katsu: (Default)

Today in “big media company attempting to exploit writers,” Entertainment Weekly has really outdone itself with a for-exposure-only-as-prize contest for… fanfiction? Here’s a tumblr summary of this terrible BS, but I wanted to dig into the awful terms and conditions a little more.

All bolding is mine for emphasis.

From section 1, “How to Enter.”

Entries become sole property of Sponsor and none will be acknowledged or returned.

Well, that is a giant screaming warning flag that says WRITER BEWARE. WRITER DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLET $200. WRITER RUN THE FUCK AWAY. Things get more than a little weird because we’re talking fanfic (more about that in a minute), but in general if you EVER see anything that says anyone other than you becomes the sole owner of your writing, unless it comes with a fucking enormous check (and it better be HUGE), you say NO.

In non-abusive contracts, it’s all about the assignment of extremely specific rights (eg: first world electronic rights) with rights not negotiated still remaining with the writer. The writer still retains copyright. You as the writer still own the story; you are negotiating with the publisher for their use of it. Ownership will change hands if you’re, say, writing on spec for a company or doing tie-in work, but that comes with the expectation of some significant pay because you are giving up your ownership.

By entering, Entrant warrants that his or her entry (1) is original and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party, (2) has not been published in any medium or (3) has not won an award.

This is the part that has me just scratching my head. As far as I can tell, whoever had this ugly brain baby at Entertainment Weekly doesn’t actually understand what fanfiction is or how it works. The entire fucking point of fanfic is that it technically does infringe on the intellectual property rights of someone else. You are using someone else’s intellectual property without their permission. Literally. If you weren’t, it wouldn’t be fanfic! But generally it squeaks by under fair use (though this is a topic an entire book can and has been written upon) because there is no profit on the part of the fanfic writer–and I’d argue a lot of big IP holders realize that fanworks add value to the property as a way to encourage fan participation, loyalty, and recruitment. But really, the point here is that what EW is asking for in their own rules is by definition NOT fanfiction. If you owned all the IP on your story, it wouldn’t be fanfic, and you should still definitely not be giving it to Entertainment Weekly for FREE.

Also? Point #2 is basically them demanding first world rights to the work. Considering how egregious the “becomes sole property of Sponsor” is already, this is a footnote, but it’s insult to injury. (By the way, if you want to see what an actual non-predatory contract looks like, SFWA did a model magazine contract that’s really good.)

From section 5 “Conditions of Participation.”

By entering, Entrant represents that any fan fiction submission and other materials submitted as part of Entrant’s Contest entry are original and will not constitute defamation an invasion of privacy or otherwise infringe upon the rights of any third party, and that the Entrant owns or has the rights to convey any and all right and title in such video and other materials.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY DO U EVEN FANFIC

In addition, by entering, Entrant grants to Sponsor a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to edit, publish, promote, republish at any time in the future and otherwise use Entrant’s submitted fan fiction, along with Entrant’s name, likeness, biographical information, and any other information provided by Entrant, in any and all media for possible editorial, promotional or advertising purposes, without further permission, notice or compensation (except where prohibited by law).

Translation: if we pick your fanfic, which we have now said we instantly own upon submission, we can then do whatever we want with it and use you as a promotional tool however and whenever we want. Without even having to tell you when we do it. Or ever give you any kind of monetary compensation for it.

THIS IS BAD ON SO MANY LEVELS.

As a note, regular publishing contracts can and do allow for minor copyediting of the work without the author’s approval. That’s standard. Anything beyond copyediting? In my experience this is NOT something you ever want to agree to unless you trust the editor completely to just fix your grammatical screw ups and not fuck with your story. Considering how gross this has been already, how trustworthy do you think Entertainment Weekly would be with your work?

Acceptance of the prize constitutes permission for Sponsor and its agencies to use Winner’s name and/or likeness, biographical information, fan fiction, other materials submitted for advertising and promotional purposes without additional compensation, unless prohibited by law.

