Thursday, April 24, 2014

Amazon fan-fiction program lets Vampire Diaries author reclaim her storyline

This is kind of an amazing story from the Wall Street Journal.  Last year, Amazon announced a new program called Kindle Words, which made it permissible for writers to sell their own fan-fiction of licensed characters owned by other writers and corporations.  This is only possible with certain franchises that Amazon made their deal with.  Anything owned by Alloy Entertainment is fair game, which includes The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl, among others.

I have to admit, I have a generally low opinion of fan fiction.  If you really want to write, you'll learn a lot more by trying to tell your own original stories where you have to build a universe out of whole cloth instead of piggy-backing onto someone else's work.

The interesting wrinkle in this is that it has opened the door for a previously-fired writer to continue telling stories in the series where she was replaced.  Around 1991, a writer named L.J. Smith was hired by Alloy to create a series of vampire books for a young-adult audience.  This was the origin of The Vampire Diaries, which would go on to spawn several books in the series and get a resurgence when the CW created a TV adaptation of the novels.

Then, as the article notes, she was abruptly fired about a year ago.  Yet, the series continued under a ghostwriter, with L.J. Smith's name still appearing prominently on the books.  I'll let the article take it from here:

After she was let go, Ms. Smith shifted her focus to her other teen series—she publishes three popular fantasy series with Simon & Schuster, which have some three million copies in print—and a new post-apocalyptic novel. But the unfinished plot of "The Vampire Diaries" nagged at her. She missed writing about the characters.

Ms. Smith began publishing Vampire Diaries fan fiction through Amazon's Kindle Worlds in January. Amazon and Alloy get a cut of the sales and control many rights to the stories. 

Then, last fall, Ms. Smith's tax attorney and friend, Julie Divola, emailed her about Kindle Worlds and noted that Alloy was allowing fans to sell stories based on "The Vampire Diaries."

In January of this year, Ms. Smith started publishing her fan fiction on Kindle Worlds. So far, she's released two books: a novel, "Evensong: Paradise Lost," and the novella-length story "The War of Roses," for $3.99 and $1.99 respectively. Amazon won't disclose the sales figures for L.J. Smith's fan fiction or any other fan fiction.

"Evensong" picks up after "Midnight," Ms. Smith's last official Vampire Diaries book, and continues the story as though books eight through 12 never happened. It features the same cast of characters: the long-suffering heroine, Elena; her dueling love interests, the sexy vampire brothers Damon and Stefan Salvatore, the werewolf Caroline and the psychic medium Bonnie, among others.

Ms. Smith says that when she began publishing her Vampire Diaries fan fiction on Amazon this past January, she wasn't aware that she was giving up the copyright to those stories, too. Nor did she realize she'd be giving Alloy a cut of earnings from the new stories. But had she known, it wouldn't have deterred her, she says. "It wouldn't have stopped me," she says. "I didn't do these books for money. They're entirely a labor of love."

Amazon's fan-fiction program is allowing an author to make a little money finishing off a series she can't contribute to officially.  That's pretty cool.

Now if only we can work out something similar for Revenge so that Mike Kelley can finish out that story his way, I'll be really happy.


  1. That was really nice of them! Such a great story.

    I look at fan fiction as "writer training wheels". It's a really good springboard at the beginning. Quentin Tarantino once said in an interview that he used to watch movies and then try to recreate his favorite scenes in screenplay form. He eventually got to the point where he was unconsciously adding his own material to the scenes.

  2. Not getting the heart-warming part of this tale. So author creates a series, they fire her, is replaced, and now is forced to write fan-fiction for lower pay and the company that fired her still gets a cut? Did I read that wrong, because it sounds just wrong.

  3. It really annoys me that people keep referring to this as "fan fiction for pay". An analysis of the contracts shows that KW is basically a middle man for media tie-in, writing for contract stories, just like if you were writing a MTI for Stargate, or Star Trek, or Star Wars (lotta "Star" titles, actually) or any of the various video game books like Diablo, or D&D novels, etc..

    The author gets paid, the property's owner gets a cut, you essentially retain the copyright to the work, but the property owner has the right to use your IP as part of the overarching "world".

    This has been going on for decades - Amazon is just providing a platform to make the process a lot more standardized.

    1. I'd say a fairly significant distinction here is that the creative works are not overseen by an editor or a licensing coordinator for the underlying property. If you were writing a STAR TREK tie-in novel, there'd be several people you'd have to answer to and a number of guidelines that ensured your work conformed to the existing canon as well as whatever had been established in other novels.

      With this, there's no quality control or oversight. Writers can do whatever they want with the characters. That more than anything really makes this fan fiction.

      Beyond that, the article specifically states - even in the portion I quoted - that the writers do NOT retain their copyright on their work.

    2. Sorry, that was a distinction I wasn't clear on - but the works do have to be vetted before they get published. It's not like Kindle Direct Publishing, and there are guidelines for every property you're expected to maintain when writing - there just aren't specific guidelines for the story you're being asked to write. Is that going to make things a little more chaotic? Sure. But it also means that the readers' purchasing habits are going to drive the material a lot more than some single editor's vision of what they want the series to be.

      Here's the FAQ on the KW platform. You can follow a link there to the individual Worlds, and see the guidelines for each specific World.

      Kindle Worlds FAQ

  4. Great write-up! Writing is a talent, and it must not be wasted. As with everything that we had been entrusted, we should

    let it grow and share it with the world.>self

    education resources