Vella or Book?
Last month marked the second anniversary of Kindle Vella, Amazon's serial fiction platform. It's still a work in progress, with plans to expand internationally at some point.
I’ve been publishing on Kindle Vella since the beginning. Like many authors, I wanted to try it out because, why not? I'd never written serial fiction before and this gave me a chance to stretch in new ways as a writer.
Besides, I had this lighthearted little story about a dragon farmer that seemed like it had potential, but I didn’t have any reason to finish it, until Kindle Vella provided the motivation I needed.
Two years later, that little story has grown to a full trilogy and is consistently a Top Faved on the platform. I've also learned how to craft shorter, punchier scenes to fit reader expectations, and I've made some great connections with readers and other Vella authors.
But I confess it took me a while to figure out this important question...
What is the point of serial fiction?
Why would anyone want to read a story that way?
If that's where you're at, I've got you. I totally understand. I love the immersive nature and seamless reading experience of reading a book and the idea of chopping it up (like TV before the days of streaming) felt like a step backward.
But I've learned that there are some important distinctions between serial fiction and reading a story in book form. And I'm not just talking about the never-ending serials that go on and on without a clear arc or end in sight. (Because yes, that's a thing. And readers are really committed to it.)
Pre-edited vs. polished
Kindle Vella stories are meant to be read as the story unfolds. This usually means that authors are posting episodes before they've finished the story, which creates a certain amount of urgency. I know of authors who are posting daily to Kindle Vella, literally writing that day's episode in the morning and posting it that night.
(There's no way my perfectionism would be okay with that! But some readers eat it up.)
Depending on the author, most stories will be more raw and rough than the book version, but the benefit is that readers don't have to wait for months or even years for the story to go through multiple drafts, edits, and a lengthy publication process. If you're hungry for a story, can you blame them? And with the publication process for Vella so much simpler than publishing as a book, it's way easier to get a story out there.
Fear of commitment
The way Kindle Vella is structured, the first three episodes of each story are always free. So you get a good sampling of the story before committing any tokens (Amazon's payment method for Vella).
How is this different than the "Look Inside" sample pages for a book?
The difference is, you pay for each episode as you go. So maybe a story has a great opening and you're really excited about where it's going, but then you pay for a few episodes and it takes a detour into the Bog of Boredom. Instead of being out several dollars for an ebook, you've only spent a handful of tokens (which usually amounts to pennies). Simply quit reading at any time and you don't have to pay for the rest of the story.
The flip side of this is that if a story runs long (or never ends) you could end up spending a LOT more on the serial version than if you waited for it to come out in book form. But for the impatient fan, it's a price they'll happily pay.
Vella episodes tend to be shorter than a book chapter. Usually a single scene, or sometimes even shorter than that, they're pretty quick to digest. Which makes them perfect for those little snatches of time when you're waiting in line at the post office, waiting for your kids at the school pick-up line, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting at the airport for your flight, or any other time throughout the day when you find yourself with a few minutes to kill.
Instead of mindlessly scrolling, you can catch up on whatever adventure, romance, mystery, or fantasy you've been reading. But with short episodes, you won't get so sucked in that you can't come back to earth when the waiting is finally over.
Show some love
Amazon has built in several features to reward stories you love. Liking each episode and giving a highly-coveted fave to one story per week can go a long way in helping out authors and costs you absolutely nothing. Amazon rewards stories with more exposure, which helps authors find new readers and encourages them to keep writing. So it's a win-win all the way around!
Go behind the scenes
I admit that this one took me a bit to figure out. Now it's a lot of fun! Author notes at the end of each episode give me a chance to share interesting tidbits about that episode or give teasers for the next one. It's a fun way of going beyond the story and as both an author and a reader it's one of my favorite parts of Vella.
(Amazon has since added polls that readers can answer to shape the direction of the story, which takes engagement to a whole new level! That is, if you do that sort of thing which...ahem...I'm still figuring out.)
Join the conversation
And speaking of engagement, Amazon’s newest feature allows reader comments on each episode. It’s still a little glitchy, and lacking a notification system inhibits conversation in real-time. But it’s a great way to share your thoughts, interact with the author, and all without worrying about spoilers because a reader can only access them after they’ve read the episode.
Through the comment feature, I love getting a glimpse of the journey readers are on. It’s got a lot of potential if Amazon can incorporate a notification system so I know when readers leave a comment and readers know when I reply. It’s not quite there yet, but my hope is that someday, it’ll be like having a conversation with readers while they’re reading, which sounds like an absolute blast.
Have you tried out Kindle Vella? Do you love it or hate it?
And if you want to see what all the fuss is about, check out Hatched on Vella here.