What prize? ALL THAT EXPOSURE? SO MUCH EXPOSURE. LET THEM EAT EXPOSURE. But really, second verse, same as the first. They get to flog you and your work for advertisement and promotion without any compensation to you.

By entering and/or accepting prize, Entrants and Winners agree to hold Sponsor and its promotional partners, its directors, officers, employees and assigns harmless for liability, damages or claims for injury or loss to any person or property relating to, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, participation in this Contest, the acceptance and/or subsequent use or misuse, or condition of any of the prizes awarded, or claims based on publicity rights, defamation, or invasion or privacy.

This is a “hold harmless” clause, which can be anything but harmless to the person tacitly accepting this contract. On one hand, some of this is butt covering in the case of you not liking your “prize” (SO MUCH EXPOSURE) and wiggling out of ay fuss you could kick up if, say, a future employer doesn’t like how EW is using your likeness and fanfiction to promote… whatever it is they’re promoting. But does this also leave the writer holding the bag if an intellectual property holder goes after EW and the writer if they decide this violates fair use, despite the fact that EW has grabbed all possible rights? To be honest, I’m not good enough at this to say yes or no one way or the other, but I wouldn’t fucking trust it.

Any time someone tries to fuck over writers with for-exposure, rights grabby bullshit, I get mad. Those scams are almost always aimed at young writers who are hungry for even acknowledgment, and it’s gross and dishonest–but at least there are resources out there aimed at educating beginning writers about people who want to prey on them. This makes me even angrier because it’s tacitly aimed at a population that has no real reason to even require familiarity with like publishing rights.

Shame on you, Entertainment Weekly. Shame on your house, shame on your publicists, shame on your legal department, shame on your editors.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

I find this disturbing on a multitude of levels.

I will lay this out here first: I have not read the fic in question, any of the writer’s other fics, and I am not part of either of those fandoms; don’t care about Persona, and while I listen to WTNV, I don’t participate in the fandom in any kind of meaningful way. I am completely uninterested in the fics in question or debates about their relative merits. Got it?

(And good thing, since apparently I might have a rough time reading the fics in question now.)

So let me explain why this whole thing disturbs me.

  1. Writers, whether they are writing fanfiction or original fiction, write disturbing shit all the time. All the fucking time. Hell, my best friend writes horror. I once beta read one of her stories and sent it back with “WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS” as my only comment. This idea that whatever a writer puts down on paper is somehow must be a true reflection of their deep-seated beliefs and desires is wrong, and frankly, dangerous. My characters are not me, any more than the characters an actor plays are him or her. The stories we tell might have some meaning to us and a myriad of different meanings to other people. Do not assume that you know what a writer thinks or believes just from the fiction they have written.
  2. Go read this, in which a marginalized young adult makes the case for all that unsavory sex, drugs, and violence that has people these days clutching their pearls about YA fiction being too “dark.” Underage pornography is bad. But work with explicit sex (or violence) that involves underage characters is also not automatically pornography.
  3. This is yet another example of fanfiction being used as a way to try to embarrass or attack a fan. Or the fact that someone has written explicit material of some sort as a way to attack their other activities—including careers. This also perpetuates a stigma that is generally only used to punish women.
  4. Whenever this kind of shit happens, I take a long look at everything I’ve ever done as a fan and seriously contemplate burning it to the ground. It’s not hard to connect my real name with my fan works. And I’m pretty much the only person in the English-speaking internet that has my name. The only reason I don’t let the paranoia get to me is that I really doubt my company gives a flying fuck that I used to write, say Gundam Wing fanfics. And they googled me pretty thoroughly before they hired me; I think they knew what they were getting. But this is an incredibly privileged position I’m in as an employee, and few people enjoy my level of security. As long as this sort of thing keeps happening, there are a large swathe of people who are going to get scared right out of the fandom because they’re afraid some shithead is going to go after them for whatever reason and try to ruin their career. Which I guess is only a problem if you think people in professional career tracks like teachers and doctors should be allowed to be in fandom. (Which I do.)
  5. The original post comes from a blog that at the time of this writing literally has only three posts. This sort of thing happens all the time, since social media accounts are easy to create, largely anonymous unless someone wants to do a lot of digging that can be easily foiled, and generally disposable. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, since anonymity can be used to expose some real, very ugly problems. But I’ve seen this method used far more often to attack someone spuriously, and that makes it all the harder to draw attention to those aforementioned real, very ugly problems.
  6. Which brings me to my final point, which is far more expansive: I am really fucking tired of fandom cannibalism.

