Barry Reese

Pulp Writer Extraordinaire

vanessa_hudgens_fightSo… yesterday the Internet’s writing communities went to war.

You may have missed it, since a war in the online writing communities is easy to ignore unless you’re in the midst of the stinging accusations, pointed jabs and hyperbole.

What brought about all of this?

Well, Amazon, of course!

The multimedia online retailer is both the bane and boon of many a writer’s existence and yesterday Amazon either strode forth bravely, changing the writing landscape forever… or engaged in a bit of reprehensible behavior for which there is no excuse! It all depends on where you fall on the deciding line.

This is what Amazon announced:

Get ready for Kindle Worlds, a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games. With Kindle Worlds, you can write new stories based on featured Worlds, engage an audience of readers, and earn royalties. Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Warner Bros. for Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries, with licenses for more Worlds on the way. 

The Kindle Worlds Self-Service Submission Platform will launch soon and enable you to submit your original works for publication. Can’t wait to start writing? Learn more on our Kindle Worlds for Authors page.

In other words, all those Gossip Girl novels you’ve got hidden in the dark recesses of your flash drives can now be shared with the world — and you can even make money off of them! Yep, Amazon is willing to pay you 35% net revenue on each story/novella/novel sold. For some, this is very exciting! Assuming they eventually put up other licenses like Doctor Who or Batman, you could conceivably write a “licensed” novel featuring those characters. It’s kinda-sorta official since they’re saying you can do it and you’re potentially making money off of it. Many a fanboy and fangirl’s heart just went BOOM-BOOM.

How’s it going to work? Let’s see:

  • Kindle Worlds will accept novels, novellas, and short stories inspired by the Worlds we have licensed.
  • Using our Cover Creator, you will be able to design a cover for your Kindle Worlds story.
  • World Licensors have provided Content Guidelines for each World, and your work must follow these Content Guidelines. We strongly encourage you to read the Content Guidelines before you commit the time and effort to write.
  • Stories will be available in digital format exclusively on Amazon.com, Kindle devices, iOS, Android, and PC/Mac via our Kindle Free Reading apps. We hope to offer additional formats in the future.
  • You will receive monthly royalty reports and payments for all copies sold.

Now, the only “content guidelines” currently available are relatively minor and obvious – no pornography (sorry, shippers), no illegal content, no crossing over of worlds (so no My Little Pony meets The Vampire Diaries), etc.

There are some who see this as an awful, awful thing. They point out that some writers make their living writing licensed novels and this is basically taking a big old crap on what they’re doing. I’m not too sure about that — guys who write Star Trek novels, for instance, have always had to compete with people who wrote fan novels and posted them for free online (or even charged for them — go to Lulu.com and type in Star Trek… you’ll find plenty of Trek novels up there for $$). Heck, it seems like “free” would take away more sales from Peter David than “$2.99” but maybe I’m being a fool.

If you want to get into the whole “but letting anybody write Captain Kirk devalues the work of real writers who work on the character,” then okay… but I think that Peter David will always have an advantage over any Trek novel I would write. His work will appear not only in eBook format but in print, whereas currently none of the Kindle Worlds works will. That means that the remaining brick and mortar stores (hi, Barnes & Noble!) will likely have Peter’s book but they won’t have mine and they won’t even have it on the Nook since the eVersions are amazon exclusives.

Plus, he’s Peter David and I’m not.

Some folks say this is “reprehensible” because Amazon is fooling gullible writers into thinking this is some golden ticket to success. If Amazon were charging you for the privilege of writing Gossip Girl, I might could see that. But they’re not. In fact, they’re PAYING you for the sales you’ll be getting.

That sounds a hell of a lot less reprehensible than the treatment I’ve gotten from some “real” publishers.

As for the intellectual property owners, this is absolutely brilliant, especially for dormant properties. Why? Because they have the fans creating new product for them and if the IP owners see something that clicks with the fans, they can monetize it as they see fit.

How? Let’s see:

We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.

