"But this is my story and this is how I wanted to write it": Author's notes as a fannish claim to power in fan fiction writing

Alexandra Herzog

University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany

[0.1] Abstract—Issues of power have always been an important factor in fan fiction writing. The publishers of the source texts were long regarded as a dominant force, with fans conventionally relegated to the status of an audience largely deprived of authority, even when they produced fan fiction and thus challenged the sovereignty of interpretation original authors often preferred to keep for themselves. This essay argues that author's notes as a part of fannish paratext are an essential means of supporting the fan authors' claim to power by providing these writers with an explicit space to make their voices heard. They allow fans to express their interpretation of different models of authorship and give them the opportunity to assume a variety of author roles. Thus negotiating between a belief in the significance of the individual author, Barthes's death of the author, and newer collaborative forms of writing, fans constitute themselves as an authoritative body in regard to rights of interpreting text or writing fan fiction. Focusing on their own identity as writers, on the fannish community, and on their text and its position in the larger archive of the fandom, fans reconceptualize themselves as powerful producers, whose agency becomes obvious in the vast body of their texts. Author's notes, I claim, are thus crucial in fans assuming and exerting control and authority.

[0.2] Keywords—Author roles; Fan fiction; Negotiation of power

Herzog, Alexandra. 2012. "'But this is my story and this is how I wanted to write it': Author's Notes as a Fannish Claim to Power in Fan Fiction Writing." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 11.

1. Introduction

[1.1] "But this is my story and this is how I wanted to write it," Caazzie declares in her Author's Notes (A/Ns) at the beginning of her fan fiction story "Life Is Complicated" (2010). Deliberately constituting herself as a powerful fan author, she asserts her authority in writing "my story" how "I wanted" it to be, thus positioning herself in opposition to the television network that produces her fan fiction's source text of Supernatural (2005–). Providing a salient example of fannish agency to counter the power of a traditionally hegemonic media industry (note 1), Caazzie emphasizes her story's legitimacy as a valuable contribution to the television text it is based on by using the paratextual space A/Ns provide to make her voice heard.

[1.2] Caazzie's comments demonstrate that paratext, which Gérard Genette defined as text specifically set "between the inside and the outside, a zone without any hard and fast boundary on either the inward side (turned toward the text) or the outward side (turned toward the world's discourse about the text)" (1997, 2), has assumed an important role in the presentation of a fan fiction story to the reader: it occupies the liminal space between audience and fictional universe, and thus initiates the reading experience. Nearly every fan text is accompanied by basic categories of paratext such as story title, writer's name, or summary to supply initial information; additionally, the genre has developed a rich variety of forms not included in Genette's extensive 1997 study of non-fannish paratext. Disclaimers, ratings, and pairings—to only name the most popular paratextual categories other than A/Ns—provide to the writers an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with their readers, initiating communication by offering information, prompts for interaction, or comments on their story. Present in any fandom and any community, A/Ns have become popular paratextual thresholds that readers cross before entering the fictional universe of a fan text: they constitute a space that fans like Caazzie employ to convey their understanding of the role of the author in all its fannish interpretations, focusing on the agency entailed by inhabiting these different models of authorship.

[1.3] To demonstrate her fannish agency, therefore, Caazzie not only emphasizes her own individual interpretation in her A/Ns, but her words also evidence her clear sense and awareness of the power negotiations that have pervaded and shaped the fan community for decades: addressed to the story's readers, the paratextual comments habitual in large sections of fan fiction negotiate audience expectations and provide the writer with the opportunity to reach out to her community. Apart from confirming the genre's inherent dialogicity and the importance of a multiplicity of voices coming together in fan fiction, Caazzie asserts her own interpretive position and authorial voice by sharing "my story": she directs her readers along her own characterizations and emotional and narrative journeys, and thus exemplifies that A/Ns often fulfill nearly opposing functions. In addition to imbuing the fandom's community with power and reflecting the needs and desires of the story's audience, they also constitute the fan writer's authority over the characters, the story, and her own narrative. Negotiating this seeming contradiction and obvious tension in the fannish understanding of the role of the author, different types of A/Ns allow fans to assume a variety of author roles that they use to assert their status as firmly empowered transformers of the source text. Oscillating between intensely collaborative and firmly prescriptive, models of authorship as expressed in A/Ns therefore fulfill a specific function in fannish empowerment and constitute a major factor in fans exerting their agency, that is, in exerting both their "power…to do something in relation to the text" and their "power over some group or entity" (Ross 2008, 72; note 2). Addressed to the original producers and their own audience alike, Caazzie's and other fans' comments consequentially allow them to wield power over the source text, its creators, their fan text, and its readers.

[1.4] Based on the function of A/Ns as the "fan writer's direct communications with the audience" (Black 2008a, 28), I claim that A/Ns serve as specific paratextual instances that provide to fans a designated space where they can overtly lay claim to their power as producers. Despite their largely conventional and generic nature, A/Ns nevertheless feature a variety of testaments of fannish agency and authority in regard to both the original authors and fan readers alike. These different claims to agency, I argue, find their expression in distinctly distinguishable types of A/Ns that reflect the tension between empowerment as fan writers and disempowerment of their audience, and thus emphasize different aspects of fannish agency. Reflecting each fan's unique approach to negotiating authority with the original producers and their readers, A/Ns thus become an important vehicle for fans to voice how they conceptualize the role of the author for themselves and for their community. With their overt claims to authority focusing on the individual fan writer, the fan fiction story, the fannish audience, and the original creators, these fans do not conform to often-prevalent constructions of the fan as the weak and vulnerable Other (see, for example, Jenkins 1992). Instead, I maintain that A/Ns are essential in fans' self-empowerment as they utilize them to imbue themselves with a high degree of authority and agency by inscribing their distinctly fannish conceptions of the author into a space that is solely theirs to fill and thus dominate.

