Here’s why writing fanfiction is secretly a type of sex work

The used panty marketplace

Fanfiction is one of the coolest ways for people of all ages to express their sexuality through writing. Most fanfic is about sexual topics, bringing characters together in a franchise that the writers wouldn’t dare.

If you’re writing fanfiction, are you actually doing a form of sex work, just like an erotica writer? Let’s crack into it.

What is fanfiction?

Fanfiction is a fictional story that was written by someone who is a fan of an existing piece of media, like a TV show or movie. The fan has no rights to the characters, but write fanfic for free simply because they love it.

It might surprise you just how much fanfiction exists out there. It’s been popular for a long time starting with the Star Trek fandom. At that time, Star Trek zines featured fanfiction, much of it revolving around Kirk and Spock in a romantic relationship. Maybe space isn’t their only final frontier… 

Fanfiction can be based around anything, including books, movies, anime, TV shows, podcasts, manga, musical groups, and cartoons. The original copyright holders of these works aren’t able to sue fanfic writers because they don’t make any money from their stories. The works are fair use, so writers are able to pen stories about whatever they want.

The freedom to use characters in whatever way you please in fanfiction leads to some very unique situations. Characters you may never expect to get together do, like Rocket the Racoon and Black Widow in the Marvel Universe. You might see alternate universe fics (AU for short) where all of the characters from My Hero Academia go to Hogwarts.

Shipping culture is another huge part of fanfic. Most people who read it have characters they really enjoy reading about being in a romantic and sexual relationship together. That’s called a “ship.” Shippers will avidly read fic of their preferred pairing. 

Overall, fanfic is a way for young people to express themselves and their sexuality through a fictional lens. It’s a very fulfilling hobby for many people, and it can be a lot of fun to be recognized for something you’ve created. Personal satisfaction is one of the main parts of fanfic, because the only one most people are trying to make their story appeal to is themselves.

Where to read fanfiction

Interested in checking out some fanfiction? Here are some of the most popular sites.

Archive of Our Own (AO3)
As of right now, Archive of Our Own is the best place online to read fanfiction. They have a wide array of unique features, and their setup is much easier to use and more attractive than other options.

AO3 is a nonprofit open source repository for fanworks. It was created in 2008 by the Organization for Transformative Works. As of December 2020, it hosted seven million works in over 40,000 fandoms, and that number literally grows every day.

It’s worth noting that, in 2019, Archive of Our Own won a Hugo Award for Best Related Work. That means basically everyone on the site shares a piece of that award. It’s a cool way to bring recognition to fanfiction authors, who are the backbone of any fandom.

Of the top 100 character pairings on the site in 2014, 71 were male/male slash. In 2016, 14% of fic happened in an alternative universe, where characters from one fandom are transplanted into a different setting and context.

As of September 5, 2021, the longest story was “At the Edge of Lasg’len” at 5,279,254 words and 298 chapters in the Lord of the Rings fandom. The most liked fic is “I am Groot,” with over 99,000 kudos. The story with the most hits (over 4.3 million as of November 2021) is “All the Young Dudes,” set in the Marauders era of the Harry Potter universe.

Fanfiction.net
If you’ve been in the fanfiction community for a long time, you probably used to read your fic on fanfiction.net. The site was started in October of 1998. It now has over 12 million registered users and hosts stories in 40 languages.

Fanfiction about real life people was outlawed on the site in 2003, something that is very popular on other sites. This might have to do with some of the migration of fans over to alternative platforms.

FanFiction.net hosts one of the longest works of fiction ever written. Not just fanfiction...any work of fiction. “The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest” is a Super Smash Bros. fic by user AuraChannelerChris has over four million words!

Wattpad
Wattpad is another fanfiction site that’s gained traction with younger readers. The site allows real person fics, which became incredibly popular with the One Direction fandom. One of the stories published on the site was “After” by Anna Todd, which gained 10 million unique readers and was read more than one billion times. It was changed to be about a different boy band to avoid copyright issues, and when it was published, it became a New York Times bestseller.

Fanfiction is the third-largest category on Wattpad. The site also houses original fiction written by amateur authors, which is its main function. However, the administrators have embraced the rise of fanfic on the site.

One of the downsides to Wattpad is its clunky search functions. Archive of Our Own in particular has a very organized tag and search system, which makes it better for some users.

Most popular fandoms

If you’ve never read fanfiction, you might be wondering what characters people write about. We have you covered!

As of September 5, 2021, the top 10 fandoms on FanFiction.net were:

  • Harry Potter
  • Naruto
  • Twilight
  • Supernatural
  • Inuyasha
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers
  • Glee
  • Pokémon
  • Bleach
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians

As of 2021, the top 10 fandoms on Archive of Our Own were:

  • Marvel Cinematic Universe
  • Harry Potter
  • Supernatural
  • The Avengers
  • My Hero Academia
  • Star Wars
  • BTS
  • Sherlock
  • Teen Wolf
  • Haikyuu!

As you can see, Archive of Our Own tends to have more recent and trendy fanworks. But which site should you use to read your fanfic?

Who writes fanfic?

Fanfiction is most often written by women. This has been true since its inception; in 1973, 90% of Star Trek fans writing fanfiction were female. A 2020 study of Harry Potter fanfiction writers on AO3 found that, of writers who have selected their gender, 50.3% are female or femme-leaning, 13.4% are masculine or masc-leaning.

Fanfiction is also huge in the queer community. The same 2020 study of Harry Potter fanfiction writers found that 11% disclosed that they were trans, over 21% were nonbinary, genderfluid, or genderqueer, and an extra 3.9% were agender or genderless.

