Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Most so-called “fan fiction” we see today (writing inspired by characters of plot lines from books or films) attaches to hugely visible commercial properties. Examples include Harry Potter, Star Trek and Star Wars. Fan fiction almost by definition proceeds without permission of the “copied” rightsholder, usually involves a copyright or trademark infringement, and typically is “traded” on Web sites for free rather than sold. Some sites are active communities drawing in writers, readers, and reviewers. Other sites are known for an anything-goes laissez faire that can draw criticism of carrying less skillful writing. And many are irresistible to readers hungry to keep beloved characters exploring and active, “alive.” Examples of fan fiction sites include FanFiction.net, Archiveofourown.org, and HarryPotterFanFiction.com (of course).
Rightsholders usually decide that the intensity of the fan base and its usefulness for a wide range of commercial purposes more than offset the need and expense of seeking to block the uses.
Kindle Worlds, Amazon’s recently announced site for fan fiction seeks to organize and monetize fan fiction. The righsholder grants permission (and gets copyright and trademark notices). The fan must comply with content ground rules. The titles are clearly marked to avoid confusion with works by the author. Rights grants are narrow (for example, sometimes no movie or television use is allowed for the fan fiction). And the fan fiction writer gets a royalty, as does the rightsholder.
What does this mean for an iconic author? The majority of the partners announced to date are commercial novelists, movie studios, or television shows with characters who lend themselves to fan fiction. The most recent partner is Kurt Vonnegut
The Kurt Vonnegut Trust and RosettaBooks decided to proceed for several key reasons:
- Backlist promotion for the line of Kurt Vonnegut classic and recently assembled eBooks.
- The project will bring Vonnegut’s unique voice and remarkable writing to new and expanding audiences.
- The backlist works of iconic authors fundamentally need exposure and marketing. That’s how fans of one book choose to read others by the author, and how new readers discover the work. The marketing budgets of large, traditional publishers are overwhelmingly focused on their frontlist offerings, so the backlist is forced to “sell itself.” This is not the practice of the movie, music or textbook business, but it is the practice of trade publishers.
So, for the most part, any and all forms of promotion are good for an iconic author’s backlist. Today this is something of an experiment for the Kurt Vonnegut backlist. Kurt Vonnegut himself was never afraid of an experiment.