[1.5] Expanding Rebecca W. Black's findings about the purposes of A/Ns in the framework of studying the shaping of identity and interaction of individual nonnative speakers of English with their readers (2006, 2007, 2008a, 2008b), and Susan Ashley Wright's passing mention of how they can be employed in creating a distinct dichotomy between older/more experienced fan writers and younger/less experienced ones (2009, v, 110, 119), I argue that A/Ns are ultimately about authority and control—both in asserting a position of fannish power in regard to the creators of the source text and in demonstrating the influence of the writer on the reading processes of their audience. Owing a debt to Gérard Genette's extensive study of paratexts (1997), I am thus concerned with the essential importance of A/Ns in fannish negotiations of ownership and agency within the community and—symbolically—with the media industry, discussing distinct subtypes of paratextual comments that express the different approaches fans employ in constructing their role as fan author to ensure that their voices are heard.

2. The conception of A/Ns: A space for tensions and negotiations

[2.1] Just as most fannish paratext is part of the story header, A/Ns are usually set at the beginning of a fan fiction story or a chapter as introductory remarks to the audience. They deal with a basically infinite range of topics, from the writer's first cat's name (Disasterriffic Kaz 2012) to information about the story's prequels (Wynefred 2012). Often, A/Ns also appear at the chapter's or the entire work's end, directly addressing readers after they have finished the story; only very rarely are A/Ns inserted into the story proper. Providing a distinct space in which fans can articulate what issues they feel need to be negotiated, A/Ns allow fan authors to shape their individual and communal identity, and thus constitute an integral part of a fan fiction story's paratext: they liberate fan authors from adhering to any constraints in content, which other forms of paratext discussed below impose, and therefore offer a vital insight into their self-understanding as fan writers. Addressing the original author, their readers, and their community, fans employ A/Ns as a space of empowerment, all the while acknowledging their mere symbolic ownership of the published source text—the metatext—by disclaimers.

[2.2] Although I strictly limit myself to studying paratext that is deliberately labeled "Author's Notes," it is nevertheless important to contextualize A/Ns and thus note that they are accompanied by disclaimers, summaries, or other kinds of fannish commenting in almost every story header. Fan fiction has developed a wealth of different paratextual forms that serve particular functions in framing the text, and are as such essentially significant in constituting the text for its readers (see Allen 2000, 103). With a number of options for the fan writer to choose from in revealing information—including title, author, rating, central pairing(s), warnings, and a range of others—the length and level of detail of fannish headers varies to a large extent. Very often, however, several categories of paratext are included—sometimes because an archive requires them or because a fan's community expects them according to their conventions (note 3). By its specific focus, each different type of paratext is crucial in addressing the audience, and is thus imbued with a certain degree of power, as fan battles of recent years have demonstrated. Almost all paratextual forms have seen their fair share of conflict and have consequently changed, with examples testifying to the contested nature of how power is delineated abounding. Disclaimers, for instance, were devised to ensure a certain kind of protection against legal complaints; but nowadays, they have frequently become a simple formula that is often made fun of by more or less openly acknowledging that the fans do not own the metatext according to copyright and trademark restrictions: "Guess who doesn't own this? That's right, me, but I am working on kidnapping myself a pair of Winchesters," writes PissedOffEskimo (2007), specifically not mentioning Supernatural's network, The CW, or its creator, Eric Kripke, whose intellectual property she transforms by her fan fiction. Similarly, conflicts have reshaped warnings, which inform readers about possibly disturbing content such as violence or sexual practices described in the story: they commonly used to form a type of paratext separate from A/Ns, but after fan debates that centered on the offensiveness of the word "warning" itself—that is, the possible affront to the readers, which subsuming anyone's potential preferences under the label "warning" might entail—has led to avoiding the term by including its content in the category of A/Ns in some LiveJournal or Dreamwidth communities.

[2.3] In addition, tensions and layers of conflict also have a firm presence within the category of A/Ns itself and need to be kept in mind when studying them: intensely debated by fans, these controversies constitute the background for evaluating A/Ns in regard to their specific value in conveying fannish agency. The archive of in particular—excerpts from which I work with—has seen disagreements and discussions over A/Ns in recent years. Fans have argued whether they constitute chapters and thus can be uploaded without new story content (which the editorial board prohibits in its guidelines); how they distract from reading, especially when inserted into the story proper; and what is their appropriate length (see, for example, DamnBlackHeart's 2010 post at a forum titled "Annoying Author's Notes"). Moreover, debates about content have resurfaced, with fans divided over whether A/Ns should be "short and to the point" (AhmoseInarus 2010) or "longwinded" (BonesBird 2010).

[2.4] These intense battles waged about A/Ns testify to their essential importance for the fannish community, which is supported by their very positioning at the beginning or the end of a story: the majority of them strikingly frame the text, providing a distinct entryway for the reader and enacting a "chief function" which is "to ensure that the text is read properly" (Genette 1997, 197; original emphasis). Extending Genette's claim, I argue that fans not only use their A/Ns to enforce on their audience that very pre-Barthesian concept of the author as the creator of "proper" meaning, but also assume several authorial positions in their paratext that include but are not limited to the "Author-God" (Barthes 1977, 146): on the one hand, they emphasize their fannish agency by both declaring the tyranny of the original author ended and displaying the collaborative ethos of the community that collectively creates fan fiction; on the other hand, they display their own version of authorial tyranny by trying to dictate to the readers how "the text is read properly" (Genette 1997, 197; original emphasis). Choosing to express their own understanding of the role of the author in their A/Ns, fans therefore distinctly use them to negotiate these widely different models of authorship—each of which becomes a source of fannish power as evidenced by different types of A/Ns.

