amazon · fanfiction · kindle · kindle worlds · malinda lo

Why try to monetize fanfiction? On Kindle Worlds, the Fanfiction Community and (to a lesser extent) Merthur fanfiction

By now, mostly everyone has heard about “Kindle Worlds,” a New Publishing Model for Authors Inspired to Write Fan Fiction. Essentially, it’s Amazon’s effort to monetize fanfiction.

Others have written on this topic (Malinda Lo’s post is great, and includes some helpful links), so I won’t rehash the same things everyone else has.

As a former fanfiction writer and an avid fanfiction reader, I find Amazon’s announcement to be… interesting. Many people have been describing it this way, and for good reason. At this point, it’s too soon for us pass judgment on Kindle Worlds. We have no idea how this program is really going to unfold, what its real-world implications are, and how it might affect the ebook industry and the fanfiction community.
Confession #1: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a novelization writer—because, as far as I knew, novelization writers were basically paid to write fanfiction. Canon fanfiction. They were living the dream! (For the record, I still think that’s pretty much what novelization writers do, and I’m still convinced that they’re living the dream. If anyone has more information about novelization writers, I’d love it if you hooked me up.)I’m excited by the possibilities that Kindle Worlds could open up for writers like me, even if I’m wary of Amazon’s terms and agreements.
The way I see it, as long as the writers who choose to publish their fanfiction through Kindle Worlds understand the terms and agreements and are fine with them, then I’m fine, too. (A friend of mine suggested that fic writers who want to hold onto the rights to their original creations, such as original characters, should be very selective as to what fics they publish through Kindle Worlds.)

Frankly, I’m mostly interested to see what the cover generator ends up looking like–and if it’s decent, I want to play with it. (Okay, even if it’s not decent, I’ll probably still want to play with it.)

My question is this: Who would pay to read fanfiction when there is an unlimited supply of free fanfiction available on other sites?

Fans have flocked to to satisfy their needs since 1998. Scores of fandom-specific fanfiction sites exist. (Looking for Doctor Who fic, and only Doctor Who fic? There are websites for that.) The fairly new fanfiction site Archive of Our Own even has a function that allows readers to download ereader-compatible files of their favorite fics. (This is a genius feature, by the way.)
I don’t think that Amazon’s “quality control” (whatever that means) will make much of a difference, either. The fics published through Kindle Worlds might be spectacular—but so are a lot of the free fics available elsewhere.
There are some truly gifted fanfiction writers out there. I’ve read fanfictions that were so beautifully written that I couldn’t believe the fans who wrote them weren’t making piles of money from original novels. (Hey, maybe some of them are. There are bound to be some successful authors who write fic in their spare time, though most of them probably wouldn’t admit to it.)
Confession #2: I have an 80,000-word modern-day Merlin AU fanfiction loaded onto my Kindle. (What can I say? If the show won’t make Merthur canon, I’m forced to turn elsewhere.)
For those who might not know, 80,000 words is novel-length. Someone actually wrote a novel-length Merthur fanfiction that was so good, I practically jumped for joy when I realized I could download a copy for my Kindle. I’ve read excellent fics that were even longer–as long as 150,000 or 180,000 words, with numerous sequels of equal or greater length. (To put that in perspective, Twilight is around 130K.)

The people who wrote those fanfictions put enormous amounts of work into them. One fanfic writer I know of spent countless hours researching Japanese history and culture for her epic anime-based fic. She even took a trip to Japan to see some of the places she described in her writing first-hand. I know plenty of traditionally-published authors who wouldn’t dream of putting in that much research into an original novel.

A friend of mine who is also a talented fanfiction writer agonizes over the plots of her fics. She puts a lot of effort into making sure the timeline of events lines up and that there are not plot holes. To be frank, she seems to put more effort into those areas than the author of the series she’s writing fic about. (The series in question is riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies and timeline snafus.)

Would I pay to read those stories, if the fic writers had the proper permission to sell them? More than likely, I would (though I seriously doubt that any of the series I like to read fic for will wind up in the Kindle store).

But the kicker is that I don’t have to.

These writers give their fiction away for free. People aren’t meant to make money off fanfiction–except in cases like with Kindle Worlds, where they have permission to charge money for their creations–and fanfiction writers understand that. They do all that work–those hours of research and plotting and planning–for a product that they will share for free. At most, their reward will be nice comments and reviews. (Unless they’re E.L. James or something–but let’s not get into that now.)

Really, they do it for the love of the book, movie, TV series, video game or what have you.

I am deeply grateful to those writers who share their stories with me (and the rest of the Internet). I’m amazed at their passion and creativity. If some of them want to sell their fanfiction (and have the proper permission to do so), then I’m happy for them. If others want to keep posting fanfiction for free, I’m happy for them, too.

And, okay, real talk–I’m also happy for me and my fanfiction-filled Kindle.

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