I don’t know if that’s the entirety of what’s going on here. Perhaps I’m characterizing it unfairly. But I’ve seen this happen enough, and to close enough friends that it’s setting off all the same damn warning bells. Because it generally goes like this:

  1. Fan A (who is invariably a woman) has something awesome happen to her. Could be a book deal. Could be getting to do something cool and special. Could be just some kind of online recognition being given to her by a creator/writer/actor.
  2. Fan B takes exception to this for mysterious reasons, which ultimately seem to boil down to jealousy.
  3. Fan B, rather than dealing with jealousy in a healthy way, starts a smear campaign that normally involves newly created social media accounts.
  4. Other people in the fandom (at first those who are friends with Fan B, but then expanding out into basically bystanders who may be well meaning or quietly gleeful to see Fan A get torn down or anywhere in between) start spreading whatever dirt Fan B came up with.
  5. Drama ensues and perpetuates. Fan A, often for the sake of her sanity, gets as far away from the fandom as possible.

I have seen this happen again. And again. And again. And I’m fucking sick of it. Because when you come down to it, I am so goddamn tired of watching women (because yes there can be men or genderqueer individuals involved but it’s most commonly people who identify as women) tear each other down. I am so goddamn sick of watching women turn on each other over what is often nothing more than scraps.

And I am so. Fucking. Sick. Of women buying the bullshit lie over and over again that the success, however small, of one woman somehow means there is less left for everyone else. My successes, no matter how big or small, do not in any way diminish your life.

So, I suppose this is the place where I could go into an uplifting message about how we’re all in this together and we owe it to each other to be supportive and each other’s best cheerleaders, and don’t be jealous! Well, no. I also am aware that we’re goddamn human beings. Jealousy is part of the human condition, an ugly part no one likes talking about. Well, I admit it. I’m jealous of the amazing things my friends do all the fucking time. But like all emotions, you can’t necessarily help that you feel that way, but you can damn well control what you do after.

You want to be annoyed and talk about how someone’s writing is total shit and they don’t deserve their book deal and you never liked that person anyway? Fine. But that does not give you the right to shit on them and everything they love and try to destroy their career.

Eat your goddamn disappointment fajitas and knock it the fuck off.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

Okay, darlings, I’m getting just a little tired of this shit. Since a thing involving fanfiction happened of course we’re up for another round of arguing about the “worth” of fanfic. Because what is the internet for if not being a long distance dick about things other people like? Well, let Evil Auntie Rachael lay down some fucking truth for you.

First off, define “real” fiction. Unless you’re writing pure history or biographical stories, you are literally making shit up. Define real in that context. I dare you.

Okay, so you mean original fiction? When we’re talking written narrative fiction, I should note that original is a pretty loaded word. Everyone likes to laugh about there only being three (or five, or six, or pick a number) plotlines in the entire world, and it’s really all just about giving it a twist or telling it a new way. Are you telling me fanfiction can’t do that? Even the idea of original characters is a loaded one, since we’ve got archetypal characters for a reason, and you can make a compelling argument for nearly every character belonging to an archetype, with the serial numbers cunningly masked by, say, curly hair and an interest in bowling. (And here, we aren’t even touching the entire issue of licensed tie-in fiction.)

