It's the main reason you can't just write and sell a Star Wars novel without permission from Disney, or draw and sell your own comics where the Hulk competes in a chess competition against the Leader. Because unless those who hold the copyright give you permission, you're not allowed to make a profit off their intellectual property.
|It's complicated, but those are the broad strokes.|
However, I'll be the first to tell you that trying to establish your own voice for your unique stories is far from an easy thing to do. Beyond just writing the story, editing it, finding the right cover art, etc., you need to convince people that your world is the one they should take a trip into. One thing I've learned trying to sell copies of my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife is that if there's one thing readers love even more than an exciting new world to explore, it's one they already know and love. So it's not just that you have to convince them to give your book a try, but that you need to convince them it will be at least as satisfying as a trip down a more comfortable, well-worn trail into a much-loved favorite read.
And that is a tough sale to make. Fortunately, it is possible for your work to occupy familiar ground that the reader already knows and likes, while also being a unique work of fiction in its own right.
Public Domain, and Community Content Programs
Public domain, in general, refers to works that are not protected by copyright law. This means you are free to publish and distribute them because they, in effect, belong to everyone.
|Getting that brainstorm, now?|
For instance, you could write a story about Dracula and his brides with a tone that's more like James Bond or Charlie's Angels, using the original source material to create a sexy, supernatural spy thriller that would turn its share of heads. If you wanted to adapt the original Phantom of The Opera (the one that appeared in the novel, not the changes and adaptations made by other writers and musicals), and turn him into the pupil of an aging Scarlet Pimpernel who gives Erik the mantle to go out and continue his work, that's also on the table. If you want to write a Sherlock Holmes mystery that is more like Remington Steele, when it's actually Watson who is the genius detective and Sherlock is an out-of-work actor he hired to act as his mouthpiece, there's nothing stopping you from doing that, either.
And it's not just older novels, either. Lots of companies have community content programs out there that let you write in their worlds.
I talked about this back in Community Content Programs For RPGs Are Another Avenue For Authors To Get Paid, but I'll go over the broad strokes once more. A community content program is when a company (usually an RPG publisher in my experience, but there may be others out there) allows creators to write stories and create products within their worlds and settings as long as they abide by the rules. These rules usually mean the work has to be published in a certain location, has to have marks that identify it, and it usually has to abide by setting canon. If you can do that, you're golden!
What does that mean in practical terms, though?
Well, let's say you're a fan of Vampire: The Masquerade, and you've always wanted to create fiction for it. You could write a novel set in that world, using the Storyteller's Vault. The same is true if you wanted to do a collection of Werewolf: The Apocalypse short stories where there's one story per tribe. Heck, I wrote an entire 100 Kinfolk series for werewolf in partnership with High Level Games just creating 1300+ characters to be used in this setting! And if you want to write a module that takes place in the Forgotten Realms? Well, the Dungeon Masters Guild allows you to publish that module using the setting, characters, and resources owned by Wizards of The Coast.
So What's The Advantage?
In all of these incidents, you are still telling a unique story all your own. However, it is part of an established canon that people are already familiar with, and which might poke them in their comfort zones as fans of a particular world, setting, or established characters.
Basically, you don't have to do the hard work of breaking new ground, and convincing readers that they should give it a try. You're already within an established thing they've heard of, and your premise alone might be enough to intrigue them. In this instance, it may be that much easier to clench the sale, because all you had to say was, "A graduate student at Arkham University is trying to help a Martian Thark get home using the ancient knowledge locked within the Necronomicon, but when it transports them both to Barsoom things soon get even weirder."
Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!
That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!