The following is an interview with Mur Lafferty of Angry Robot Books’ Worldbuilder (recently profiled here at SSW). Mur shares her thoughts on collaborative entertainment and why she’s passionate about audience participation.
Let’s begin with a description of Worldbuilder. How do you like to describe it?
Worldbuilder is the open story world connected to Adam Christopher’s novel, “Empire State.” Most publishers worry about fanfic, but we welcome fan-created projects. We post connected stories, music, comics, etc on our page at Empirestate.cc.
What’s the goal for Worldbuilder?
To create rabid fans! Some authors and publishers have meltdowns when they see zealous fans creating their own stories, not realizing that fanfic indicates the world they’ve created is so wonderful that once the author’s story is done, the fans don’t want it to end. If fans want your story to continue, then you’ve done something right and should nurture that. We wanted to create a safe place for fans to come and create.
And what’s your role in Worldbuilder?
I came up with the concept and was talking about it to Lee Harris of Angry Robot, and he said they had a similar idea for a marketing campaign around one of their books. We talked about it and worked it out that I would start the project by inviting pros to submit content and then open it up to fans after the book came out. So I’m in talks with the pros and vetting the content from fans.
What was your inspiration for Worldbuilder?
I have been interested in the various Creative Commons licenses and how they encourage creativity and didn’t think enough creators were using them, so I had wanted to create a place that encouraged derivative works instead of freaking out about them.
How long will Worldbuilder run (at least for “Empire State”)?
As long as the fans want it to! Professional content will run through the summer; after that, it’s in the fans’ hands.
What makes Worldbuilder different or unique in the publishing space?
Most – if not all – publishers either frown on fanfic or turn a blind eye to it. In fact, in the definition of “fanfic” there is a specific point of the work not being authorized, approved, or published by the rights holder or the publisher. Worldbuilder is encouraging people to create in our world. We’ll publish much of it on our website, some of which also has a good chance of being purchased and published in an anthology by Angry Robot Books. We know the fans can create amazing things, so we want to encourage it instead of freak out about it.
We recently profiled “Empire State” here at SSW. What’s the relationship between Worldbuilder and “Empire State?”
“Empire State” and Worldbuilder felt like projects meant to be together. “Empire State” is about a superhero battle that is so violent it punches a pocket universe into New York City, a shadow of the city called the Empire State. In the book we realize there is at least one other universe, a shadow of the Empire State. With the possibilities of infinite alternate universes, people can create almost any story, place it in a form of NYC, and have it fit within the “Empire State” canon.
So, “Empire State” is a specific story that gets expanded into a participatory world using Worldbuilder.
How, exactly, can fans play in Worldbuilder projects?
Any creative endeavor is encouraged! Stories are the most obvious, but we welcome music, audio dramas, illustrations, comics, interpretive dance videos, whatever. Fans create their works then send them to our website, and in most cases we post them as-is (although we have the right to ask for edits or not post at all).
Worldbuilder is using a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license for all content related to Adam Christopher’s “Empire State,” but the novel itself is still under traditional copyright protection. Why use CC?
Essentially all content online should be CC, otherwise we’re all breaking copyright by downloading, viewing, etc. Angry Robot can speak better to the novel’s copyright, but Worldbuilder is meant to be a living, growing community, and real art always has a springboard, whether we can see it or not. CC allows for that springboard to be used legally.
So fans remix each other’s works and not just “Empire State” content?
Yes, all work submitted is under a Creative Commons attribution non-commercial share-alike license, so fans can remix each others content without running afoul of copyright law (provided they follow the terms of the CC license).
What benefits can fans enjoy if they participate in Worldbuilder?
Their work will appear on the website and will be mentioned on the Angry Robot podcast. Additionally, fans have the possibility of their work being purchased for an anthology.
What’s the review/editing process like for fan-based submissions?
People upload their work to the site, and I review it for quality, continuity, and canonical conflicts (killing canon characters is right out, for example). If the work needs editing, I ask if the author is willing to make them – they’re certainly not obligated to, as we’re not paying for the content uploaded to the site – but I give them some suggestions. Once the work is ready, I schedule it for posting at our website.
You’ve had a diverse background in writing, having worked in the RPG world, pioneered podcasting, and subsequently become a traditionally-published author. But Worldbuilder puts you on the other side of the creative fence, where I imagine you’re managing, overseeing, and communicating with other creatives producing content. What was it like to make that shift for “Empire State?”
It’s not too hard, as my background has put me in touch with a lot of talented people: writers, game designers, podcasters, etc. So I had a large group of pros to contact for that side of content. And I’m the editor of Escape Pod magazine, so I’m used to dealing with submissions. It hasn’t been that difficult switching gears.
Can you share a pleasant surprise you have had with Worldbuilder?
“Surprise” isn’t the right word, as I had high expectations about the content we both solicited and the ones we hoped the fans would submit, but the quality has blown me away. So far we’ve gotten stories, an RPG, a photo shoot, and we just unveiled an original song and comic. All amazing stuff.
What was an unexpected challenge with Worldbuilder?
Fanfic communities grow organically, and even though AR is more welcoming than most – if not all – publishers to fanfic creators, getting the word out and encouraging creation is our biggest challenge.
What advice would you offer someone starting or managing a shared story world?
Make the barrier to entry low, but don’t be afraid to ask for edits. It’s challenging to strike a balance, but it’s possible.