Whatever you feel about Amazon, they are cutting-edge as a company, and one of the most innovative programs they’ve come up with in publishing is Kindle Worlds. According to Nick Loeffler with Amazon, “Kindle Worlds is the first commercial publishing platform to enable any writer to publish fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters while earning royalties for doing so, and sell them in the Kindle Store. Until the launch of Kindle Worlds, selling stories based on copyright-protected material had been difficult.”
Not to mention, illegal!
Kindle Worlds has changed all that, by contracting with authors and other writers to legalize use of characters in a “World,” and providing parameters within which other writers can play. All benefit from this—writers get to entertain through known settings with their own stories, and readers get more of the characters they love.
Developed in 2013, Kindle Worlds includes graphic novels, TV shows, and of course, bestselling book lines. Kindle Worlds is licensed fan fiction, in a nutshell, and it captures the urge of writers since the dawn of time to write about characters they’ve fallen in love with as readers, and for readers to be able to enjoy storylines and characters they’ve become attached to long after original creators have stopped writing a popular series.
The Kindle Worlds site provides a quality assurance process that protects authors, and an easy review process that helps readers find the best of the bunch. I was nervous when my Lei Crime Kindle World launched in April 2015, wondering if readers would be willing to try new works by others using my characters—but I needn’t have worried. The Lei Crime Kindle World novellas, varying in genre from mystery to magical realism, have become some of the top-rated works in Kindle Worlds. It’s been a blast to read the expansion of colorful minor characters (as well as my main ones) into stories that I would never have imagined or had time to write.
What’s GOOD about writing for a KindleWorld?
- KindleWorlds is an opportunity to show your stuff and hook an established reader base. This is an excellent reason to try writing a story or novella in Kindle Worlds—you have a chance to attract an established reader base to take a look at your back list! The back matter of your KindleWorld book can be linked to your other books, email list, and more, and if readers like it, they’ll follow you. Mystery/romance author ML (Mary) Doyle says, “Readers who liked my Kindle World novella went on to buy my entire mystery line, and even try my romances.”
- Writing in a World can be a creative challenge. I’ve written two Kindle World novellas for other Worlds, and each time found it surprisingly easy, fast, and fun. The novellas also that it took me in creative directions I didn’t anticipate—I discovered I love writing spycraft set in foreign countries, something I would never have tried without entering Russell Blake’s Jet World!
I didn’t have to research and imagine new characters and invest heavily in the story—something about it being a KW novella, using another writer’s characters, seemed to free me to really play—and I credit Rough Road, the KW novella I did for the Sydney Rye Kindle World, with helping me get unstuck from a four month spell of author burnout. Just “playing” in another World, with no big investment of time or money, seemed to open the creative floodgate.
“I initially decided to enter the Lei Crime Kindle World for couple of reasons,” shares YA author Shawn McGuire. “I’d only written YA fantasy and was working on the last book in my series. Writing in a new genre felt like a fun experiment to me. Since I’d only written novel-length work, writing a novella seemed like a good challenge. I never expected to fall in love with the mystery/suspense genre, and now I’m hooked and am planning to move from YA to romantic suspense. Being able to test the waters with Kindle Worlds has been a wonderful segue.”
“Writing for Kindle Worlds is a great way to stretch your writing wings while playing in an established world that already has a fan base. I’ve put multiple novellas up in KW,” says Julie Gilbert, who writes in a variety of genres.
“I agree. Being part of the Lei Crime Kindle World has been very satisfying experience and I plan to write more,” adds Janet Oakley, a historical writer, who’s uploaded two novellas to the platform.
- Writing for KW can help you build your author reach and platform. Most of the writers who’ve done novellas for my KW report a bump in author rank and discoverability. Christine Nolfi, author of the bestselling Liberty series, has had an even more dramatic outcome: signing with Amazon’s contemporary women’s fiction imprint, Lake Union, for a whole new series. This offer from them, she suspects, has to do with exposure to their editorial team through writing for the Lei Crime Kindle World. She says, “My first KW novella, The Shell Keeper, appeared in a debut lineup for the launch of Toby’s Lei Crime World. The novella debuted #1 in KW Contemporary, a position the story has held on and off for a month, giving me great exposure. And here’s the important part: on release day, my Author Rank jumped to #6,436 and has continued to stay under #50,000 since then. My average rank during the last month has been #22,000. In April, readers purchased 200 of my stand-alone ebooks during a cycle when I’m writing, not promoting.” Christine, like most of the authors writing in the Lei Crime World, went on to write a second novella, continuing to build momentum and connection with loyal readers and bringing them over to her own books. She concludes, “The days of easy visibility are over. Writing in a Kindle World gives you the opportunity to put your best work in front of readers that may never discover you otherwise.”
