Dear Amazon, A letter from Fan Fiction Readers and Writers

Dear Amazon, stop creating spectacularly poor platforms for writers. I just want to be able to buy books and pogo-sticks from you. Is that so much to ask?

In case you haven’t heard, Amazon has recently announced their intention to create a new platform connected to their self publishing program, called Kindle World. What is it for? Well, that remains to be completely understood, however, their intention is to bring fan fiction to a whole new level. The kind of level where you get paid to write and pay to read that is.

Am I the only one a little confused with how they are going to get away with this? Fuck. Where to begin? Let’s start with the proposal.

Essentially, Amazon will acquire licensing from various authors, publishers, film studios etc. for books, tv shows and films. So far, you can write fiction for Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries… I’m just going to come right out and confirm that only one of those is actually decent, and I’ll give you a hint. It doesn’t feature bitchy, whining, rich girls. I know, I know, baffling isn’t it?!

Excluding the poor choice of available series, there are a few other factors that will enter into your writing plans. Namely, the restrictions on what you can write. If you’d like to see your stories on Kindle World, they can’t include, graphic or violent material, pornography, foul language or cross overs. Come on Amazon. No violence or sex? There’s a reason why people watch HBO (and pay for it) and it’s not the commercials.

So assuming you get your story past Amazon publishing’s powers that be, you may submit and may get published. Why do you care? Well, if you manage to jump through these hoops, you’ll get a cut of the royalties from the sale of your fan fics. But it’s not just you. The authors, or creators of the original piece also gain royalties for your work. Sound like the best of both worlds? Wrong. 

Let’s take a look at what this means for original authors and creators. First of all there are a lot of authors who don’t approve of fan fiction and have publicly spoken up against it . Namely because the content of these fics, is usually either unsavory or completely out of line with cannon. Even without these details, it hasn’t escaped my notice that none of the series Amazon has acquired the licensing for, were negotiated with authors. They’re licensing was for the tv shows. Big surprise. Just because they might make a little extra money on the side, does not mean that authors are clamoring to rent out their hard earned creations.

Now putting authors and their finicky opinions aside for a moment, let’s talk about fan fics in general.

I like so many other writers of the last twenty years, began writing “seriously” *ahem, with fan fiction. And while the days when I explored just how Professor Snape might make you serve detention are over,  I’ve continued reading fan fics for a long time and I’ve got to say… Sex.

What ridiculous percentage of fan fics are just pwp? That’s porn without plot. Seriously it’s a thing, look it up.

But come on Amazon… The majority of fan fics exist to produce more sex for existing relationships or to explore the losing side of love triangles. It seems like this idea of making money on fan fiction is partly the fault of 50 Shades of Gray. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this “book” was originally a Twilight fan fiction. It should surprise you less to learn that it’s well ridiculed both on and off the internet for it’s bad writing, sex, and badly written sex. Why? Because it was a fanfiction! That’s practically the definition of fanfiction.

Sure there are some really great fics out there that are incredibly well written, detailed,  moving, etc. But at some point or another, they all converge on one topic. You guessed it, sex. With my experience of about 12 years of reading and writing fan fiction, I would estimate that about 95% of it revolves around sex of some kind. And considering both the naughty and the tame sides of genre, about 3% are worth reading. Whether you’re looking for Harry Potter, Star Trek, Hunger Games, Xena the Warrior Princess, or Alice in freakin’ Wonderland. Very few fan fics are worth reading and telling your friends about. And chances are, if it is, it’s still got sex. 

Why you might ask? Why does fan fiction focus so heavily on what goes on between the sheets, on desks, in plane bathrooms, and behind slightly open doors? Because legitimate fiction refuses to go there. How many times have you been reading a book, and whether romance or relationships was the major plot or a secondary one, when the characters finally get together, they take of each other’s shirts, kiss a little and close the door on the reader? Whether you’re a fan girl or not, this is frustrating. Which is why it shouldn’t surprise anyone when fan girls and guys recreate or re-envision their favorite characters doing the nasty. 

