Commercial fan fiction? That’s an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one!
On the one hand, fan fiction (like all other fancraft) is an interaction between fan and property. It’s a personal artform, with its own communities and values. It’s the result of being provoked in some way, positive or negative, by a reading or viewing experience. It’s a personal expression in someone else’s creation. Fan fiction is the fan’s way to interact with the property’s creator in a creative manner, and some members of the community feel betrayed when a fellow ficcer profits from work. (For an excellent discussion on fan fiction, read Fic: Why Fan Fiction is Taking Over the World.)
On the other hand, fan fiction has also become a launchpad for those who want to create their own worlds and build their own career as an author. It’s a sort of training process for those looking to move up in the publishing ranks, or opens doors for those who never would have dreamed they could eventually become a published writer in some form. We’ve seen this with people like fantasy author Lev Grossman and screenwriter Amy Berg. But we’ve also seen known ficcers trying to leverage their fan fiction experience to launch their original fiction careers come under attack because they were fan fiction writers. (Watching the drama against Big Bang Press unfold on io9 was a bizarre experience.)
It’s a crazy, ambiguous line. One plagued by this notion that everyone who writes fan fiction is a whiny fourteen-year-old girl who sleeps through English class. (And for a great explanation of fan fiction, check out this response to the Big Bang Press drama on io9.)
What Kindle Worlds is doing for fan fiction is, in a way, highlighting how fan fiction has impacted original fiction (or canon) over the years, and now offers a way for publishers and creators to find a way to recognize fan fiction in a manner that benefits both sides. Fan fiction submitted to Kindle Worlds has to go through a vetting process, encouraging writers who want to be published through the system to really sharpen their writing skills, elevating fan fiction as an artform. It also compensates super fans in a way that allows the super fan to continue to support and evangelize for the property as a recognized voice.
One of the more interesting stories to come out of Kindle Worlds so far doesn’t even involve a fan fiction writer. Vampire Diaries creator L.J. Smith was removed from writing the series (yes, you read that right) three years ago. It came as a great shock to fans, and probably to Smith as well. The contract had been established as “for hire”, and when Smith wouldn’t take the series in the direction the publisher wanted, they found someone who would and replaced her. Thanks to the fact that publishing company was among the first to sign on with Kindle Worlds, Smith will now be able to write the remainder of her series, twenty years in the making.
As Kindle Worlds continues growing in terms of both represented properties and fan fiction writers, it will be interesting to see how this creates writing as a whole.