Kindle Worlds and fan fiction

The Internet (and my inbox) has exploded over the last day or so as people took notice of Amazon/Kindle’s latest venture: Kindle Worlds. Amazon says excitedly, “Get ready for Kindle Worlds, a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.”

What have we here? Why, it’s the latest attempt* by content providers to monetize fan labor. As far as that goes, it may be the best deal I’ve seen. Wannabe writers may write in one of three fandoms/properties: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries (more are promised). All these are owned by Warner Bros. Naturally the requirements are pretty stringent: no explicit sex, no crossovers, etc. (author guidelines here).

I’m not exactly filled with horror about this, because if you define fan fiction as “derivative texts written for free within the context of a specific community,” then this isn’t that. True, they are fans. And they write… fiction. But what Amazon Worlds is doing is extending the opportunity to writers to work for hire by writing, on spec, derivative tie-ins in a shared universe, under terms that professional writers would be inclined to reject. However, “work for hire, on spec, for certain tie-ins” doesn’t really have the ring of “fan fiction,” does it? By using the term fan fiction, they are shorthanding their future writers as well as their perceived audience.

Fans rightly look askance at content providers who extend such opportunities, because usually the content provider offloads all the risk and takes all the revenue. So Kindle Worlds, by getting the content providers on board, explicitly setting out the rules, and stating the royalties up front, is already doing some things right. In addition, the “Worlds” thing is key to Kindle Worlds:

Kindle Worlds is a creative community where Worlds grow with each new story. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.

One traditional aspect of fan fiction is its place within an active community. Amazon taps into this by explicitly permitting authors to riff off each other’s work. I like that they get that.

Fans won’t stop writing fan fiction: the restrictions for writing for Kindle Worlds may be too onerous for what many fans wish to write. The joy of fan fiction is that you can write whatever the hell you want, and someone is there to read it and love it. In addition, many fans are already professional writers, and they may not want to write tie-ins under terms that they would not accept for their professionally written work. And lots of fans are simply not interested in going pro; they are happy to write works to distribute for free to their community, and they don’t see writing fan fiction as something they want to monetize.

But that said, for those fans who do wish to give this a go (I would be interested myself, except… then I’d have to watch the shows), yes, you’re being exploited, but I anticipate that Kindle Worlds (if it doesn’t fall under the onslaught of fan fury†) will end up with a stable of steady writers who create their own (gated) fannish community, with cross-references and cross-writing. That would be interesting to see. But those who wish to break into freelance writing ought to brush up on what terms the industry thinks are acceptable. And maybe they should join a union.


* Remember FanLib?
† Remember FanLib?

Creating a fandom via YouTube

I just got my copy of the book my Verbotene Liebe essay appears in! Check out the pretty cover.

Book cover

My article is in part 2, “Constructing Identity in an Online, Cross-cultural World.” Here’s the full citation info.

Hellekson, Karen. 2012. Creating a fandom via YouTube: Verbotene Liebe and fansubbing. In New media literacies and participatory popular culture across borders, edited by Bronwyn T. Williams and Amy A. Zenger, 180–92. New York: Routledge.

Alert readers will remember that I wrote a blog post about this topic ages ago, in 2009: Verbotene Liebe, soap operas, fansubbing, and YouTube.

Alas, although I submitted images to go with my essay, in the end they could not be used. So hit the blog link if you want to see pictures and maybe watch a video or two.

A big thank-you to Bronwyn and Amy for being so great to work with! The book turned out beautifully and it’s an honor to be in it.

Naturally you can score this awesome book from

TWC No. 9 Fan/Remix Video

Transformative Works and Cultures has released No. 9, Fan/Remix Video, guest edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo. This vid- and image-heavy issue makes good use of the multimedia components of an online-only environment.

Topics include fan videos, AMVs, political remix, Lady Gaga “Telephone” videos, queer video, fake movie trailers, anime abridged series, and Star Wars recuts. The issue features interviews with Bradcpu, Desiree D’Alessandro, Diran Lyons, Eric Faden, and Nina Paley. And a special Multimedia section features curated lists of videos (AMVs and political remix) as well as an exploration of the queer; and Alexandra Juhasz explores the boundaries of online writing/presentation with a YouTour.

“Oh Internet (A Vidding/Remix Romance),” by Julie Levin Russo (2012).

Best SF this year!

The best SF I’ve seen this year—and admittedly it’s January 9, so there’s some time left in 2012 to go—has to be the opening credits of the 2011 David Fincher film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The imagery is drawn from the three books in the Millennium series. But it’s an incredible articulation of the melding of body and machine; in it, the heroine is seen not to be born, but rather forged: has a “making of” feature for the opening credits, “An Exclusive Look at the Making of Dragon Tattoo’s Stunning Titles,” that interviews one of the creators, Tim Miller. It’s worth a read to see what the creators had in mind—which, in my book, has little to do with what I perceive the credits as being about, because I thought the credits transcended the text of the books.

