Kindle Worlds: Amazon mainstreams fanfic

Kindle Worlds: Amazon mainstreams fanfic

Characters live in our heads.

Not just characters we create, but ones we encounter when we read (or watch TV or a movie, play a game, and so on).

Imaginative people have always thought about what those characters do outside the story they’ve seen.

Some of those “shared dreamers” have written the stories down and made them available to other readers…even though the stories aren’t authorized by the rightsholders.

That’s part of what has made fanfic (“fan fiction”) complicated.

You do not have the legal right to publicly distribute stories about characters that someone else owns (especially if those characters are trademarked, but that’s not required).

However, people do it anyway.

Some rightsholders have tolerated it, even practically encouraged it within certain guidelines.

J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame has done that…no explicit sexual relations between the characters, but fanfic has been okayed by the author.

One of the biggest sites is

http://www.fanfiction.net/

It covers many, many properties, but a search for Harry Potter gave me 65,678 results just now.

Some fanfic authors put a lot of time and energy into it…for no pecuniary compensation. While not charging for something doesn’t exempt you from copyright (as some people seem to think), you are clearly more likely to draw the wrath of a rightsholder if you do get paid for it.

So, there have been a few conflicts here. One is rightsholders wanting to protect the characters. Another has been fanfic authors who may be really good, but aren’t able to financially benefit from that…which might be reducing their output.

Getting permission from a rightsholder to do an authorized work has been very complex.

Amazon, demonstrating their remarkable innovativeness, is about to change that.

I was sent a press release about it, which is now available at the official:

Kindle Worlds site

Here’s how Amazon has changed the game.

The “fanfic” here will be licensed, approved by the rightsholder.

The rightsholder will get paid by Amazon…and so will the fanfic author.

This could be extraordinarily significant.

Why does it matter so much?

Exclusive content.

Part of the information for authors reads

“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.”

Let’s lay this out a bit more.

There is a creative work (TV show, book) that has an intense fan following. The fans want more than what they can get officially.

A fan writes a new story. That fan follows the guidelines provided by the rightsholder.

The fan publishes the story through Kindle Worlds.

Other fans buy the story. The author gets a royalty…and so does the rightsholder.

The only place you can get that story is from Amazon.

Typically, Amazon’s independent publishing platforms have not involved Amazon having the exclusive license for the content*: this does.

Tie-in novels, which are authorized by a rightsholder, have been big business (think Star Trek, Star Wars, Monk, and many more).

There could definitely be a market for this. Part of that is going to depend on the licenses Amazon can negotiate. They are starting out with Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and the Vampire Diaries (all held by Warner Brothers). I think that will rapidly expand. Other e-tailers might try and set up similar programs…but very few will have the clout and willingness to spend the money on this to make it happen.

One neat thing Amazon has done is gotten established authors to write in Kindle Worlds. Barbara Freethy, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, has written a Pretty Little Liars piece, for example.

Of course, not everybody submitting stories will be that quality. That’s going to be a risk: if the stories are bad, does it damage the brand? I think not…it’s so clever that Amazon will label these as to show that they are non-canonical (not part of the official oeuvre), so I think the main universe is protected. Think of it like “plausible deniability”. ;)

Another question will be if authors will embrace it. I think they will. You can earn royalties, even on very short works. That’s a new piece of this as well: a separate (lower) royalty rate for short shorts (5,000 to 10,000 words). Authors are fans, too…they’ll want to do this without the complication of getting their agents involved (although they agents might not like that part). Sure, some people will continue to do fanfic outside this system for free…partially because they like that community feeling, and partially so they don’t have to follow the guidelines. They’ll risk legal action doing so, as they do now…and that prosecutorial attitude may increase, since there is a legal way to do it now that benefits the rightsholder.

Oh, and Amazon is going to pay the royalties monthly! That’s another attraction for writers.

Would I do this personally?

Quite possibly. As regular readers know, I have written parodies here. You don’t need permission to do that (in the USA…interestingly, that’s different in Canada, which I hypothesize is one reason we get a lot of Canadian comedians here). However, that requires that you are using your piece to point out flaws in the original, and, well, it would be nice to write something where that wasn’t the case.

I have started scripts for shows I liked at times, intending to submit them through the proper channels…but the shows always got canceled before I finished, so I started to worry if I was the cause. ;) I had a nice one started for the Planet of the Apes TV series, for example.

I’ve also written in the style of public domain (not under copyright) works…and was really pleased when a site that matches your style to famous authors’ styles did say I wrote like those authors.

This may also be a great launch platform. Somebody who writes a terrific Kindle Worlds piece may be contracted by rightsholders to write something in the actual world…contribute a novel or a script to the official series. It’s happened before (at least that a fanfic author has added to the canon), and this makes sure the work would get noticed.

