Serialized Fiction and Vella – What Do You Think?

By Steve Hooley

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I chose the topic of serialized fiction – a look back and a look forward – for today’s discussion, because Kindle has recently announced that it is entering the market. Vella is the name of Kindle’s new platform for serialized fiction. Let’s look at it, as well as some other sites, and then discuss reasons for considering serialization, and some creative ways to do so.

First of all, what is serialized fiction? The Free Dictionary defines it as “a novel, play, etc, presented in separate installments at regular intervals.” Wikipedia states, “In literature, a serial is a printing format by which a single larger work, often a work of narrative fiction, is published in smaller, sequential installments.”

The history is interesting, with serialization being around for several hundred years, since the development of movable type. Early authors who used it successfully include Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Here is a list of  sites offering writers the opportunity to serialize their fiction:

Vella: Kindle Direct Publishing announced in April the launch of Vella and gave a brief description. Basically, writers (currently available to U.S. writers only) will use Kindle Direct Publishing as they already have, and where they can write or upload their stories to Vella. (See the second article below for many of the details.) It is available to writers now. Readers can access stories in the next couple months.

Readers will access Vella on their phones on the Kindle Vella app for iOS or Android, or on the Kindle Vella website on desktop. Readers can read the first three episodes for free. After that they will buy tokens to unlock additional episodes. Episodes can range from 600 to 5000 words, and the price will vary according to length of the episode.

Writers will receive 50% royalties from the tokens purchased. Some estimates of earnings showed a 3000-word episode (or chapter) would pay about $0.15. Extrapolated, a 30,000-word novella would equal $1.50 – 0.45 (first three episodes free) = $1.05. And a 90,000-word novel would pay $4.50 – 0.45 = $4.05.

Tokens can be purchased in larger quantities, decreasing their price, and decreasing writers’ royalties. And Kindle plans to sell the tokens through other channels, which will take a 30% cut, meaning the writer will earn 15% less

Here are links to articles with more detail:

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/self-publishing-news-what-is-kindle-vella/

https://blog.reedsy.com/kindle-vella/

Potential benefits include higher earnings than with Kindle Unlimited (time will tell), and the possibility of reaching a younger market (teens) who often don’t own a Kindle and read on their phones. Longer works would pay better, because the first three free episodes would be a smaller percentage of the whole. And the cost of cover art could be significantly less, with nothing more than an image required. (No text.)

Caveats from experienced writers include the fact that payment from Kindle has changed in the past, and apparently token prices have already been discounted in certain situations (benefiting Kindle, but decreasing royalties for writers).

Now to other sites. And here’s a link to a more detailed article:

https://medium.com/@eliangonz/serialized-fiction-190ef5f65bda

Royal Road: mostly Litrpg and Sci-Fi. No system for monetizing the stories. Stories must be approved to be published.

Pros: Decent interface. Good community.

Cons: No reading app. No monetization option.

Webnovel: Big site. Most popular genres are translations from Chinese romance novels. Writers are contracted to provide a minimum word count per month in order to get paid.

Pros: Good interface. Excellent reading app. Easy system to get featured. Responsive community on Discord. Lots of readers.

Cons: No straightforward monetization option.

Tapas: Good interface. Oriented toward comics. After getting 25 subscribers, writers can ask for donations to unlock the rest of the chapters.

Pros: Excellent interface. Excellent reading app. Straightforward monetization system.

Cons: More for comics. Getting featured is out of writer’s control.

Moonquill: new as of 5/19. Can monetize your work from get go with an ad system.

Pros: Good interface. Monetization system, but it had not been implemented as of 5/19.

Cons: Relatively new. Caters to authors already on Webnovel.

Wattpad: The biggest site. It has launched careers for some writers. Requires constant interaction with readers. Writers are using it to attract readers to their subsequent novels. Difficult to navigate. No monetization.

Pros: Biggest site with largest following.

Cons: Bad interface. No monetization.

Medium: Have to subscribe to read. Have a paid partnership program. Not a lot of serialized fiction.

Pros: Good interface. Easy to publish. Has a monetization option.

Cons: Subscription program for readers. Payment only through Stripe.

Radish: Has had issues with censorship and removal of works. Payment issues. Can’t edit stories once they are published. Mostly romance.

