Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Amazon Announces Kindle Worlds

In an official press release today, Amazon has announced Kindle Worlds, ushering in a new era for fan fiction. By allowing copyright holders to willingly open their worlds to exploration, fan fiction will be publishable and purchasable just like e-books on KDP are today.

If you ask me, this is a major game-changer. I’ve been a huge proponent of fan fiction ever since David Adams began dabbling in my world over a year ago. When other authors approached about the possibility of exploring the silos, I gave them full permission and even suggested they self-publish and charge for it. Even if it’s a buck, artists should be able to profit from their work. And yeah, I think fan fiction is work. It isn’t stealing any more than Shakespeare basing all of his plays on other plays or historical events was stealing. I’ve already had a post about this on my blog, which led to an interesting blog post by Brandon Carbaugh on how the best Batman works were the non-canon ones. This isn’t new. It’s just taking a new shape.

It’ll be interesting to see how much backlash this receives. John Scalzi points to the nastiest clauses on his blog. I think one of these clauses is going to be misinterpreted by many. It states that anything the fan fiction author creates now belongs to the original copyright holder. At first glance, you would think this means the original author is going to rob and take advantage of the fan fiction author. But I think it’s something else. The biggest fear with fan fiction is that the person who owns the copyright will get sued because of a perceived similarity drawn from fan fiction. This clause nips that possibility in the bud. Rather than a clause that says: “You can’t sue the copyright holder,” they wrote a clause that says: “You can’t sue the copyright holder.” It’s a valid fear neatly dispensed with. Otherwise, I think Amazon would have a difficult time getting copyright holders to sign on.

I hope this new program leads to two things. First, I hope this serves as an impetus to get more people into writing. There’s a misconception out there that the idea is the hard part and the writing is the easy part. You hear it all the time. People are reluctant to share their idea for a novel because they think someone else will steal it. The reason that fear is misplaced is because the idea is the easy part. Sitting down and hammering out the words is the chore. I didn’t understand this until I started writing. My fervent hope is that fan fiction will ease readers into becoming authors as they discover they can complete the difficult task of finishing a story. Once they do that, they can move on to create their own worlds. As I’ve said elsewhere, our competition isn’t with each other, author to author. We can’t write that fast! Our competition is all the other distractions out there, and so anything that fosters reading and writing is good for all of us. We’re in this together.

My second hope is that the legal framework will inspire established authors to dabble in fan fiction. I know I’m interested. (Please Disney, are you listening? Marvel and Star Wars. Stat!) I linked to Scalzi’s blog above. He has written a re-make in FUZZY NATION that came from a work in the creative commons. And his REDSHIRTS is a lock for the Hugo this year, precisely because it draws from another popular world (one that’s huge with WorldCon attendees). Shakespeare was mentioned earlier (how do you like that segue, John?) as well as Batman and numerous comic heroes. Great work comes from collaboration and a synthesis of ideas. Amazon could help foster this communal writing.

Of course, there will be challenges. Self-publishing is still facing some of these. But it has come a long way. The idea of fan fiction becoming profitable took a major step last year when 50 Shades of Grey was the #1 selling book by a wide margin. It started as fan fiction. That’s a literary career made because someone wanted to play around with characters they held dear. How can there be anything wrong with that? Well, for some it’ll be because money muddies everything. For others, it’ll be because Amazon is involved. And I find that sad.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Amazon. I was before I started writing. They have done much to foster reading and writing. They have given many a writer new hope to find an audience for their work and possibly a career for what they do. They have kept my wife and myself buried under swelling TBR piles. Their business plan revolves around providing cost savings to readers and higher earnings for writers while earning slimmer margins for themselves. Well, that’s if you just look at everything they’ve done. If you look at the things they have not yet done, but you fear they might do in some distant future, there’s probably plenty of reason to fear them. Based on what they’ve never done. But they might. You never know.

I think Amazon is betting that if they keep everyone happy on all sides, they’ll make a profit on sheer volume. What’s funny to me is that everyone complains Amazon is only in it to make money, and meanwhile investors stay angry at Amazon for not making more money.

I’m going to operate with my usual naiveté on this one. Not knowing what the hell I’m talking about has served me well in life. It seems to me that Amazon has witnessed the power of turning readers into writers with KDP. Now they’re looking to entice even more people into the fold. Again, if the literary world thinks the fight is amongst ourselves, we’re all doomed. Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the latest XBox. Tomorrow, Facebook will probably change its layout in a way that both pisses us off and makes it more of a time-suck. Our competition is elsewhere, people. Driving readership and writership should be our number 1 concern. It’s my concern, has been since I was an avid reader in grade school. And I think it’s Amazon’s as well.

(If you want to write your own version of this blog and include a lightsaber fight and copious amounts of sex, please send me a link. I’ll give you a dollar.)

