The Future of Fanfiction
If you haven’t heard, Amazon released their new … something… today.
Basically, Amazon has obtained (and is in the process of obtaining more) licenses to certain works for the sole purpose of allowing writers to write and submit fan fiction AND THEN SELL IT.
There’s seem to be three reactions going around the internet right now:
1. Are you kidding?
2. This is the end of free fan works!
3. This is awesome!
I … fall into the first reaction, and completely disagree with the last two.
Commissioned “franchise” works are one thing – like the Star Wars books, etc. Authors were chosen for those projects, and given specific criteria they had to work with.
Kindle Worlds is pretty much free-for-all, as long as you use their “licensed” material, and meet probably a bare minimum standard of writing ability.
So, my “are you kidding?” reaction?
Let’s look at a few things:
If you’ve been in a college course that requires you to write essays of any kind, you’ve likely had the word “plagiarism” pounded into your head. Fan fiction is, in a sense, plagiarism. You’re taking the stories of one person, and twisting them to your own idea, but still calling it by the same title of the original.
The difference is that 1) you’re not trying to infringe on the author’s rights, and 2) you’re not making a profit from it.
I write fan fiction. Actively.
I read fan fiction. Way too actively.
I have never made a profit from it, nor will I ever seek to.
As soon as I heard about the publishing fiasco with E.L. James (aka SnowqueensIcedragon, her fan fiction pen name) and 50 Shades of Grey (aka Master of the Universe, the title of the original Twilight fan fiction), I lost all interest in the Twilight fandom. (Yes, I enjoyed Twilight. I have, however, moved on to a much better fandom – or three – since then.)
50 Shades of Grey was not the first fan fiction-to-original switcheroo, but it was the first to be picked up by a “big” publisher, and the first (only?) to hit the bestseller list.
And with it we entered a whole new era of publishing.
Where, apparently, it is now okay to take someone else’s ideas, put your own twist on them and thinly-veil the original material, and sell it.
Beyond the shady ethics of the actual writing and selling of fan fiction itself, however, let’s look at Amazon’s plans…
- 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.
Well… seems pretty good so far. And the more you read, the better it seems. The royalty rates are fantastic.
And then, you read this little line:
Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright. [emphasis mine]
This just makes me feel icky.
First off, what do they mean by new stories? Do they mean any stories you write for their “worlds”? If so, run away. Far, far away. As fast as you can. No one should be able to automatically own the rights to any works you haven’t created yet.
Also, no one should EVER be able to own ALL THE RIGHTS to your stories for the term of copyright. Do you know what the term of copyright is in the United States? The creator’s lifetime PLUS seventy years. That means if you ever wanted to pull your work down, you couldn’t.
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. [emphasis mine]
So, not only are you giving any original elements you incorporate into a story to Amazon, you’re giving them to any other Kindle Worlds authors, and to the ORIGINAL author.
And they can take your ideas and do whatever they want with them, except this time, you get no compensation.
Considering that for YOUR fan fiction, and whatever original ideas you added into it, a percentage is going back to the original author. And they can then take YOUR ideas and run with them without any further compensation. They may not even have to acknowledge it as your idea.
You better not include a character that you might want to use in another story. I don’t even want to think about that can of worms.
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.
Okay, so I’m kind of nitpicking on this one… but if you’ve never been *coughobsessedcough* with a fandom, then you are completely unaware of the MAGIC a crossover fan fic can create. There are some amazing crossover fics out there (I’ve even read a Fullmetal Alchemist/Lord of the Rings crossover that was EXCELLENT). The wording in this condition is also slightly confusing – do they mean you can’t crossover with ANY other ‘worlds’ at all, or you can only crossover their licensed ‘Worlds’?
Now, let’s move on to the next point:
This is the end of free fan works!
No, it isn’t.
Amazon, honestly, is only going to target the larger, more popular fandoms. It’s not going to go after niche fandoms (I’m probably one of a handful of people worldwide who actually LOOKS for Casshern Sins fan fiction). You can see that just by what they’ve listed already – Gossip Girls and Vampire Diaries. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to go after the Harry Potter or Twilight fandoms as well, but I think JK Rowling has a better head on her shoulders than that. Who knows what Stephenie Meyer might say.
Now, might it be the end of free fan works for the ‘Worlds’ Amazon obtains licenses for? Perhaps.
If you can get paid for what you’re writing, wouldn’t you choose that option, too? And if authors will now get royalties for fan fiction on their original works, why would they want to allow free fan fiction to continue to be posted?
Unless you’re an author like me, who looks forward to the day when I might have people writing fan fiction based on my work. Not because I want money from it, but because it means I will have succeeded in my goal – a story will have come to life for another, just as it did for me.
And, somehow, that story inspired them to write. To even think about writing.
For many people, fan fiction offers a community that is hard to find, especially in local writing groups. It is geared toward two things – the enjoyment of a story, and feedback.
Fan fiction is where I learned the craft of writing. I already knew how to create stories, but until I became active in the Lord of the Rings fandom, I had no one who could look at my writing with a critical eye.
The Lord of the Rings fandom is where I first learned of NaNoWriMo, and where I first gained the courage to even think about writing my own stories down.
I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today as a writer if it wasn’t for FREE fan fiction. For the community it offers.
That is why free fan works will never die. Especially with places like Archive of Our Own and the Organization for Transformative Works picking up the slack to preserve fan works.
Now, to the third and final reaction people are having to Kindle Worlds:
This is awesome!
Is it really? Because now fan fiction is just a quick and easy way to suddenly become a published author.
Seems like a bit of a rip-off to me.
Thoughts, comments, disagreements?
Yeah, I didn’t really think that this is a good idea but then Amazon is a juggernaut that doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks as long as they make their buck nowadays.
Meh, looks to me like they’re just crowd-sourcing tie-in fiction. Same type of work-for-hire contract, same restrictive guidelines, except they’re lowering the bar for entry and throwing open the doors for anyone who wants to write tie-ins to do so. It’s not truly fan fiction, which I don’t really think is threatened by this. The people I think ARE threatened by this are the professional writers who make their livings (or at least a substantial portion of their incomes) writing tie-in novels, who have to at least be paid a Writer’s Guild minimum wage. This looks more like a sneaky way of getting around that and hiring cheap labor to write tie-ins than anything else.
As for the panic that this is going to bring a torrent of C&Ds down on the free fanfic archives, that panic has erupted every so often since the beginning of Internet fanfic and it has yet to ever pan out in a big way, or in a way that’s managed to stick. I think the fact that the guidelines restrict everything that probably 90% of fanfic readers read fanfic FOR pretty much ensures that the fanfic community will keep on ticking.
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I woke in time to see this news break, and initially, thought it was a very bad idea. After reading a few articles, I agree with Jean Marie, I don’t think it’s going to affect fan fiction as badly as some think.
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Fan fiction has always been a guilty pleasure for me. I don’t think I would every pay for it, nor would I ever expect payment for basically playing with someone else’s idea.