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A Lesson in Humility

Kindle Worlds Takes on Kurt Vonnegut’s Oeuvre, Fans Still Dislike The Consumerist Fic Platform

The collective fandom groan that is Kindle Worlds (Amazon’s project to sell fanfiction) has picked up another author’s oeuvre– literary legend Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Let’s lampshade the irony of Kilgore Trout (perennially penniless sci-fi author who can only get his work published in porn magazines, recurring Vonnegut character, noted communist) being used to sell an open-exchange fandom’s work back to them for a profit.

Kindle Worlds works like this: Amazon approaches a series/franchise/TV show/et cetera, and makes a deal with them. Kindle Worlds will sell fanfiction submitted by fanfic authors and cut them in on a piece of the profit. The fanfic has to get the stamp of approval from the source material (so no E-rated smut here, folks), but once it does it will be marketed back to fans of the show, who pay a fee to read it.

The Vonnegut Trust made the deal with Amazon, meaning that they will be joining the likes of other Kindle Worlds-secured licenses such as The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and Gossip Girl. Not exactly the hardcore fandoms that produce epic works like The Shoebox Project and Redemption Road.

Somehow, I don’t think Amazon realizes just how off the mark their conception of the fanfic world really is. Based on how they are going about making Kindle Worlds, it seems like their conception of fandom is a product of 50 Shades of Grey‘s success and the dollar signs that came with it. Understanding the fanfic world using E.L. James‘ example is like trying to understand American culture by watching Jersey Shore. The way they are approaching the subculture betrays their ignorance, and is only serving to push the fans (who would be their clients) further and further away.

What is infuriating about the whole endeavor is the attempt to monetize a creative culture of free-exchange. Fanfic has always been a labor of love, and (generally) a meritocracy. By offering a fresh canvas for authors young and old, experienced veterans and novices alike, it has been a distinctly egalitarian subculture that serves more to critique and expand upon its source material than worship at its feet. The fundamental understanding of fanfiction as transformative work is missing from Amazon’s business plan. Making fanfiction creator-approved may sound like an exciting idea, but it contradicts the heart of the medium. We are not here to venerate what has come before. We are here to re-examine it, to improve upon it, and to challenge it with our own creative powers.

Fans may love your stories, but we don’t need your approval.

(via The Daily Dot, image from

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  • R.O.U.S.

    I love the constant academic discussion of what fanfic really is, and this is just another spoke in that same wheel. Really looking forward to seeing how this performs, for better or worse, just because I love to watch fandom trends. Let’s see what you’ve got, Amazon.

  • Anonymous

    Vonnegut? Really? But, you don’t read Vonnegut for the plot, and the characters aren’t exactly meant to be taken seriously as people– they are devices for Vonnegut to get his point across, his philosophy, morality, ethics, politics, etc. And there’s also the cadence and nuance of his prose. Reading a Vonnegut novel is to commune with Vonnegut himself. How the hell do you write fanfic based on that?

  • Anonymous

    I’m wondering how the first wave of authors who offer their work up through this platform will be treated in the fandom circles. Will they be seen as “betraying” the fandom culture?

  • Anonymous

    If reactions to previous publications are any indication, absolutely. Doing so makes it really hard for people writing in a less legal venue. “I don’t own this, I’m not making any money off it…”

  • Anonymous

    This just… depresses me, so hard. I’m not even really sure why. I guess it’s like… the best fanfic is based on imperfect source material. Stuff where the characters aren’t that sharply drawn, or the characters are but the story isn’t, or it’s a tad too melodramatic, or it ended badly. Good writing doesn’t lend itself well to fanfic, because it’s complete. There’s no room to stick in your own ideas. And Vonnegut especially… everything is about his ideas. It’s like doing engine maintenance on a bicycle.

    On the other hand, this does seem like the premise of a Vonnegut novel. “Kilgore Trout discovers a soulless corporation has bought all the rights to his books. Trout/Hoover H/C angst, DO NOT OWN.”

  • Anonymous

    So they’ll be treated like “scabs”/strikebreakers, maybe?

  • Sheryl Nantus

    If you read the details this is an AWFUL deal for any author. Your “fanfic” must not only be approved by TPTB (in other words, no sex!) you also sign away your rights to any original characters to the series owners – so in other words, if you create a really cool OC they can pluck it away and not pay you a dime. I don’t see this as a stepping stone to publication of your own work in any case and definitely not a good deal for the fans who are going to get “approved” stories – in other words, something that won’t test the boundaries of the imaginary world, which is what GOOD fanfic does.
    I love fanfiction. I cut my chops writing FF over twenty years ago with X-Files fanfic and met my hubby through his fan letters – but I cannot recommend anyone go this route.
    JMO, YMMV.

  • Anonymous

    The no sex part makes licensing adult literary fiction (not necessarily Vonnegut) even more of a stupid idea. It already made no sense because they saw the fanfic dollar signs from 50SOG, but loads of original and literary fiction involves the characters having sex, sometimes even explicitly. At least when they were only licensing Alloy properties it made some sense in that they’re aimed at a younger audience.

  • Just Jenn

    The love songs I have written about fanfic (to the tune of several graduate level papers in library school and a website describing and discussing it as an online 3rd space)…Kindle worlds is everything bad about consumer culture, but calling it fic.

  • Anonymous

    Um … does anybody actually write Vonnegut fanfiction? Will anybody write it via Kindle Worlds if they aren’t allowed to do Billy Pilgrim & Montanna Wildbuck erotica?

  • Anonymous

    “Years after the war, Billy finds comfort in the last person he would’ve suspected. Pilgrim/Lazzaro. Warning: YAOI. Don’t like don’t read!”

    (Actually there are a grand total of three Slaughterhouse Five stories on, none of them erotica. Small mercies.)

  • MeatyStakes

    I had such high hopes for Redemption Road, and this might be unfair and it actually got better, but I couldn’t get beyond all the whump Castiel got put trough; it was just so obviously manipulative to make us pity him and let his sins slide.

    The worst it wasn’t an atonement he sought, but it was one that just kept happening to him.

    Maybe I should give it a try and finish it.

  • Anonymous

    Similarly, I guess. Likely moreso for the non-fanfic authors, who are competing with writers trying to make a living wage.

  • Mina

    If fanfic has to be approved by the source material….that kind of defeats the entire purpose of fanfic. Yes, that makes it much easier to enforce the legal side of things, I suppose, but I’m not understanding exactly how they think this will work.

  • odango atama

    “Fans may love your stories, but we don’t need your approval.”

    YEAH, dammit!