Normally, you don’t hit publish until a novel is complete, has gone through several revisions and edits, and has a book cover. With serialized writing, you can write the first few chapters of a story and publish them. Then publish the next bit when it’s done, and continue to do this until you complete your novel.
If the platform you are publishing on enables interaction with your readers, you can see what elements of the story they like; what’s working, what’s not, and use this feedback to help structure the rest of your story. This means you can make money from your novel while you are still writing it.
That’s what Amazon’s new Kindle Vella platform enables you to do.
What is Kindle Vella?
Amazon announced Kindle Vella on April 13. Currently it is open for authors to create their stories, but will only become available to readers, it seems, by mid-2021.
Vella is an extension of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform which has helped make self-publishing accessible to millions of writers. It will enable the publishing of stories in episodes, meaning authors don’t need to finish a whole novel before finding readers for it.
Readers will be able to access these stories one episode at a time and decide if they want to download further episodes depending on whether the story has hooked them or not.
Serialized publishing is not new. It’s actually a huge trend. Websites like Wattpad, Inkitt, WebNovel, Royal Road, Sweek, and Fictionpress are built on the episodic publishing model. Wattpad, launched in 2006, is the biggest of them all. It serves up about 700 million stories to a user base of over 90 million users around the world.
Notable successes from Wattpad include the After Series by Anna Todd.
The story reached close to 10 million unique readers on the platform and was read more than one billion times. The series was bought by Gallery books and published as one book titled After in October 2014. It went on to become a New York Times Bestseller. Also in 2014, Paramount Pictures acquired the film rights to the After series leading to a film adaptation of Todd’s book.
The Netflix movie, The Kissing Booth, a runaway success among younger viewers, was also first available on Wattpad, written by 15-year old Beth Reekles.
In 2007, entrepreneur Seung Yoon Lee, made waves with the launch of Radish, an app to offer episodic fiction using what he called an ‘episodic freemium’ model. “We only rely on 5 to 10 percent of voracious readers to monetize a story,” Lee said back then. How successful was this idea? Well, Radish is thriving and made over US$20 million last year.
Serialized writing, and reading, is massive in Asia. Platforms like Qidian in China draw millions of writers and readers. In 2017, Forbes reported that there were over 330 million readers of Chinese online literature.
So the format works. Millions of readers love it. Amazon is banking on riding this wave. But no; this is Amazon. They are most likely banking on dominating this wave.
Click on photos to see details.
How Kindle Vella Will Work
Here are the highlights of how authors will use the Vella platform and make earnings from it.
Authors will post episodes that can be between 600-5,000 words long. Authors are encouraged to post 5-10 episodes of their story before making them available, so that there is more for readers to chew on if they like the first episode.
The episode will include the text of the story, an image, keywords, and other meta data.
Authors will earn 50% of what readers pay to access their story. The first few episodes (Amazon hasn’t said exactly how many) will be free.
How will readers access the stories?
Readers will be able to read the stories in the Kindle iOS app and on Amazon.com. If a reader likes the first few episodes of a story, they will be able to buy tokens which they can use to unlock further episodes.
How many tokens to unlock an episode? Each token will get you 100 words, so if an episode is 1,000 words, that will be 10 tokens.
The cost of tokens will depend on how many you buy at a time. For instance, 200 tokens will cost $1.99 and 1,700 tokens will cost $14.99.
Authors will be able to engage with readers by leaving a note at the end of each episode. Readers will have the ability to follow stories they like so that they can get notifications when new episodes are released. They will also be able to ‘like’ the episodes they enjoy and will get one ‘fave’ every week, a special sort of ‘like’, which they can use to show which story they enjoyed the most.
Will writers make money off Kindle Vella?
I think the real question is, “Will Amazon readers bite?” Will Kindle Vella get traction? Amazon is the biggest player in the publishing industry, handling over 80% of all book sales in the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, but we’ve seen examples before where digital media giants launch new platforms that fail to take off.
But my bet is Vella will take off because;
- there are many writers out there who find the idea of writing a novel novel daunting but are dying to tell their stories in some format. A chapter or two are much easier to write and once you get good feedback, it’s easier to write more.
- we are in an age where digital first formats are taking off exponentially.
- this is also the age of the shorter attention span. Small bites of media make it easier to commit.
- amazon will find ways of incentivizing both writers and readers enough to achieve critical mass.
As with most media trends, I think we will see a pattern where the top 10-20% of writers who rise to the top will make a large chunk of the money. Amazon is a giant though. Even if a writer is not in the top 10% of earners, they can still earn a decent income.