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  • Writer's pictureH.T. Grossen

Kindle Vella: My Experience and Advice for Other Authors

Updated: May 30, 2023

The Idea:

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.

The Race:

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.”

The Money:

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.

The Panic:

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.

I realized nearly a year too late I could have quadrupled my number of likes, which would have made my story look like it was getting the attention it actually was, instead of appearing to not be gaining traction. If I had released my story 500 words at a time, I would have generated much more interest! If I release a 4000 word chapter and thirty people read it and ten people like it, I just got ten likes. If I released it as 10 weekly 400 word episodes and ten people liked them, I would have just gotten 100 likes. There were months I’ve had hundreds of episode reads. The “Like” system does not make it appear so, although I do apparently get some Faves every week which make up for this.

The End?:

I finished the story in June 2022, just in time for a very busy summer to pull me away from writing anything for a couple of months. I’ve been looking into releasing on other serial platforms, releasing a Kindle ebook and Paperback, and pulling the whole thing down and trying to send it out to some agents / western publishing companies. Until then, with this blog post, I guess my Western tale is finished for the time being.

So that has more or less been my experience publishing Hard Country. I have received some very friendly emails and messages on Instagram and Twitter from general interest to kudos on my treatment of People of Color in my first chapter. It really has been a positive experience overall and I’m glad I did it. Forcing myself to get out an edited (at least a couple of times) short-story-length piece of writing every month was really, really good for my writing, overall.

The Problems:

I, personally, ran into three main problems during my time on Vella.

1. Kindle Vella is mostly populated with tons of Romance and Erotica that get lots of views and praise (from what I’ve seen this first year reader and writer base has been spending most of their time here) and a fairly large amount of unexperienced authors, some who produce just plain not-very-good stories. Not that they couldn't be good with polish, they just lack experience, editorial and otherwise.
It is an open platform anyone with a verified bank account can publish on.
Is this good thing? Yes, I think so. It's great some people are getting noticed and encouraged.
Fantasy epics and YA Dystopian get some attention too I think, but a Western based in the historical West? Usually the odd man out.

2. Valuing a traditional chapter-length episode over quantity was, unfortunately, not the way to make a name for myself on Kindle Vella. Many people click and read a story based purely on number of likes received. I’ll say again: if you have a 4000 word chapter broken into Ten 400 word parts; you are going to receive 10 Likes (called Thumbs Up) from the one person who reads it and likes it instead of 1 Like for the same volume of work. I follow a story who has soared on the leaderboards and gotten over 3000 likes; we were in the same place on the leaderboards early on, but because their episodes were 200-700 words each (I've read poems longer than that), they received much more notice and subsequent likes, and therefore more notoriety and money.

3. An episode a month is a worthy goal, but one a month is also somewhat of a glacial pace for this particular platform. Most authors do an episode a week, sometimes multiple per week. That is not my speed; I need to read over and edit something AT LEAST 3 or 4 times before I feel comfortable releasing it, and even now I still go back and do edits on past episodes... I sometimes wish I could go back in time and restructure mine to be released as 1000 word chapters instead (I would have over 60 episodes!) and have even considered taking my story down entirely and reposting it with shorter chapters. But that’s all in the past now.

Closing Thoughts:

So, there it is. I like Kindle Vella, and I still find myself getting on once in a while to read some work of the very nice authors I have met on Instagram. If you’re considering publishing on Vella: I say, do it! Why not? That story is either going to sit in a digital cell until it is forgotten or it can be out there in the world. It was a nice experience for me, and making myself stick to a schedule helped my writing a lot.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t also suggest you go read an episode or two of Hard Country yourself, here.

Just don’t forget to "Like" it when you’re done.

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