Many years ago I started reading The Wheel of Time fantasy series (yes… I know…) I started with Book 5, which I think is still the best of the franchise, just before it descended into a nightmarish description of clothes, and endless comments on the act of braid pulling. My interest in the series coincided with the early Internet, and I discovered dozens of websites dedicated to all things WoT, from FAQs which detailed the complex world, to forums discussing major plot mysteries and twists. It was then that I discovered fan fiction. Not content with simply discussing characters and cultures, fans started inhabiting spaces where they could create their own characters, or expand on existing ones. I still remember a fan-based White Tower where people could create their own Aes Sedai, or bond a new Warder. It was all in good fun, and while I never really got into it, I did enjoy reading some stories, the level of detail and love that people would put into their characters was quite amazing.
Then I discovered the seedier neighbourhoods of fan fiction, and I vowed never to return.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no prude, but I honestly could never understand phenomena like slash fiction. I never got why people had to sexualise beloved characters and make them do things that, to put mildly, might turn off even those with a strong will. I guess I am just too literal and like characters the way they were written. Yes, fan fiction has always had a bit of a sleazy reputation, which both explains its lack of mainstream allure, and unending popularity. Some people do really like to read about the imagined sexual escapades of their characters.
Until recently, fan fiction had no commercial interest, so authors simply shrugged it off as an the obscure Internet fad. But then a little-known UK TV executive wrote a racy re-telling of the Twilight saga called Master of the Universe, which took off like a rocket in fan fiction circles. This story was so popular that the author realised she could make real money from it, so she took out the Twilight elements and turned it into an ebook, which also started selling quite well. The ebooks were then picked up by traditional publishers and turned into a successful trilogy. You may have heard of the book, it’s now called 50 Shades of Grey.
Surprised? Not many people seem to know that 50 Shades is popular precisely because it is a BDSM version of Twilight, yet a text analysis confirms that 50 Shades of Grey is 89% similar to Master of the Universe.
However, the moral of the story is that there is potentially a lot of money in fan fiction, something that many of us have been saying for years. Some people in the content industry have finally woken up to the fact that fan creativity may very well prove to be a profitable revenue stream. If people are re-working and recreating their beloved characters, it is also possible that they will pay to read other people’s efforts.
This is why Amazon has announced a deal to sell fan fiction as ebooks in the Kindle network in a new platform called Kindle Worlds. Amazon has secured the support of Alloy Entertainment, a division of Warner Bros which creates books based on some of their shows, namely Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and Vampire Diaries. According to the deal, fans will be able to make and sell their fan fiction based on these shows (or more accurately, based on the books of these shows). The fan fiction author will get a 20% share of the sales, while the IP owners will get a generous cut of 35%, with the rest going to Amazon.
It will be interesting to see if other large content creators will follow this model. At the moment Kindle Worlds seems to be targeting the female teenage market (although I suspect Vampire Diaries has a more mature audience). Will Kindle Worlds allow the type of more sexual content that seems to be the hallmark of recent fan fiction? Only time will tell.
One thing is certain, I predict that there is a very small market for Game of Thrones fan fiction. There is little that a fan can think of that G R R Martin has not already done to his characters.