1. Megan McArdle writes about a new Amazon program that will hopefully facilitate and regularize the distribution of fan fiction–at least for some fictional universes and character sets. McArdle points to this piece in Forbes, which gives some details of the ground rules of the program:
A new program called Kindle Worlds will let would-be writers publish, and profit from, fan-fictional e-books with the blessing of the original characters’ creators, who will receive royalties from every sale. Call it a sort of open API for IP.
The revenue split is considerably less generous than authors who use their own characters enjoy, with Kindle Worlds writers keeping 35% of the net. That’s for works over 10,000 words; for shorter ones, the rate is an even lower 20%. Ordinarily, writers who self-publish e-books through Amazon keep 70% percent.
For now, Kindle Worlds has licenses covering three franchises owned by Warner Bros. TV’s Alloy Entertainment: “Pretty Little Liars,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Gossip Girl.” Amazon says it will announce new licenses soon.
As McArdle notes, this move has the potential to bring (some) fan fiction in from the cold (emphasis added):
Up until now, most fan fiction has been in a sort of legal limbo–regular publishers won’t touch it because of copyright infringement. Amazon proposes a way to get around that problem: cut the rights holders in on the deal. Kindle Worlds will pay authors a lower royalty than writers get for normal ebooks, with some of that profit diverted to the person who create the world.
It’s a brilliant and even fair solution. Some writers are better world-builders than others; why not let them profit off of their imaginations, while also compensating the folks who can do interesting things within that world? Of course, some fan fiction purists may be disappointed in the control that this will give the world-builders over what is done with their work. Amazon will not, for example, publish pornographic or highly explicit fiction. Under those rules, 50 Shades of Grey would never have been published; it started out as slash fiction set in the Twilight universe.
(McArdle makes one common error: as the Forbes writer notes in an update, “‘slashfic’ refers exclusively to the subgenre of sexual fan fiction that involves gay sex and/or relationships”; 50 Shades of Grey started out, strictly speaking, as a piece of erotic fan fiction set in the Twilight universe.)
As expected by Sturgeon’s Law, it is worth noting that the great majority of fan fiction is of pretty wretched quality. And Suw Charman-Anderson, also writing at Forbes, notes that “self-publishing is just as much of a power law venture as any other, with the majority of the earnings going to a minority of authors.” Most fan fiction authors will not grow rich from this program–and that would remain true even if the royalties percentages noted above were different. (Also, as a practical matter, barring all erotic and slash fan fic will exclude…a lot of fan fic.) Still, this does seem like a hopeful sign that our insane copyright laws can evolve. It bears watching.
2. Chris Blattman has discovered that there exists a “sci fi/fantasy book series about development economics and politics.” Seriously.
3. Famous Authors’ Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature. I especially liked Norman Mailer’s character timeline for Harlot’s Ghost and Gay Talese’s outline for “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.”
6. James Matthew Wilson, “Gatsby for the Millennials”: “I was a little surprised, not too long ago, to hear a student mention that The Great Gatsby was her favorite book. ‘Because it is the only book you have read,’ flashed through my mind, before I could shut up the red-faced misanthrope who accompanies me through my days. I have seen enough of contemporary undergraduates to know that they do read — oh, they do indeed – but only if instructed to do so in order to prepare them for some specific form of assessment that will end in a credential they can list on their curriculum vitae (Harry Potter? Well, that must be read to prove one’s bona fides as a Millennial). But, no, in this case the ruddy misanthrope was wrong…” (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)