I recently released my first Kindle Worlds novel, The B-Team, set in best-selling Barry Eisler’s world of the lethal half-Japanese, half-American assassin, John Rain. Several people are unfamiliar with KW and, once they hear what it is, follow it up with…why?
WHAT IS KW?
If you want a full explanation, the official Kindle Worlds site can give you all the detail you want, but simply put, KW is a division of Amazon that promotes and legalizes the sale of fan fiction. Launched just a few years ago, it started by approaching just a few key best-selling authors (who still owned the rights to their own books) who wouldn’t mind licensing their intellectual property to fans and other writers. Hugh Howey, Blake Crouch, Bella Andre, and a slew of other fantastic writers have opened up their worlds.
The program has got a lot to recommend it. It’s a chance for writers who are fans to play in someone else’s sandbox. It takes a little pressure off the original author, who may be working on other projects and be unable to answer persistent demands from fans to write more. It can add a fresh perspective or a new angle that even the original writer might never have thought of. And, of course, it’s a legal way for the original writer, the new KW author, and Amazon to make some money off a great idea (each party splits sales’ royalty evenly).
Of course, there’re also some problems. KW has intentionally set the bar low so that anyone can write just about anything, as long as certain basic principles (of law and taste) aren’t violated, which means that there are some really bad stories out there. There are also no word limits, so the majority of works seems to be short stories and novellas, which often don’t do our favorite characters justice. And, by definition, the KW pieces aren’t by the original author, so the stories might ring false, especially if the final product isn’t so good.
But that’s democracy, the Internet, and the new global economy in action. Fans will read, rate, and review most everything that comes down the pike and will vote with their feet (and their dollars). We all know soon enough which stories are bad and which are good; which add to the canon and which deviate. And, as a reader, you always have the right to stay “pure” and read nothing but the original author’s works.
WHY WRITE A KW NOVEL?
Several people have asked why I would spend (waste?) the time writing in someone else’s universe rather than put the same effort into my own…especially fans who would really like to see Marty #6 on the shelves! There’s also the unavoidable stigma of fan fiction: that if you have to write in someone else’s world with their characters, you must not have the imagination to create your own.
I understand both arguments and pretty much held them myself until recently. For the first question, the truth is I had an idea that would really only fit in Barry’s world, and would never work with my own. Part of that, of course, is that I’ve been a fan of Barry’s writing for a long time and no doubt elements of the Rain milieux leached into my head, but that’s true of any writer and any reader. While I could’ve created a brand new character to slip into my plot, to be honest the idea came almost fully formed as a Rain story, and setting it anywhere else, with anyone else, would’ve been a John Rain clone, and easily seen through by other fans.
As for the stigma, I think there’s a chicken and egg problem. Fan fiction has and can be bad because it’s often not written by writers, or by those learning to become writers–and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a creative endeavor and often an endearing sign of loyalty and love for the original work, but it’s often not really good fiction. As a result, we label fan fiction as poorly written in a post hoc manner.
But you may have noticed certain books getting a pass. Like, say, the James Bond novels written since Ian Fleming died, which by my rough count now number almost 30. Or the Spenser detective novels, written since Robert B. Parker died (who, of course, was commissioned to finish Poodle Springs, a Raymond Chandler novel). So…books written by “writers” aren’t fan fiction? Or are they? Do you have to be not a fan? Or just a writer?
I think the answer is that a well-written book is worth reading, no matter who wrote it. We always have to give a nod to the originator, naturally; without that person, the concept of the character and the book don’t exist, never mind any spin-offs. But let’s not throw the baby out with the proverbial bath-water: a good book is a good book and all of us as readers get a chance to decide if the newest addition to the field is deserving of our time.