So do you really mean fiction for which someone would potentially pay money? First, please explain to me how assigning monetary value to art makes it more legitimate. Because here I was thinking the true value of art was actually a thing without price, namely the act of creation itself and the idea the art communicates. And second, getting paid for fiction is not that easy. TRUST ME.

But Evil Auntie Rachael, original fiction is better quality than fanfiction. Really? Give me five minutes and Google and I will find you ten fanfics that display more sophisticated writing, better plotting, and deeper characterization than Twilight. Give me a full day and some dramamine, and I bet I can find you ten Twilight fanfics that are better quality than the work upon which they’re based.

The only thing original fiction gets to hold over fanfic in regards to quality is that it’s professionally edited. (IF it’s traditionally published or if it’s self published AND the author coughed up the dough to independently hire a content and line editor.) And sometimes, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Every single one of us has read a book in our lives where we threw it on the floor in disgust and announced that we could totally do better than that.

Fanfiction is an incredibly valuable tool for learning and honing the craft of writing. I wrote fanfiction for years and years. I know other writers who wrote fanfic for years and years (and most of them have published far more than me). Some of us still do. What fanfiction taught me was how to build a plot, and how to plot long, and stay true to character while I was doing it. Writing fanfic isn’t easier or harder than writing original fiction–it’s the same process, the same parts of your brain.

And you know what? Fanfic is fun. You’re not writing it to a deadline, you’re not thinking about how many fucking times it’s going to be forcibly ejected from a slushpile, or which of your darlings the editor is going to expect you to kill. You’re writing it for the sheer joy of writing something because you like it and you can. God, and the feedback! You have an instant fanbase of people who will actually engage with you about your story! I wrote one short little fic after I saw Thor: The Dark World and in the time since I put it online I have literally received more feedback on it than I have in total for every piece of original work I’ve ever published. It’s like pure black tar heroin for the sad little twitching addict that is a writer’s ego.

Two years ago, I sat in on a panel at Worldcon where two editors from large publishing houses said yeah, they know people in publishing who keep track of fanfiction because it’s a way to find amazing writers. Patrick Nielsen Hayden said:

There is no ceiling on how good fanfic can be because it’s all unpublishable. You can find great writers.

So you can shut the fuck up about the supposed inferiority of fanfiction now.

Oh, and if a published writer has the sheer ego necessary to tell you that all fanfic is creatively inferior and doesn’t count, you tell them to go fuck themselves. Tell ‘em from me, too. At the end of the day, we’re all just making shit up.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

Forgive me if this is all a little disjointed, but I’m kind of writing things down as they occur to me. Also, since I’m a writer, I’m going to focus on writing, but I bet a lot of what I say is true for stories is also true for art.

Since the colossal Sherlock fanfic dick move, I’ve been thinking about fanfic, and talking with some people who still actively fic. (Yes, to fic is a verb. Now you know.) To go with the utter rage at what a colossal dick Caitlin Moran was, there’s been this general embarrassed recoil among fic writers. It’s a thing of sheer horror, thinking something like that could happen to one of our little stories, like AO3 is a rock that could be overturned at any moment and we’re worried we can’t scurry away fast enough.

But why is that? Why are we embarrassed about our fanfiction?

This is the thing: I don’t think we actually are.

If you were actually, actively embarrassed about a story (or any piece of art you created), you wouldn’t show it to anyone, would you? No. I imagine a lot of people are probably like me, with half-finished (or fully finished but hideous) stories that just don’t work stashed in a padlocked trunk in the attic where they can’t hurt anyone.

But if you get your story to the point where you’re willing to put it out in the light of day where people can actually see it? You must think there’s something worthwhile there to be shared. Sure, maybe it’s imperfect, or you’re frustrated and want feedback, or a lot of other reasons. But the basic idea still holds: if you’re letting other people look at it, there is some kind of marrow to your story that you think is good. In which you believe. In which you feel pride. Even if it’s a story that has you throwing your keyboard at the wall because it just won’t fucking work, you wouldn’t be putting it out there for critique if you didn’t think it had a heart worth saving.