Pros: Pretty interface.

Cons: Problems with transparency, payment, and removal of content.

Dream:

Cons: Many people have advised against working with them. Require exclusivity. Concerns with payment after initial payment.

Patreon: JSB uses this site successfully for short stories. I asked him what he thought about using it for serialization. Here’s his answer:Patreon isn’t a dedicated platform for short fiction. An author could certainly try to gain patrons for such a thing, as I have. But the lure of a Vella or a Radish is the potential to gain a huge following and, thus, some nice payouts.”

Reasons to consider serialization: Here’s one writer’s list of possible reasons (his opinions):

https://blog.usejournal.com/serial-storytelling-part-one-is-it-worth-it-6f6a94954afa

  1. If you have an experimental idea. For example, this writer was the first to publish a novel on a series of Twitter tweets.
  2. If you have access or can publish your serial on an established literary platform.
  3. You have a good fan base and the marketing know-how to make dollars at self-publishing.
  4. You have the will to transform serial storytelling into success no matter the risk.

But other than that, most articles came down to the conclusion that serialization has more potential for exposure, less potential for making money. And one author added the caveat that it may require a lot of interaction with readers.

The above writer who gave the list of possible reasons for serialization, also listed the following possible sites for serialization:

  1. Social media platforms
  2. Journals and anthologies
  3. Newspapers
  4. Blogs (he listed Medium – see above)
  5. Wattpad – he described as the “grandmother of it all.”
  6. Amazon (and that’s what Vella is)

 

Now it’s your turn:

  • What serialized fiction sites did I miss?
  • Do you plan to try Vella or one of the other sites?
  • What has been your experience (or that of colleagues) with any of the sites? Pros and cons?
  • What do you think the perfect site for serialized fiction would consist of?
  • Bonus points: What creative alternatives can you think of for serialized fiction? Example: convincing your local library to serialize local writer’s stories on a weekly library blog.
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29 thoughts on “Serialized Fiction and Vella – What Do You Think?

  1. Interesting article, Steve. Thanks for the sharing the pros and cons. I don’t have time to crank out content for serialized fiction. The research involved in writing true crime consumes most of my time, plus blogging, and I need to keep up with my two thriller series. But I do post my blog articles on Medium (with a link to the original post) and it drives traffic to my site. I’ve also been invited to republish on offshoots of Medium, which I also do. The nice part is I write one article for my blog, then republish on two or three other sites, staggering the days, which continues to widen my audience.

    Tip: Tweak the article for each site so you don’t ruin the SEO. Google crawlers don’t like copy/pasted articles.

    +5
    • Thanks, Sue for all your IT help this morning. I’ve learned a lot.

      Thanks for your comment. The site/platform, Medium, keeps coming up. Sounds like a good subject for another post.

      Have a great weekend!

      +3
  2. Steve, this comment is from Harvey:
    Good article, Steve. I offer one caveat: Be sure to read the terms of service for any site where you want to serialize your work, especially the social media sites. If you don’t want to labor through the entire TOS, at least search for terms like “license” and “copyright.” Just my two cents.

    TKZers: We’re aware of the comment problem and are in the process of fixing it. Sorry for the inconvenience!

    +4
    • Thanks, Harvey. That’s important advice. And thanks for going the second mile to get it posted. Thanks, Sue for posting it.

      +4
  3. Good morning, Steve. Thanks so much for conducting the deep dive into the brave “new” world of serialized fiction. I remain convinced that you never sleep.

    I particularly appreciate the list of pros and cons of each platform.

    I had heard of Patreon, which is also used to sponsor websites and other endeavors, and Vella. The others are cases of first impression for me but I will spend at least part of the day today checking them out, thanks to you.

    Serialized fiction doesn’t hold any appeal for me as a reader but that is just me. As I writer, however, I may after due diligence put something up on one of these platforms and see if it soars or sinks.

    Thanks once again, Steve, for an extremely informative and entertaining post. Have a great weekend!

    +4
    • Thanks, Joe, for coming back until we were open. Great comments. The idea, from the articles, that Vella may appeal to a younger audience (teens/YA) makes me think about giving it a try, especially since I have grandchildren that will be moving into that age group, and I’m already writing middle-grade fantasy.