46 replies to “Amazon Announces Kindle Worlds”

Great post, Hugh and I share your feelings. I love fanfiction and cut my writing teeth on it. I would love if some of my favorite fandoms were picked up for this program. My hope is that some of the good fanfic writers who stopped writing it will be lured back by this program. I would be thrilled to read new stories by them. My fandoms are small and obscure so I don’t think they’ll be picked up by Amazon, unfortunately.

May I post the link to this blog post in a fanfic forum where I’m a mod?

I’m on the fence about this. On one hand, it’s great. Especially for the writers of fan fiction.

But because “money muddies everything” and being a struggling indie author, my fear isn’t necessarily the stealing of ideas, but the stealing of my readers. You know, “the best Batman works were the non-canon ones.” Those are the readers fan fiction writers would target…my readers.

Someone’s gonna take what I’ve created and *gasp* make it better and earn more than the original and, and …take over! That’s a relevant fear, right? :)

Leslie,

Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds program does not give anyone permission to steal your world. It only involves worlds Amazon has contracted with specifically for this program.

I plan on participating just as soon as Amazon contracts with a world I am familiar with. I see this as a way for me to attract new readers.

I suppose. I mean, I’ve never had that fear. I would be thrilled to see a fan fiction author get her start on a Wool piece and then go on to have a bigger career than me. It would make me feel like Jon Stewart!

Leslie, I think as with all the great concepts, it is the world that trully lives on. The creator of the wolrd and those who contribute to the world`s expansion will soon bear similar roles, I think. Star Trek for example has been expanded so many times, with new plots, new crews, new ships, even alternate realities, but the concept lives on as Star Trek, even though many have left a footprint in it. The same with Wool, series. When I finished the books and found out there was more- there was fanfic, it got me plunging right into it. And it was great, and made me wanna reread the originals even more! Also if an author wants to imerse themselves into a world created by another author I think they have to realy have loved the world. And that gives a greater chance for the new story to be a worthy literary contribution to the concept. This I think will enrich the world and also benefit both authors.
And then there are times, when a reader stumbles upon a great world, and realize that this was fanfic, which means this person would now love to and also have to read the original, to see where and how it all started (and hope that the original books are long enough so you dont yet have to leave this world) :D
I think it all is starting to come down to a kind of “collective literary consciousness” and it realy is a good thing :)

John Stewart is cool…but wouldn’t you rather just feel like yourself? I get the analogy though. :)

If everyone is on board for this–including the authors who sign the contract, then I don’t see a problem. If Amazon had a right to steal a world from Stephen King or J.K. Rowling without their getting into a contract with Amazon, that would be a serious problem. Since that’s not the case, people should be able to do whatever they want, and like Hugh says–you could feel like John Stewart.

I think you’re misinterpreting that bit about the copyrights, Hugh. It doesn’t say the author of the original World gets the copyrights to the fan-fiction: it says AMAZON gets them.

Let’s say you put Wool on Kindle Worlds, and WJ Davies published The Runner as a Worlds fan-fic work. Amazon gets to set the price, Amazon gets to set the royalties, Amazon gets the rights to The Runner.

So it takes away the degree of control both you and Mr. Davies already have over your work. What does it offer in return, that your current agreement doesn’t offer already?

It’s a great idea, and I don’t doubt Amazon’s INTENTION, it’s just their execution I question. In effect, they’re inserting themselves as de facto middlemen, with regards to the rights surrounding derivative works which you (and Mr. Davies!) already possess. I hope they tweak the terms a little bit in the coming months to make it more amenable to authors and fan-fic writers.

And I REALLY hope they nix those bits about the World author being unable to choose his own royalty rate, and fan-fic writers being unable to set their own price.

I think the trade-offs in freedom will be offset by the increased visibility. What’s incredible is that yesterday, very few people thought you could charge for fan fiction. A dollar was too much. Today, why can’t they charge five bucks? That’s a cool shift in the conversation.

Yesterday, a fan fiction writer might have argued that copyright should be more flexible. We should be able to dabble. Today, that same writer might be saying, “but I own that fan fiction. It’s mine!” That’s a major shift in the conversation.

If you charge 99 cents or $1.99 for a work on KDP right now, you make 35%. It sounds like the same will be true for fan fiction. If you charge $2.99, sure it’s half the royalty as on KDP, where the number jumps up to 70%, but now we’re open to talking about fan fiction at $2.99. Crazy world all of a sudden! :)

Yeah, that’s why I said I don’t doubt Amazon’s intentions. Like you said above, they’ve been one of the strongest and most progressive voices pushing self-publishing. I would almost be tempted to lay the cause for the recent self-publishing explosion entirely at their feet, between creating a mass-marketable e-book reader and an open publishing process.

Besides offering insane visibility for these works, I wonder if Amazon will provide any editing resources or cover designs.

