"I used to write it and hide it in a shoebox under my bed. Even back then, I knew it was a giant pile of shame." - Someone, whose name I cannot remember, posting on SomethingAwful's forums.
And it's true. It is a giant pile of shame that must stay hidden under the bed. Except now, you can make a small amount of cash out of it, too.
My first experience with fan fiction dates back to about 1996. The internet, at least in New Zealand, barely existed and the world was probably better for it. At the time I was a big fan of Sonic the hedgehog in all his money-spinning guises, and regularly bought the comics.
At some point the comic started featuring a dubious "Tales From Cyberspace" section. This would usually involve some guy writing about the month's Sonic-related "events" on the "web", or something, and I would read it, and could do nothing but sit and wonder.
And then one month it mentioned "extra" Sonic stories that could be found on the internet. So I fired up this internet, and had a look. Or rather, my parents had a look with me -- this being 1996, and the internet being an expensive, long-winded affair that required hours of dialling up and navigating vast empty stretches of cyberspace with nary a Jeeves to assist you.
This was also back when website addresses featured loads of ~'s and always had an .edu domain name, because only the universities could host websites (or, apparently, reams of fan fiction). I had to ask, and then watch, as they tapped in the address into the address bar and waited patiently while a giant pile of shame loaded up on the screen.
It was dutifully printed out and I found myself with 10 double-sided pages of what appeared to be some kind of Sonic the hedgehog novella. It was very boring. The thing opened with a lengthy description of some character named Bookshire, who I'd never heard of. He turned out to be a mole; a mole who was also a wizard, all shambling, stuttering urgency and enormous spectacles slipping down his face as he consulted the runes and talked mystical bollocks while I stared aghast at the page.
Sonic turned up a few paragraphs in, and I was elated, until he almost immediately fucked off and left me stranded with this Bookshire thing again.
Even then, as a 9 year old, I couldn't understand it. Why would someone write this? Why would someone think the only thing missing from Sonic the Hedgehog's comic book is a fucking magical mole-creature who shuffles around boring everybody to death? And why was I holding ten flippin' pages of this stuff in my hands?
"Tales From Cyberspace" couldn't explain it to me -- because you can't explain fan fiction. It's a giant pile of shame that should be kept hidden under the bed, and never shown to anyone, ever -- never mind selling the fucking stuff on Amazon.
So my adventures with fan fiction began and ended in 1996. I was told that, after I finish the first one, we could print another story out. Another ten pages of Bookshire. Faffing about in his hobbithole. Unspooling his tales of incomprehensible tedium. With Sonic only popping up near the start to write himself out the story altogether and abandon me to this madman.
I didn't go near the internet again until 1999.