[2.5] Oscillating between these roles, A/Ns thus open up a field of discussion about the approach to the figure of the author in fan fiction writing. Varying fannish interpretations provide a more nuanced perspective than simply recognizing the genre of fan fiction as the ultimate manifestation of Barthes's "birth of the reader…at the cost of the death of the Author" (1977, 148). With Barthes, the figure of the original author lost its central position as the provider of a single theological meaning and was replaced by the "plurality of voices of the readers, who establish a plurality of meaning" (Booth 2010, 50). The empowerment of the reader has been seen to find its expression in producing fan fiction, in actively creating and articulating the "plurality of meaning" that deconstructs the power of the author. "Unimpressed by institutional authority and expertise," says Jenkins in his 1992 Textual Poachers, "fans assert their own right to form interpretations, to offer evaluations" (18): each fannish text newly declares the author dead and thus confirms the inherent relevance of Barthes's ideas to the genre.

[2.6] Fan fiction's indebtedness to this change in thinking about the status of the author that occurred after Barthes's and Foucault's seminal essays of the late 1960s, which relegated the author to a mere "functional principle" (Foucault 1979, 159), becomes apparent in A/Ns that expressly disavow the authorial rights of the metatext's creators: ideas of "fixing all" (ShadowPast620 2011). The original producers did wrong, or "rewriting Season 6 [of Supernatural] in a way that I think will be interesting" (ourlastsummr 2011) feature prominently in many fans' paratext and confirm the continuous significance a Barthesian deconstruction of the "Author-God" (1977, 146) has within fan fiction. These writers' comments refer to the genre's most fundamental assumption of the empowered audience, expressing its agency by dismissing established hierarchies that value the original text and its creator disproportionally.

[2.7] Nevertheless, A/Ns do not exclusively mirror this postmodern and poststructuralist conception of the irrelevance of the original author's intent (see Wimsatt and Beardsley 1954) and the subsequent empowerment of the reader—and, by extension, of the fan fiction writer. Despite an ongoing prevalence of Barthes's ideas in literary studies and in scholarship on fan fiction in particular, fannish authors frequently voice an approach to the figure of the author that promotes its enduring tyranny over any audience and readers' imagination (see Bennett 2005, 16–17): they attempt to actively direct the story's audience into a certain, premeditated reader position and thus to curtail the very sort of interpretive and agentive practice they themselves are engaged in while writing fan fiction. Their A/Ns reflect the residues of an older, very prevalent notion of a Western "apotheosis of authorship" (Jaszi and Woodmansee 1994, 3) that attributes an immense power and authority to the author and conversely leaves little agency to the reader (see Bennett 2005, 50–68; Jaszi and Woodmansee 1994). Authoritatively, these fans disclaim for their audience the right to challenge their interpretations the same way their own stories challenge the authority of the metatext. "If you don't agree with this story, then fine. Don't review," warns Dark Satirist (2010), effectively cutting off any criticism from the audience (note 4).

[2.8] Despite this intense individualism, many paratextual comments nevertheless evidence the extent to which collaboration between different fans features in the creation of stories. A/Ns that refer to the various voices that all had a share in the writing process allow the authors to construct themselves as members of a powerful community of fans, whose conventions they adhere to and whose feedback and opinions they ask for. "So much credit" (Dean's evil little hunter 2008) is given to other writers and readers, signifying the importance collaborative authorship and shared authority has assumed for fandom. Naming the individuals that provided "so much help" emphasizes the creative community behind the production of stories and stands in opposition to the Romantic ideal of the "rare genius" (Clerc 2003, 124).

[2.9] Caught within these contradictory conceptions of the author role, A/Ns therefore articulate and communicate to the audience the range of subject positions fan writers assume, providing them with the opportunity to negotiate these different approaches in a space where they are free to make their own individual voices heard. As my research shows, these differences in understanding their role as authors—as interpreters of the metatext and the fan text—have led to notably diverse types of paratextual comment, emphasizing the wide range of approaches fans take to establish themselves as powerful fan writers, as members of a legitimate interpretive community, and as producers in their own right.

[2.10] Further developing Black's study of the importance of A/Ns in teenage fan fiction writing by nonnative speakers of English, I expanded the objects of study from her small number of up to three authors (2008a). From an initial sample of about 2,000 stories in the fandoms of Supernatural, Twilight, and Star Wars on from the last six years (note 5), I singled out 250 different fans who not only used A/Ns but whose comments could be read as strong testaments of their idea of the distribution of power and authority in fan fiction writing instead of containing mere notes on story prequels or sequels, references to future developments in further chapters, and so on. When I examined these preselected authors' notes for recurrent themes, it quickly became evident that it was not only these 250 writers who used their A/Ns to declare their fannish agency; instead, they obviously employed and drew on established patterns that required no further explanation within the framework of the fan community. Even though I did not confine my research to one single fandom, as is common in research on fan fiction, and instead transcended the boundaries of specific fandoms and media types of metatexts, distinct types of A/Ns emerged across these fandoms that express the power of the fan writer, the disavowal of the rights of the metatext's creator, and the collaboration within the communities.

[2.11] My sample of fan authors thus signaled in their comments larger trends in how fans actually achieve this demonstration of fannish agency beyond individual preferences or fandom specifics, and instead evidenced the generic nature of their line of argumentation. Analyzing and categorizing these writers' A/Ns in terms of thematic topics—how the individual fan author views his or her authorial position and engages in a dialogue with his or her audience and the original producers by voicing, for instance, dissatisfaction with the metatext or the extent to which other fans had a share in producing a story—provided a much-needed extension of Black's work: A/Ns serve further functions beyond shaping the interaction between fan writer and fannish audience on the basis of often highly personal "contracts" that negotiate, for example, reasons for writing fan fiction or world views (2008a, 66–71). Based on my research, I thus claim that all these paratextual comments share one important common characteristic in constituting the authority of the fan fiction they frame. In addition, the specific issues addressed in A/Ns have led me to distinguish a number of different types of A/Ns that each contributes to fans' efforts to establish themselves as powerful writers—irrespective of whether they use this framework to engage in communal writing, declare the original author dead, or resurrect the author in attributing themselves with an authorial grab for authority.

