The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

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.