I’m a bit of an anomaly in the fanfiction world. I never cut my teeth on AO3 (although I did lurk there quite a lot), and I haven’t spent much time on LiveJournal and Fanfiction.net. The Tumblr account I started only a couple of years ago hasn’t been checked in months. I do write fanfiction, though. Sherlock Holmes fanfiction to be specific. And I chose to self-publish it, which I felt precluded me from sharing it in the usual non-commercial spaces.
That “very first piece” in the title was a bit of a stretch. My entrée into fanfiction began with a one shot written hastily in the notes app on a phone that has since died, and I never backed it up, so alas, my Jealous!Sherlock fic will never see the light of day. Then there was a sprawling Omegaverse epic I abandoned but should probably revisit… I also wrote a screenplay whose main characters were loosely based on Sherlock and John (it was an internal unlikely-friends-to-lovers piece that really didn’t turn much on the Sherlock Holmes connection). None of these were full-on Sherlockian ideas, but my next project was.
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Paper Journal
The idea I ran with all the way to completion was a multi-chapter AU called Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Paper Journal. The novel is set in a near future where government-mandated networking has meshed with ubiquitous surveillance to eliminate privacy. In a world with no secrets, detective work has become scarce, and Sherlock Holmes is struggling to make his way. I started at the beginning, with Sherlock meeting John at St. Barts Hospital and wove in some of the original canon. I chose not to create a dystopian hell scape, thinking it would be too on the nose (it was the back half of 2015 when I started the project, and I had no idea the Trumpocalypse and its murder of satire and irony were imminent). I wanted the tone of the book to convey a sense of nagging apprehension that never quite lifts and sets you ill at ease. I suppose the book is me wrestling with my anxieties about social media, which I’ve written about here.
Soon into the process of writing the book, I decided I wanted to see it published. I’d always thought that plenty of the fanfiction I’d read was better executed than a lot of traditionally published fare and would have gladly paid for it if the writer chose to put it up for sale. I was genuinely surprised that one of the more popular Sherlock Holmes fics hadn’t caught the eye of an enterprising publisher. It’s the only major fandom where the characters are in the public domain, so the legal stumbling blocks to monetising fanfiction are largely absent. I confess to being naïve about how deep the stigma against fanfiction ran. I also have never bought into the narrative that fanfiction should never be monetised and that participating in the gift economy that makes up most of fanwork space should be mandatory. After all, the works in question are based on multi-million or even multi-billion dollar properties whose purpose is securing the bag, no matter what else we tell ourselves the creators’ motives are. If a fan creator can pick up some of the extra cash lying around, I say go for it.
I queried some agents and (not unsurprisingly) found no joy. A conversation with a friend led me to explore self-publishing, and I thought, why not? My research was showing that finding success on the major fanfiction platforms as a newbie took a huge amount of effort, and I supposed effort that might turn into some coin if I self-published.
I set about revising, editing and formatting the book and started to market it. It was much easier and much more difficult than I’d expected. The biggest upside has been how much more confident I am about my writing. I didn’t really press friends and family for support/reviews, so all my positive reviews are from people I’ve never met who felt no need to go out of their way to spare my feelings. I used 30 Days of Sherlock in September 2016 to write a prequel called Before Holmes Met Watson that I launched on Wattpad and Tumblr. It’s also been well received.
The biggest stumbling block in this process has ironically been my anxiety about social media. I had no presence on any of the sites except Facebook, which I’d virtually abandoned. This remains the toughest hill to climb, because even though I can see the benefits of social media clearly, I still recoil almost reflexively from it. I’m getting better at it, and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to make a big enough splash to move more books.