I also want to take advantage of my little soapbox here this time to say a special thanks to the whole fan community. I've been participating in this community and writing fan fiction since my teens, and I wouldn't be anywhere near here without that experience and all the incredible people I've met thereby. I've had the privilege of working with dozens of different beta readers and serving as one myself for fellow writers, and I've learned tremendously from each and every one. Though I can't thank them individually and knew most of them only by their online names, I still want to say a heartfelt thank you to them all, and to all the amazing volunteers that I've been working with this last year on the Organization for Transformative Works.[OfTW is a nonprofit organization run by and for fans to provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and fan cultures, which started An Archive of Our Own.]
I highly recommend Novik's books by the way--Napoleonic Wars with Dragons--one of the best fantasy reads I've had in ages. (The first book in the series is His Majesty's Dragon.) Also highly, highly recommended is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which I also had recently been reading. Masterfully written, moving, fun, amazing--highly praised, it won the Pulitzer Prize. And this is what Chabon has to say on the subject of fan fiction:
"...[A]ll literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction....Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving--amateurs--we proceed, seeking out the blank places in the map that our favorite writers, in their greatness and negligence, have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers--should we be lucky enough to find any--some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff that we love: to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss."
I found that on a fascinating list of professional authors and their fan fiction policies I found referenced in the recent fan fiction kerfuffles. I'll take Chabon and Novik and Armstrong and Gaiman and Bujold and Cashore and Rowling and happily leave the other side to Gabaldon, Kerr and the others listed. (Also found in browsing, this awesome listing of classic works of pro fan fiction.)
Oh, and I recently gave up on reading David Drake's Lord of the Isles--that one is only guilty of boring me because I can't for the life of me after 150 pages find anything to distinguish it from a gazillion other fantasies or care one whit about any of the characters--why it's on the must-read list I picked up, I can't tell you.