As you know, I am a huge geek. I love my fandoms. I especially love fan fiction.
There is something raw and visceral about a lot of fan fiction and I don’t just mean the horrid grammar, atrocious spelling and lack of knowledge of basic english. No, it’s the willingness to push characters and situations to their very limits. Yes technically it is copyright infringement and yes I understand the legal implications involved. Though it’s difficult to remain sanctimonious about it when so many famous authors got started in their careers by writing it. My shortlist:
- R. J. Anderson (Faery Rebels series)
- Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkosigan Saga)
- Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries)
- Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments)
- S. E. Hinton (The Outsiders)
- Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Coraline)
- Naomi Novik (Temeraire series)
- John Scalzi (Fuzzy Nation, Redshirts)
- Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Saga)
- E. L. James* (50 Shades of Grey)
Yes, you read those names right. There are many, many more where they came from. Fan fiction is like training wheels on a bike. You read or watch something that you cannot stop thinking about. Soon a story blossoms in the dark reaches of your mind and festers there. You’ve never written anything before. Never sat on that bike. Yet you can’t help but wonder where these characters might take you. So you hop on and crash a burn. No worries, we all are terrible when we first start. Therein lies the beauty of fan fiction. It’s a relatively safe place to learn the mechanics of writing outside academia. You post your story to fanfiction.net or livejournal.com or A03 and pray you get feedback. You will and a lot of it will consist of; ‘This is great. More please.’ ‘This sucks. You don’t know the characters.’ and the ubiquitous ‘Nice job.’ What really matters is that you are writing. Because only by writing will you get better.
That’s not the only reason to enjoy fan fiction. Readers love it too. It can help fandoms live long beyond their end show or last publication. It keeps interest fresh and new even when there is no longer any new content from the creators. You have only to look at the Buffy the Vampire fandom to see this miracle of fan creation at work. Currently airing or recently published works also benefit from fan fiction. Go to fanfiction.net click on TV shows and see which shows are in the top three with the most stories. Those shows have the most active fandoms across all social networks. Check Tumblr if you dare. (I am not responsible for any mental and/or emotional trauma that results.) I promise you the fandoms are massive and they love to spend money, create memes and sail their many ships.
It’s the spending money part that has caught the attention of Amazon. They posted a press release earlier today. Here is the opening paragraph:
SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–May. 22, 2013– (NASDAQ:AMZN)—Today, Amazon Publishing announces Kindle Worlds, the first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so. Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Warner Bros. Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment division for its New York Times best-selling book series Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar; Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard; and Vampire Diaries, by L.J. Smith; and plans to announce more licenses soon. Through these licenses, Kindle Worlds will allow any writer to publish authorized stories inspired by these popular Worlds and make them available for readers to purchase in the Kindle Store.
So the basic premise is, if you meet their sure to be uber strict criterion you will get your fan fiction published. Here is the catch taken directly from the Amazon website:
Kindle Worlds for Authors
Kindle Worlds is easy to use. When the Kindle Worlds Self-Service Submission Platform opens, you will be able to upload your story easily—along with a title, editorial description, and other information. Sign up to be notified when we launch the platform.
- Kindle Worlds will accept novels, novellas, and short stories inspired by the Worlds we have licensed.
- Using our Cover Creator, you will be able to design a cover for your Kindle Worlds story.
- World Licensors have provided Content Guidelines for each World, and your work must follow these Content Guidelines. We strongly encourage you to read the Content Guidelines before you commit the time and effort to write.
- Stories will be available in digital format exclusively on Amazon.com, Kindle devices, iOS, Android, and PC/Mac via our Kindle Free Reading apps. We hope to offer additional formats in the future.
- You will receive monthly royalty reports and payments for all copies sold.
Start Writing Now
Here are the details that will help you get started:
- All works accepted for Kindle Worlds will be published by Amazon Publishing.
- Amazon Publishing will pay royalties to the rights holder for the World (we call them World Licensors) and to you. Your standard royalty rate for works of at least 10,000 words will be 35% of net revenue.
