Some Author Thoughts on Kindle Vella

One of the hot topics right now in author groups is this new app, Kindle Vella. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Amazon is basically trying to get into the serialized fiction market, and has been pitching this publishing service to authors for a few months now. The app is poised to go live in July, and will be available on phones and tablets, which is primarily where people are reading short serials already. You can buy tokens that will “unlock” episodes, and then Amazon and the author will share in the bounty.

So of course — we all have questions. Will it be worth it to get in there as an early adopter? Which genres might fare the best? Will we be able to write fast enough to post a regular episode, or should we serialize a finished–yet unpublished–project? (Be careful not to try to put up anything that’s already been published somewhere else, even if you have taken it down. Amazon wants new, fresh content to entice readers to come on board.)

In the interest of full disclosure — I really don’t have all, or any, of the answers. I’m just someone who enjoys reading, enjoys writing, and happened to have an unpublished project that I didn’t have any plans for until Vella popped up as an option. However, when this topic came up in my Facebook writing group, I ended up dashing off a response based on what I’d been reading about the app, as well as some of my experience using the app from the author end, plus reading and learning as much as I can about what readers of different genres might go for. That post was kind of long, and I thought, you know, that might make a good blog post, so with a few revisions and expansions, here it is!

BLUF (or bottom line up front): From an author/publisher perspective, this interface is very easy to use, so if you have an idea that might work, I highly recommend that you go in there and play around with it. The worst that could happen is that it doesn’t quite work out, and then you can unpublish your work as a Vella project, and re-publish as an indie project on either KDP or another platform.

So, here is what I’m thinking and doing with Vella. My plan right now is to put up my paranormal romantic suspense novella that I was planning to use as a reader magnet for a longer series. I worry that having a novel-length project might result in too many episodes, which might then make a reader who is frugal with their tokens decide to take a chance on a series with less episodes. The reader magnet is about 12,000 words right now, with my plan to write about 10,000 more. I have the basic scenarios for the rest of the book series planned out; based on the reader/audience reaction, I may either continue to write the series in Vella, or keep Vella as a reader magnet to lure readers to the indie-published books that come next.

I chose to dip my toe into the waters using my romance writing, given that many of the readers who already consume serialized material seem to be romance, fanfic, graphic novels/manga, or YA. Will those audiences leave their current platforms and head over to Vella? I don’t know. But I think that I, as a reader, would be willing to return to serials on a platform run by Amazon if I could one-click and “Buy Now” a selection of tokens, and be updated when new episodes go live. Are all readers me? No. But until it launches, I have to unscientifically extrapolate from experience.

Also, it seems that more established writers are able to serialize work through Patreon, so perhaps this serialized format has become normalized enough to easily translate to readers in other genres. I know that Amazon bends over backwards to the readers to get them to invest in the platform, so I feel like they’ll probably make it easy for readers to find series in the genres they read–and then poke them to remind them when new episodes are available.

There was a good Medium article on this the other day, Why Kindle Vella is Not Going Away by Monica Leonelle, that noted that Amazon was an early player in the ebook market, but when it comes to serialized fiction, they’re playing catchup. So… I think that if you are a more established writer already benefiting from Amazon’s reading platforms, you may be able to expand reader expectations as far as the genres they’ll find and enjoy. I think if you are a writing in a genre where readers are already accustomed to serial fiction, you may, as a less established writer, have an easier chance of breaking in. This is why I chose to go the PNR route, as opposed to putting up something else.

Note that Kindle Vella does not allow you to publish anything that has already been published somewhere else. They really want to differentiate their market from the other serial platforms out there, and if you do try to upload something that’s already been published, they’ll kick it off (not sure if they kick you off entirely). This could be a good opportunity, especially if readers are going in with the mindset that they’re going to get new stuff, although they might also want new stuff from the authors they already know, so maybe they’ll get disappointed if they don’t see that – or maybe they’ll take a chance on something in a similar genre.

I do think that it’s worth trying out if the pace and format works for you. The worst that could happen is that nothing happens, and then you take your work down and publish it as usual (although you might only be able to indie publish at that point, as I think most larger houses won’t be open to publishing something that already launched, except for those presses open to re-launching series.) I also think that anyone trying to prognosticate about what’s going to happen with this, or what might work or not, probably has about as even a chance as anyone of being right, so honestly, take what I say with a grain of salt and check it out for yourself.

Speaking of which, at this point, I’ve spoken to a number of authors who seemed interested in Vella, but had some trepidation. Would it be difficult? Were there some ins and outs that might take a while to learn? What’s going on? I know that I personally find it a little easier to try something new if I have a good idea of what to expect, and so following are some screenshots that will take you on a little tour of what it’s like within the interface. As I mentioned above, first, this is for an unpublished novella that is meant to be a reader magnet to a paranormal romantic suspense series, and so I’m writing under my romance pen name. (Shameless plug: For my non-PNR romantic suspense, check out Negotiating Her Release!) Second, this was originally posted as part of a discussion in a Facebook group, so these were screenshots I took from my phone. They’re not super fancy, but the interface is not complicated, and so this is pretty much what it looks like when you go in.

So, when you log into KDP, and click on Vella (it’s all the way at the top, above the create ebook and paperback choices), you get this:

If you click “Start a Story,” it will ask you for the title, name, tags, genre etc. You will also need a graphic for the circle — you don’t need the title or author on the graphic, because the title and and author will pop up on the screen anyway. This is what mine looks like — a user-friendly, attractive interface, not too crowded. Your blurb can’t be as long as a typical blurb — think more logline length.

If you are coming back, this will pop up, and you just hit “manage story” to get back in and get to work.

Each time you post an episode, it will go through a review. You can title the episode, and edit within the text even after it goes live, but the amount of tokens is based on the word count. (Also, you don’t have to add the episode number and/or title inside the text box, because that is part of the interface, and it’ll just look like it’s repeating. That’s why some of my previously published episodes in this screenshot are gray — I went in, changed some stuff, and now they’re waiting on a second review to go live.

The neat thing, too, is at the end of the episode, there’s a spot where you can leave a note to the readers. This is a great place to tease the next episode, commiserate with your readers, and generally just connect to them. One of the reasons I enjoy things like Patreon or following authors online is to learn what’s going on “behind the scenes.” So here is a built-in option to allow you to do that. This example is from the last episode I was working on this weekend:

Anyway, like I said above, Vella is super easy to use, so if you have been thinking about it, go on in and play around with it. You can import a file, copy and paste, or just write the episode in there. I personally don’t recommend that last option; I’m using Scrivener to plot and write the episodes, and do some editing before I upload them. This is to make sure my readers get the best possible experience, and to also make sure that if at some point I do want to unpublish and re-publish elsewhere, I’ll have the original file as a whole. I don’t know much else except what I’ve posted, it if anyone has any questions or wants to toss around ideas, I’m available to chat.

As the Vella app goes live, and we start to get feedback from readers, authors, and Amazon, I’ll keep you updated about what happens with this project. I think it will be very cool to check out, and I’m hoping this will be another method authors can use to get great stories in front of their fans.

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