-building off. And it's fast. I can, and did, knock off over a million posted words in one year - in one fandom, for which I received near-instant feedback... not something you get in the commercial writing world.
The biggest difference between writing a novel and writing fanfiction (which can be a novel, too) is the idea that reviews should never be responded to. With commercial writing, you aren't supposed to respond to reviews - for the good or the bad. This seems a strange idea to a lot of new writers. They want to thank those with kind words and defend their work from those who "don't get it." (Or, from those who have made legitimate mistakes by confusing characters or even authors.)
But, coming from a fanfiction background, I can tell you that the silence method is usually best. Fanfiction operates on the exact opposite system (as do many sites like Inkpop or Authonomy). It's about interaction, and writers are encouraged/expected to answer reviews. Usually this can work fine - for a while. But the problem with it is the same one that's becoming more prevalent with the rise of Amazon-self-e-publishing: It breeds flame wars.
When fanfic writers (often young or inexperienced) get upset, they have an easy outlet to vent. And if said writer is popular, they have the means to drag their supporters behind them into the fray. Those supporters often afford the fanfic writer the same allegiance as they would the original author, and they will defend said fanfic writer - viciously.
When inexperienced writers get upset, they also have this outlet, but until recently they didn't often utilize it. But now that Amazon's e-self-pub arm has turned their Kindle store into something akin to the back-catalog of Fanfiction.net (for size and lack of gatekeepers), some of these new (and shockingly some established) authors are taking their cues from the fanfiction and peer sites.
It can be a rough transition from the expectations of instant feedback and that desire to defend oneself, and honestly, some former fanfic authors never make that transition. I won't say it hurt their sales, because it doesn't, but it still creates a negative vibe in their corner of the industry, and those vibes can spread to others. Especially those coming in from fanfic and seeing their role models exhibiting the same behavior that got them flamed before they made the switch.
Okay... I'll stop rambling now.
(But in case you're wondering, this is what happens when you start a writing career. You, too, will ramble :-P )