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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