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.)