If you don’t follow publishing news, you probably missed the Kindle Worlds announcement. If you do follow publishing news, you’re probably literally drowning in Kindle Worlds commentary right now. “Help, I’m so scared” you manage to sputter, coughing up a lungful of op-ed pieces and trying, desperately, to draw a breath of air, but finding only more contract snippets and speculation instead.
For the latter: I am so sorry. You’re too far gone. This is how you die. I’ll tell your kids you didn’t beg.
For the former: Kindle Worlds, in short, is an attempt to monetize fan fiction. You can now submit fan fiction for certain properties, and Amazon will sell them. Which differs from the old approach in that they split the royalties with the FF authors now, instead of burning their children alive to appease Ip, the furious god of Intellectual Property. If you want to read opinions about the news from relevant, smarter, and altogether more attractive individuals, check out Scalzi’s commentary on Whatever and Wendig’s piece on Terribleminds.
Me, I have a very simple rebuttal: This is different, how?
We’ve been selling fan fiction forever. It’s an easy trick: You just slightly change the names and places, and everything is protected under the warm and fuzzy blanket of parody, or at least the woolly throw of homage. Fifty Shades of Grey was literally Twilight fan fiction – that’s how the book really started – the published version just used different names and didn’t feature any actual vampires (hey, just like Twilight!). I just finished Critical Failures, a book by self-published author Robert Bevan, about a game of “Creatures and Caverns” that absorbs its players. It’s a thinly veiled reference to Dungeons and Dragons, complete with a Cavern Master, twenty-sided die, Rogues, Wizards, Sorcerers, Goblins – literally nothing about the property was changed but the name. It was a fine and entertaining book, in no danger of being sued whatsoever.
It’s not a new development, either: Literary sass-monster Gore Vidal wrote historical fan fiction in the form of his Narratives of Empire series, John Updike wrote a prequel to Hamlet, Scalzi himself wrote Red Shirts, which was essentially just (truly excellent) Star Trek fan fiction, and on, and on. The only thing Kindle Worlds changes is a letter or two in the names, and the occasional well-placed synonym. Now, should Warner Bros. allow it, you could conceivably write and sell Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories, rather than what you’re currently writing and selling, which is Muffy the Undead Killer stories.