Librarian confession time: some of the easiest and most fun readers’ advisory I do takes place outside of the library, and rarely involves books.
See, in addition to being a professional book recommender, I’m also a recreational fanfiction recommender. And if you’ve never spent time in fanfiction communities, let me tell you: fanfiction readers know what they like. I love doing fic recs because fanfic readers, more so than any other group of readers I’ve encountered, can easily describe precisely what kind of stories they’re looking for, rattling off their favorite character dynamics, their favorite ships (i.e., favorite fictional couples), and most of all, their favorite tropes. Just image the most trope-savvy romance reader you’ve ever met, then amplify that savviness by the power of millions of free stories, explicitly tailored to readers’ tastes.
While many fanfic readers are also avid book readers — after all, literary fandoms are some of the most enduring — I’ve also heard a lot of fanfic readers say that they rarely read books because they can’t find books that speak to their interests in the same ways that fanfiction does. And even though I understand where they’re coming from, hearing that hurts my librarian heart. There’s nothing wrong with preferring fanfic over books; there have definitely been times when I let my TBR shelf languish because I was so deeply immersed in fic. But just as I believe that fanfic can open up possibilities to readers who favor books, I also believe that books have more to offer than many fic-favoring readers suspect. You just have to know how to find the right books…and that’s where NoveList’s themes can help.
A lot of popular fanfiction tropes map easily onto NoveList’s romance themes, which stands to reason — fanfic is a fantastic way to watch your ships fall in love over and over again. But there are also several NoveList themes that correspond to common tropes of gen fic (in which romance is not the focus). So, whether you serve fanfic readers at your library or you are one yourself (or both!), here’s your guide to matching fanfic tropes to NoveList themes.
Check out all of NoveList’s themes in The Secret Language of Books: A Guide to Story Elements, and search for any theme with the field code TH — for example, “TH chosen family.”
Fanfic trope = NoveList theme
friends to lovers = friends to lovers (for adults) or falling for a friend (teens)
enemies to lovers = enemies to lovers (for adults) or hating to dating (teens); opposites attract or love in disguise might also come into play here.
fake dating = fake relationship. Whether in fic, romance novels, or rom-com films, we love fake relationships that become real.
teamwork or team-up fic = Assemble! or misfits united or thrown together. Who doesn’t like it when the gang gets together? In fanfic, this can happen in infinite variations; in books, we’ve called out instances of superhero team-ups (Assemble!), outsiders finding each other (Misfits united), and disparate people brought together by circumstance (Thrown together).
found family or chosen family = chosen family. Because sometimes, after the gang gets together, they stay together. (See also Misfits united, above.)
canon-divergent AU = time and again. (In fanfiction, “AU” stands for Alternate Universe.) Readers who enjoy fics that ask, “what if just one thing in my fandom’s canon was different?” might also enjoy books that explore parallel lives and game-changing choices.
celebrity or royalty AU = famous flings. In fic and in books, romance can be complicated by the glare of the spotlight.
snowed in or forced proximity fic = snowbound & stranded. Fandom’s most notorious example of this is the Canadian shack, but in both fic and romance novels, readers love seeing what happens when a couple winds up in close quarters. (Also, please keep in mind that at NoveList, we use Trapped! as a horror theme — no cozy cabins there!)
amnesia fic = unforgettable love. If you love those fics in which one person’s memory loss is used to create romantic conflict or open up romantic possibilities, you might enjoy romance novels along the same lines.
woke up married = one night to forever. Fans of fics in which impulsive nuptials lead to genuine feelings may also appreciate romance novels in which a one-time encounter turns into love-term love.
fix-it fic = fixing history (science fiction). Okay, to be fair, “Fixing history” only addresses one kind of fix-it fic — the kind where characters go back in time to change or prevent an undesirable event.
fic starring supporting characters = sidekick spotlight. This theme is specific to superhero comics in NoveList, but you can find it across all genres in fanfiction.
And let’s not forget that for many fanfic readers, tone can be as important as tropes. Luckily, NoveList uses tone appeals as well as themes.
angst = angst-filled, bittersweet, melancholy, or moody.
fluff = amusing, heartwarming, feel-good, or upbeat.
Finally, for the readers who prefer fanfic because of its depictions of diverse identities, NoveList’s diverse character appeals — culturally diverse, ability diverse, LGBTQIA diverse, and religiously diverse — make it easy to find characters with marginalized identities. You can even add the own voices appeal to find books in which the character and the author share a marginalized identity. For example, CC LGBTQIA diverse AND SC own voices will show you books about LGBTQIA characters, written by out LGBTQIA authors.
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Rebbeca Honeycutt is a Readers' Advisory Librarian at NoveList. She is currently reading I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver as well as an exciting new wave of Good Omens fanfic.