Fan fiction describes that under-appreciated genre of writing in which amateur authors make use of an already-established fictional universe, often from a TV or book series. At heart, it has always been a way for devoted fans to explore and share "what if" questions about their favorite characters -- sometimes filling in background, other times going far outside the established canon: What does Hermione do on summer vacation? What if Buffy got turned into a vampire? What if Admiral Adama and President Roslyn met The Doctor from "Doctor Who"?
But few have seriously asked the question: What if we could make a little cash off this? And with good reason: The authors and owners of those universes have tended to frown on it. For example, J.K. Rowling has said she's "flattered" by Harry Potter fan fiction, but added that she wanted to ensure that Potter fan-fic remained a "non-commercial activity."
Amazon has licensed the rights to three book series, all of which have spawned television shows: "Gossip Girl," "Pretty Little Liars" and "Vampire Diaries." That clears the way for fan fiction that can actually be sold commercially, rather than simply being traded on fan forums.
"Through these licenses, Kindle Worlds will allow any writer to publish authorized stories inspired by these popular Worlds and make them available for readers to purchase in the Kindle Store," Amazon says in a press release. It goes on to explain that both the rights holder and the author will make royalties from published works, with the fan fiction author getting 35% of net revenue for works over 10,000 words. Short stories between 5,000 and 10,000 words will cost under a dollar, with authors getting 20% of net revenue.
The Kindle Worlds store will launch next month with 50 commissioned works, and at that point, the self-publishing platform will open up to the general public.
Given the popularity of the three licensed properties, Amazon can expect a lot of submissions. On the "Vampire Diaries" section of FanFiction.net, authors have posted more than 17,000 works, and we're sure many of those authors would love to have the opportunity to get paid for their work. And fans of other fictional universes may also get the same opportunity, as Amazon says it plans to continue adding more licenses.
While we imagine that only a small fraction of fan-fiction works will make any real money through Kindle Worlds, it's easy to see why Amazon wants to get into this business. The "Fifty Shades of Grey" series started out as fan fiction based on the "Twilight" series, though it was able to be commercially published because it diverged from the "Twilight" universe in its characters and setting. The runaway success of that series has obviously convinced many in the publishing industry that there's some talent lurking on those fan-fiction forums.
Now Amazon is going to find out if it can monetize that talent.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.