Good news, fanfic writers!
Well … maybe good news. Alloy Entertainment and Amazon.com are teaming up not only to encourage fan fiction writers, but to get them paid. On Wednesday, Amazon announced Kindle Worlds, which will publish derivative works from fanfic authors and pay those authors a percentage of sales. (Fanfic writers will receive 35% of sales for stories of 10,000 words or more,
and 20% for shorter stories between 5,000 and 10,000 words.)
Thus far, Amazon has licensed “Gossip Girl,” “The Vampire Diaries,” and “Pretty Little Liars” from Alloy. They do have some guidelines — for example, no NC-17 stories, no excessive use of brand names, and no “offensive content,” whatever that means. Additionally, Kindle Worlds and Alloy may retain ownership of any original characters or concepts in your stories.
That last clause is likely there to protect Alloy (and the writers and producers of their ongoing series), not to screw the fan fiction writers. For a long time, executive producers have been urged not to read fan fiction (or even spec scripts based on their own shows) for fear that the authors of the derivative works could claim copyright infringement should any similar concepts ultimately pop up in the shows/books.
Authors and creators of content have long had complicated relationships
with the fans who write fan fiction — fictional tales based on TV,
book, or film characters (or real people!) that already exist. “Harry
Potter” scribe J.K. Rowling took issue with some sexually explicit fan
fiction based on her characters, but generally supported more G-rated
stories about the Hogwarts crew. Meanwhile, writers like George R. R.
Martin (“Game of Thrones”) and Anne Rice (“Interview With A Vampire”)
strongly oppose fan fiction.
Then there are people like E.L.
James, who changed the names in her “Twilight” fan fiction to publish
“50 Shades of Grey,” which became the best-selling book of all time.
It should be noted that Alloy is a book packager, so the three available properties aren’t the brainchild of specific authors, but of a sort of brain trust of creative types and marketing geniuses. Alloy has a team of people who sit down and come up with plot ideas that they believe will make profitable franchises, mostly directed at young women. Then, they hire an author to write their previously outlined stories. This means that Alloy retains the creative rights to the “world” in which the books are set, because Alloy came up with it, which makes something like Kindle World a lot easier. Whether this sort of system would work with content that emerged in a more traditional way — from the mind of one writer or producer — is yet to be seen.
Kindle Worlds certainly poses some interesting questions. First of all, would you pay for fan fiction, which has always been shared by fans, for fans, for free? Is selling your fan fiction on Amazon a legitimate stepping stone into a writing career? How will fandom and fan fiction communities change now that the work could be a commodity, as opposed to a hobby?
Additionally, we have yet to see what Amazon deems “offensive content.” Will slash fan fiction writers be welcomed into the Kindle Worlds fold? Will the “Pretty Little Liars” fan fiction writers have to avoid the murders and assaults that pepper the TV show?