Welcome To My Nightmare

Amazon’s recent announcement of the launch of Kindle Worlds has generated a lot of buzz, much of it hyperbolic verging on the eschatological, which is par for the course for Amazon.

My understanding of the program, which I will admit is not informed by legal counsel, is that Amazon has acquired permission to publish fiction that uses worlds and characters from existing properties–television shows at the moment, but indications are that they intend to expand the scope of the program.

Authors are invited to submit work to Amazon, which then may publish the works on Kindle for pay.  Authors receive a 35% royalty, the owners of the copyrighted work on which the new material is based receive an unspecified royalty, and Amazon takes the rest.

Amazon acts as the publisher of these works, which means that they have control over the rights for the life of the copyright.  This clause has raised some red flags in the writer’s community, however, given that the works are being published as part of a shared universe with many contributors, I see that as the best way to avoid messy copyright battles down the road.  New characters and places and such also become the intellectual property of Amazon, again in a shared universe setting, I don’t see how it could be otherwise.

If Author A introduces a character and then Author B uses that character, and Author A decides that she doesn’t like Author B’s interpretation of the character… yeah that could get ugly.  I see these provisions less as a “rights grab” and more of a peacekeeping move.  It’s Amazon’s sandbox, and if you want to play in it, you play by their rules.

I have never had much of an interest in fan fiction, mostly because, as a writer, world building is my favorite part.  I don’t want to play with someone else’s toys, I want to build my own.  For The Book Of Lost Doors world I set out to build an entire mythology from scratch (granted, I did draw inspiration from other writers for specific elements, but I wanted a world that was all mine.)

So I don’t write fan fiction, and mostly I don’t read it.  Would I open my own world to authors?  It depends.  In a very real sense that is exactly what I have been doing with The Fauxpocalypse Project.  I designed that world to be open from the beginning.

On the other, I probably wouldn’t do that with James and Catskinner, at least not yet.  There is a lot going on in that world that I haven’t revealed to my readers.  To be honest, there are a number of things that James believes about his world that aren’t actually true.  So I would either have to publish a bible that contains spoilers for later books, or spend a lot of time telling other authors, “No, you can’t do that,” which would be frustrating for both of us.

So, how about the rest of you?  What are your thoughts on opening up your fictional worlds for other authors to explore?  I assume that the original copyright holder would retain at least a veto power over other works (suppose, for example, that the Harry Potter works were added to the program and some writer decided to reveal that Professor McGonagall was actually Lily Potter in disguise and had faked her own death and had been hiding in plain sight all these years–I’m thinking Rowling would nix that.)

Just as thought exercise,  suppose that you were asked by Amazon to allow your book or book series to be added to Kindle Worlds?  Forget about the money for a moment (me, saying forget about the money?  Okay, you can pick yourself off the floor now) and just consider how you would feel about other writers telling your characters what to do.  Does the idea intrigue or frighten you?  How much control over other works would you need to feel comfortable?  Are there any particular rules that you would insist other writers follow?


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Welcome To My Nightmare

  1. greenembers says:

    Hmm, seems like an interesting idea. I know that in the Star Wars expanded universe, anything that was written before was cannon (only for the expanded universe) and all authors writing in the Universe had to abide by it. I could see it working like that. That would be a lot of curating to do though.

  2. Dave Higgins says:

    To me The Fauxpocalypse Project seems different from fan fiction; as far as I know there is not sharing of characters or events in the same way.

    I am not certain about whether there is a right for the first creator to nix developments; the first creators lack of rights seems to be one of the major points of assault against the model on other sites, but it is too early to tell what will actually be the enduring model.

    If it were my work I might actually prefer to have no say: once I have a say in the matter I share responsibility for new events/characters that readers dislike; whereas if I cannot stop it then I can write and promote the books I want to write about the world without getting drawn into what someone else’s version means for the true story.

  3. I think it’s a neat idea, although … yeah, it could get messy, couldn’t it? Especially if they ever gave rights to Harry Potter fanfiction. There are a LOT of really weird, creepy HP fanfics out there. Then again, I’m really hoping they let Hunger Games in, because I wrote an extremely popular one, and … well, I’m sure you can guess the rest 🙂

  4. I’m okay with the concept since it’s worked for Star Wars, World of Warcraft, and every Dungeons & Dragons world. For my own world, I would say ‘some day’. Once I lock down more of the history and mythology of my world, I’d be happy to let other authors play in it. I’d hope to have some control as in no killing important characters or blowing up main cities or replacing gods of the world. Not without running it by me.

    There is a trick that can be used for that. The main author can always say ‘That is fan-fiction and it isn’t canon. Enjoy the story, but it won’t have any effect on the main world.’ Happens all the time in comics and video games.

  5. It all comes down to money – and control. Once the story is written, is the author prepared to release it to Amazon to be messed about with / expanded upon? I agree with Charles that a disclaimer would shift responsibility onto the fan-writers, otherwise a set of (constantly updated) rules would have to be imposed…and who would police that?

  6. Wanderer says:

    Maybe I’m possessive, maybe I’m selfish, maybe I’m a snob. I like to think I’m probably a mixture of all three. My characters all have parts of me, I can’t imagine they would retain their voices and what makes them…THEM if someone else wrote them. I spend time and blood, sweat, and tears to create a world that, although inspired by plenty of things I’ve read, is MINE (my own, my precious…wait…). The only experience I’ve had with fanfic is, as Michelle mentioned, weird HP fanfic (most of it over-sexualized by a bunch of hormone ridden adolescents).

    I think it could work IF there was preservation of canon or if you used an existing world and put all new characters in it a la Star Wars. Otherwise it pretty much just makes me gnash my teeth.

  7. forgingshadows says:

    Having been an active part of the fanfiction community, I would say that others should be able to play with my toys, if I ever were to write something that others wanted to fanfiction-ize. But I wouldn’t want it commercialized. I think it’s great that people get inspired by work, and want to explore the world, even if sometimes I think they go in a dodgy direction. But one of the things we always wrote at the beginning of a piece was a disclaimer. I don’t own this. It’s not mine. Getting paid shifts part of that, and I think unfairly so. Just my opinion, of course.

    Plus, have you read some of the fanfiction out there? Getting through the bad stuff in order to see the good…it’s just going to be impossible.

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