And while most will claim that it’s only girls writing about Edward, Jacob, and whatever other half built, shirtless man is popular at the moment, there are plenty of male oriented fan fics as well. And rightly so. I don’t know anyone who watched Star Trek Voyager and didn’t fantasize about what Seven of Nine looked like out of that cat suit. It was practically a theme of the show. What is she wearing today?

So yeah, there is a lot of gratuitous sex in fan fiction, and with good reason, but selling publishers and original authors on this fact, is exactly why fan fics are disliked.  

It seems to me that the idea behind this whole program was the idealistic goal of eliminating pesky, dirty fan fics/making money. I’m about 99% sure that they aren’t going to do a whole lot of either. 

For reasons previously mentioned, it should be pretty obvious that no matter what happens, the people reading and writing, dirty fics won’t be getting them from Amazon, and as such, there will still continue to be a demand for them in the free market.  But in terms of any writers making a whole lot of money? I just don’t see it.

The biggest barrier to this is, of course, the limited selection of titles on which you can write. Even as someone who is a fan of The Vampire Diaries and has previously looked up fiction for it, I don’t really give a damn if I can get it on my kindle now. I can read fan fics on my iphone which is essentially my kindle, for free. Why would I pay them for something I can find myself in less time, for no money? Short answer: I won’t. And I doubt many others will either, which means, that it doesn’t matter if you get 20% of the royalties. 20% of 0$ is still 0$.

Which brings me to my other point. There are hundreds of books that I would rather spend money to have on my shelves than fan fics any day of the week. Regardless of how well written it is, or how many people recommend it to me (although they won’t because it won’t have SEX) I’m not going to buy it. I don’t have the money and let’s face it. No one can write or create your favorite characters like the original authors, and if you’re telling me that the two things I want them to do most, ie. have sex and kill each other, aren’t going to be in your fics, then why can’t I just enjoy the show, or book, or movie as it was originally intended? 

Fan fiction thrives because it offers fans a way to express their love for series, to act out the threads or actions they feel are missing from the original material, and to hone their writing skills. None of these things are available with Kindle World. So tell me Amazon, why should I care?

-Sincerely,

Going back to reading my Harry Potter Fanfics, for free.

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Conversations with the people in your head.

My tried and true method of getting information, motivations, and potential golden nuggets from my characters is the conversation writing exercise. You know the one, where you sit down say something like…

“So, what do you think about mmc? Hot huh?” says author smirking.

Fmc raises an eyebrow and replies, “Are you kidding me? He’s a self absorbed dog. I wouldn’t go near him with a ten foot pole…”

Sighs… “I thought you’d say that. Well, have you got any better ideas?” 

“Yeah actually, put that bartender back in my path and I’ll get cozy.”

“You can’t do that, he’s your brother.”

“What?! No he’s not. I would know if I had a brother.”

“Not if he was given up at birth and hasn’t been seen since.”

Fmc narrows her eyes. “Really. Why? Why does it have to be the bartender? If no one has seen him since my mother gave him up, then why can’t mmc be my brother?”

“’Cause then, I couldn’t annoy, infuriate and ruin your every waking moment, by sicking mmc on you.”

… “You weren’t going to do that before…”

Smiles wickedly. “I am now. Thanks for the idea. Oh and by the way. You can break the whole brother news thing to the bartender. He’s coming over here right now.”

“Wait what-”

Waves lazily. “Good luck!”

At no point in the next ten projects I have planned did I intend to include a bartender or this fmc or mmc, but I may have just started a new wip…

Regardless, this is one of my favorite writing exercises. It’s something that no matter where you are in the process, planning, writing, editing, it can do wonders. Haven’t tried it? Well, despite, how awkward it may seem at first, you should give it a try. The key is to use it when you have questions to answer, either about relationships, background or motivations in your character’s world. Of course it doesn’t always work out the way you plan.