This means that if I write an Arrow novel and introduce an amazingly awesome villain named Mr. Cool Dude and millions of people download that story ’cause Mr. Cool Dude lives up to his name, then Warner Bros. can take my character and stick him on the tv show or even give him his own action figure and cartoon series… all without paying me a cent. Talk about your ultimate research & development goldmine! And if I publish my Arrow novel and it’s absolutely horrible – and Mr. Cool Dude becomes the target of internet wrath or (even worse) is 100% completely and totally ignored by the reading public…

It doesn’t hurt Warner Brothers in the least.

I’ve heard some people say that the fanfiction crowd “will never go for this” since most of them are very into the “writing for free” model. They’d be offended by the offer of money because they’re real fans, doing it for the love.

99% of the time, that’s absolute crap. They may say it but they don’t really mean it.

How do I know?

Because I used to say it, too! Writers say they’re doing it for the “art” and for the “love” to rationalize why they’re spending so much time on something that’s not making them $$. When Marvel came to my door and asked me to jump aboard, do you know how quickly I went from “But I do it for the love” to “How high should I jump, sir?” — about 3.5 seconds!

Any fan who loves writing Star Trek novels will adore having the potential audience for their work increased and the chance to make 35% of the net profits. Will some poor fool create the next Captain Kirk and basically give it to Paramount for free by including him in one of these novels? Maybe. But you can’t cure dumb, people, so don’t even try.

There’s nothing currently available that interests me. I don’t watch Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries or Pretty Little Liars. If they do add other “worlds,” I might reconsider. Man, I’d love to write a Batman novel and make a few pennies off of it. Even if I made no more than $30, that isn’t far off from what I’ve earned for things of my own creation that I’ve written! And if Conde Nast threw The Shadow out there, I’d write the hell out of that!

It’s not the end of the world. This is not the death knell of licensed fiction. Amazon isn’t looking for ways to shaft “real publishing.” But all the people involved in this are business folks. They want to make money. The fact that they’ve finally found a way to make money off stuff people have been writing anyway is brilliant — AND it potentially brings money to people who were writing the stuff for free anyway.

I say we back off and see how it goes. Maybe it’ll be a huge flop and a year from now, we’ll all be going “Remember Kindle Worlds? Hahahahahaha.”

But I’d be willing to bet that Amazon might have stumbled onto something here.

We’ll see.

13 thoughts on “The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

  1. Derrick says:

    I’ll probably be that fool you’re referring to as I have a truckload of Star Trek novels I co-wrote with a British writer.

  2. Having read some of your Trek work, I can say it’s better than 99% of the officially published stuff I’ve read.

    And I’ve read a lot of Trek novels lol

  3. David White says:

    Absolutely. Even if someone does has WB use something of theirs that does great, I would think the fact that at some point their name was on it would be a great stepping stone. That is the biggest thing i see from this is writers getting their stuff out there and viewed.

  4. Personally, I’m amazed at all the hate that it’s generating. I think that’s just standard knee-jerk trolling.

    If this were only for exposure and zero payment whatsoever, then that would be exploitation. But we’re talking 35% royalties. 35%. Sure, that’s less than what you get for writing your own original stuff, but shouldn’t that be how it is? After all, you’re writing stories featuring characters you don’t own, so the owners will need to get a cut. If I allowed people to write stories about any of my characters and I said, “by the way, since I own the rights to these characters, I’m also entitled to a cut of the profits,” would that be wrong? Of course not. These characters aren’t public domain, so obviously the rightsholders need to get paid. Otherwise, why would they do it?

    Yes, you grant global distribution rights to Amazon, but correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t that how most work-for-hire agreements go? If you write something for Marvel or DC, do you own the rights to the stories? Do you own the rights to the characters you create while under a WFH agreement? Absolutely not.

    Seems to me like this could be a great opportunity for unknown authors to get recognized by the big names.

    And as far as fanfic writers being offended at the idea of being offered money? Heh…hehehehehahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    Go up to any fanfic writer and ask them, “hey, how would you like to keep doing what you love doing, except getting paid for it?” See how many of them get offended. Lots of fanfic writers I’ve met actually aspire to do just that very thing. And how many fanfic writers have taken a story they wrote as fanfic and then later reworked it into an original story for publication? I’ve done it and I know others who have done it, too.

