Amazon has made headlines with its “Kindle Worlds” program, which has been initially billed as a way to legally publish fan fiction, starting with tales of three fictional universes developed by Warner’s Alloy Media: Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars. As electronic publishing continues to blur the line between what has traditionally been considered professional and amateur writers, this may not be profiting from fan fiction so much as an attempt to redefine what constitutes a media tie-in by adding an element of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is a form of soliciting ideas from the general public, frequently via a website. Specifications are given, users-at-large submit their design or product and the winner is paid (frequently at a much lower rate than market). Crowdsourcing is highly controversial for driving down pricing and also causing people to work on spec, with the real possibility of not getting paid.

Fan fiction (or fanfic) has been around as long as there have been fans. Identifying with the original source and craving new materials fans will write new adventures of their favorite properties or create crossovers between properties (for example, the Star Trek characters meet the Battlestar Galactica characters or Kolchak gets a visit from Fox Mulder). A popular and infamous subgenre of fanfic is "slash fiction," wherein the fan writer creates a sexual relationship between same-sex characters. The classical slash was a pairing of "Kirk/Spock" by female fan writers in Star Trek and it grew from there. (Amazon is specifically banning overly sexual fan fiction from Kindle Worlds, no doubt in an attempt to head off slash.) Fanfic has risen in profile since the web has made it easier to find with sites like and and It should also be noted that there is occasionally a path from fanfic to licensed media tie-ins: for instance, when Virgin started up their line of Doctor Who novels, they "promoted" some fan fiction authors to professional status.

Kindle Worlds offers a revenue split with authors, but does buy all the rights, theoretically precluding participation by authors if their plots or any new characters are subsequently used by others, including being added to the official cannon. This has already caused some controversy in the writing world, which sees this this as an extreme form of work-for-hire contracts.

On the other hand, while no advances are given, the royalties have the potential of adding up. Amazon states that revenues will be split :

“Amazon Publishing will pay royalties to the rights holder for the World (we call them World Licensors) and to you. Your standard royalty rate for works of at least 10,000 words will be 35% of net revenue.

“In addition, with the launch of Kindle Worlds, Amazon Publishing will pilot an experimental new program for particularly short works (between 5,000 and 10,000 words). For these short stories—typically priced under one dollar—Amazon will pay the royalties for the World Licensor and will pay authors a digital royalty of 20% of net revenue. The lower royalty for these shorter works is due to significantly higher fixed costs per digital copy (for example, credit-card fees) when prices for the entire class of content will likely be under one dollar.”

While “net revenues” is an ambiguous term, Amazon’s standard split is 70%-30% for eBooks priced between $2.99-$9.99, as well as for Kindle Singles, so unless there are significant additional fees associated with this program, that gives a starting point to evaluate what this really means for compensation.

10K+ word novellas/novels (35% split)

List price




Author’s share




5K – 10K short stories (20% split)

List price



Author’s Share



How does this compare with the current state of licensed novels? In an interview at The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers website, writer Matt Forbeck says that a $4-$6K advance against 4%-6% of cover price royalty is normal for new authors adapting video game properties. Keith R.A. DeCandidio reports a 1-3% royalty for a TV series tie-in. Opinions vary on whether to expect additional royalties.

Whether Kindle Worlds is a better or worse deal depends entirely on the sales of a given eBook. To cover a $5K advance, an author would need to sell 5115 copies of a $3.99 priced novel on the Kindle if standard Kindle Digital Publishing platform fees apply. There are no print editions mentioned and by the terms, it is possible the author would not be paid for future print editions. This is also strictly on the Kindle platform. No Nook, no iBooks, no Kobo.

Is 5115 copies an unreasonable number of copies to sell? As with anything on the Kindle, it all comes down to marketing. It seems possible an established author could sell considerably more copies than that. Established authors have been known to write tie-ins. Everyone from Max Allan Collins writing CSI novels to Michael Moorcock penning a Doctor Who adventure.

Amazon’s headline says “New stories inspired by books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games people love.” This has particularly interesting implications for the comic book world if comic characters, such as Warner’s Superman and Batman, open up.

Established comic book writers at DC and Marvel have a base rate of $100/page and work with 20 page issues. Many writers of licensed comics from smaller publishers can work for as low as $25/page. If a novel could be written in the amount of time it takes to write four issues of a comic book, that’s $8000 for a DC/Marvel writer or $2000 for a writer from a smaller publisher. 8184 copies for the DC/Marvel writer to earn out, but only 2046 copies for the independent writer, all based on a $3.99 list price. With comic book writers frequently having an association with such characters and an existing fanbase, a successful Kindle Worlds eBook might actually be a raise.

Still, the bottom line is that without advances, all work is speculative on the part of the authors and the rights holders are able to curate additional intellectual property for backend payments only. Ultimately, what will make or break this model is how fans react to paying for something that Amazon has referred to as “fan fiction” in their own announcement. “Fan fiction” is usually free. Media tie-in novels are not.