Recently, Amazon made an announcement that they’re going into the business of publishing fanfiction. Through the new Kindle Worlds platform, Amazon will accept novels, novellas, and short stories based on movies, TV shows, comics, books, music, and games that Amazon has managed to secure the licenses for. At the moment, Amazon has only announced three licenses: Alloy Entertainment’s Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries. After making this announcement, the Internet preceded to go absolutely bonkers. There are a lot of people who are excited about this, but there are also those who are very worried this could be used to exploit unknown yet eager authors.
For starters, let’s look at the terms as they’ve been defined up to this point. All content submitted to Kindle Worlds must meet the general content guidelines. Some of these are no crossovers, so even if Amazon licenses both Buffy and Firefly, you can’t write a story where the Serenity time-travels to the past and meets up with the Sunnydale Scoobies. Also no pornography, so all those Sam/Dean Supernatural slash-fics floating around are disqualified (and obviously if you’ve got a story where Sam and Dean meet up with Kirk and Spock for some hot four-way action, it’s doubly-disqualified). There’s also no offensive content, but that will probably vary depending on the given world—a Friday the 13th story would likely have more leeway with graphic descriptions of characters being murdered than a Twilight story (don’t pretend you weren’t thinking it). Also, works that provide a poor customer experience, meaning poor formatting, misleading titles/cover art, or product descriptions, so be upfront about what’s in the story and make sure you make it as professional as possible. And then the usual stuff, like no illegal or infringing content and no excessive use of brands.
The licensors will also have their own set of guidelines for each property, which will have to be adhered to. So if Marvel Comics says every Spider-Man story needs to use the status quo of The Superior Spider-Man, then you’d better be prepared to write stories where Doc Ock is in Peter Parker’s body. You also agree to grant Amazon Publishing and the licensor the right to use to all content you create for the Worlds. In return, you get 35% of the royalties for works over 10,000 words and 20% of the royalties for works between 5,000-10,000 words. Works will generally be priced between $0.99-3.99.
This wording worries some people, and it’s not hard to see why. Say you create a villain for a 10,000 word story about Batman, and then someone at DC Comics decides to include that character in the comic, which then leads to the character appearing in the next Arkham game and the headlining villain in the Batman reboot film. Outside of the royalties for your story, you won’t see a single dime of that movie, comic, or game revenue. And yeah, that would really suck. But that’s also been the reality for most work-for-hire agreements for a very long time.
One way around that is the Gruenwald Rule. For the non-comic fans out there, the late, great Mark Gruenwald was a writer and editor at Marvel Comics for almost twenty years, and he had a philosophy that if you needed a character for a story, you should see if there’s an existing character you can use. Obviously in the case of properties that haven’t been around as long or had as many contributions as Marvel and DC Comics, this would be harder. But if Marvel and/or DC ends up opening their superhero universe to Kindle Worlds, you’d be better off finding an existing character to use in your superhero magnum opus.
As a writer, I’d love to be able to contribute to Kindle Worlds. I joined a fanfiction community when I was a teenager, and the feedback I got from those writers and readers really helped me to develop and improve my writing style. In fact, it was one of those writers who first encouraged me to make the leap into writing my own original fiction. I don’t have any interest in The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, or Pretty Little Liars. But Amazon has said more licenses are on the way, and as Alloy Entertainment is owned by Warner Bros, could DC Comics be far behind? I’d love a chance to write a Superman novel or novella, get paid for it, and possibly get some more exposure for my original work.
Some fanfic writers have come out against this, saying that fanfic writers only write fanfic as a way of “giving back” to the fan community and they’d be insulted at the offer of money for their labor of love. I can’t speak for others, but when I wrote fanfic, it was just because it was something fun to do and then it gave me an audience to critique my work. And if someone came along and said to me, “we want to give you money for your Batman story,” I would have crapped a brick and then promptly asked for a check. Plus, more than a few writers have taken what was originally fanfic and reworked it into an original story. Just look at Fifty Shades of Grey—that started off as Twilight fanfiction. One of my novels (I won’t say which, figure it out for yourself) began life as fanfic. Sure, there are some writers who wouldn’t want to participate, but this isn’t meant for them and they’re free to continue posting their work on websites or message boards.
Me, I’m looking forward to this development. I just hope Amazon manages to secure some properties that I actually want to write.
This article was first posted on May 28, 2013