      Have a great weekend!

      +2
  4. Great overview, Steve, with lots of information. I did one serialized novel through Radish. I think I made 65¢. For this to work for an author you have produce a lot, be consistent, be “working” the system. It really is geared toward younger readers, so genres like fantasy and SF are popular. The ROI in both time and energy didn’t work for me. (My Patreon community is more of a self-contained social network centered on completed short works of fiction. The ROI there does work for me.)

    Serialized fiction seems like a tight-rope walk (while juggling)…it’s easy to begin…and add episodes…but can you bring everything to a satisfying conclusion? (The TV series LOST could not).

    Good stuff to think through, Steve.

    +5
    • Yes, I heard the same thing, Jim. I did have a recent offer from another serialized fiction platform that wanted to license one of my novels for 10K. Which sounded great till I asked for more details. Here’s the deal: If I accepted, I couldn’t work on any other projects. None. They would basically own me. And they expected me to churn out content on a DAILY basis.

      I told them where they could stuff their offer. 🙂

      +3
    • Thanks for pointing out the caveats – walking a tight rope while juggling. That should make readers stop and think, before jumping on that rope.

      I would love to hear about the ins and outs of Patreon, and how to make that platform work for you.

      Have a great weekend!

      +1
  5. Hi, Steve. This is a great rundown of both Vella and the other platforms for serialized fiction in 2021. My concern with Vella specifically is the token payment system, and how it’s tied to the price paid for the tokens, which can change at any time.

    I worked on a serial way back in 2012, when serials were first a “thing” on Amazon. What I found was doing a TV season style serial was challenging–the structure was quite different from a novel. Each episode had to be a complete story that fed into the next and built an overall season arc. The idea was to have five seasons, each of six episodes (10-20K long) with it’s own arc that built into a season arc, and in turn, a series arc. The series would be like a nested set of Russian dolls.

    Complicated.

    I wrote three episodes, 40K words in total. I shelved it in early 2013, but came back to the idea three years later, and turned it into my Empowered novel series. I should say, “turned it back into novels,” since I’d originally dreamed up the Empowered as a YA novel trilogy in 2011, then decided to make it more adult and try a serial structured format, then a thing on Amazon.

    I think serializing a “conventionally” structured novel on your blog, or read in audio installments podcast style or on Youtube, would be another way of doing this.

    Have a fine Saturday!

    +3
    • Thanks for your thoughts and sharing your experience, Dale. Your last paragraph about serializing a conventionally structured novel is important. Since Vella is set up to let the reader read the next episode whenever they want to, the writer could structure the story conventionally, with an emphasis on cliffhangers at the end of every chapter/episode, and with the entire story complete when it is loaded to Vella. Another point in favor of Vella: With Kindle doing it, I would bet that it won’t take long until Vella’s reach is greater than Wattpad.

      Have a great weekend!

      +2
  6. Amazon is notorious for starting a program like this then dumping it in a few years if it doesn’t make as much money as they like. The shared worlds program is a good example. I’d be very leary of using it as a major revenue stream, but it might be fun as a break from the standard plot format.

    +3
    • Thanks, Marilynn, for the reminder of Amazon’s tarnished past. I like your last sentence: “but it might be fun as a break from the standard plot format.” And, even if one made no money, it might get the attention of many readers.

      I always appreciate your wisdom. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend!

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  7. Reading or writing serialized fiction has little appeal to me. I don’t have the time or energy to devote to the volume of work you’d have to create (or so it seems from my viewpoint.) At the urging of a friend, I ‘chapterized’ one of my books (a free one) on Wattpad and found their audience not my demographic, although I had a good number of readers/followers.
    Given Vella is Amazon, I am sure people are already figuring out ways to game the system.

    +3
    • Supposedly, gaming the system, is one of the reasons Kindle is doing Vella. Too many people with Kindle Unlimited initially interested in the book, but not making enough page turns to pay much. It remains to be seen, but historically, Amazon’s promise of payments, has not been kept.

      Thanks for your comments. Have a good weekend!

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  8. Another thorough blog, Steve. Thanks for the rundown. Like Terry, I don’t have the time or the desire for serialized fiction, but I appreciate the detailed information.

