Writing Nowadays–Kindle Fanfic

Amazon has announced that their Kindle Direct Publishing program will now allow people to submit and publish television fanfic for “Gossip Girl,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Vampire Diaries.”   A number of authors quickly chimed in about how draconian the contract is.  It pays no advance.  Never!  Amazon keeps all copyrights to the work!  Forever!  The owner of the source material could create a TV episode or even a movie from the book and not pay the author one red cent!  Ever!

Unbunch your undies, please.

I’ve written half a gazillion media tie-in novels. These are basically fanfic that I got paid for.  What fun!  I’ve written Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and even The Ghost Whisperer.  These were books in which I created a brand new story set in their universe. I’ve also written books based on movies–they sent me the script in advance, and I turned it into a novel.

In all cases, I hold no copyright.  That’s the way it works.  When you write media tie-in stuff, you don’t own anything.  You didn’t create the characters, the settings, the basic situation.  That all belongs to someone else.  Therefore, anything else you create in that world similarly doesn’t belong to you.  That even includes any new characters you created just for the book.  They appear in the copyrighted setting, so they belong to the copyright holder.

Amazon’s lack of advance (but higher royalty rate) is part of their standard KDP process by now, and I don’t know why anyone is howling about that.  It’s not like Amazon is surprising anyone.

To tell the truth, I have to give props to Amazon for coming up with a brilliant money-making idea for themselves. The fanfic is going to get written no matter what, and it’ll get posted to a number of fanfic websites–for free.  Amazon found a way to cash in on it and make the authors feel like they’re a legitimate part of the TV universe.  And the authors can dream about hitting it big with millions (or maybe dozens) of dollars in royalties from loyal fans.

Don’t like the way it works? Then write your own stuff. It’s that simple.

–Steven Harper Piziks

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Writing Nowadays–Kindle Fanfic — 12 Comments

  1. I wonder how long it will be before authors license and approve their own fanfic and cut out the middle man? It could still be sold on amazon.

  2. Great article Steven. As author of some of this material myself – and also considering the first three properties they will be encouraging fan authors to work within – this is great information. Also as per Pooks’ suggestion, I see no reason why an author could not authorize and license this themselves. I think James Patterson and others do this already – or something very similar.

  3. Filing off the serial numbers is not that difficult, even if it takes some practice to get into the swing of it, so deriving ideas from other people’s work doesn’t lock you into fan fic.

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  5. I have to agree with Mary; running characters through the Universal Witness Protection Program and tossing them into your own world (where you can fix things that another author might have let slide) has a lot to be said for it. And Steven is quite right about media tie-ins. Some authors already license their worlds (yay, Larry Niven) and edit anthologies in their particular universes. Since I suspect any Amazon fanfic would need to hew fairly close to canon, the fanfic writer who, for instance, wants to ship Starsky and Hutch will still probably have to do it just for love. (One notes that on a The Simpsons episode there was a brief epilogue that appeared to show Moe, the bartender, writing Mayberry slash. Fanfic is everywhere…).

  6. Although “any new characters, locations, etc. you create in the licensed universe belong to the licensor” is a bog-standard clause in a contract that is generally for a serious amount of money offered to an experienced writer. Putting the same clause in a contract that offers no advance and low royalties to an inexperienced writer is problematic. Also, I assume that *submitting* to this market indicates acceptance of the entire contract without modification — the usual concept of offer, counter-offer, and negotiation before signing does not apply to this deal. Fanfic writers considering submitting their work to this program need to be made aware of exactly what they are giving up and what they can realistically expect in exchange.

  7. I did a tie-in novel (comics, not TV, but the fundamental things apply). I regret that the book was caught up in one of those publishing perfect storms and barely made it out the door, and that it’s kind of ephemeral. Still, there’s a considerable charm to playing with someone else’s toys and seeing what you can find that’s consistent with canon but your own.

  8. I would love to do a tie-in novel some day. Just for the experience, not because I have any pressing desire to ship Luke and Han, or explore the further reaches of Captain Kirk’s family tree.

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