Many of us follow popular TV series, books, and games, like Harry Potter or Twilight or Assassin’s Creed, and the like. And some of us probably also head onto sites like fanfiction.net and AO3 to read – or pen – alternative stories about them. Fan fiction is a huge part of fandom, and no doubt many of us have, at one point or another, read one or wrote one.
As there are literally millions of pieces of fan fiction out there, it may come as a good surprise that people can actually make money out of them – but with some restrictions.
Technically, fan fiction follows a mainstream (aka copyrighted) title, so it’s illegal to make money off of someone else’s intellectual property. However, there are ways to work around the issue:
Write on Wattpad
In 2019, Wattpad launched their Paid Stories programme, where writers can get paid for their work. Once Wattpad staff have picked their stories for their Paid Story programme, the writer will be notified (and have a right to refuse).
To be considered for Paid Stories, you’ll have to be part of their Wattpad Stars programme to qualify – this means you’ll need to have over two stories completed with more than 50,000 words, and have started on a story in the past year.
However, while most stories on their database aren’t ‘fan-fiction’, it doesn’t mean that those stories are disqualified – read below to find out ways to get around the sticky issue of copyright when it comes to writing fanfic.
Write on platforms like Amazon’s Kindle World Kindle Worlds offered the first chance for fan fiction writers to sell their works through Amazon, which makes sense because people already have Kindles or free apps to view their work. While authors can get paid to publish, not all fan fiction is welcome. Amazon has teamed up with certain companies – owners of certain copyrighted titles – to allow fan fiction writers to base their stories off of. So, only a limited number of ‘worlds’ allow writers to make money off their titles – these include Pretty little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and Shadowman. Still, don’t expect to make a lot of money through this, because you are still using someone else’s copyrighted material. Fan fiction writers can only get 35% of royalties for longer works (over 10,000 words) and 20% for short stories. Amazon’s price for short stories usually go for $0.99, novellas for $1.99, and novels for $3.99. At those prices, that’s about $0.20 per short story, $0.70 per novella, and $1.40 per novel sold. These royalties are comparable to traditional publishing, so it’s not a bad deal since Amazon also helps with the promotion of these titles.
Kindle Worlds quietly closed down in 2018.
Create fan fiction based off famous personalities
Everyone probably has a favourite movie star, musician, or personality. While using their real names is crossing the copyright infringement line, you can use aspects of their personality under a different name.
The ensure that your fan fiction takes off, write about a character that has mass appeal and online following. Author Anna Todd wrote a fan fiction about One Direction on the platform Wattpad. The chapters of her story After accumulated over a billion total reads, which led to a publishing deal and an upcoming film adaptation (with movie rights bought by Paramount). She has since earned six figures from her fiction.
Create original fiction based on existing public domain title
By now, everyone knows E.L. James and her wildly popular 50 Shades of Grey which is basically her fan fiction of Twilight. Today, she’s reportedly worth an estimated $80 million from her lucrative pop culture franchise.
While technically she’s using Twilight as her basis, the characters and plot are wildly different. To get around potential copyright issues with original authors, you can always base your fan fiction off public-domain works – basically works of authors who have died at least 50 years prior. For example, there have been several successful mashup fan fiction based off of Jane Austen’s books, like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies“ or “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters“.
You can also use works like Sherlock Holmes, as well as works from Shakespeare, for instance. The possibilities are limitless – but before you start writing, check the author’s copyright status, since it’s possible that their estate may have extended their copyrights.
Making money on other platforms
Once you’ve completed your (original) fan fiction, you can publish them online (various platforms offer paid royalties), or get your fans to support you via crowdfunding (like on Patreon), or take them to traditional publishers to get published. Or, if you’re tech savvy, you can create your own website and earn money by getting donors (or advertisers) to pay for your site.
Fan fiction authors don’t get as much respect these days, but we all know that when someone gets into fan fiction, it’s because they are extremely passionate about something. People often forget that some of the most well-known and successful authors out there today started in fan fiction.