3. A transactional space: The inherent power of A/Ns

[3.1] With fans discussing these important issues of agency in A/Ns, I thus maintain that all the different subtypes of A/Ns identified in my research share a common function as sites of empowerment, of identity-building and community-building. Regardless of their specific content, each A/N serves as a manifestation of fannish authority in providing a framework for writers to address their audience and thus negotiate between individual approaches and communally held beliefs before their readers enter into the fictional universe of their stories. Utilizing Genette's ideas, I argue that A/Ns in their very existence as an integral part of the story's extensive paratext "ensure the text's presence in the world" (1997, 1) by enabling the fan fiction's transition from its author to its audience: A/Ns function as thresholds readers need to cross before encountering the fan text. They not only occupy the liminal space between "text and off-text" (Genette 1997, 2) but also constitute a decidedly transactional space that mirrors the very mindset that gave birth to the genre of fan fiction—that is, the transfer of power from the original producers to the fan authors. This idea common to all stories is therefore as such inherent in all A/Ns: the fan author moves to take the metatext away from the original producers, claims it as his or her own, appropriates it in the form of the fan fiction story, and simultaneously turns it over to the readers. The instances of power—Who possesses it? Whom does it belong to in the first place?—are thus negotiated by the initial act of opening up the metatexts for interpretation by its fan fiction–producing audience, and find their expression in A/Ns that give voice to the community's fundamental disavowal of the metatexts' creators' authorial rights.

[3.2] Explicitly demonstrating these transactional moves, in which power is easily transferred from the producers to the fan authors and their community, fsquiggles introduces her Twilight story "Bella with a Secret" (2011) by announcing, "So someone on my blog asked me to write Twilight how I thought the plot and stuff should have been written. So hereee [sic] goes." Not even including the producers in her claim of authority over both her own story and the metatext of Twilight, she focuses on how the community has reached out to her and requested her expert opinion on how she as an individual would have done Twilight differently if she had been the books' original author Stephenie Meyer. Here, fssquiggles presents herself as a member of a larger community that sees no problem in affirming its ownership and agency over multimillion-dollar franchise original texts, but instead asserts its authority in claiming to write a story as it "should" have been written. Meyer's text is thus quickly relegated to a reference work that one might consult for character names and general ideas instead of being considered a bible that needs to be treated with reverence and awe and would conventionally represent the only valid text. Even more openly disregarding of the original authors is PissedOffEskimo, who describes her approach to writing Supernatural fan fiction by saying, "There's what Kripke wrote, there's what the boys say, then there's what I hear" (2007). Acknowledging the show's creator Eric Kripke and the aired television text, she nevertheless transfers the interpretational sovereignty from the creator and traditional media outlet to herself as a fan writer, ascending to a position of power and legitimizing her interpretation of the metatext by focusing on her individual reception and dismissing any residues of the original producers' intents (note 6).

[3.3] Thus shifting priorities from the metatext and its producers to the fan text and its community, fannish paratext goes beyond ensuring a "better reception of the text and a more pertinent reading of it" (Genette 1997, 2) by communicating "what I hear," that is, a fan author's own interpretation, to the readers. Moreover, A/Ns—in a seeming contradiction—actually confirm the whole genre's existence by the fundamental disempowering of the metatext's producers: all A/Ns are based on the very basic fannish premise that a community of readers assumes the power to devalue the metatext in disavowing the trueness/correctness of the original author's "plot and stuff." Writing fan fiction because of their "immense disappointment" (Ao Redd 2009) with the text they consider themselves fans of thus reaffirms Barthes's elimination of the central figure of the author. "We, the fans," writes hazel-3017 in her profile at, "make our own version of our favourite characters, and twist and bend them to our will" (2004), which constitutes her community as the rule-providing and dominant body in the relationship between audience and producers, echoing US-American constructions of democracy that give power to the previously disenfranchised. The agency and authority "we, the fans" inscribe into A/Ns that explicitly focus on deauthorizing the metatext therefore negate, or at least modify, Genette's absolutist statement that "the paratextual element is always subordinate to 'its' text" (1997, 12). In giving space to the fans expressing their most fundamental beliefs about their fannish activities—that there is the "freedom" (paperbkryter 2010) to write what you want and to create a "New World" (amazinginvisiblegirl 2008) different from the metatext—any type of A/N either implicitly or explicitly dismisses the central position of the original authors in culture (see Barthes 1977). Through this distinct emphasis on fannish agency, A/Ns thus convey fan fiction's basic principle of transforming the metatext into a Barthesian "writerly" text that revokes the "pitiless divorce…between the producer of the text and its user" (2000, 4)—or, rather, A/Ns testify to the genre's complete reconceptualization of static, "readerly" original texts into Fiske's "insufficient," or "producerly" texts (1992, 42) that invite fans to participate in the creation of meaning through their gaps.

[3.4] In addition to providing fans with this transactional space, A/Ns permit vital insights into how the writers and their communities negotiate issues of contested authority, often disclosing contradictions between different practices fans engage in. Fannish paratext articulates no single unified, all-encompassing understanding of authority other than that explicit or implicit transfer of power I illustrated. Instead, A/Ns can be classified into a number of subcategories, with each emphasizing a different aspect of how fans approach and interpret their status as producers of authoritative fan text. In the following, I identify four larger groups of A/Ns that emphasize the person of the fan author, the fan text, the fannish community, and the formative role the writer assumes in the reception of the fan fiction by its readers. Choosing to introduce a story by a certain type of A/N, fans therefore indicate the author role they assume and inhabit for that particular fan fiction, which also opens up the room for tensions between various interpretive practices at work within the genre.