This sort of thing is why you can have faith in Amazon’s future (knock virtual wood). Their future isn’t tied up in having the next best hardware…it’s in having the next best idea.

Will there be pushback? Absolutely…”Amazon is turning a labor of love into sell-out commercial hackwork”…”Why do I get paid less for 10,000 word than for 100,000 words?”…”Why do they consider what I wrote pornography?”…”Why did they do that to that character?”

However, I think for the vast majority of authors, rightsholders, and readers, this is going to be a wonderful opportunity.

What do you think? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

* The exception to indepedently published exclusivity with Amazon is when a book is part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). Amazon also makes exclusive deals with some tradpubs (traditional publishers)

Update: I just want to say, I’ve been thinking about this and talking with people about it. I think that, if I was the rightsholder for some older properties, I would jump on this. For example, people would want to write Dark Shadows or Man from U.N.C.L.E. fanfic. Thundarr the Barbarian and Thundercats also come to mind. Yes, there are or have been updates to those, but I don’t think any of them are literary revenue streams to any great extent right now. Putting them in KW (Kindle Worlds) would generate both income and interest…which might lead to more opportunities.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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26 Responses to “Kindle Worlds: Amazon mainstreams fanfic”

  1. Christer van der Meeren Says:

    Fan fiction is one thing – but here’s a tip: Do a post on fan translations. Most of The Witcher books (on which the popular video game franchise of the same name is based) are only available in Polish. Some eager fans have actually spent hours upon hours translating them to English (though not necessarily from the original Polish editions) in order to enable fans of the games (and the first books!) to enjoy the full backstory. See here:

    http://en.thewitcher.com/forum/index.php?/topic/20967-our-community-fan-translations/

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Christer!

      I’ll take a look at it. Of course, at least in the USA, publishing an unauthorized translation of a work under copyright would be infringement. A translation is considered a derivative work. I’ll be interested to see how the community approaches that aspect.

  2. cardinalrobbins Says:

    Amazon has finally entered my domain.

    I’m a professional writer, but I also have been writing “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” fanfic for the past seven years. I have built a fan following on fanfiction.net, especially with one novella which has been read by about 2,000 different readers. The messages and e-mails I have received about that ‘fic’ in particular have been extremely gratifying. It’s always good to know when your words can make someone truly feel emotions they may have been unable to express until they read your work.

    Dick Wolf has always been extremely tolerant of fan fiction, because he realizes it builds his various television brands.

    What I do NOT like with Amazon’s arrangement is that it sounds like, if you add your own characters to the current ‘world’, then they have the rights to “all original elements” in that story? NO WAY will you ever see any of MY fanfic via Kindle, because of this. I have created a character that has been extremely well-received, to the point where I’ve had requests (which I’ve denied) from other authors to be able to use that original character of mine. The very thought of Amazon laying their paws on her is sickening — the only person who could claim any rights to my originality would be Dick Wolf, because I’m basically playing in his sand box.

    This particular character is now at the forefront of a series of crime novels I’m writing, paired of course with another char, cter I’ve created. These books will either be professionally published or I’ll self-publish them in e-book format. I’m leaning more toward e-books, so I can maintain greater control.

    I’m currently writing two ‘spec’ scripts for L&O:SVU and have been in touch with their show-runner throughout the past year. He is willing to personally read my work, rather than allow it to languish in their slush pile, but the issue is that I have to have an agent first. Wolf Films is very good about following Writers Guild rules, and for that I’m grateful — having previously had a script for “Emergency!” ripped off by Jack Webb’s people when I was 14 years old. (Yes, I’ve been writing a very long time. LOL!)

    Fan fiction was recently recommended in an article I saw about screenwriting, which surprised me! It was said that ALL writers who want to do scripts for a series should first write fan fiction (and post it to fanfiction,net), because the fans will DEFINITELY tell you if you’re writing the characters out of character (OOC, in the vernacular). This can be absolutely invaluable feedback.

    I’m working *very* hard to be the first ‘fanfic author’ to get a script accepted by SVU’s show runner (executive producer). I want other writers to know, it CAN happen, that you CAN write for your favorite show as long as you have the chops for it — and can land an agent. It’s the latter that makes the process so highly difficult, but I’m thinking positive and now that the show has been renewed for a 15th season, I might yet have a chance.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, cardinalrobbins!

      Yes, what you are doing sounds like fun, and exactly what fan fiction is all about.

      This solution isn’t going to be appropriate for everyone, and I think you may be a bit of an outlier (in wanting to take characters you created for fanfic and “spin them off” for other use).

      What Amazon says specifically is this:

      “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.”

      So, while you would own the character you create, Amazon would have the license for it, which wouldn’t work in the scenario you describe.