You don’t put fanfiction on the internet because you’re embarrassed about it.

So next question: why do other people make us feel embarrassed about our fanfiction?

Except I don’t think that’s even the right question. Because if you knew for a fact that a non-fan, when told about your fanfiction, would at worst just shrug it off, say that’s a cool hobby let me tell you about my fantasy football team, or ask you if that’s a thing you can do to make money (No.) then you wouldn’t ever feel embarrassed about it. There wouldn’t be a reason for embarrassment, because it’s just another hobby.

I think this is the real question: why do other people want us to feel embarrassed about our fanfiction?

Because they’re assholes.

Or maybe that’s too easy. Even if they are assholes, that doesn’t really say anything about the source of this dickish mode of behavior.

Embarrassment comes from shame. Shame comes from the fear of other people thinking your behavior is wrong or foolish.

Okay, so what’s wrong or foolish about fanfiction? Nothing empirically. You’re not making money off of someone else’s intellectual property. It’s sure not any more foolish than a whole host of other hobbies I could name, like say paying a bunch of money to go sit in a cold stadium and watch men in tight pants run up and down a field chasing a ball.

I can see a lot of factors in this.

Maybe it’s that poisonous idea that liking things unironically is somehow mortally uncool. Well, fuck being cool anyway. If people who pull shit like Caitlin Moran and Alan Carr are the cool kids, thanks, I’ll take my tray and go sit with the M:tG nerds again. I don’t find the practice of cultural cannibalism at all satisfying.

Maybe it’s being enthusiastic about things that aren’t mainstream. Like, it’s totally fine to go to football games and paint your face and chest, or have a fantasy football team, but god help us if we’re making shit up about anything that’s not sports. Probably worth noting here that stuff stereotypically liked by guys is generally viewed as cooler than stuff stereotypically liked by girls.

Maybe it’s the writing thing, though I can already put paid to that notion because people generally think it’s mega cool if you’re writing original fiction. But then again, that means you get the stamp of some kind of cultural approval because hey, someone gave you money for your words. That must mean it’s okay. (Unless it’s romance. But we’ll get to that later.)

So then maybe it’s the fact that you’re writing stories for free about someone else’s characters? Frankly, anyone who likes any of the plethora of Sherlock Holmes-sourced shows and movies doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to that. And so on and so forth. Anyone who has ever come out of a movie and said, Yeah that was cool but they really should have done X/Y/Z, write it down and congratulations you just did fanfic now shut the fuck up.

Maybe it’s the porn thing? Ah, well, there is that. We live in a country where for entertainment, graphic torture is a-okay for pretty wide consumption and consensual cunnilingus is just way too shocking. And we’ve all read stories about a teacher (almost always female) who moonlights as a romance or erotica writer getting fired because some parents found out her dirty little secret. Funny thing is, you don’t get fired if you write mainstream literary fiction, hard crime, or even scifi/fantasy.

I don’t think that point should make us feel embarrassed. It should make us angry. The puritanical (and often hypocritical) attitude about sex isn’t something that deserves to be fed with our embarrassment. And in this case, the people who should really feel ashamed are the ones who dump porn in the lap of a person who did not consent to it. Because as I said on Monday, that is never okay.

Maybe it’s because fanfiction is dominated by women, and it’s always fun to take a steaming shit on anything women do creatively? Wish I could say I didn’t think this was a factor, but considering the last several sexism shit storms I’ve witnessed as a writer of original sf/f, this one deserves to be pinned on the board. It’s kind of fascinating to see on one side, DC Comics basically cancelling a show for being too popular with girls, and on the other Alan Carr showing Tom Hiddleston porny Loki fanart like it’s the fucking Ark of the Covenant and he’s expecting faces to melt. (And by the way, you are never getting a movie about Wonder Woman or Black Widow.) Yes, women are taking an interest in fandoms that were originally aimed more at men, and we’re doing it in the ways we always have, and maybe some people find that shocking? (God, why can’t you people just shut the fuck up and buy action figures.)