- In addition, with the launch of Kindle Worlds, Amazon Publishing will pilot an experimental new program for particularly short works (between 5,000 and 10,000 words). For these short stories—typically priced under one dollar—Amazon will pay the royalties for the World Licensor and will pay authors a digital royalty of 20% of net revenue. The lower royalty for these shorter works is due to significantly higher fixed costs per digital copy (for example, credit-card fees) when prices for the entire class of content will likely be under one dollar.
- As with all titles from Amazon Publishing, Kindle Worlds will base net revenue off of customer sales price—rather than the lower industry standard of wholesale price—and royalties will be paid monthly.
- Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.
- Kindle Worlds is a creative community where Worlds grow with each new story. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.
- Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories. Most will be priced from $0.99 through $3.99.
Content Guidelines for Kindle Worlds
- Pornography: We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.
- Offensive Content: We don’t accept offensive content, including but not limited to racial slurs, excessively graphic or violent material, or excessive use of foul language.
- Illegal and Infringing Content: We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously. It is the authors’ responsibility to ensure that their content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights.
- Poor Customer Experience: We don’t accept books that provide a poor customer experience. Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art, or product descriptions. We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.
- Excessive Use of Brands: We don’t accept the excessive use of brand names or the inclusion of brand names for paid advertising or promotion.
- Crossover: No crossovers from other Worlds are permitted, meaning your work may not include elements of any copyright-protected book, movie, or other property outside of the elements of this World.
Well the first content guideline rules out about 90% of all fan fiction ever written. The second one rules out another 5-7% and oops there is number four. Looks like we are down to 100% of fan fiction currently available on any posting platform being unpublishable by their standards. They want G-rated fan fic? Are they serious? Most of those shows are PG-13 at least.
As someone who loves fan fiction I’m a bit frustrated that they want to monetize something that is free for everyone. Fandoms and fan fiction are the fan’s domain, not the CEO’s. We already buy the books and the DVDs, go to the conventions, buy the swag and give them free advertising so why are they trying to take away one of the last free things we have?
On the other hand I have read some fan fic authors that should be published. Like, yesterday. They are that good.* Do I think they should publish their fan fiction. No. I think they are good enough, talented enough to create their own original work and create all new fandoms for us to run after with open wallets.
Do I think Amazon is in the wrong here? No, they saw a legitimate way to monetize something that millions of people are getting for free at the moment and also bring great writers to the public’s attention.
Do I have reservations? Absolutely. There are a myriad problems that could and will crop up once the platform goes live. I expect it to crash repeatedly and be so backlogged they shut it down. Then there is the creative side of things to consider. Who protects the author and their rights? 35% royalties sound nice until you stop to consider that this is on the NET profit of the story. So all Amazon’s bills have to be paid and the author then gets 35% of what is left over. I can tell you it’s not always very much. I get maybe $1.00 per book that retails for $8.50.
As an author is it worth it? That’s up to you the author, but I would be very diligent about reading the fine print. Just remember what Amazon put in their press release:
This announcement contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Actual results may differ significantly from management’s expectations. (Italics mine.) These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that include, among others, risks related to competition, management of growth, new products, services and technologies, potential fluctuations in operating results, international expansion, outcomes of legal proceedings and claims, fulfillment and data center optimization, seasonality, commercial agreements, acquisitions and strategic transactions, foreign exchange rates, system interruption, inventory, government regulation and taxation, payments and fraud. More information about factors that potentially could affect Amazon.com’s financial results is included in Amazon.com’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and subsequent filings.
Now, I’m going to go read some Supernatural Destiel smut while it’s still free.
- Amazon launches Kindle Worlds publishing platform for fan fiction, will pay royalties to writers and rights holders (engadget.com)
- Amazon Debuts Licensed Publishing Program for Fan Fiction (nichweav.wordpress.com)
- The Future of Fanfiction (blackanddarknight.wordpress.com)
*EL James is on my shit list too, fyi.