Fanfiction writers also appear to overwhelmingly be in their early to mid-20s. Demographics have shown that 56.7% of writers are university students and other adults, while 21.3% are 30 years or older. Teenagers are 19.8% of the audience, while 0.2% represents people of retirement age.

It’s important to note that anyone can read and write fanfiction. If you’re not in the main demographic, don’t worry!

Is writing erotic fanfiction sex work?

One thing that we haven’t brought up enough is that most fanfic is very sexually explicit. Writers want certain characters from a fandom to get together...and they want them to go all the way. There are tons of sex scenes in fanfiction, especially in slash (m/m) fics.

If writing erotica can be sex work...why not fanfiction?

This might seem a little surprising to some people. However, since we’re a site dedicated to selling used panties and other sex-related items, we started to draw the connections together.

Sex work involves doing something or creating something that brings a client sexual gratification. You might associate the words “sex work” with people who do their jobs in person, like strippers or full-service sex workers. However, it’s totally possible to do sex work remotely, as we’ve learned from the rise of OnlyFans. Therefore, if selling your photos online makes you a sex worker, why not sexual stories you post online?

We wrote an article recently about how to write and sell erotic fiction on Amazon. At the time, we considered writing original romance or erotica as sex work. In the grand scheme of things, fanfiction isn’t that different.

The main difference is the lack of money exchanged. Fanfiction authors can’t be paid for their services because of copyright restrictions. You can’t sell fanfic stories or collect royalties. However, some writers have found creative ways to make money off of their fanfiction, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

Writing sexually explicit fanfic should at least make you think about other sex workers and how your craft fits in. You could have similar issues with fans who violate your boundaries, like trying to pressure you into posting a chapter. All sex workers should band together so that their voices can be heard.

Of course, you don’t have to think of fanfic this way if you don’t want to. Fanfiction can be something that you create for yourself, then put online for other people to read. You don’t have to be writing specifically to titillate others. In fact, your stories don’t have to be sexual at all!

This is also true if you’re a young person, especially a minor. We’re not saying that minors shouldn’t write fanfic, but it definitely shouldn’t be viewed through a sex work lens.

How to make money off your fanfic

So if you can’t sell your fanfic directly to people, that means you won’t make anything off of your writing, right? While it’s mostly true that you can’t sell your fanfic, here are some ways to make some money from your newest seven-way BTS fic.

Make a Patreon
Patreon is a site that lets your fans support you monetarily for your fanfiction. Their monthly fees are considered donations, so there’s no legal copyright issue. If you’re able to build up a large following for your fanfic, you might find people who are willing to become your patrons on the site.

On your Patreon account, you’ll offer special bonus content to your Patreons. This could include exclusive deleted scenes, extra one shots (short one-chapter fanfics), livestreams where they can ask you questions, or early access to new chapters. It provides incentive for people to subscribe and makes it fun!

Unfortunately, the big fanfiction websites won’t let you post a Patreon link in your bio, because it could raise legal issues for them to make it obvious that people are finding a way to make money with their fanfic. It’s still legal, but they don’t want to push it, as some authors just don’t like fanfic. Instead, you’ll have to direct people to your website or another social media platform that prominently displays your Patreon. 

You can also showcase your Patreon on your Tumblr or other social media accounts when you post new chapters. Fans who follow you for updates will stumble upon your Patreon that way, allowing them to subscribe to you.

Sell it as original fiction
Some writers change enough elements of their fanfic to make it difficult or impossible to tell that it started out as a fan work. The most infamous example is Fifty Shades of Grey. It was based off of a Twilight fanfiction, and it’s pretty obvious. Each character has an exact parallel to the original books, which is a dead giveaway.

It’s possible to do this in a less obvious way so that people won’t know your book was based on fanfic. It often requires a substantial rewrite, but if you like the story enough and you think people would buy it, it’s worth trying.

However, it can also be difficult for some fanfics to become normal books, depending on the fandom you’re writing in. For example, a Harry Potter fic probably won’t make sense in the real world, and a superhero in the Marvel universe won’t pass as a normal guy.

If you haven’t written the fanfiction yet, one of the best ways to make a rewrite less obvious is to write an alternate universe fic. An AU fic can bring characters from any fandom to an alternate space and time. For example, if you take your Sam/Dean Supernatural fanfic and set it in World War I while they’re both soldiers without powers, you might have an easier time converting it into a commercial book.

Once you’ve rewritten your fanfic, you can try to traditionally publish it. Your success will depend on the quality of your work, but many agents will probably want to stay away from work that was previously published in some way.

Instead, consider self-publishing it on Amazon. You can make royalties with your work there. Again, we have an article about how to do that.

You can tell the fans of your fic that you’re publishing it as an original story. Some of them might want to support you, so they’ll buy the book! A lot of them might not be interested in your rewrite, but you will also draw in other fans who never knew your book was fanfic in the first place.

Promote your other projects
Writing fanfiction can be a way to gain more popularity online. If you have other hobbies or passions that you post about, you can promote them on the same social network where you promote your fanfic. You can also include them in your bio on the fanfiction site where you post your work.

You might be able to bring traffic to your YouTube channel, Twitch, OnlyFans, or original fiction. Unfortunately, unless you get a lot of attention for your fic, you might find that it doesn’t help out that much.

It’s probably not a good idea to start writing fanfiction to make money. That’s not really what it’s for. Fanfic offers a playground for writers to try new things and create sexy narratives. It’s not a very lucrative career in and of itself.

Fanfiction and sex work are more intertwined than you might have initially thought. While it’s generally unpaid, the labor of creating work that turns people on is noble and valuable. If you’re interested in writing erotica, you might be able to get some amazing feedback and attention from the fanfic community!

If you have a favorite movie or TV show, why not try writing about what happens when the characters’ clothes come off? You might be surprised at how much you like it...