Maybe it’s because the world is full of assholes who just want to return to the natural order of tearing up the nerd’s notebook of carefully plotted dungeon crawls and feeling good about themselves. (Though considering some of the people doing this crap are pretty damn nerdy themselves, one does wonder.)

Whatever the reason, hey, don’t be a dick. That shouldn’t be such a difficult idea to grasp.

Weirdly, this entire question of embarrassment, makes me think about my niece. Stick with me here. I love my niece to bits. She’s young, and inquisitive, and still at the stage where she’s scribbling pictures on pieces of scrap paper and giving them to everyone as gifts, telling you proudly that the figure on the paper (almost unrecognizable as human) is you. She is happy with the art she’s made, and proud of it. And because she’s happy with it and proud of it, I’ve taken the marker squiggle masterpieces home and given them a place of honor on my refrigerator, as I was told to do by my Evil Auntie’s Handbook.

In our childhood, we are all artists, and we all know the joy of creation.

I remember being like that. I remember writing stories as soon as I could form letters with a pencil, and proudly showing them to anyone who couldn’t run faster than me. (I was a chubby kid. I wasn’t hard to outrun.) I bet you were like that too. At some point, we all take a hit to that enthusiasm to share.

When it’s because we’ve gained enough experience to realize that not every piece of art we make is a masterpiece, that’s called learning the craft. That’s called self-editing and growing and improving. And that’s good, so long as we never hit a point where our internal editor becomes so megalomaniacal that he keeps us from letting our art see the light of day.

But there’s another reason people stop creating and sharing. And it’s because some asshole out there (or many assholes) said that what we’re creating is bad, and stupid, and we should be ashamed of it. And then instead of finding the good heart of what we make and believing in it, we only believe that other people will laugh at us. All art is in some way taking a piece of yourself, some feeling or experience or idea, and making it manifest. No one wants to feel like what comes from inside them deserves shame.

That’s what bothers me the most, about these assholes out there trying to shame fanwriters and artists. Creativity is a muscle that requires exercise to be healthy and strong. Art needs oxygen and sunlight to grow, like most other living things. And everyone, everyone in the goddamn world who has ever made art, has an endless learning curve they have to travel.

You know what I’d call someone who shoves an artist off the learning curve just for a nasty chuckle? A bully. And someone who tries to make an artist feel small for having the cojones to rip out a little piece of their heart and say I made this myself and I’m proud of it? A mean-spirited coward.

Fuck ’em. They don’t deserve any more of my words.

Never stop creating, darlings. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Believe in your art and grow.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick.

So this happened. It’s just part of a long pattern of interviewers basically trying to embarrass both actors and fan writers/artists by bringing them forcibly together. (See also: people showing Tom Hiddleston pornographic fanart during interviews.) These people are dicks. Dicks of phenomenal magnitude. I’d say they should be ashamed of themselves, but the very fact that they’re doing this kind of bullshit pretty much shows that they have no shame.

This is the thing about being a fan writer or artist: your creative space is implicitly under the radar, made by the creators of the original work willingly turning a blind eye to give fans room to play. I wrote fanfiction for years and years (and still do, to be honest, very occasionally) and for the most part you do so on the understanding that the creators of the original work will never see what you’ve done. You’re writing for yourself, and for other fans. That’s what makes it fun and joyful. It keeps fan communities strong, which for the most part is a good thing, since yay loyal fan base. No one gets hurt (outside of shipping wars casualties), no harm, no foul, everyone is happy.

Now, it’s different if a creator (or actor) asks for fanworks to be sent to them (like the amazing Trollando Jones asking for fanfic!) or if, say, you come up with something beautiful and tasteful and want to send it as a tribute*. It’s also different if someone actually goes looking for work on the internet. It’s the internet. Enter at your own risk.

