If you’ve been keeping an eye on Kindle for any reason, or you’re a part of a writing community, or hell, you even have random conversations about Amazon, you’ve probably heard about Kindle Worlds.
The Press release is here, but the main gist of it is that Kindle Worlds will be a platform for writers to sell fan fiction. Royalty holders for each world will be paid for the work, the author of the fan fiction will get something, I assume, and Amazon will take the rest.
Now, Amazon may be clapping their hands and slapping each other on the back about how clever they are, but personally, I see Kindle Worlds becoming Kindle World War. In their press release, Amazon has obviously been very smart in to list the benefits of their new venture, benefits to the world licensor, to writers, and to readers of fan fiction. It all looks very neat and appealing the way they’ve laid it out, but what about the other side?
I am a writer who started out in fan fiction. I wrote not exclusively, but mostly within the Harry Potter universe. I am quite proud of some of those stories, and they are still available on HarryPotterFanfiction.net and Fanfiction.net and maybe other sites. I have no intention of taking them down because they may serve as a draw to my original work.
There are other authors (some bestselling) who started in fan fiction. Famously, EL James with Shades of Grey and Cassandra Clare, whose Mortal Instruments series bears striking resemblance to a Draco Malfoy trilogy she once had posted. Now, these two writers’ paths into authorship are very different to mine. While they rewrote their fan fiction into original works, I have not. I have a couple of characters that I have used within fan fiction which now reside within my original work, but the characters I use were always original characters. I created them for Fan Fiction (or for RP) and realised that the character was actually who I wanted to write about more in a different setting.
The best example here is Beck Casey, a character from my first novel Dead and Buryd. Beck originated in a Harry Potter based Play by Post Role play. It was a post-Potter role play, set after the epilogue of the final book, so while there were a couple of book canon characters around, the majority were originally created characters that we used to explore the depths of the Harry Potter universe. Beck, in this case, was the Minister of Magic. I have used him in a fan fiction that was born out of that RP, though he was a relatively minor character in it.
Now, this might seem very off point, but it is important. On Kindle Worlds, any fan fiction posted on their site then becomes available for the world licensor to use. Any original characters, plot ideas, new locations all become within the rights of the world licensor. Beck, while completely my own creation, would no longer belong to me. He would be under the rights of JK Rowling and I would never be able to use him for original fiction.
EL James and Cassandra Clare would never have been able to release their books, for while the names changed and the settings were altered for the books, the plots would belong to Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling. Now, whether you like these books is irrelevant, because this could be any book that was born out of fan fiction, of which I am sure there are more that we’ve not heard about.
This brings us on to the fact that these world licensors can use anything within the fan fiction with no further input from the author of the fan fiction. Let’s keep with Beck, because we already have that outlined. If JK Rowling chose to write another book, and my fan fiction was posted on Kindle Worlds… she could take Beck and put him in her next book. She wouldn’t even have to tell me she was doing it. I would find out when I bought the book. I would not be paid extra for my idea, I would not be thanked in the book. It would be, apart from my fan fiction, as if I never existed.
Now, obviously, this will depend on the author in question, maybe some of them will thank their fan fic authors, but that is on them.
What is also on the original author is the choice as to whether to allow fan fiction to be placed on Kindle Worlds. They have the right not to give the licence to Amazon, but where will that leave them with their fans? Say an author doesn’t want their work available because they don’t agree with Amazon’s terms, how will fans react? Suddenly, the author has left themselves open to resentment from their fan base because they won’t let them earn money on their writing. They may have no problem with fan fiction, they may even support it, but the ability to sell it might become the bench mark for whether an author appreciates their fans or not.
We already have our problems lined out if a writer takes on a fan fic original character, but what about the resentment from a fan if they don’t take them on? A fan fic sells 1,000 copies and the title character gets picked up by the author and written in to their next book… Then, what about that fan fic author who sold 10,000 copies and the author doesn’t touch it. They’ve made the author ten times the amount of money, yet there is no gold sticker of their character being used. I’m not saying it’s entirely rational, but if you’ve ever been in the Fan Fiction scene, you’ll know that it’s not always rational around there.
Another big problem that I see is that Kindle Worlds have already stated that the fan fiction must remain true to the books. Fan fiction is great for allowing newer writers to experiment and explore. I’ve seen Harry Potter fan fics where Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a professor at Hogwarts, I’ve seen AU versions of Star Wars where Anakin never went to the dark side. The experimentation and freedom to move about in that world without restrictions is one of the draws of fan fiction. – Learn to walk before you run. Fan fiction is a brilliant way of learning to walk. You control the plot and the writing while you don’t have to worry about creating a world. Kindle is saying “alright, we’ll help you walk, but you’re going to have to walk the way we want you to.”
As I’ve said, I spent most of my teenage years within the fan fiction scene. I was always on the fringes, I wasn’t ridiculously popular like some FF authors, but I was there, milling around. The reason? It was free. I didn’t have all that much money and while I was waiting for the next official book in a series to come out, or the next season of the TV show I loved, I would read fan fiction.
There are thousands upon thousands of fan fictions out there. Yes, a lot of them rate on the bad scale of the crap-o-metre, but there is enough out there to keep people in books for years. As a teenager, I loved reading (still do obviously) but I couldn’t afford new books every week. I went to the library, I took out as many books as I could, but I wanted to read more, so I read fan fiction. It didn’t matter if the story was crap because I wasn’t paying for it. I didn’t have to worry if people didn’t like my portrayal of a certain beloved character because they weren’t paying for it. If they didn’t agree, they could move on to the next fan fic and forget about it. There was no pressure to get the enjoyment of anyone but myself.
If you add payment to that, it all changes. Let’s take in to account that a large portion of these fan fiction writers are teenagers, and on these sites, things can get pretty bitchy. Add money into the equation and I can only see it getting worse. Ideas are stolen and reused a hundred times over, so will people be attacking others over money lost by stolen ideas… even though they’re working in the works of someone else? Bringing money into it, for me, muddies the entire waters even further.
I think that this is an element Kindle Worlds has either missed, or is ignoring. They are looking at the amount of people writing fan fiction and thinking, we’ll cash in on that, yet ignoring that the fact it’s free is probably a very big draw. If I had a choice between buying a new book, or buying a fan fiction, I’m going for the new book every time. Hell, if they were both free I’d get the new book because that is someone who knows how to run, not someone who is walking in someone else’s shoes.
So I don’t think Kindle Worlds will draw readers. I think they will bring in a lot of writers, those people who fit the KW criteria will flood forward and put in their work in the hopes of a big payday. I think it will be a mistake for them to put their work up, but I do think it will happen. I just don’t think they’ll get the people to buy and read it. Fanfiction.net and similar sites will not just disappear, and if fan fictions that are just as good as the ones on Kindle Worlds are still free, why pay for the ones on Kindle Worlds?
Maybe I’ll be proved completely wrong, but this much is for certain… I won’t be buying it, and even if my book inspires others to write within the world I have created, they won’t be selling those stories on Kindle Worlds.