More often than I’d like to admit when using this method, the first question I ask, is something huge and unanswerable. So let your mind wander.

“So, how exactly do you plan to defeat the evil queen? You have no weapons, no friends, and the entire royal guard is out looking for you.”

“Not my problem.”

Mmc crosses arms. “Actually it is your problem. The whole point of the book is for you to defeat the woman who killed your father and stole your kingdom.”

“My father was an ass, and I don’t want to rule. Send someone else to do it.”

Exasperated author grunts. “I can’t do that, I won’t have a book if I do.”

“Don’t care. I’m going to go back to the village to open a bakery.”

Raises eyebrows. “Yeah? And do you know anything about cooking? Have you ever baked anything in your life? Do you even have funds to open a business?”

MMC glares… “Fine. I’ll go to the village and apprentice somewhere. Anything is better than being king.”

“What’s the real reason you don’t want to do this?”

“That is the real reason. Besides, you dangled that beautiful baker’s daughter in front of me in chapter three. I’m gonna see about putting a bun in her oven.”

“Ugh.”

“What, did you see her breasts? I mean damn.”

“Enough, enough.” says author, pinching bridge of her nose…

Mmc shrugs. “Plus everyone loves her. She’s a real sweet young lass and I could use some of that in my life. Compared to being banished, having my father killed, and my kingdom corrupted, a shack and bit of ass is just the pick me up I need.”

Smirks. “And if the queen heard of your new love interest?”

“Why would that happen? She doesn’t even know where I am.”

Shrugs. “In a village that size, someone’s bound to notice a strapping young lad such as yourself flirting with the village beauty.”

“Well-”

“And it would be a shame if the guard plucked her from your grasp and used her as bate.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t I?”

“Aw come on…”

“And the whole village would blame you for her disappearance. News of what happened to their sweet young lass, is bound to travel. You’d be a pariah in your own land.”

“Fuck you.”

“Hmmhmm. And in order to restore your good name, you’d have to get her back.”

Mmc throws his hands in the air. “And how do I do that?”

A grin breaks across the authors face. “By defeating the evil queen of course.”

“Of course. I thought we already decided that I can’t do that.”

“You can if the whole village wants their girl back. I’m sure all the other wiry gents would hate to see such a beauty lost. I sincerely doubt your the only one looking to get in that oven.”

“Why I oughta-”

“Plus, that’ll give you a whole band of eager companions to fight with.”

“Which is exactly why this won’t work. They’ll hate me!”

“Oh yeah, they’ll hate you I’m sure, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to screw up and redeem yourself. You might even live to rule the kingdom.”

“You know on second thought, I don’t think I want to go back to the village. I’ll find another lass in another place.”

Author grins. “Too late.”

So, again, not something I was planning or gave any thought to at all before starting this post. This sort of exercise can be massively helpful and I encourage you to try it the next time you’re stumped. It’s also worth noting, that it aids tremendously in developing a separate voice for each of your characters so don’t just use it on your mmc or fmc. Try it out across any of your major players, and you’ll get results. Plus it’s sort of a stress/tension relieving exercise because it’s whatever you make of it.

Enjoy!

The trouble with to-do lists.

Okay, so the way I see it, whenever you have a bunch of things to do, the number one bit of advice people tell you is, make a list. I am normally all for this. I love lists. I love checking things off and feeling that sense of accomplishment in my day. But I’ve noticed this problem with them. Namely, they don’t freaking work.

Sigh. Okay. I should be more specific. To do list work really well for people with business or jobs and who have kids to pick up and activities that they need to work around. You know exactly how much time you have free in your day and with a list you can optimize your life. Fan-freakin’-tastic. But for those of us who are unemployed writers, whose days are empty as my bank account, to do lists suck.

It’s like, sure, I could write a scene right now, or I could watch an entire season of a show on netflix. Or yeah I could get up and workout or just move from the dent I’ve made in the couch, but I could also take a nap. After all the dent is really comfortable. Seriously. To-do lists, for people with nothing to really “do” are crap.

