I started writing a serial western before Kindle Vella was a platform. Something about the area I live in, the family I have, my wife and I’s purchase of two miniature horses, my recent encounters with Louis L'Amour's works, and starting Lonesome Dove around this same time set the stage in my mind. I was camping in the mountains in the spring of 2021 when inspiration struck me. It was an action scene: a train at night, rain pouring, a band of misfits riding up on the caboose, lightning illuminating a gunfight hidden by the sounds of rolling summer thunder. I started writing the scene in a notebook, and I typed it up later on when it just wouldn’t leave my head. I wrote the first two chapters of a pulpy, action-oriented Western I called: Hard Country Makes Hard Men.
I had looked into trying to submit to a magazine called Serial Magazine but it looked like they were not publishing very quickly (or at all?) due to Covid and any other serial publication I looked into was long dead. Places to publish serialized fiction were either free Fan-fic websites or Erotica websites: neither of which I have any desire to go near with, as Seuss said, a 39-and-a-half foot pole. They have their place I am sure, but their place was nowhere near my little Action-Adventure. I don't consider myself a western author (I mainly write science fiction and fantasy, some poetry) but growing up and living in rural Colorado, which many would call The West, gave me some first-hand experience. I had already started writing one, anyway- enter an author friend of mine who recommended to me a new serial novel service he had heard of, something called: Vella.
I’ve heard it said by this same good friend of mine that Amazon self-publishing is where good books go to die. I was already wary of Amazon as a publisher because I have edited books that get sold on their platform and I have seen the kind of profit margins that smaller authors enjoy (aka nothing). But this was something brand new, something I could get in on the ground floor of: what promised to be a well supported program for authors to self-publish, self-advertise, and monetize the very thing I was currently writing, a serial. So I read over the guidelines and challenged myself to finish the first five chapters by the launch date.
The chapters were finished and submitted with about 24 hours to spare, and later that week, Hard Country Makes Hard Men was live. After some outstanding support from family and friends my little serial was on the top 10 leaderboards for the first month. The service didn’t have much interest at the outset, as a whole. The people who knew about Kindle Vella and who were reading through the material there were the authors themselves: a service by authors for authors it felt like, at least for the first month or two. Interest in the platform seemed scattered at best and no one knew how or when they would get paid nor where any new readers were supposed to be coming from. Then they released the first “bonus.”
I made some money. Not quite as much as selling a short story to a professional magazine or journal, but something. Based on involvement and notice your piece got the service, Amazon awards their Kindle Vella authors a monthly “bonus.” Let me discuss the Bonus system as I understand it currently. Vella has a pool of money, anywhere from $200,000-500,000 per month it has been said, that they distribute to the Top Faved authors. As the KDP website states: "All authors are eligible for a bonus based on customer activity such as redemption of free and paid Tokens, Faves, and Follows." So Weekly Faves per month, the number of monthly episode unlocks/reads, apparently “Follows,” and I suspect, click-through website traffic I generated for Vella from Instagram and other Website links. Based on the amounts I received, I think we could extrapolate that the top rated stories getting around 1000+ likes per month have got to be generating $1000-$5000 per month, and many of these authors have multiple stories they are releasing. So maybe Vella is working out great for a few folks.
As I was writing Hard Country, I gave myself the very specific literary challenge that the chapter names had to be two words, taken directly from somewhere in the chapter they titled. I figured that, if I am writing interestingly enough, it should be easy to find a phrase that captures the feeling of the episode I just wrote! It wasn’t always easy, but I feel like it either kept me focused when writing and editing, looking for that magic phrase; or even drove the chapter itself in a couple of cases, like with Episode 8: Vengeance Promised. However, by Episode 15: Responsibility Falls Heavy, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Or rather I had (It was to be the second half of the chapter entitled “Arrow Rock”); but this was about the time I decided to start splitting my chapters in half to be released twice a month instead of once, and I needed a title right then to publish it.
It was apparent most of the Vella authors who were actually making any money already had a good following on regular Kindle or were published authors already. For myself, an author who certainly did not already have a following on Amazon Kindle (or anywhere) before Vella opened; I had gotten some notice and reads, especially the beginning of 2022 for some reason. I was able to get on and stay on the Top 100 "Faved" board the first couple of months and stay in the top 200 as time went by. This got my story a little crown over the picture and the moniker "Top Faved," which may or may not get it more attention. It's all been a little confusing really, but I was luckily aware of the platform before it launched so I’ve been along for the ride.
My Episodes are much longer than many of the other stories you've seen on Kindle Vella. After Episode 9, at the end of 2021, I realized that Kindle Vella as a platform (although it ALLOWS up to 5000 words per Episode) demands shorter episodes from its readers in general. I tried moving from one 3500 to 4500 word chapter per month to two shorter episodes per month. I think the longer opening chapters worked well for some of my readers; but for everyone else who was just discovering my piece, I felt I had to do something even though it was too late to make a difference and I should have stuck to my guns. Oh well. I was feeling close to finished with Hard Country by then, and thought I may as well try everything I could to raise awareness towards the end.
This was what the Kindle Vella Homepage looked like for a couple of hours, one day.