Surprises can happen when you get involved in Kindle Worlds. “An unexpected perk that came directly from my KW experience, was getting asked to be on the fan fiction panel at UtopiaCon in Nashville this June. Doing more speaking/presenting has been one of my goals as an author, so this is huge for me,” shares Shawn McGuire.
Mystery author Mary Doyle agrees with the platform’s exposure possibilities. “Writing a Kindle World story allows you to get your work in front of a built-in audience. Would you rather stand in an empty room and try to get people who don’t know you to come in? Or does it make sense to stand in a room with someone who’s a star who will get that room packed with readers? KW gets your books in the room with the star.”
- If you’re a first time or new author, Kindle Worlds can provide a great way to learn what it takes to be an author in today’s marketplace. “Writing for the Lei Crime Kindle World was like a free education, and a pretty painless way to dive into self-publishing. I'm blessed to belong to a great author support group (with Lei Crime KW) and that made a huge difference,” says first-time author Dave Schoonover.
“It was beyond easy to self-publishing my first e-book within the Amazon Kindle World. The requirements for submission were easy to understand, the online tools were simple to use. All I really needed to think about was the plot! The Kindle World came with a built-in audience, plus support before and after publication from an amazing group of fellow KW authors. I can't wait to do it again!” raves debut author Ron Logan.
- Writing for a Kindle World with an involved main author can be terrific exposure and networking. “Kindle Worlds can be great for networking with other authors, including the founders of the World,” says Julie Gilbert, who’s done a total of five novellas, with more planning stages, for a couple of Worlds.
Why would some main authors be involved in their Kindle Worlds? Steven Konkoly’s Perseid Collapse World began with Steven writing fan fiction for Blake Crouch’s World, and then being offered his own by Amazon (something that has also happened for Emily Kimelman of the Sydney Rye Kindle World.) From his own experience, Konkoly had an idea of how he wanted to shape his World: “I really wanted the authors and readers contributing to the World to feel like friends that could count on each other for support. While I fully intended to promote, advertise and spread the good word about their exciting visions of the Perseid apocalypse, I saw the potential of creating a strong community to cross-promote each other, taking it to the next level and creating a real buzz surrounding their efforts. I think it worked wonderfully for everyone involved, especially the authors publishing stories close to the initial launch of the world. The excitement started nearly a month early, and pretty much consumed all of my time…I hadn’t expected the vibrant response and sheer willingness of the group to help each other out. It was a truly humbling experience. One I didn’t want to end. Overall, I’m firmly convinced that this level of involvement contributed to the strong success of the Perseid Collapse World. With 30 novellas published to date, and a half-dozen more in the works, the experience exceeded all of my expectations, and I hope the authors feel the same. To this day, I continue to work and support authors interested in contributing to the Perseid Collapse Kindle World.”
I knew I wanted to create a supportive community of cross-promotion around the Lei Crime Kindle World as well, and having the works representing my World be top quality writing was a priority to me. I’d heard about Konkoly’s involved and supportive approach, and as a total stranger, I wrote to Konkoly. He was kind enough to share a lengthy email on how he supports his authors, and I followed his recommendations to a T. This has led to the “vibrant and growing” experience authors are having in the Lei Crime Kindle World, too—and by staying involved, providing a list of Typo Hunters, copyeditors, cover designers, beta readers, and even reading drafts myself, I’m pleased to report that the Lei Crime Kindle World novellas are some of the highest-rated fan fiction on Amazon.