If you’re interested in the song, it’s a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” performed by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Karen O, and can be purchased from

Regarding the film itself: it doesn’t live up to the hype of the credits. The credits imply a cyberromp through the main character’s head, even as it foreshadows all the events of the entire trilogy through imagery. But the movie isn’t about what the credits are about. The credits are all SF; the film is a straight-up thriller, and any engagement with technology isn’t handled on the level of meaning that the credits promise.

I greatly preferred the Swedish-language version, which is far more compelling on every level. If you haven’t read the books and haven’t seen the Swedish-language films, then I think you can safely watch this movie and like it; but otherwise, it spends a lot of time on the mystery at the expense of some of the complexity that made the other texts so dense.

On style

Life has taken a backseat to editing work, which has kept me either gainfully employed or insanely busy–whichever. Same thing. Within the past 3 months, I’ve switched to doing mostly book work, because it pays better than journal work, although this has occasioned its own bumps. Notably, authors, hi, don’t know if you know this, but if you don’t return the work, I DON’T GET PAID. So, um, if you could return those corrections, that would be great!

Because I’ve been doing lots of books, I’ve been writing lots of style sheets. One benefit of journal work is, there’s one style sheet, you edit to it, and you’re done. It’s prescriptive because the papers are supposed to all match. With books, not so much. I have to construct a style sheet for each book. Sometimes this involves a crash course in, say, the technical aspects of filmmaking, with attendant jargon and terms.

I used to construct style sheets for a living, back when I worked in house, and I can knock them out like a champ. For book work, the resources I use are, in order, the house style book; Chicago Manual of Style (CMS); and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (MW). (Although I edit in the humanities, none of my clients uses MLA style. I’m thus not actually sure why MLA style exists. I’m sure some people use MLA style–like, probably the MLA. I just don’t know any press personally that uses it. I think of it as a style used by students, not publishing professionals.*)

The style guides provided by the presses are usually quite minimal, but they contain valuable info. For example, one of the presses I work for asks that all ranges be full. Good to know! Similarly, house style sheets state the style the documentation ought to be in. Usually they follow CMS with their own tweaks. For example, not a one of my university press clients has moved to the use of postal codes for states in bibliographic contexts; they all want standard state abbreviations. House style will also specify how to do dates (is it 00 Month 2000 or Month 00, 2000, or do they not care–just pick one?), time, ordinals, and the like. One of my clients provides me with a very useful list of names of theorists and philosophers in literary studies, so I know, for example, to add haceks to Zizek’s name, or how to spell “Georges Bataille.”

Although CMS is currently in its 16th edition, all my clients are still using the 15th, and some are still on the 14th, if their documentation is anything to go by. Luckily, CMS hasn’t changed all that much in the Greater Scheme–overlooking Documentation II’s ill-advised changes in the 16th edition, of course. I impose CMS style most importantly for documentation, but also for number style, styling of percentages, singular possessives ending in s–in fact, anything not mentioned in the house style guide.

That leaves my best friend, MW. I spend a lot of time looking up words, and actually the TERMS list comprises comprises much of the style sheet. When editing, I have MW† and a browser with up at all times, so I can look up words and people’s names. MW is so endemic in the industry that the production notes that go with a book manuscript will specify the terms that the press has decided will violate MW. A book I’m editing right now wants “website” and not “Web site,” for example.

If I look back at all the books I’ve edited in the last few months, my impression is stolid old-fashioned-ness. With periods in abbreviations like U.S. and standard state abbreviations instead of postal codes in documentation, the overall impression is not of sleek modernity but of stolid, reassuring authority. This makes perfect sense for university presses.

Here are the sections of the style sheets I write: listing of sources consulted; general style; number style; technical/statistical style; notes style, with examples; references style, with examples; style for figure captions; style for tables; and TERMS list.


* Part of my reasoning for MLA style being for students prepping papers, and not for actual print publication, is that their style guide doesn’t address the finer points of styling and typography. A perfectly reasonable question, like “Does MLA style use en dashes to hyphenate open compounds?” cannot be answered by perusing the MLA stylebook.

† Although I could use MW online, I usually don’t, because it’s graphics heavy, slow to load. and annoying. I purchased MW in hardcover when it came out, and it came with a CD to load it onto my computer. That’s the version I use.