But this pattern of taking fanwork and shoving it in the face of people involved in the original movie (etc) is beyond gross. It’s mean-spiritedly shitting in someone’s sandbox for the sake of being a dick. And I shouldn’t even have to say that it’s gross to force something embarrassing on unsuspecting people in public, and megagross when it’s pornographic.

And it’s gross to search out fanworks just for the purposes of publicly mocking them. I feel like I hit my head and woke up back in high school, when the mean girls were stealing my notebook and staging dramatic readings of my horrible teen angst poetry. Fuck you for trying to make the act of creation feel unsafe. Fuck you for punishing people for loving something. No, really, fuck you guys.

And for good measure, fuck everyone who thinks what is basically cruelty for the sake of being cruel is funny.

(Don’t be ashamed of your fanfic.)

 

*-I shouldn’t even have to say this, BUT: sending pornographic work to someone who hasn’t asked for it is never, ever okay. Kind of like sending other people pictures of your genitalia is never okay. Same principle. Including someone in your sex life non-consensually is never okay.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

If you know any writers, you’ve probably seen this spewed all over social media today. Well, it’s my turn to spew. Amazon is starting a new scheme, this one to sell fanfiction. For profit.

That’s right. Fanfiction. Making money off of it. This is a thing now. Well, it had the feeling of inevitability as soon as everyone realized 50 Shades of Gray was tarted-up Twilight fanfiction.

I have some very complicated feelings about this, both as an author and as a fan. The author gets to go first:

I had one moment of pants-shitting terror until I actually read over the terms. The fact that this for-profit fanfic will be limited to only properties Amazon has a deal with, and that royalties will be paid to the owners of that property soothes a lot of potential worries that I might have had, and goes a long way to explaining how this venture would even be possible. They’re not going to go selling fanfic at random. And there’s actually a lot of control by the owners of the original properties (from the Kindle Worlds authors page):

World Licensors have provided Content Guidelines for each World, and your work must follow these Content Guidelines. We strongly encourage you to read the Content Guidelines before you commit the time and effort to write.

So that’s certainly offering more control over content than regular fanfiction does. This means if the original property owner wants no slash, there will be no slash. (More on this later in the fan section.) Honestly, this doesn’t sound like fanfiction so much as a new model for writing tie-ins. So yeah, from the viewpoint of writing, it sounds like it could be beneficial – original property owners could make some money, starting writers could make some money for something they’d otherwise give away for free, win-win, right?

Hm, maybe. One of the major issues that’s making me feel uncomfortable with this scheme is right in the terms as well:

When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.

And.

Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.

Emphasis in both passages added by me. First off, all rights for the term of copyright is something that had writers across the internet shitting their pants over the originally proposed contract terms for Hydra and its sister imprints. These are bad terms. The term of copyright at this point, with the ludicrous nature of copyright law, means “as long as we can squeeze even a dime out of your work’s rotting corpse.” Copyright effectively does not end as long as someone cares enough to renew it.

Add to that the other part. Basically, any original work you add in this for-profit fanfiction, be it plotline or world element or character effectively ceases to belong to you in any useful sense. If I’m reading this right, you can no longer use these original elements of your own outside of this fanfiction. And even better, the original owner of the work can use your story elements without so much as giving you credit. This may sound fair at first blush (this is fanfiction, after all, right? You’re getting paid, right?) but I’ve known a ton of people who write fanfic (including myself) who have gone on to use elements they first developed in fanfiction to fuel their own original endeavors. Come up with a cool side character that you can transfer into your own original universe and then write awesome novels about? Tough titties.

So that’s something I find incredibly worrying.

