Thursday, May 30, 2013

Roving Readers Report - Welcome to the Jungle (part 2).

The latest news on books, publishing and other literary tidbits. 
Today's Roving Readers Report is brought to you by resident info junkie Mona. 

Rover to Reader:
Welcome to the Jungle, part 2

This is part 2 in an ongoing analysys of Amazon's newest deal to publish fanfiction and pay royalties to authors and copyright holders for stories sold. 

Disclosure: I’ve served as a hired pen and editor of licensed publishing. I’ve also posted my own fan fiction opus (teenage hottie superheroes in birdsuits!) without any monetary recompense, yet.

In a content-rich world, it’s getting mighty confusing who owns what and who should get paid. This is my analysis of the ever-changing publishing landscape and why writers can rejoice and be wary.

Traditional publishing is racing to keep up with the digital content streaming out of writers’ computers and into readers’ phones. Publishers of every format constantly hunt for the next Big Deal. The writer whose work ignites a phenomenon can come from anywhere: a mother who scribbles a middle-grade series between her child’s naps; a wife expanding a dream into a supernatural trilogy; a fan of a franchise playing the “What If…?” game by writing her own stories and changing the names to protect her copyright.

Editors had been bringing popular, self-pubbed authors (Amanda Hocking) into their publishing house. Now they could start scouring the wildest jungle from where E.L. James emerged: the fan fiction universe.

For those uninitiated (oh what fun you are due), fan fiction is where writers go to play. Any writer. Not just newbies cutting literary teeth. Pros using pseudonyms (and not) are there blowing off steam. It’s a game of “What If…?” that oils the gears of the imagination and the sticky wheels of writing mechanics. Fans of another writer’s copyrighted characters can write in that universe (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Japanese anime, video games, everything goes) and spin their own stories without fear. Go write, with a safety net. The world has been built for you. And you can mess it up minus consequences. You never have to show it or you can post it on a website for free and nobody laughs at you because they’re doing it too! It’s not plagiarism because it’s not copying per sec. It is for FUN to be had by writers and readers free of copyright infringement lawsuits because no monies are gained through publication.

Until E.L. James unveiled Fifty Shades of Grey. Its origin story: A fan of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, she supposedly wrote naughty stories starring Meyer’s characters that lots of people enjoyed reading for free online. A make-money lightbulb flashed on in someone’s head. Names and scenarios were changed, thereby separating it from the copyright of the inspiring source material and resulting in an original work that became a publishing phenomenon.

Whatever the origin, good for all. Good for E.L James who launched a profitable writing career. Good for readers to enjoy (or not) in public (or private). Good for writers to be inspired and bookstore owners to sell books and the publisher smart enough to capitalize on it (Random House, the biggest fish at the time). The success of this new formula ignited the hunt for fresh writers. Some misinterpreted the goal as finding writers of soft porn. Amazon looked for unincorporated territory to explore.

The book industry bemoans Amazon of devouring the business from all sides. It ate the brick-and-mortar bookstores through price-cutting and spat out its own line of imprints through self-published superstars. Now it’s steamrolling through licensed publishing by seducing na├»ve fan fiction writers. Maybe.

When I discovered the secret world of fanfic, I wept with joy. My fandom (the beloved franchise) continued to live on although it was no longer on TV or in bookstores. My family (the characters) continued to love, fight, and go on adventures. There were mash-ups of worlds (CSI hires Buffy) and shipper fantasies set sail (I knew s/he liked hir). All created by the minds and hands of other artists. Some of the most exquisite writers yet to be discovered were building this sanctuary and filling it with beautiful stories – in drabbles and to epic lengths – that could never be officially published because of copyright laws. That was the rule we understood. We couldn’t make money off another’s world.

Until Amazon’s deal to publish fan fiction of a “few licenses” such as The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars to start the Kindle Worlds river flowing with a revenue stream to the copyright holders and (gasp!) even the fan fiction writer.

So what do I think of this opportunity? Rejoice, Writers! Bring out your secret works and dance by the fire. I’ve got my fanfic opus ready. But what will this do for me? Make me a published professional author earning money? Maybe…. Beware, Writers! The hunters have entered our jungle. Careful where you step, there may be traps. Read the fine print before checking that box. The copyright owner still holds the copyright; however, Amazon now owns your story. What will they do with it? You may hold copyrights for your original characters… until someone else decides to play in your universe. Do I want to share my toys?

The jungle has its rules and we play by them: eat or be eaten. Publish or perish. The Internet gifted us with immortality and anonymity. How do we use these gifts? Wisely, please, and thanks for the fun.


Aurian said...

I do foresee some pitfalls though. What if is not really clear to buyers that this is fanfic. What if in the fanfic a character is killed of, or not. Is the original author supposed to check up what happens in the fanfic, and get in line? What if the author is writing a new story, and it is very similar to some fanfic? Will there be lawsuits for plagiarism?

Midnyte Reader said...

@Aurian-I think those are really valid points and they may open up a whole new can of wors. Perhaps the fanfic writers and original authors have to have some boundaries and specific guidelines to adhere to. Really interesting points you came up with. said...
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