 

As far as I can tell there are three kinds of to-do lists for those of us who write at home with no reason to leave the house or get dressed but to buy a new tub of ice cream.

To-do list Number 1: The checklist. You know the kind with the little squares that you write up quick on a whim when you have five seconds of motivation. This is the list that winds up with things like, take the trash out, and go to the bathroom right next to finish the book and write a series. The most mundane things and the totally unachievable in 24 hours things wind up here, because you need to cross something off, and at this point, making it ten feet from your computer is a challenge.

To-do list Number 2: The Military regimen. This is the list that looks more like a battle plan than a set of things to do. Sure there may be check boxes, but here we also have time goal. It usually reads something like

2pm-3pm solve world hunger

3pm-4pm write 10k

4pm-4:15pm find sustenance

4:15pm-5pm finish book

If just one thing doesn’t happen when you expect it to, or a single interruption occurs, you’re screwed, because now you’ll have to eat at 4:30 instead of 4:15 and since the list is screwed up, you have to make a new list. That could only take another 5 minutes and 3 hours of netflix later, you can get back to checking off those things you meant to do.

 

The 3rd and certainly most illusive type of to-do list: is the one that actually works. It’s the one where you gave yourself some middle of the road, not to vague, not to specific goals, and actually managed to accomplish them all. This kind of list seems to be as hard to catch as the legendary birds from Pokemon. If you did not experience the 90’s as you should have, this means it’s really fucking hard to catch.

So seriously, this whole writing thing, it’s pretty hard. But I’ve got some ideas to improve my productivity. I just need to make a list.

 

TGIO-party or The how-to-write-an-ungodly-amount-of-words-in-a-short-period-of-time guide to life… and Nanowrimo.

Well about an hour ago, camp nanowrimo officially ended, at least in my time zone. All I can say is… Damn do I need a nap.

Now that I’ve officially failed my word count goal, it’s only fair I divulge just how poorly camp went for me. Which is actually a lie. I did a ton of writing and the month was great, I just didn’t hit the 85k that I had hoped to. I did hit 60 k however and that was good enough for me!

Funny thing is, I learned a little lesson about myself and my productivity this past week that I never knew before.  I am a beast!

That’s right.

I may have only hit 60k. But let me tell you something about how this month went.

Week 1, I wrote 12k. Not amazing, not terrible. So far so good.

Week 2, I wrote about 5k… Embarrassing I know.

Week 3, I wrote 10k… Do you see where this is going yet?

Week 4 (first 5 days) I wrote 3k. Yep. Truth…

Sigh. In 26 days. I wrote 30k.

And in the last 4 days I wrote 30k.

Like I said. I’m a beast.

I’ve never written so much in such a short stretch of time in my life. I don’t know that I ever want to again. But if I ever have to, or if you ever have to, here are some tips.

Caffeine!  I can’t even begin to say how relevant this is. I have had about 8-12 bags of tea a day and I should have had more. Stock up!

Short term goals! If you have 25k to do, and you sit down with the intention of doing 25k, you will look at the clock and realize you just spent three hours on youtube. Don’t do it. Instead, set yourself small goals. Say, “Today I’m gonna write 5k.” After your first word war or writing session. Keep track of how many words you have till you reach your goal. Pretty soon, 5k won’t look so huge, and you’ll be saying, “Why don’t I write another 2k or 5k.”

Know where you’re going! Even if you are not a plotter, you need to do this to some extent. Keep a white board or a pad of paper by you when you write and before you sit down for a session look at where you left off (no more than 1/4 of a page back). Think about where you need to go, or what you want to happen next. Take five minutes and write down basic information, dialogue or other details you know you want to include. Like:

Fmc and mmc meet unexpectedly, and their personalities clash

Knowing they have to work together they hash out ground rules for their quest

“Look, I know you think you’re totally awesome, but I’m in charge here and what I say goes.”