In a more abstract sense, I’d also like to throw in a little “won’t someone think of the children?” Part of what had people up in arms about the Hydra debacle was that it blatantly targeted struggling writers, because they were the most likely group to go for shitty contract terms and not know better. This has all of the same hallmarks, but potentially worse since the series in question could have a very teen-heavy fan (and writer) base. Get ‘em while they’re young, eh, and then they’ll think term of copyright is a-okay?

It’s not entirely downbeat. I think this might be a shot for new writers to start building their own fan base, which could be useful when they branch off and start writing their own work. Hell, it could be a way for talent to get noticed by the people who run these properties. Who knows.

Though that does circle us back around to the question of quality control. Obviously there will be some, thanks to the “Content Guidelines.” But I’m curious to know how much editing will be done. How much will this be an opportunity for writers to actually improve their craft? I’ve already seen epublishing treated often as a “well fuck the editors they don’t see my obvious talent I’ll just self pub online” escape hatch by writers that honestly need more work. (Please note, I am not saying all self published work is like this. Some of it is phenomenal.) Will the Kindle Worlds get swollen with badly written works by writers who are not getting the necessary guidance to improve? Look at the internet, man. There is a lot of fanfic out there. And a lot of it is really, really bad.

Which brings us around to my much less mixed and generally less positive feelings as a fan.

Let me just put it out there that I find the idea of for-profit fanfiction thoroughly repugnant, as someone who has been writing fanfiction nearly her entire life. This is a little less so on the grounds that it’s done in concert with the creators, but still. In the depths of my fannish soul, I do not like it. Maybe I’m one of a dying breed.

Beyond that, there are two main concerns that I have as a fan:

1) If this becomes a useful revenue stream for the property owners, will this give them incentive to try to crack down on free fanfiction on the internet? While we know that fanfic has a way of surviving even when the holder of copyright doesn’t like the fact of its existence, this could make life very unpleasant for people. Obviously, this is a moot point unless the “licensed” fanfiction starts making a lot of money. But one does have to wonder, why bother paying even a pittance for fanfic on the Kindle when you can get it for free at AO3 or Fanfic.net?

Other than for the shiny badge of sanction, I suppose. Which brings me to point the second:

2) The “Content Guidelines” were mentioned before, but we don’t know why kind of things might be in them, other than no porn. How strict a control will there be on what is depicted in these stories?

While much of fanfiction is pure, joyful (and often badly written) brain crack, the one thing it can do, at times unwittingly, is give voice to viewpoints and characters that are marginalized in the original properties. For example, while a lot of slash can be porn for the sake of porn, it’s also there as a vehicle for depicting relationships between male characters where there wasn’t one in the series. While homosexual characters are becoming more common in the actual shows themselves, if you believed fanfiction you couldn’t throw a rock in a given episode without hitting a gay character. And while this may sound flippant or trivial to you, I believe it can have a profound impact. Frankly, yaoi and slash fanfiction were what started me as a teenager on my journey to realizing that gay people are (holy shit) people, and that I’m bisexual. Fanfiction can let side characters, often people of color, shine when they are given no opportunities in their original show. How will this work with content guidelines, and so on?

There’s a lot of fanfic out there. And there’s a certain magic to having to sort through it all to find stories you like. In the process, you’ll often find out that what you like isn’t necessarily what you thought you’d like.

A lot of this is just me spinning my wheels. Kindle Worlds is a thing that’s going to happen, and there’s no stopping it. There’s also no knowing how profitable will be. It could be a massive hit. It could be dead and forgotten in a year. We’ll find out. But while we wait to see how it develops, I can’t shake my feeling of profound unease.

While I’ve seen several blog posts that include, “If property X were in Kindle Worlds, I’d sure be tempted to write for it…” I’m not going to join that club. I have no interest in this scheme, not under those terms, no way, no how. Not even if it were Avengers. Because I do it for the love. And because some day I’m going to write the adventures of the little waffle iron that could.

Further reading:

Originally published at katsudon.net. You can comment here or there.

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Tetsugawa Katsuhiro

September 2017

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