Of course, they’re also (I’m assuming) purchasing the rights for these various worlds on the writer’s behalf, and that’s worth something. Without their intervention, many of these franchises would scoff at the idea of letting people profit from their works. I think Hugh’s attitude is the minority when it comes to allowing writers to explore a universe he created. Who knows, with this development we may even see guys like G.R.R Martin come around.

Hell, if GRRM makes a Song of Ice and Fire KindleWorld, I’ll be on that shit in a heartbeat. I’ve never written fan-fiction before, but that would be a neat place to give it a first shot.

Actually the author owns the copyright to their new stuff, and the world owner retains the copyright to theirs. Amazon is granted exclusive license to publish the content wherever and however they choose.

What I find interesting is that the world owner can use the new elements created by the author in other works and not have to share royalties with the author.

What a compliment that would be, to have GRR Martin use elements created by you.

Excellent post. I love the idea of fanfiction for profit. The publishing paradigm is changing so fast that even I, a newbie to the process, can hardly keep up. The times they are a changing and it seems you are one of the forerunners. Keep up the excellent work, Mr. Howey. The worlds you have created have really opened some minds.

My only problem with fan fiction is the canon question. No matter how enjoyable it as on its own, if it’s not “official” I’d almost rather not read it at all. I’ve read several of the WOOL fan fics, and enjoyed them all, but there’s no way that they can all be shoehorned into the official WOOL universe.

Of course that’s not to say that the authors did anything wrong; it’s just from a readers perspective, it muddies the waters of the original stories a bit. Particularly for a series like WOOL where half the fun is trying to put the pieces together, it’s not as fun if some of the pieces don’t belong to the same puzzle.

I think readers will have to decide if it’s something they enjoy or not. Many will. Many might not.

I saw a review for SHIFT that said authors shouldn’t be allowed to write sequels because they all suck. I wanted to respond (I didn’t) that anyone who thinks that should stop reading sequels. Some people love them. :)

Exactly. No one is forcing anyone to read fanfic, but if interested readers are provided with something enjoyable and entertaining while waiting for Hugh’s next book, everyone wins.

Not knowing what the hell I’m talking about has served me well in life.

LOL! And it allows you to call it as you see it, which=awesome.

Hugh, my first thought was that Amazon got this idea from you. I wonder if they did?

They didn’t. I remember the first time I heard speculation about this, and it was very soon after David Adams put his first work on sale. Too soon after for this. The obvious impetus was 50 Shades of Grey. 1 out of every 20 books bought last year was a 50 Shades of Grey book. Amazon probably looked not just at this but the mountain of Twilight work, and then the mountain of other fan fic, and saw a part of the literary world their readers/customers might enjoy exploring further.

This is just more of the dumb luck of timing that is my life.

I wouldn’t touch this with a barge pole. The books being created under Kindle Worlds are known as “derivative works” under federal copyright law (Title 42, U.S.C.). Typically, the creation of such works is contractual in nature and does not affect the ownership of the original copyhold. For example, the copyholder of Star Trek: TOS — let’s say it’s Gene Roddenberry, because it likely is — contracts with writers to produce derivative works, in this case the traditionally published ST novels you used to see so many of in the sci-fi aisles. Kindle Worlds seems to operate in a similar fashion. Because permitting the author of a derivative work full and automatic ownership of that work can’t happen under Title 42, one’s rights to “ownership” are extremely limited to be existent. I think that this is ultimately going to cause a lot of headaches all around because people don’t understand the nuances of copyright law.

What sort of headaches do you foresee? If you have the time, I’d love to hear a few examples.

My understanding of for-hire franchise writing is that it doesn’t pay very well. Often a one-time payment in the thousands or tens of thousands. The book could sell a million copies, and the for-hire author gets nothing beyond their initial payment. With this, you could write a bestseller and support yourself. Unless I’m missing something.

Sure, Hugh. I’ll give you a couple of examples of possible kerfuffles:

1. Writers’ works get pulled because readers kvetch about them being “not entertaining enough.” There’s absolutely nothing the writer can do about this.

2. Sales are predicated on a percentage, not a flat rate. One could make the argument that for most writers, this is going to be a numbers game; the more you produce, the more likely you are to make bank. There could be a lot of disappointed writers.

3. These books are going to have to be vetted by a legal team with a comprehensive knowledge of copyright law (and derivative works). And an editorial team. As many people pointed out, this is *not* self-publishing. Amazon could likely be signing on for one massive headache if it has inadequate staff. Books could get backlogged for months.

4. The hue and cry of writers whose books just don’t make the cut. And they will be legion. Amazon and Kindle Worlds ends up with egg all over their (virtual) faces.

Those are just some that I can think of right off the top of my head. I’m sure other issues will arise as this program evolves.