4. Subcategories of A/Ns: A reflection of fans and their understanding of the role of the author

[4.1] Allowing fans to express the specific model of authorship they approached a story with, diverse types of A/Ns have emerged over the decades. In my research that comprises texts from Supernatural, Twilight, and Star Wars, three fandoms whose metatexts stem from different media, trends have become apparent in the ways fans articulate their claims: it remains important to note that these trends definitely transcend fandom boundaries, and are not restricted to one or two of the communities. The ways fans express their agency seem to be rather pervasive, crossing from fandom to fandom instead of remaining confined to one or two subsets of the fan community, which speaks to the significance this issue of expressing power has assumed for the writers. Introducing her Star Wars story "I Miss You Daddy" (2011), FrostedPurpleIrises91, for example, employs widely recurrent patterns in her A/Ns, which are here given in their entirety to demonstrate my line of argumentation:

[4.2] It's an established fact that Grievous does have a family but virtually nothing has been said about them in the canon universe. That always bugged me and so I decided to take matters into my own hands. This little oneshot is about one of Grievous' youngest children and how she misses him while he is fighting in the Clone Wars. I wrote this as if a 5yr old would say and describe everything in this work. This was interesting to write to say the least… Please R&R and give any comments/critiques/thoughts about this. Enjoy! :D.

[4.3] Concluding with a call to her audience, FrostedPurpleIrises91 provides a long-standing dissatisfaction with the metatext as a reason for writing fan fiction, easily assumes the role of a producer, and explains her writing technique—thus directing her readers' reception: she discloses her approach to the role of the fan author in her introductory A/N, giving ample evidence of her agency as a fan fiction writer. In the following, I will go on to quote extensively from examples taken from all three fandoms to demonstrate the omnipresence of these powerful A/Ns rather than limiting myself to a specific metatext for elaborating on a distinct type of A/Ns.

[4.4] First, one large group of A/Ns indicative of the persistent prevalence of the author—and thus contradicting Barthes's fundamental assumption—is geared toward bringing the individual fan writer to the fore. In these A/Ns, the writers claim a distinct individual identity for themselves as the producers of the story, whose very self is portrayed as an essential means of creating both text and meaning. Remarking that the following fan fiction is "similar to what I've had happen" (RunWithJacobBlack 2011) or giving the audience a "a bit about me" (QuixoticQuest 2009) biographical section eliminates the traditional idea about fans as a large anonymous mass and even elevates the fan writer to a status similar to that of the original producers, whose biographies are often emphasized in interviews or other publications. By either disclosing the quasi-autobiographical content of the fan fiction or generally focusing on the person writing the story—be it their sex, age, ethnicity, or notes about how the story came to be and was approached (note 7)—the individual fans empower themselves, reinforcing ideas about the centrality of the person of the author by stressing the importance of the self and the validity of their ideas and stories. In spite of using pseudonyms, fan authors thus voluntarily leave the anonymity of the Internet and constitute themselves as legitimate writers, whose opinions and life story matter, even when their production of text does not earn them any money—which, according to some fans' statements, even provides them with superior freedom and liberty (see paperbkryter 2010).

[4.5] Infusing paratext with a sense of self and individualism is thus proof of the agency of these fans: fan fiction writing as a whole is a communal and dialogic effort, with numerous fans and stories having a share in producing the fan text, but there would not be a "we, the fans" without an "I created this" (Phee-Nyx-1244 2010). A/Ns on in particular, as Paul Booth claims by distinguishing spaces that keep a writer's words strictly separated from their reviews from Web sites that mesh them together, are "always the product of one particular author" (2010, 45–46). They are as such predominantly fit to emphasize the productive agency of one individual, which leads to A/Ns being caught between two interpretations at variance with each other: they constitute the space where fans can negotiate the idea of the empowered writer, who disavows the authorial rights of the original producer, but who also simultaneously asks the audience to consider the importance of the person of the fan author for the process of reading.

[4.6] This very process of negotiation becomes obvious in a second major category of A/Ns, ones that focus both on the individual fan and on a general disregard for the metatext and its creators. Not only are these comments used by the fan writers to emphasize their "difference from [their] predecessors" (Eliot 1975, 38) and their fellow fans but, in addition, they underline the fan authors' interpretive agency by ascribing particular value to an individual's approach to writing fan fiction. Their own ideas, their understanding of the metatext, and their interpretation of and position within the fannish textual archive (see Derecho 2006 for theorizing fan fiction as an "archontic" genre) are shown to be of essential concern for the fan authors; but so is the fan text itself, and its relation to the metatext and to other fans' texts originating from their shared fictional universe. In their paratextual comments, fans give detailed descriptions of instances where their story tries to improve on the metatext, where it closes gaps in the original story line, or where it diverges from it. In short, these comments are used to show where the fan author places the fan fiction in the textual archive of the fandom; and while emphasizing the ideas of an individual, these A/Ns nevertheless testify to fans collectively disregarding the conventionally uncontested dominance of the metatext, which here merely serves to provide ideas and a general frame of reference. Even though disclaimers time and again evidence the legal nonownership of metatext by fans and the consequential imbalance of power, A/Ns still give fan writers the chance to express a desired utopian status of a reversal of this situation and thus reflect a decidedly poststructuralist and postmodern stance that dismisses the authority of the original author as an "ideological product" (Foucault 1979, 159). Dissolving hierarchies and emphasizing the equal standing of all texts, fans locate their stories in relation to both types of text, fan-written or not: smalld1171, for instance, in a Supernatural story, provides a "short little blurb about Dean's thoughts at the end of [episode] 6x11" (2010), whereas IzzyandDesRoxSox expands on "my wonderful friend Alice's…fic 'Behind Closed Doors'" (2011) in Star Wars fandom.

