Amazon Fanfic Program Allows for Bizarre Author Reclamation

Wow. What a story of a snake eating its tail.

The Vampire Diaries

The original author of The Vampire Diaries, L.J. Smith, doesn’t own the copyright. The publisher, Alloy Entertainment, does. The company, now a part of Warner Bros. Television, “produces books and creates other properties for pre-teen and teen-age markets”; Gossip Girl is another of their successes. Which means they had the right to replace Smith, which they did. Other people then wrote further books in the series.

However, Vampire Diaries is one of the properties included in Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program, an officially licensed way for fans to write and publish fanfiction. And Smith is now, under that program, writing her continuation of the story she started. Which means that the property’s original writer is now writing fanfic for it.

Since it’s official, “fanfic” isn’t quite the right word for it. Perhaps “licensed universe tie-in”?

I don’t have a good feeling for whether anyone’s making money off of Kindle Worlds. There are plenty of free outlets where one can read a wide variety of fanfic, and you don’t have to be restricted to a limited approved list of properties, so I don’t know how many people are willing to pay from a dollar to four dollars per story. (And Kindle only, which means using Amazon’s programs to access the material.) Writers get 35% of net revenue for longer stories (20% for shorter works) and must follow the rules: no porn, nothing offensive, no crossovers, and no “excessive use of brand names”. No one’s going to make a career on this, but for people writing out of love, any money is a bonus. However, note that, as John Scalzi points out, if you invent a great character or come up with a terrific idea, the property owner can take it and reuse it without any further compensation to you.


5 Responses to “Amazon Fanfic Program Allows for Bizarre Author Reclamation”

  1. James Schee Says:

    Interesting, I need to look into these books as a female friend got me into the TV series in the past few months. I had bought the original books I found on discount, but she took them to read first lol.

  2. Thad Says:

    I don’t know if it’s weirder than Kevin Eastman working on TMNT as work-for-hire, but it’s certainly up there.

    Kindle Worlds is a weird thing, and I’m not inclined to think it’s a good thing, either.

    I’m not what you’d call the target audience for Fifty Shades of Gray, but I DO think it’s pretty fantastic that somebody took a Twilight fanfic, filed the serial numbers off it, and turned it into a bestselling work of creator-owned fiction. I think that’s something to root for and something to aspire to — even if your work’s derivative, make it your own.

    (I saw an article on The Daily Dot — http://www.dailydot.com/business/kindle-words-amazon-fanfiction-problems/ — around the same time that Scalzi piece came out. Among other things, it mentioned Sherlock as a much bigger outlet for fan fiction than Gossip Girl or Vampire Diaries. It struck me that that’s a pretty weird example for a potential Kindle Worlds outlet, as anybody can self-publish Sherlock fan fiction without giving the BBC a cut — Sherlock Holmes is public domain, and anyone can put him in any story they like, and if they happen to be picturing Cumberbatch and Freeman as they do it, that’s their business. Just so long as they leave out details that are original to the show — which I guess means no Molly or Mary, and Irene Adler can’t be a prostitute, but nonetheless you can keep the core vibe of the show intact without referring to the show specifically.)

  3. Johanna Says:

    Good points. Although you can make Irene a call girl, since there are implications of her being an “adventuress” in the original story. Anyway, yes, the ownership implications of Kindle Worlds are troubling.

    I found it interesting that Amazon was using Smith’s example to promote the service. I wonder how Alloy feels about that. I’d like to hear from someone without the name recognition who’s signed up for Kindle Worlds and what they’re getting, if anything, out of it.

  4. Jason Kimble Says:

    I’m wondering if you see parallels between this and the Veronica Mars Kickstarter? It seems to me, in both cases, that the creators were passionate about the properties, but the property holders weren’t so much.

    Unlike with normal fanfic / fan-film, I imagine the corporations would have immediately quashed any public ‘continuations’ by the creators, though, whether they charged for them or not.

    I’m a bit conflicted about it in both cases, I guess. On the one hand: hooray for getting to tell more of the story you wanted to tell but couldn’t before.

    On the other, you’re handing over more property to the folks who already weren’t much interested in financing you to begin with (and Smith’s case, seem to have actively sought to obfuscate that fact. Don’t they still publish the novels with her name by ghost writers?)

  5. Johanna Says:

    That’s an interesting comparison. I have trouble talking about the VM Kickstarter because I have trouble getting past “you want me to give Warner Bros. money to make a movie?!?” There’s a certain amount of similarity, though. And fundamentally, it’s approaching the corporate copyright holders on the only level they know: here, have more money.




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