I promise I just made all that up and it is not in any way related to any book I am now writing or plan to write. But you get the idea.

Set timers! Whether you plan to have a word war with another writer, or it’s just you and your laptop, you should set goals. Even a five minute timer can get your brain thinking about a scene and before you know it, you’ll be so wrapped up in what you’re writing, you won’t need the timer. Also, if you find that you are paying to much attention to your word count goals and aren’t focusing enough on the story, set page goals instead. Sometimes if it’s crunch time, getting caught up in how many words you should be writing per minute or per half hour can get really tiresome. Take a step back and say, I’ll check my wc when I hit page 37 or 41.  That way, you don’t set unrealistic or outrageous goals for yourself.

Find a place/environment that keeps you on task! I find that a lot of different things go into my perfect environment for maximum writing output. When I’m tired, a raging beat in my music can keep me on task because instead of wanting to close my eyes, I bob my head to the music. If I have a serious scene to work on, I listen to movie soundtracks that don’t have singing. delirious or easily distracted? I need silence. Some people also find that being in public helps them keep on task, so think about going to a library or cafe. 

Utilize breaks! Breaks are so necessary, they may actually be more important than caffeine. Although, now that I think about, you make the tea or coffee and acquire the snacks during the breaks so… Anyway, if you are taking a break there are a couple of things you should do.

1. Refill the food and drink! If you get ten minutes into a 30 minute word war and your water bottle is empty, you’re gonna be pissed and your characters are going to wind up walking around a bone dry desert for 800 words. 

2. Go to the bathroom! Same principle as with food and drink. Except your characters will be day dreaming of waterfalls and gushing rivers. Also Pro Tip! using how bathroom breaks to keep you writing makes your brain suddenly short circuit into direct brain finger coordination. I have never written so clearly and effectively as when I have to pee and I’ve made my goal not going to the bathroom until I finish the scene.

3. Change positions! Move from the couch to your desk, from bed to a chair, even just changing whether your legs are under you or stretched out in front of you can make a world of difference.

4. Rock out man!  Blasting your favorite songs and singing along as loudly as possible for ten minutes can really restart your creative juices. Same can be said getting up and dancing around, doing a sun salutation, playing with your pets. Do something that you love that has nothing to do with writing, and in ten minutes you’ll be in a good mood, even if your last scene didn’t go how you’d hoped.

Finally.

5. Do the math! Count how many words you’ve done today. Count how many you have left to do. Look at how many it would take you to get to an even number, or if you have friends who are also working on a project, see how close or far away your word count is. The thing is that we may look at our first drafts as just a number, but that number can vary a hell of a lot. One word could be A or it could be SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALEDOCIOUS. I don’t even care if that’s spelled right… But seriously. Our mind makes a big deal out of numbers especially when we think about things like, 50k for nanowrimo, or 75k for the average length of an adult novel. These mind games that scare us into avoiding the blank screen for three hours can also help you get back to writing with a new perspective. So do the math.

I know I said finally but really there is one more super important, don’t you ever dare break this rule or you’ll be burned in the middle of town square with a slab of bolognia on your head…

6. A break is only a break if afterward, you go back to writing! It’s all fine and well to say, “Meh, I wrote 800 words, I’ll take a break, and write some more.” But if you don’t get back to your word document for five hours it wasn’t really a break. Instead, if you need/want to do something else, give yourself permission to fully enjoy that other thing and say, “This writing session is over for now. But I will have a second writing session in 6 hours time, after I catch up on the latest episodes of Dr. Who and Game of Thrones. I promise you’ll feel better about the gaps in your productivity if you totally embrace what you’re doing and don’t guilt trip yourself.

So there you go, hopefully, you will never find yourself in the position of having to write 30k in four days or some other ungodly figure, but if you do, you’ve got a game plan now so. Good luck and I wish you all the best on your Camp Nanowrimo word counts!

Goodbye April, hello May!