    Plus, it’s not as if fanfic writers are being forced to do this. This isn’t a “LET US PAY YOU FOR YOUR WORK OR WE WILL SUE YOU!!” deal (although if it were, I think that would be the most bizarre intimidation tactic in human history). If you want to keep writing for the art and don’t want to accept any royalties, if you don’t want to risk signing away your incredibly-original fanfic story that could later be altered into an original story a la Fifty Shades of Grey, then just don’t sign up for Kindle Worlds.

    I, too, hope that this expands into other properties. Warner Bros. has started the ball rolling, so I hope they offer more of their properties. Because I’ve got a bunch of Superman fanfic I wrote a while back that I could easily assemble into a full-length epic novel.

    Internet trolls need to stop whinging.

  5. You’re 100% right about the work-for-hire thing… and when I read people saying that fanfiction writers would never want to get paid for their work, I did a double-take. What fanfic writers have they been talking to?? lol

    1. What it comes down to is a bunch of people who have zero clue about what work-for-hire really means.

      “You mean I won’t own the rights to this story anymore?! That’s outrageous!”

      Yeah…that’s work-for-hire. If Stephen King writes a Batman story, he doesn’t get to hold onto the rights to it. Why should you be any different?

  6. Derrick says:

    I’d be perfectly happy reworking my DOOM PATROL, HULK or CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN fan fiction series into a novel, especially if I’m going to make a few bucks from it. And I’m pretty sure it would be read and appreciated by far more people. I’m with Percival…I don’t understand the hate this generating. Write fan fiction AND get PAID for it? That’s something that once upon a time was considered an utter impossibility.

  7. hhneville says:

    Yeah, an uproar is all very silly, and like highlighted here, only by people who don’t understand the workings of work-for-hire, especially with licensed material. This is just another way for a writer to write and make money, which, truth told can be a real tough thing sometimes.

    It rings to me of people who for all intents and purposes “illegally” write licensed materials complaining about the sanctity, and beauty of their art. How dare a parent company make money off my use of… their licensed materials. The outrage!

    Now, I will say, this doesn’t appeal to me much, because the only licensed materials I’d seriously write would be something a long the lines of Marvel/DC, and frankly, that’s so much easier just to avoid doing and write my own capes instead. Getting paid’s nice and all, but never actually factors into my decisions. I have no misconceptions that me the writer will somehow overshadow my day job, and therefore I write purely for the enjoyment of it. Money isn’t a factor. That said, I’d still never turn it down if it came my way for doing something I was already intent on doing anyway. That’s just dumb.

  8. Love the article, Barry! It’d take something like this for me to consider you a professional writer. LOL!

    1. Thanks, LaToya. I’m glad I’ve finally hit the big time in your eyes!

  9. This is actually brilliant and nothing less than a “work for hire” model that has been used for media tie’s for decades.
    Amazon is simply doing it without solicitation and allowing a wider rage of writers to join in.

    As a published (traditionally) author I don’t have a problem with it.

  10. Chrissie says:

    Hey! I’m new here, referred from Facebook. I first started writing about five years ago, and it was fan fiction. I have since been convicted to write my own material, feeling like fanfiction was cheating – but I find myself missing the ease of not having to create worlds, and working with things that people already have visually stuck in their mind.

    This, however, might change my mind. And I, for one, would be stoked to see my character in a movie even if I wasn’t paid – because I’d have the dated (and self-copywrited because I’m cheap that way) manuscript to prove I thought of it first. Then I’d probably take that manuscript to the creators of the world and say “Since you like my character so much, how about a job?” 😛

    I can’t wait to see how this plays out. I’m not a huge TV watcher, but I have a few worlds I’d try dabbling in if I could find the time. As a full time college student with a job, that’s the other half of the obstacle.

    1. Welcome, Chrissie! I started out writing fan fiction, too, and think it’s a great way to get your feet wet and have some fun, too.

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