Writers in the Secret Garden

From Learning in Large-Scale Environments

Writers in the Secret Garden

Fanfiction, Youth, and New Forms of Mentoring

By Cecilia Aragon and Katie Davis

Foreword by Casey Fiesler

An in-depth examination of the novel ways young people support and learn from each other though participation in online fanfiction communities.





An in-depth examination of the novel ways young people support and learn from each other though participation in online fanfiction communities.

Over the past twenty years, amateur fanfiction writers have published an astonishing amount of fiction in online repositories. More than 1.5 million enthusiastic fanfiction writers—primarily young people in their teens and twenties—have contributed nearly seven million stories and more than 176 million reviews to a single online site, Fanfiction.net. In this book, Cecilia Aragon and Katie Davis provide an in-depth examination of fanfiction writers and fanfiction repositories, finding that these sites are not shallow agglomerations and regurgitations of pop culture but rather online spaces for sophisticated and informal learning. Through their participation in online fanfiction communities, young people find ways to support and learn from one another.

Aragon and Davis term this novel system of interactive advice and instruction distributed mentoring, and describe its seven attributes, each of which is supported by an aspect of networked technologies: aggregation, accretion, acceleration, abundance, availability, asynchronicity, and affect. Employing an innovative combination of qualitative and quantitative analyses, they provide an in-depth ethnography, reporting on a nine-month study of three fanfiction sites, and offer a quantitative analysis of lexical diversity in the 61.5 billion words on the Fanfiction.net site. Going beyond fandom, Aragon and Davis consider how distributed mentoring could improve not only other online learning platforms but also formal writing instruction in schools.


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262537803 166 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 5 b&w illus.


Casey Fiesler.


  • Writers in the Secret Garden will be a significant book for several sets of readers. For those in fandom studies, the book provides a substantive examination of mentorship within fan fiction writing communities, merging ethnographic research with data-rich considerations of fan production. For those in the learning sciences, the book offers a bold new model for how mentorship operates in a networked community, one that. has implications far beyond our understanding of fandom as a site for informal learning. And for all, the book challenges easy dismissals of how time spent by teens online comes at the expense of more 'valuable"'forms of learning and socialization.”

    Henry Jenkins

    coauthor of By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism

  • “Work on learning outside of school has left out teaching. This crucially important book remedies that mistake with a vengeance. Aragon and Davis introduce us to a form of teaching uniquely suited to social networks: distributed mentoring.”

    James Paul Gee

    Regents' Professor, Arizona State University; author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy

  • “Charting new methodological and theoretical territory, Cecilia Aragon and Katie Davis's Writers in the Secret Garden incorporates data science, interactive visualization, and qualitative analysis to offer an unparalleled account of how mentoring takes place in online fanfiction communities. Aragon and Davis's comprehensive theory of 'distributed mentoring' is uniquely well suited for understanding how teaching and learning takes place in networked fan communities. More important, however, is the potential that this theory offers for transforming how we think about and design formal writing experiences in order to facilitate social, intellectual, and personal growth.”

    Rebecca Black

    Associate Professor of Informatics, University of California, Irvine; author of Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction