Fandom breeds content, as nearly any Internet user who has ever loved a TV show, movie or book already knows. Fans love to spend time absorbed in their favorite works by inventing new adventures, filling in backstories, and expanding the characters’ worlds with fresh details. (Or just by making the characters have sex with each other, but that’s only a subset of fanfic.)
Unfortunately, even the best fanfic content usually remains underground, shared among fanfic communities but never distributed at the mainstream level, both for copyright reasons and because plenty of authors and publishers hate the idea of strangers swooping in on their creations.
UK sci-fi/fantasy publisher Angry Robot Books is taking a different approach: this fall it will launch WorldBuilderOnline, where anyone can submit pretty much any sort of Creative Commons-licensed original content based on specific works published by Angry Robot. The best submissions will be repackaged in anthologies and published professionally, “with most of the proceeds going to the creators” according to Angry Robot’s blog announcement.
It’s not just about writing, either. Publishing Director Marc Gascoigne says in the comments to that post that they’ll accept “pretty much anything germane to the world – fiction, articles, maps, gazeteers, encyclopedia entries, faux advertising, music, poetry, and of course artwork and designs of all kinds.”
The first title to be opened up to fans will be the forthcoming “Empire State” by Adam Christopher, which the publisher describes as a prohibition-superhero-noir novel set in an alternate New York City. (You can read an excerpt at Tor.com, and ask Amazon to email you when it becomes available.)
The WorldBuilder site will be managed by Mur Lafferty, a writer and editor who is probably best known for her podcasts over the past seven years (including an audio anthology of short fiction in 2006 featuring stories read by the authors). She’s also got her own superhero novel called “Playing For Keeps”, so she’s especially suited for the launch title of WorldBuilder.
There are other communities where fans are being enlisted to help world build, like
- Baen’s Grantville Gazette based on the works of Eric Flint;
- The Mongoliad, a serialized epic where the original fiction is being provided in part by Greg Bear and Neal Stephenson;
- and Runes of Gallidon, which works a lot like WorldBuilder but sprang into existence without a seminal work.
On the other end of the world building spectrum is J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore, which is intended to provide an immersive online world for fans of the Harry Potter series, but which doesn’t welcome user-generated content.
But Angry Robot’s WorldBuilder concept stands out to me as something fresh for the way it plans to formalize the best fanfic, by publishing it traditionally alongside the original work and then compensating the fans who created it. This in turn may help market the official book, and it could help build an audience for future titles in the series. We won’t know until sometime next year, but maybe Angry Robot has figured out a path forward where fans, authors and publishers can all profit by working together.
Update: If you have specific questions about how WorldBuilder will work, you can ask “Empire State” author Adam Christopher over at his official blog.