[4.7] As becomes obvious in these excerpts that stress a Barthesian disempowerment of the metatext, fan authors consider not only the published text but also their fellow fans' stories to be equally important: in addition to writing fan fiction that is immediately tied to the metatext, fans frequently use another fan's text as a source for their own productions. This postmodern dissolution of hierarchies that followed the "Death of the Author" (Barthes 1977, 142–48) becomes particularly apparent when fan writers use their A/Ns to elaborate on their reasons for creating a story. Here, they explain the textual relationships between their fan text and the metatext, underlining their own fan fiction's singular value: often, a perceived lack in the metatext, for example, is stated as motivation for writing fan fiction that expands on originally aired or published instances of text, declaring these "insufficient" (Fiske 1992, 42). "Season 6? In my opinion? Suckage. MAJOR suckage" is Hatteress's explanation for writing her "Coda to [episode] 6.10" to cope with the "massive trauma ep 10 caused" her (2010). Emphasizing the importance of Supernatural's metatext as the origin of her "massive trauma"—and thus acknowledging its power over her emotional state—she nevertheless dismisses it just as easily, substituting for it a text of her own that serves to expand both her and her readers' textual archive. As Hatteress's A/Ns show, a negotiation of authority is achieved by awarding the story the same affective influence as the metatext through the fan author's elevation of its status to a legitimate alternative to the metatext: inscribed with value by her paratextual comment, her own text has the power to help her cope. The collective fannish archive consequently decenters the original author and his creation in fannish attention and awareness, evidencing the redistribution of authority that Barthes observed in declaring the author dead.

[4.8] This high status of the fan text, however, is made even more obvious when A/Ns testify to its potential of completely dismissing any cultural delineations in authority between the metatext and the fan-produced stories. As shown in the above-mentioned example by IzzyandDesRoxSox, fans consider their fellow authors' stories fully legitimate additions to the textual archive of the fandom, writing fan fiction that is based on another fan's creation that may only be loosely tied to the metatext. Whole fannish 'verses (i.e., elaborate fictional universes) are thus created through multiple stories originating from fan text, generating a many-layered and multivoiced archive that presents vivid evidence for the dissolution of hierarchies in fan fiction. The original creators are dismissed, their text stripped of its traditional authority, and both instances are substituted by the mass of fans collectively producing the textual archive, which becomes the sole basis for its further expansions. "A fanfic for a fanfic" (bellaBBblack 2011) is thus a common occurrence: A/Ns like this not only reinforce the loss of power the metatext's producers are exposed to but also emphatically testify to the collaboration and heteroglossia that is acknowledged and actively promoted within the community—often via A/Ns.

[4.9] Newer models of dialogic, collaborative authorship that involve a "dispersal…of…authority" (Bennett 2005, 101) among the wider fan community seem therefore to be just as prevalent as Barthesian or older models that focus on the genius of the individual author. In addition to the multiple layers of 'verses and the intense dialogue between writers and reviewers visible at, LiveJournal, or any other fan fiction hosting Web site, a third category of A/Ns illustrates that the fandom audience is an important factor in how fan writers demonstrate their collective power by addressing the readers directly and explicitly. These comments always focus immediately on the story's audience and often invite their response and collaboration, since in the genre of fan fiction the conventional dichotomy of writer and reader has been suspended. Michel de Certeau's declaration that readers are "far from being writers" (1984, 174) has long proven invalid, and the community's claim to power is rooted in the fact that producers are no longer physically and conceptually removed from their audience. "Readers and writers overlap," writes Anik LaChev (2005, 88); in other words, the very same people simultaneously inhabit different roles in interpreting the metatext's archive, signifying a grassroots display of the dissolution of conventionally established hierarchies.

[4.10] Against this backdrop of an integrated writer/reader identity—and evidenced by the multiple layers of text a story is based on—the genre of fan fiction therefore defines itself by intense cooperation within the community. Consequently, it is not in the least surprising to detect a high degree of community interaction in A/Ns: through them, writers reach out to their audience and vice versa, understanding fan fiction to be a dialogic genre based on the integration of a vast variety of fannish voices. Although this multivoiced nature is often highlighted in the very same comments that focus on the writer's own authorial self, this coexistence does not negate the significance of the community involved in writing, but instead discloses the different author roles power originates from. By fans working together and discussing their ideas and interpretations, a highly heteroglossic archive emerges, in which both readers' and writers' voices count. Collaboration on fan fiction is thus highly valued, which fans acknowledge in their A/Ns by appreciating their fellow writers'/readers' "ideas and opinions" (HappyKitty95 2010; story was originally posted at, but is no longer available). Moreover, the positive reception of feedback by the authors imbues the story's audience with producers' power (note 8)—an obvious confirmation of the distribution of authority from one writer to the whole fandom that confirms a Barthesian focus on the multiplicity of the reader's voices.

[4.11] In addition, this dispersal of power among a multiplicity of interactants provides to the community a degree of much-needed cohesion. Declaring the collaboration of a number of people in the creation of a work of a fan fiction, fans not only appear as a loosely connected fan base but also demonstrate to themselves—and in certain cases, to original authors, producers, or the industry—the existence of a rather tightly knit group that possesses, proves, and exerts agency (note 9). Frequently used as a space for interfannish communication, A/Ns easily attest to the essential importance of facilitating and engaging in community interaction. The audience becomes an immediate focus point: not only is the reader addressed through ubiquitous "thank you" remarks (see, for example, historylover 2010) for past reviews, beta-reading, or providing ideas; additionally, the authors very frequently provoke a more specific kind of interaction in that they directly ask for feedback or suggestions for further chapters, or generally invite their audience to discuss the texts or the metatext with them. Evidencing the heteroglossic set up of fan fiction, "tell me what you think" (chattgirl4 2009) is a common request. With these prompts taken seriously by the readers, lively online conversations consequently enable and ensure community cohesion—a prerequisite for fandom's capacity to function as a serious counteragent to the producers, because fans cease to see themselves as the stereotypical lone Other and reconceptualize themselves as part of a vast, multivoiced, and powerful community.