“I don’t think all of the Kindle Worlds are like Lei Crime, in that there are coordinated launch dates which allow all the participants to combine energies for promotion. Toby Neal started out right (in launching her World) by gathering an extraordinary group of authors who offer amazing, well written books and the energy to cross promote them long after each KW launch. As a group, we know that the more consistent we are in offering quality reading experiences—no matter how widely varied they are in story and content –the better it is for all of us,” agrees Mary Doyle.
“The biggest benefit (for me) of Kindle Worlds is the support of other authors writing in the same world,” affirms Eden Baylee. “Through Toby Neal's Lei Crime World, I've crossed paths with numerous authors who would have otherwise remained unknown to me. Even though we have different author platforms and writing styles, Kindle Worlds unifies our purpose and our writing. By working within this group, each of us gains greater exposure for our books, both within Kindle Worlds and outside of it.”
“My mystery novellas have introduced my other work to a new group of readers, challenged me to write in totally a different genre, and landed me in the midst of some extraordinary writers,” summarizes Janet Oakley, who writes for Lei Crime.
“I wrote for Russell Blake’s Jet World, and he did a lot of promotion for all the books in his World (at the launch) and I think that helped in both making me feel welcome to the World, and making the books sell,” adds JA Cipriano.
- Writing for Kindle Worlds can bring healthy sales. Sean T. Smith, who writes for Steven Konkoly’s Perseid Collapse World, says, “Over the period of the last month and a half, I’ve seen my blog outreach increase, my Twitter following grow, and my sales rank spike dramatically. And it didn’t just go up for (my KW novella.) All of my books saw nice jumps. The increase in sales for my other novels led to my first book being approved for a Book Bub promotion, which is happening today and tomorrow. I should see another spike in sales beyond what I’ve already experienced, and find new readers. In particular, I think my books are getting in front of the RIGHT readers for the first time, and that’s a vital thing for an emerging author.”
Janet Oakley agrees with this. “Sales of the novellas have been very rewarding. I recently encouraged a friend who writes fantasy and whose sales were weak, to write in one of the Worlds. He took the plunge, and has been totally blown away.”
“I was amazed at how well my Jet KW novella sold since I did very little in the way of promotion. My book was consistent in sales at about 3-5 a day, which at the time seemed pretty good for licensed fanfiction. I have also had a number of readers cross over into my normal stuff even though it's a decidedly different genre. I write Urban Fantasy, vs Jet's more mainstream Thriller. If I wrote the same genre, I'm sure this crossover would be much higher. I learned a lot writing my book both in terms of marketing and writing a new genre and overall, enjoyed the experience,” says JA Cipriano.
Well, that’s all just great. So what’s the downside? Now for the UGLY.
- Most of the main authors will not do much (or anything) to promote your Kindle World novella. If you’re doing this to rub shoulders with your favorite big name author and have them promote your book for their World, think again—most authors are not as involved as myself or Konkoly. This noninvolvement came as a surprise for one author friend of mine, a big name in her own right, who wrote for one of the bigger romance Kindle Worlds. (She asked that her name be withheld.) “I was so disappointed. Absolutely nothing was done by the main author to promote the Kindle World novellas—not a single tweet, mention, blog post, nothing. If you look at the author’s website, Kindle Worlds isn’t even mentioned. I had expected more support.”
The Kindle Worlds system is set up as an open portal. Anyone, anywhere in the United States, can put up a story and hope to snag readers—but the Worlds where authors joining get the MOST benefits are those where the main author is engaged, supportive, and helps promote the World. Ask around. Check the websites of the main authors’ Worlds you might be interested in writing for—and even approach the main author with an email about what they do to support their Kindle World before you make your decision. All Kindle Worlds are NOT created equal!
- Read the fine print. Some of the contracts, particularly the older ones, contain verbiage that claim ownership of characters created for the World. There’s no crossover between Worlds, and sometimes there are characters that cannot be so much as mentioned in your book (but are featured in the main series.) Additionally, royalties are smaller than regular KDP, because the main author earns a portion, so your work will only pay 35% royalty. “I find myself being careful to not create someone for a Kindle World story that I might want to use later in my own work. Once they are a character, they belong to that World and you can’t bring them back with you to just do your own works,” shares Mary Doyle, about the older contracts that restrict character ownership in some of the Worlds. Shawn McGuire agrees with this. “The biggest downside, for me, is that the Kindle World owns my characters. I’ve fallen in love with my character, Gemi, and can only write more about her in the Lei Crime That’s not a big deal, though, because I plan to keep writing about her there!”