1. The original works? Would this be possible? If the fan fiction works, why would bad reviews lead to removal? Maybe I’m missing something.

2. You mean that royalties are based on 35% of each sale? KDP works the same way. And yeah, the more you produce, the more you make. It’s the same in all publishing.

3. Valid point. It’ll be interesting to see how much vetting is done, and how much is allowed and pulled after the fact. Right now, people publish illegal works, and Amazon pulls them as they are found or reported. It’s an imperfect system, but the only way sorted thus far. Should be the same challenges here.

4. I’d be surprised if more people complain about their fan fiction not selling than their self and traditionally published works not selling! :)

And I’m sure your’e right. I think the issues that might pop up are those we can’t foresee. I also think some great work will be produced, some writers will shine and discover a new love, and some readers will curl up and find joy.

I’m going to guess that Amazon and a host of lawyers from many disciplines have spent many hours thinking through these issues and more. They may have discounted them, they may have mitigation strategies, they may even just plan to throwing at the wall and see what sticks. But as Hugh said, the real kicker will be the things that pop up even all the time spent trying to think of every eventuality. But the big ones … I suspect this isn’t the first time they’ve been considered.

I would love to see an author with a huge popular world in place do what Amazon is doing. Hire out other writers to write fan fiction in their worlds.

Then new authors and old author split profit 50/50 of the new work. 50% of the 70%…So 35% each. Just like Amazon is offering.

It would be a great way for new authors to make some money and to gain readers and a great way for the original author to capitalize on a world that they already created and has become popular.

The complaint against Amazon is another version of scarcity mindset – that there is only so much out there to snag. Therefore, get all you can, can all you get, and poison the rest. That’s not a beneficent philosophy. Better is the abundance mindset – there’s more than enough to go around. Seven billion people haven’t read my books, I think there’s a market…even for fan fiction.

Thank you for such a positive take on sharing ideas and writing competition!

We don’t have to compete against each other. Writing something that people want to read is good for all writers because once a reader is on a roll they’ll start looking for their next ‘fix.’

I really enjoyed your article. Thanks!

I have a great idea for a book about a little girl name Olive Twist.

For god sake be original. They say there are only seven or eight stories in the world and we keep telling them again and again. Was the movie “Hidden Planet” based on Shakespears “The Tempest”? Looks like it, but in its own way very original.

Once saw a movie based on “Rebecca” and “Jane Eyre” what a disasaster. Should never have been conceived.

If it means taking something and making it better go for it. Shakespeare was no idiot and look what he left us, the amount of work is staggering.

What work inspired “Wool”?

Hugh,

Great post. You’re absolutely right on all counts.

EVERYTHING IS FAN FICTION. Michael Crichton wrote Sphere as a variation on Forbidden Planet. What is Jurassic Park but a remake of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World? Sure, he extended and elaborated far beyond those works, but they were the inspiration, and they were inspired by other, earlier writers, like Jules Verne’s Journey to Mysterious Island, etc.

Inspiring the imagination is a wonderful attribute of mankind.

While I generally prefer to create my own worlds (however messed up they may be), I’ve often had some interesting ideas for spin-offs of other series, a la ‘Wicked.’ Secondary characters can make for very entertaining reads when they get a backstory. It will be interesting to see how many authors are willing to do this.

Also, great point about the IDEAS being the easy part. I have no shortage of IDEAS (I wish I could sell them to authors who somehow have writer’s block), but no idea is going to change the literary world until the computer keys get struck a few thousand times.

[…] idea, while Hugh Howey (who has come to fame through self-publishing his series Wool on Amazon) is more optimistic about it. If anyone is in a sharing mood, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments. I may come back […]

I have mixed emotions about fanfic. In some ways it’s good publicity. But I don’t think I’d like it if someone wrote erotica using my characters, for example, or had them doing things that were out of character. I’d want them to continue to be the way I created them.

As for writing fanfic, I’d rather not be constrained. I could write a novel using Robert Parker’s Spenser, but I’d rather create my own detective and make him exactly who I want him to be.

You take the good with the bad. Ninety nine out of a hundred fan-fictions that use your characters in ways not intended might be awful — but what about that one that’s an IMPROVEMENT on your original idea?

Howdy. I’m responding the challenge to write a fan fiction blog post. The link is here: http://dreadfulcafe.com/mollified. Instead of giving me a dollar, please go to http://dreadfulcafe.com/iron-writer and click on the DONATE button. I belong to a collective of independent writers who believe in doing good while having fun. As part of that, we’re hosting the Iron Writer Insane-a-Thon, which is like NaNo distilled into a day and then blended with a pledge drive to benefit St. Jude’s Childrens Research Hospital. And if you donate through the Iron Writer site, you’ll be eligible for prizes.

Thanks! We appreciate it! That’s awesome. As for the light sabers and sex, I’ll see what I can do in the re-writes.

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