[4.12] While this collaborative approach to fan fiction writing seemingly contradicts the importance of the "Author-God" (Barthes 1977, 146), the "divine" individual genius, it needs to be acknowledged that both models of authorship exist in the genre. Although A/Ns celebrate the death of the author in manifold instances, with the community assuming its former power by engaging in interpretive practices that reascribe its authority to the fans and their own productions, an earlier approach to the role of the author can still be traced in a fourth group of A/Ns, whose wording appears to resurrect the Romantic ideal of the "Great Creator" (Kazimierczak 2010). These comments attribute a high degree of significance to the story's writers, who intend to play a formative role in the reception of their text (Black 2008a, 105; note 10). Not only do fan writers insist on their biographies as a valuable background for reading, or underline their individual contributions to the textual archive, they furthermore empower themselves by specifically influencing their audience's approach to their stories: they explain in detail how they want their texts to be read, including in their A/Ns specific instructions, or "Other Things You [the reader] Need to Know" (beyond-the-twilight 2010). In short, the authors grant themselves the authority to provide lines of interpretation for their audience that they fiercely refuse to accept from the metatext and its producers.

[4.13] In an "apotheosis of authorship" (Jaszi and Woodmansee 1994, 3), fan writers thus use their paratextual comments to demonstrate the power they have over their own story, its readers, and the metatext. Their A/Ns are meant to influence—or even manipulate—the reading processes of their audience, ranging from anticipating the feelings the story is supposed to evoke—"This is heartbreaking" (carryonmy-waywardson 2011; original emphasis)—to describing their conception of the characters—for instance, Supernatural's "Sam Winchester, lover of Dean, patricide, desperado" (frostygossamer 2011). Inscribing their interpretations in their A/Ns, the fan writers' own approach is meant to shape their fan fiction and its contribution to the textual archive profusely and profoundly. They emphasize their authority as authors to direct their audience with these quasi-instructions, while the very act of writing fan fiction makes it just as obvious that they refuse to give the original writers the same power over their own metatext. Thus establishing a kind of double standard by utilizing A/Ns to provide themselves with rights they simultaneously deny producers, fans portray themselves as empowered gatekeepers of their text and their interpretation of the metatext (note 11). Far from challenging the genre's dialogic setup, however, I have found that this fannish insistence on a specific reader position consequently complements other sources and expressions of agency. Finding their own stance, both writers and readers draw strength from these very tensions between models of authorship.

5. Interpreting the author in A/Ns: Fandom asserts its power

[5.1] "I'm here to reveal the true story of Twilight to you," Annabel Fate Juliet Gaisras (2011) declared, demonstrating that for her—just as for hundreds of thousands of other fan writers—the struggle for authority between producers and fans has long been decided and power does indeed lie with the latter: the fannish consensus is that "in the world of fan fiction we're free to explore a whole plethora of possibilities" (NongPradu 2010), and A/Ns give vivid evidence of the different sources fans' agency stems from. Paratextual comments confirm the fannish power to "reveal the true story" of the metatext in writing fan fiction—in engaging in an interpretive practice that dissolves the authority of the original producer and redistributes it to the community. Furthermore, A/Ns distinctly include all members of the fandom by addressing and appealing to "you"–that is, the stories' readers and coproducers, who are assigned a decisive significance in the collaboration that takes place whenever fans get together and discuss the metatext, the canon, the fanon, or a single story. On top of acknowledging these numerous voices that provide "so much help" (Mad Server 2011), A/Ns provide to the "I," the individual writers, the space to assert their power and agency by both voicing their own take on the metatext and by guiding their audience's reading processes.

[5.2] Negotiating, therefore, between a variety of available interpretations of the author, this form of paratext functions as an instance of tremendous significance in the construction of the fannish self: directed at an implicit nonfannish audience on the one hand, it allows the writers to claim power regardless of producers' ideas, possible copyright constraints, or conventional conceptions of who interpretational sovereignty belongs to; on the other hand, A/Ns directed at the fannish audience also allow the authors to draw a considerable measure of authority from attempting to direct their readers in their reception of their own story, while simultaneously using the opportunity of A/Ns to express their collective power acquired through collaboration within their communities.

[5.3] With A/Ns giving voice to these conflicting interpretations of the author role, I conclude that these fannish comments provide individual writers with power and control over both the metatext and their own fan fiction by enabling them to construct themselves in multiple ways. As a site for the writers to negotiate between their text and communal expectations, A/Ns prepare the ground for interpreting and reading the stories by guiding the focus of the audience, while giving space to fan writers to elaborate on their own conception of "poaching" (Jenkins 1992) from the metatext. In an essential way, it is this paratext that serves to liberate the fan text from the voice of the original producers and replace it with the fannish voice: with A/Ns, I posit, the community has carved a space out for itself where it dominates discourse by distinctly accentuating and empowering the individual fans and their community. These comments give fan authors the chance to demonstrate their power by publishing stories that are the interpretations of individuals, but which are nevertheless firmly grounded in communally held beliefs about metatext, fan text, and fan fiction in general.

[5.4] Inherently important to the genre as an instrument to explicitly de-emphasize the role of the metatext—in particular of its producers—A/Ns are therefore utilized to invest fan authors with their own agency and ownership by creating a means for fans to play with models of authorship, both stressing and dismissing roles as suited to their needs. Considering A/Ns as deliberate attempts to emphasize the fannish position in the relationship of producers and audience, I therefore claim that fans employ them in all their possible modes to ultimately establish their authority and control until, as Heart Torn Out says, "One day, the fangirls and I will storm Eric Kripke's house and make him give the rights to us" (2010). This fannish utopia of the ultimate concession of power is unlikely to be realized; however, it has become apparent that "we, the fans" are no longer disenfranchised, but use paratext to conceptualize ourselves in multiple ways as powerful authors.