      You could continue to do what you have been doing, and just ignore Kindle Worlds in your case. As I said, it won’t work for everyone. It’s similar to someone writing fanfic now, and then approaching a tradpub (traditional publisher) which has the rights to the original property. You don’t have to do that…you can retain the rights to your original work, and get no royalties for it. As a professional, you may have the ability to earn money from your original characters outside of Law and Order…many others might not realistically have that option, and then Kindle Worlds may be the right choice for them.

      • cardinalrobbins Says:

        Bufo, thanks for your reply, as well as clarifying some things I hadn’t focused all of my attention on. (Seriously, this is what happens when I comment on something before I’ve had my morning coffee!) I *definitely* appreciate your comments!

        I think you’re right, in that outlier is the perfectly appropriate term for my place in this. And you’re on the mark, it wouldn’t really work for me to allow Amazon to license my character(s). As a matter of fact, I checked with an established SVU writer, to see who would own the rights to my character(s) if I chose to include them in my spec script — Dick Wolf would own all rights, if they purchased my spec. So, I dropped that one and created a different character they can have. :)

        I really do hope that Kindle Worlds works out for a *lot* of fanfic writers, because fanfic has faced a GREAT deal of derision over the years, but it’s such a valuable tool for anyone who wants to sharpen their chops at writing for an audience. There should be no shame or stigma attached to it, as there has been in the past. I’ve read a lot of fanfic that’s absolutely blown my mind, it’s been so good — especially in contrast to some of the tradpub things (*cough* Twilight *cough*) that have seen print.

        At the very least, it should get people writing, just as comic books got people reading — who wouldn’t have done so under the usual circumstances.

        The uppermost question on my mind, after Amazon’s announcement: Is this a preface to them PURCHASING FanFiction.net? It *could* be. What do *you* think?

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, cardinalrobbins!

        I don’t see an upside to Amazon purchasing FanFiction.net. They just created an alternate to that which makes people money. If there was a chance they would have made that buy before, I think it’s greatly reduced by Kindle Worlds. They couldn’t take what’s on FanFiction.net and publish it in Kindle Worlds…it was written without authorization, the antithesis of Kindle Worlds.

        That’s just my thought on it, though.

        I wouldn’t want to be the people at FanFiction.net when they heard this news…it flips everything around. That doesn’t mean that lawyers will be more likely to come knocking on the door, but I think that’s one scenario.

  3. jjhitt Says:

    The ‘No Crossovers’ is going to be a big wet blanket for some folks. I’m a big fan of fiction that borrows slyly from other series.
    Such as the Anno Dracula books, or anything at all by Philip Jose Farmer. Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett also come to mind.

    • cardinalrobbins Says:

      I’m with you on that…a good crossover is a joy to read when it’s done well. Some of the best TV episodes have been crossovers, such as “Homicide: Life on the Street” with the original “Law & Order.”

      I can see why they’re saying that at the moment; perhaps they want to prevent crossovers between an entity that allows fanfic and one who does not. Maybe in the future, as more copyright holders get in on the Kindle Worlds action, this could change?

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, cardinalrobbins!

        Crossovers with public domain works will be fine. I think a big complicating factor in crossovers with Kindle Worlds properties is royalties. Let’s say someone does a crossover with Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries: does Amazon owe both of those rightsholders full royalties? If not, how do they figure out how much of the royalty each rightsholder gets? Too many fingers in the pie, I think…

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, jjhitt!

      Actually, the rules are the same as you would expect in a copyrighted work. if you look at Farmer, except for Doc Savage in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (and my guess is that part was authorized…it was first published by Doubleday, but I knew the Bantam edition, and they were publishing Doc Savage reprints at the time…I think my chronology is right), the Wold Newton stuff is generally public domain.

      Here’s what Amazon says:

      “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.”

      I added the emphasis. You could still bring Van Helsing and Dracula into The Vampire Diaries, since the original Dracula is not a copyright-protected book.

      You’d run into problems using Barnabas Collins, though, as I think they did in Anno Dracula.

      So, I guess I’d say it’s more of a damp blanket. ;)

  4. Zebras Says:

    This all sounds like fun! I’ve not read or wrote fanfic before, but this discussion makes me want to check it out. I agree with cardinalrobbins, in that it won’t be a good transition for established fanfic writers, as they wouldn’t want to give up some of the rights they have already established elsewhere, but it seems like a place to encourage a newby.

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  7. iank Says:

    I agree, this is a great idea (with a few reservations on some of the details). I’m a fan reader rather than a fan-fic writer and there is a lot of really good quality stuff and some amazing writers who never get any kind of recognition outside of a few of the hardcore (like me). This could change that.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, iank!

      Absolutely! People will read these who would never have found fanfic elsewhere.

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