I keep getting emails from Amazon or KDP or whatever, telling me about the New! Shiny! Kindle Vella method of telling a story. It’s a way of publishing a chapter at a time. The idea is so actively repulsive to me that I practically recoil physically.
Here’s a post about this at Indies Unlimited: Kindle Vella: Return of the Serial
Amazon, never content to rest on its laurels, has announced a new avenue for storytelling: Kindle Vella. Many writers have already discovered the lure of publishing a serial, a short episode or a chapter at a time. Hugh Howey’s Wool, if you remember, started as a short story, then he expanded on the series little by little. It was already wildly popular before he accepted a six-figure deal with Simon & Schuster.
We’ve all seen how some series, either books or movies or both, can garner a large following. If we’ve got a captivating story line with complex characters interacting in interesting and surprising ways, our readers want to know what happens next. And while some of us might go months, even years between books — possibly losing readers during the hiatus — a series of short chapters released relatively quickly can keep those readers engaged and wanting more.
It’s sort of complicated — there will be a Kindle Vella store of some kind, with tokens readers buy and then exchange for episodes of books, or something like that. I’m not interested enough to actually pay attention to the details. I know the first few episodes will be free — that’s certainly essential — and other than that I don’t know.
I guess it’s like a giant Amazon version of what I think some authors are already doing via Patreon, except that Amazon takes a cut of 50% of the royalties. Which is no doubt fair enough, since they’ll be collecting readers’ attention and providing a marketplace for this sort of serialized work.
I think this is actually a neat idea! For someone else.
You know what book this would have worked great for? The Martian. Or the Touchstone Trilogy. Stories which are by their nature rather episodic. Think of the scene where Cassandra leaps into the water to get away from the Cruzach, when she accidentally winds up in Kalasa and has her swimming marathon and all that? End the chapter with the splash as she hits the water and everyone would be DYING to see what happened next.
But for works that don’t naturally break into episodes, this modality would be more difficult.
Also — I was talking about the writing process with Sharon Shinn not that long ago, and we happened to discuss how awful it would be to publish a work a chapter at a time, because we both do so much smoothing out between the first draft and the second. We both go back and add foreshadowing and remove unnecessary characters and tweak the timeline and so on and so forth. All this is absolutely crucial.
So, I would say, for an author who is a real outliner — who writes a tight outline and sticks to it — the something like Kindle Vella might work well. But for an author who has a ton of work to do in smoothing out the first draft, there’s no way.
Well, there’s one way, obviously. Write the whole thing, polish it up, and then publish it one episode at a time via Kindle Vella. Of course the Amazon people are encouraging that. You can unpublish a current book and put it out in Vella, for example, and no doubt some people will try that out. It may well be worth it, especially at first, when Vella doesn’t have that many works and therefore there’s less competition for eyes.
However, if the Kindle Vella people are smart, they will add this statement to relevant works as a marketing tool:
“This work is finished. Every chapter of this work has already been loaded to Kindle Vella and is guaranteed to be released on schedule.”
Because, as a reader, I can’t think of anything in the wide world that would turn me off more than repeatedly starting a serialized work that did not reach a conclusion in a timely fashion. You know where you can get finished works that reach a conclusion? The regular bookstore, that’s where.
As a related side note: raise your hand if you generally refuse to start a series unless the series is already finished.
As a general rule, I’d raise my hand there. Not absolutely all the time, of course. Any series I started reading decades ago and the thing is still going, well, that’s not covered by the rule. And I deliberately chose to read the available Steerswoman books even though I knew perfectly well the series was incomplete. (Which I definitely do not regret, this is among my all-time favorites and absolutely #1 for series I would most love to see completed before I die. Everyone should read it.) But as a RULE, I strongly, strongly prefer that a trilogy or longer series is complete before I start it. Either that, or it’s all right as long as each novel in the series stands alone.
I will just add — I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but not lately — for a traditionally published book, it’s absolutely deadly for readers not to pick up the second books because they’re waiting for the third to be published. The odds are rather good that the publisher will see poor sales for the second book and pull the third. If you want a trilogy or series to be finished, then you’d better buy the books and put them on your real or virtual shelves. THEN you are okay to wait until the series is finished before starting Book #1.
As yet another addendum on that topic, I have to admit, I have four or five complete series on my physical TBR shelves that I’ve never read. I read and liked Book #1, picked up the other books as they were published, but have never read them. Honestly, this is terrible. One day I will make it a project to read all those series.