6. Notes

1. Overthrowing traditionally accepted views of the media industry and the original authors as hegemonic instances that solely exert power and authority over the texts they distribute is one of the initial premises that launched fan studies. Henry Jenkins' seminal work Textual Poachers (1992) was written to show that fans are indeed "resistant readers" and not "simply an outgrowth of the marketing efforts" (2008, 3.3). To rework this assumption and position fans as an active audience was the goal of first-wave fan studies in the early 1990s (see Bacon-Smith 1992; Penley 1992), and media studies scholars have long been concerned with eliminating the popular understanding of fans as powerless consumers. Prejudices about fans, however, still persist in mainstream media, where they are often stereotypically presented as the Other (such as hysterical teenage female fans of the Twilight books and movies; see Carr 2008; Pinkowitz 2011). Outside an academic context, the "death of the author" (Barthes 1977, 142–48) seems to be taking place only now, with the industry starting to realize that audiences are not merely readers or viewers, but instead participate in the production of meaning (see Jenkins 1992 and 2006 for describing the framework of a "participatory culture"; see Ross 2008 for a description of TV networks' strategies of inviting viewers to participate).

2. In this essay, I use the terms power and agency as largely interchangeable, since my argument—and thus my conception of agency—foregrounds not only an idea of "power as the opportunity to do something in relation to the text" (Ross 2008, 72) but also an idea of "power over some group or entity" (Ross 2008, 72). The belief in the power of the fan as a transformer of the metatext has informed scholarship on fan fiction, which emphasizes the fans' agency and authorship expressed in the act of writing stories (see, for example, Jenkins 1992, Busse 2005)—although their direct voicing in A/Ns has not been studied so far. According to this idea of "power as an opportunity to do something," fannish power and authority constitute themselves largely in the fans' ability to transform the metatext, to use it for their own purposes—in other words, to demonstrate their agency by producing text. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the issue of power in the latter meaning of exerting "power over" someone is becoming increasingly important in fan fiction, with fans not only recognizing their importance as consumers to buy merchandise but also their influence with the metatext's creators (witness the attention fans enjoy from the producers of Supernatural). Consequentially, both of these conceptions are coded in A/Ns as statements of fannish power.

3. The Library of Moria that houses The Lord of the Rings slash stories, for example, not only requires an extensive amount of paratext but also prescribes "a real summary" and using their rating system, among numerous other obligations (2002). The LiveJournal community merlinrpf, on the other hand, demands no header besides a disclaimer, but its roughly 2,000 members nevertheless introduce their stories with title, author, pairing, warnings, summary, and so on.

4. While Dark Satirist attempts to disempower her readers by making her reluctance to engage in discussions about her story obvious, most fan authors instead position themselves firmly as members of their community, asking for feedback, thanking their readers for suggestions, and encouraging criticism both of content and writing—often with a direct call for help, if the audience feels it is needed. Nevertheless, those very same writers who engage in collaborative writing still use their A/Ns to suggest certain reading positions by describing their own conception of characters, story lines, or settings in their paratext, which once more testifies to the tensions at work within the genre.

5. I chose the fandoms of Supernatural, Star Wars, and Twilight because they are among the most popular ones on, with a large number of writers active in them on a daily basis. In addition, offers the advantage of an openly accessible archive that is immensely well-known and has few limitations for authors to register, giving me the chance to include diverse voices in my research (which was fostered by not selecting them according to any background information such as sex, nationality, or age). While most excerpts are from the years 2010 and 2011, I restricted myself to the last six years so as to not give undue representation to Star Wars (Supernatural started airing in September 2005; the first book of the Twilight series was published in October 2005).

6. Even though my essay focuses on how fans legitimize their own interpretations of the metatext by assuming different subject positions, I do not want to disclaim the power the original authors and the published text still hold over some parts of fan communities. Discussions about the meaning of the metatext abound, with fans focusing on minute details to declare that their ideas, preferred pairing, or love of certain characters is the most valid. Angua, in a 2006 essay entitled "If the Author Is Dead, Who's Updating Her Website?" at the Harry Potter fan Web site The Leaky Cauldron, argues extensively for the importance of J. K. Rowling's authority in interpreting her books, even while acknowledging that "the less J. K. Rowling says about her own intentions, the more freedom fans have in their own fan fiction, theories, and other imaginative interactions with the books."

7. The frequency of A/Ns containing the words I, me, my/mine is overwhelming. Not only have I found few instances of fans not using them in their paratext, but they generally present a contrast to they, them, their/s used as references to the original creators.

8. And, of course, in turn fan authors thus imbue themselves with power, which again testifies to the various models of authorship at work in fandom: if they express the importance and their acceptance of their audience's interpretations of their story, the writers simultaneously empower themselves as they create valued interpretations of the metatext—which they are an audience of.

9. Sharon Marie Ross, for example, reports a number of cases where fannish efforts led to TV networks picking up discontinued shows (e.g., The WB's Roswell in 2000), their success depending entirely on the communities created through Internet interaction (2008, 233–35).

10. In her case study of Nanako, a native speaker of Mandarin, Rebecca W. Black exemplified how the community of readers/reviewers responded to Nanako's use of A/Ns. With the fan author detailing her desired approach to her stories, her audience replied accordingly, commenting on specific non-American content, praising her grasp of English, and so on (2008a, 80–115; 2007, 121–32).

11. A similar case is described by Leora Hadas, who studied guidelines of fan fiction archives, concluding that by fan writers' adherence to these rules "the owners of the archive are granted a position of gatekeeping that is denied the owners of the copyright" (2009, 6.5).

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