- Kindle Worlds is currently a US-only market. In addition to fine-print contract restrictions, books are only available for purchase and direct upload authorship in the United States. (Authors from other countries CAN upload through a third party service, however.) We’ve been assured by Amazon for over a year that they will be going international, but so far it hasn’t happened. “Kindle Worlds remains limited to the U.S. so a Canadian, like me, must work through a U.S. based third-party for everything from uploading a book to receiving royalty payments,” grumbles bestselling Claude Bouchard. “I fail to understand why this program isn't managed via KDP since the end result is a Kindle product. Instead, it runs off a distinct platform and sales data, when finally available (following a considerable lag) appears on yet another platform. There must be a relatively easy way to streamline and facilitate the process for all, including Amazon.”
Fellow Canadian Eden Baylee agrees with this and adds more detail: “My biggest problem with Kindle Worlds? It’s limited to the US market. I live outside the US, which makes publishing my books on Kindle Worlds much more tedious. Though my books are available on Kindle Worlds, I cannot upload my own files, make changes to the book once it's published, or even get paid by Kindle Worlds. All of this needs to be done via a third party who lives in the States. I must rely on her to act upon my instructions, which delays the process. Naturally, I need to compensate her as well, and this reduces the amount paid to me. This limitation is also a problem for readers in other world markets. They cannot buy from Kindle Worlds since their access to purchase books is limited to their own countries.”
- Kindle World books are only available in digital format, no print. They cannot be circulated or sold on any platform but Amazon, nor given away in any quantity as that would violate the contract with the licensing author. (ARC copies for review are permissible.) “The only complaint I have about Kindle Worlds is about the restrictions against doing anything else with the book or the characters. I’d really like to be able to make a hard copy for friends and family, at least,” says first time author David Schoonover.
“I do wish print versions were available. It would be nice to have my Gemi Kittredge novellas on the table with my other books at signings,” adds Shawn McGuire.
- Two month delay before you can see what’s going on with sales. This is a killer when you’re spoiled by the KDP and other platforms’ real-time data streaming of sales numbers. “The reporting on book sales is quite simply abysmal, especially since the KDP dashboard updates in real time. That two months of waiting is just frustrating, and shouldn't even exist when all it takes is a simple DB table query to pop up the data,” says JA Cipriano.
- Clunky and unresponsive interface and upload subsite (vs. using KDP.) Most authors uploading to the Kindle Worlds site experienced delays, glitches, and sometimes major snafus. JA Cipriano wasn’t shy in sharing about this. “I'd be unlikely to visit Kindle Worlds again for a couple reasons. For one, the Kindle World interface is horrible. It's easily the worst one I've ever used. Uploading the cover was a nightmare because I couldn't just upload a cover. I had to paste my cover on top of a template and then figure out how to delete text boxes. Uploading the manuscript took me over a dozen tries, and I'm still not sure why the uploads kept failing nor why the one I eventually loaded worked. In fact, there's a couple typos in my book I'd love to fix but the interface is so bad, it's just not worth it to me.”
I was very glad to have organized a Facebook group of for authors writing for Lei Crime as a resource area for us to problem-solve issues together—for instance, uploading a change of cover is very counterintuitive, but one of us figured out how to do it and was able to share with the group. Currently, the computer part of the platform for Kindle Worlds is crude compared to the main KDP platform.
In conclusion, Kindle Worlds CAN be a terrific way to grow, expand your author platform, network and cross-promote, hook loyal readers, and get creative—but there are downsides, and no guarantees!
Thanks to all who answered my call for quotes about their experiences, and hope you find this information helpful!
Other contributors (click on names to access websites)
- Eden Baylee
- Claude Bouchard
- JA Cipriano
- ML (Mary) Doyle
- Julie Gilbert
- Steven Konkoly
- Ron Logan
- Shawn McGuire
- Christine Nolfi:
- JL (Janet) Oakley
- David Schoonover