Today, Amazon launched a new program for the publication of fanfiction and tie-in fiction, called Amazon Kindle Worlds. They will accept novels, novellas and short stories inspired by the Worlds they have licensed. Currently, this includes Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and Gossip Girl. Authors can design their own cover, which makes me wonder if images from these licensed Worlds are up for grabs, as well.
I have to admit, I do not know a whole lot about fanfiction. I haven’t read much of it, and I have never written it. When I was a teen (and even younger – I always liked to write), a lot of my writing was heavily influenced by stories I had been reading, but I still liked to create my own characters. I imitated the voice more than the world. I think most writers probably go through a phase like this, because it takes time to develop your voice. I daresay I’m not finished yet. I assume (and hope) that this is something that evolves throughout a person’s writing life.
I remember reading a fanfic story about Daine and Numair, back when I was the age to devour all of Tamora Pierce’s books, and I didn’t really enjoy it because I felt that the situations they got themselves into did not match their characters at all. It was like reading about strangers with the same names, not the characters I’d grown fond of. Maybe it was that, or perhaps it was just that my to-be-read book list was (and still is) so long that I never made the time, but I didn’t read more fanfic.
Given my historic lack of interest in fanfic, I’m not the most qualified person to evaluate Amazon Kindle Worlds, and I won’t attempt to, but I’m still intrigued. For someone who is active and passionate in the fan community of their favourite show or book, maybe this is a great opportunity to share stories and ideas. In the past, fanfic has always been done purely for the love of the characters. There is something really admirable in that – that a person would love the story or the character so much that they just can’t stand for the story or sideline to be over, and want to continue it. I hope that this sense of connection to the story isn’t lost now that fanfic writers have the ability to make some money off their stories. For example, is someone now going to write a Hunger Games fanfic story because they know it has a chance to make a lot of money, even though they hate the characters? Because it seems to me that is not what fanfic is about.
The guidelines for Kindle Worlds seem to be fairly strict, so it will be interesting to see what kinds of works are selected to be published. The guidelines also a little vague – Amazon is definitely going to have to define exactly what constitutes “poor customer experience.” They list problems like poorly formatted manuscripts, but also remind that Amazon reserves the right to determine what constitutes poor customer experience, so there is a lot of room for interpretation. Authors of published fanfic works stand to earn 35% of the royalties for works over 10,000 words, and stories will be priced between $1 and $4. I can’t help but wonder how many people will pay for something that’s already freely available online. For Kindle Worlds to be successful in the long term, I’m thinking that the quality of the writing and stories is going to have to be at least somewhat good.
I’m curious, too, how this will affect the reputation of fanfiction. Right now, it’s not taken very seriously. I read a bunch of articles today about Kindle Worlds, and most of them made at least one snarky comment about what kind of ridiculous thing we can expect to read now about Harry Potter or Gossip Girl characters. Perhaps the slight is because some fanfic is terribly written – excuse me while I cough Fifty times – and if that’s the case, then hopefully the option to publish it will help to clean up some of the grammar and syntax problems. Then again, it doesn’t seem promising when a (fanfic) book that has sold millions of copies has a sentence like this: “He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.” Seriously, think about what that tie would look like. Better yet, check out this link, which will provide a wonderful illustration.
There are going to be a lot of arguments for both sides of this new development in the publishing world. While some authors/creators, including JK Rowling and Joss Whedon, are reportedly very encouraging of fanfiction, others may worry about their characters being used without permission. As well, I think there are still a lot of questions over rights and royalties in general.
In some ways, it seems like the development of an outlet for publishing fanfiction was inevitable. It’s been developing since the beginning of the Internet, when people found forums in which to share their love of their favourite characters. Throw in the rocketing growth of self-publishing, and we have Amazon Kindle Worlds. It just remains to be seen how it’s received by readers.
If nothing else, I’m kind of hoping for some really good Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories. Because I miss Spike.