    +2
    • Thanks, Elaine. It sounds like much of the Kill Zone community will be waiting and watching to see if Vella succeeds.

      Have a great weekend!

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  9. This is my first time reading anything in detail about serialization (along with mentions in other TKZ posts). Before that, I just heard the word “serialization” and thought “Charles Dickens” and moved on.

    I’m showing my age here & probably am in the minority (what else is new LOL!) but the description of serialization turned me off for 2 reasons:

    1) If I correctly understood the process you described, then people just buy tokens to read more segments. I think the missing element from this theory is the use of “anticipation” as a marketing tool. To me, serialization is the anticipation of a new segment of a story coming out on a regular basis–I don’t know what the norm was in Dickens’ day but let’s say readers knew that every Sunday paper, they’d get a new installment of a story. There does not appear to be any such build up of anticipation in this Vella program.

    2) Again, showing my age, I am instantly turned off by any use of the word “tokens”. I was born just before gaming took over people’s brains. However, perhaps that infers the Vella program would be of more interest to either younger generations or at least those who adopted gaming as part of their lives.

    A final note, I’m sure we’ve all read fanfiction that we followed where the author suddenly quit adding chapters (not pointing fingers–I’ve been guilty of that on one story). I presume such a program as vella has safeguards to ensure authors don’t leave readers in limbo.

    I will be curious to see how this develops.

    +1
    • Thanks for stopping by, BK. I believe our ages are somewhat close, and I believe we have both been exposed to medicine in our work. Which makes me believe that we know Americans have very little patience for “anticipation.” They want it now, and they want to be at the front of the line. So, I’m guessing that Kindle is hoping this new younger market will want to binge read. They will have instant access to the next episode. And each episode only costs pennies. Maybe Kindle’s hope for addiction on the part of the readers is why they used the name “tokens” for payment.

      Just saying. Thanks for your comments. And have a great weekend!

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      • I guess without the concept of ‘anticipation’ in use with serialization, I’m not sure I see the clear differentiation between buying short works on demand vs. going to Amazon & buying any book on demand.

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        • Amazon/Kindle basically states that they see Vella as a new market, particularly young people who don’t have a Kindle, and who prefer to read on their phone. And they (Kindle) want “episodes” to be available to the readers so that readers can pay for the next episode and read it as soon as they want it. I believe I read that writers have to have at least ten episodes uploaded before the Vella book becomes available to readers.

          To me, it makes sense to write the book, thinking of it being purchased one chapter at a time, and complete the book with all the proper revisions and editing, then upload the whole book. After the book is on Vellum for ? period of time, I believe it can be marketed elsewhere as long as it is not free. Therefore it could be marketed on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook.

          So, in effect, Vella is just another market available to the writer – young people who like to read on their phone.

          +1
  10. Good timing, Steve! Have been thinking about Vella. Have never done this sort of thing (serialization), but have already taken an old uncompleted MS gathering dust, reworked an opening scene, and put up “Episode #1.” Wanted to see how the interface functioned. And created a test graphic. All worked fine. Because I already have the Amazon relationship (including banking), and because a significant part of my royalties is from Amazon’s KENP Reads, I figured why not give it a try? Got nothing to lose. And I can always pull it down and just make a book out of it later. The trick for me will be carving out the time from my “real” WIP and the rest of life. Time will tell. Curiously await other comments here.

    +1
    • Thanks, Harald, for telling us about your experience. I’ll be eager to hear how it goes. As I recall, you are involved in evaluation of cover art for books. Do you have any thoughts on what should work best with Vella’s simplified graphic/image for the beginning of the book? I would be interested in hearing your recommendations.

      Thanks for your input. Keep us updated how your experiment goes.

      +1
      • As to the “Story Image,” I’d say: simple and powerful.

        Here’s what they say:
        “Upload a square image, with any important visuals centered. We will crop the image to display as a circle. The image doesn’t need to include the title, because the title will automatically be displayed separately. Accepted file formats: JPG and TIFF Recommended dimensions are 1600 x 1600. Your image cannot exceed those dimensions. File size should be 2mb or less. The image must comply with our content guidelines and not mention pricing or other promotional offers.”

        I’ll let you know if/when/how I move forward.

        +1
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