Will Amazon PAY You to Write Fan Fiction?May 23, 2013
If you follow about a zillion book-related Twitter feeds like I do (Oh, you don’t? Well … okay.), you already know the news: Amazon is launching a new service that pays for fan fiction. Or, actually, they kind of pay for fan fiction. Maybe. If it’s popular, and sex-free, and formatted correctly, and doesn’t violate copyright laws … then Amazon might pay you a little bit for fan fiction. (Fan fiction, for those of you who aren’t super-nerds, are stories that fans make up based on their favorite fictional settings and characters. Thriving fanfic worlds already exist for series like Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Beautiful Creatures. And the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey books started out as Twilight fan fiction.)
Now, I’ve never personally written fan fiction (unless you count a rather long Veronica Mars digression in an email once), but, on a trip to the Wizarding World in Orlando, I did make a fairly serious pitch to my mom to ditch our day jobs and spend all day in the Three Broomsticks, downing Butterbeer and writing Harry Potter fanfic. She seemed to think that didn’t have long-term career longevity (and that I was delirious from too many Pumpkin Juices), but has Amazon changed all that?
Not really. You still can’t get paid to write about Potter, and you probably never will, unless your name happens to be Jo Rowling. See, this deal is only for series that Amazon’s made rights agreements with, and that’s only Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and Gossip Girl. In other words, if CW television shows are what’s feeding your creative imagination and literary daydreams, then you’re in luck. Now, I like Gossip Girl as much as the next 34-year-old business owner (okay, I probably like Gossip Girl a lot more than the next 34-year-old business owner), but even I’m not sure I have a whole lot more to say about Chuck and Blair than what’s already been written and broadcast.
But the real slippery part of this deal is the fine print. Not only is Amazon limiting what you can write about (no sex, no crossover between worlds, nothing they consider offensive or even boring), but there’s also this:
Illegal and Infringing Content: We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously. It is the authors’ responsibility to ensure that their content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights.
If Amazon has rights agreements with the franchises, what’s all this about violating copyright law? I’m guessing what it means is that, if, against all odds, you really start making money with your Kindle fan fiction, you’re getting sued by the franchise for copyright violation anyway, since copyright protections are crazy-strict and confusing, and the layperson can’t reasonably be expected to fight corporate lawyers when challenged. And this wording is telling you straight-up that Amazon’s not on your side if that happens.
That’s one of the big problems with Amazon’s well-trumpeted self-publishing arm, and the issue isn’t limited to short stories about Blair Waldorf’s headbands. When you’re a writer unprotected by a publisher, you’re open to all kinds of assaults on your work — in many cases, those attacks come from Amazon itself.
Of course, there’s the even bigger issue — one company should not have this much control over books. Amazon is already censoring authors. Now it’s in small ways, like telling you not to write about sex, or not to include product placement. But what happens when your entire body of work (or, as a reader, your entire library) is on Kindle, and Amazon decides to cut you off because your work doesn’t fit into its strategy? This isn’t theoretical — they already do it to customers and self-published authors all the time. If a company like Kobo or Nook cuts off your writing or your reading, it’s still accessible on other devices. But, because of Kindle’s closed format, if you’re on the wrong side of Amazon, than you’re completely shut out of reading and publishing.
I’m not into fan fiction, but I’m all for creative freedom and having fun with books. The problem is, I don’t think that’s what Kindle Worlds is. It’s not about reading and it’s not about the fans. It’s about business. And, when it comes to Amazon, that’s a rather nasty business.