Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, yesterday Amazon announced Kindle Worlds, otherwise know as authorized, paid fan fiction (sort of).
In response to one of my comments on that post, our own Joanna Cabot linked me to John Scalzi’s initial thoughts on the move. I have tons of respect for Scalzi, and I agreed with much of what he said, especially with his opinions of the contract terms (which kind of suck). I didn’t agree with quite everything, though.
In response to a comment, Scalzi expressed a reasonable concern for how the move will affect fandom communities, and to his credit, he said he wasn’t familiar enough with the community to comment intelligently (which does beg the question of why he raised it).
Unfortunately, a number of future comments continued that thread, but I don’t think there’s much to worry about there. Fan communities are a resilient bunch. They’ve survived takedown notices, shipper wars (do not put a rabid Spike/Buffy fan in a room with an equally rabid Angel/Buffy fan) and bone-headed moves by show runners (Buffy “space sex“–no, I’m not kidding and the link isn’t work safe). Don’t even get me started on what early slash writers had to put up with, where being called a “sick pervert” was about as good as it got.
Fandom will survive.
More troubling, especially in the comments to Scalzi’s article, were the licensing terms:
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.
I agree it’s troubling, but I think people are overreacting without taking the time to think it through. The prevailing opinion seems to be that if you publish a story through Kindle Worlds, you’ll be prohibited from using original characters or plot ideas in future non-fandom related works.
True to a point. If Masters of the Universe, the story Fifty Shades was based on, had been published through Kindle Worlds, I think we never would have seen Fifty Shades. From what I’ve read about it (having never read either Fifty Shades or the original fic), more than 80 percent of the fan fic was unchanged. I know of other instances where authors have subsequently published original stories heavily based on fan fics, and I think authors who are considering a move like that should think carefully before publishing through Kindle Worlds.
But it shouldn’t be a complete show stopper. Apologies for using myself as an example, but I recently reworked a fan fic into the third book in my Warlock Case Files series, and I think it shows how an author could potentially make both approaches work.
Here’s a rough synopsis on the fan fic, which was for the Forever Knight fandom:
Original character was a gender-swapped reincarnation of the ex-lover of a canon character. Reincarnated character was strongly drawn to the canon character who was a vampire and used his powers to hypnotize original character and discover who he really was. Meanwhile, a rogue vampire was killing people, and the canon characters had to find and stop him. Rogue vampire killed reincarnation. Sadness ensues.
Honest, the story was better than the summary, but those were the relevant plot points I used in my new story, which by the way is more than six times longer than the fan fic. Definitely not a Fifty Shades scenario. None of the plot points from the first story were strictly “original,” and I doubt anyone would even notice the connection unless I specifically pointed it out.
So again, fandom will survive. Even in this new paradigm, writers will be able to recycle old ideas and make them fresh. They’ll just have to be smart about it. But the good writers who become successful tend to be pretty smart, so I think it’ll all work out.
In the meantime, fan fic authors who want to make a few bucks off their creations will be able to do so.
Oh, and as for the concern that it’s a cheap way for a media franchise to get ideas? There’s little stopping them from doing it now, for free, by mining the better fan fiction archives.