On being copyedited

A bunch of my academically employed Facebook/Twitter/social media du jour friends posted a link to an interesting article over at the Chronicle: Shame in Academic Writing. It’s all about how academics secretly think that their writing is terrible, and it makes them sad. This quote from a poor advisee sums it up:

“Is it normal,” he asked in a small voice, “to feel stupid after getting an edited manuscript back?”

Answer: Yes. Why, yes.

The problem is when these feelings manifest as temper tantrums, often directed at me, the lowly copyeditor. As someone employed in publishing, my take on this whole writing thing is, just write, and let a professional worry about making it awesome for print. If an author feels stupid (and who wouldn’t, after they see a redline where literally every line has a change?), they tend to get testy, and I have seen my share of really nasty notes. Usually it’s a knee-jerk reaction along the lines of “OMG you changed my WORDS.” What escapes these testy authors is (and this point is made in the article) someone very carefully read their entire text and analyzed it. That is time-consuming, requires real expertise, and is done out of respect for the author and the text.

This is why I hate being reviled. It’s not just OMG you changed my WORDS. It’s OMG you missed my POINT, or OMG you changed my words for NO REASON, or OMG you are so RANDOM, or OMG why is this EVEN IMPORTANT. It’s rarely OMG you saved my ASS, or OMG thank you for CATCHING THAT, or OMG you FACT-CHECKED. I still remember one author who wrote notes so nasty that I actually cried, and he reverted every single one of my edits back to the original. Every single one. So I was paid to edit, then unedit, an entire book. I had been impressed by the sheer number of prestigious presses he’d published with, but after this experience, I could see why. Nobody would work with him twice.

The difference between copyediting and, say, grading papers, or giving feedback to an advisee, is that it’s not really supposed to be a learning opportunity for the author, and authors reviewing their first copyedit don’t seem to get this, because I am not going to have an intellectual conversation with them about their article or book. I rarely write explanatory notes as I edit, unless it’s something the press specifically requested and I won’t/can’t honor a request to revert. I’m not there to teach authors how to use “due to,” or to explain why I edited every single instance of “using” that began a sentence. I’m not there to argue the merits of the serial comma that I imposed throughout; the press wants it, the press gets it, let’s move on. I’ve seen copyedited manuscripts where the copyeditor writes explanatory notes to the author, but they always come across as condescending—and see above re. making the author feel stupid.

This is all to say that when I see irate notes, sure, I get a pang of self-righteous anger: doesn’t the author see that I am trying to save her from herself? But ultimately, the author’s text is the author’s text, and she can change back whatever she wants. I don’t know how to say this nicely, so here it is: I really don’t care. Authors need not explain or justify. It’s their field, it’s their book, it’s their ideas. While I’m reading, I’m learning, and I’m vaguely engaged, but mostly I’m styling and reconciling references, and fact-checking online because it’s easier than writing a query, and wondering whether the spelling Stephen or Steven is correct. I hand it back to the author or I deliver it to the press, and I promptly forget all about it. So these dramatic OMG feelings and notes…honey, I just don’t have time for that.

Let me look at my statistics for a sec. Let’s say May 2011, chosen randomly. For my biggest client, I edited 855 pages of copy. I also edited one book (318 pages) and several manuscripts each for three other journals; I’m not going to count those pages up, but I would estimate it to be maybe 200 pages. So let’s call it…a whole ton of copy. Dudes, I am a frackin’ machine.

So to the poor trembling authors who feel inadequate, I have this to say. Yes. I changed your WORDS. If I edited a sentence and changed its meaning to something you didn’t intend, there need be no drama. Don’t even bother feeling hurt or writing a dramatic note, because for me, it’s all in a day’s work. Just change it—but keep in mind that I am no fool, and although it’s perfectly possible that I made a mistake, perhaps you ought to consider that your writing was unclear. If I made a change and you don’t understand why, but it makes sense, then just leave it, because I had a reason, even if you don’t know what it was.

I’m sure every author has a story about the stupid copyeditor who altered things willy-nilly and it took just forever to correct. I have stories too. But it boils down to this. It’s the copyeditor’s job to edit. It’s the author’s job to check over and approve it. If authors find something wrong and change it, well, um, that’s how it works. That’s supposed to happen.

Although I can advise authors that there’s no point in feeling stupid, that still doesn’t make them feel any less stupid when they get a marked-up edited manuscript. So my advice is, let the process do its work: write, revise, submit, revise, copyedit, review copyedit, review galleys, proofread. See how many steps there are? There’s a reason for that. There’s no need for drama, unprofessional notes, anger, or angst. Maybe this book is your life’s work, but it’s just a job for me. I see a lot of copy, I edit a lot of books, and I don’t think you’re stupid. But then again, why would you care what I think?

Just write and don’t worry about it too much, because there’s a whole process to make that writing awesome. That’s all any of us want.