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What Is Kindle Vella?

If you’re in any indie author or self-publishing circles, you may have heard some buzz about a new product from Amazon’s self-publishing branch. This new venture is “Kindle Vella,” and excited authors have been giving it quite a bit of attention.

A mobile phone display a book cover is situation between a laptop and a print book. A cup of coffee on a tray with a plant completes the scene.
It’s a “new” way of reading for the digital era. (Ena Marinkovic / Pexels.com)

What is Kindle Vella, and can it help you on your author journey? We take a look here.

What Is Kindle Vella?

Kindle Vella is a new part of Amazon’s self-publishing arm. You can think of it as part of Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Vella brings a new dimension to the self-publishing platform. Instead of focusing on novels, poetry, short stories, and what we’d generally think of as “books,” Vella is something a little bit different.

Unlike KDP, Vella is a serial fiction platform. That makes it similar to platforms like Radish, Wattpad, and other sites that are popular for fanfiction, web comics, and other works.

What Is Serial Fiction?

“Serial fiction” might seem like something new and strange to a lot of us. It actually has a long history going back to the 1800s. Many Victorian novels—like those of Charles Dickens—were originally published as serials. That means readers picked up new chapters of their favourite stories on a regular schedule: weekly, biweekly, monthly, and so on.

Newspapers and magazines were very popular during the Victorian era, and more people were learning to read. These two trends created huge demand. Newspapers and magazines contracted writers to fill their pages, and readers demanded affordable reading material.

A cover for Part IV of The Adventures of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens, showing some of George Cruikshank's original illustrations. Oliver Twist was originally published as serial fiction.
DICKENS: OLIVER TWIST. Cover of volume four of a serial edition, 1846, of Charles Dicken’s novel ‘Oliver Twist,’ illustrated by George Cruikshank. (The Granger Collection.)

At this time, books were still too expensive for most people. Serial fiction printed in much cheaper newspapers and magazines gave people who couldn’t afford a book access to fiction. Lending libraries soon popped up, providing yet another way the working class could access fiction.

The serial model largely disappeared from book publishing after World War II, when the paperback revolution made books much cheaper. It lingered in comics publishing, where monthly issues serialize stories.

The format also survives in TV, particularly in dramas and the infamous soap opera. (Why do you think they’re called telenovelas or TV-novels in Spanish-speaking countries?)

The Serial Fiction Revival

Serial fiction came back to life for long-format written stories with the Internet. For the most part, this originated in fanfiction circles. On platforms like LiveJournal and Fanfiction.net, authors would post stories one chapter at a time.

Although fandom has moved from site to site over the years, the serial fiction format has remained largely intact. Whether people are posting to Tumblr, AO3, or Wattpad, they tend to follow the serial fiction format.

Some sites, like Wattpad, also accept original fiction. Original fiction often doesn’t perform as well as fanfic on these platforms, which is one reason original serial fiction has taken longer to gain traction.

Nonetheless, we now have two generations of readers and writers who were raised on this model via the Internet. Anyone who has participated in fandom knows the thrill of waiting for a favourite author to post the next instalment of their fav new fic. It’s little surprise that original works now incorporate it too. It’s something we miss in the Netflix era of entire season releases at once.

Sites like Radish, Wattpad, and others have been at the forefront of original serial fiction publishing. Now, Amazon is looking to get in on the act with Kindle Vella.

What Does Serial Fiction Look Like?

If you’ve never heard of it before, you might wonder if serial fiction is “just” a novel published chapter by chapter. As someone who studied Victorian serial fiction and been in fandom for a long time, I can tell you it’s … a bit different.

At the core, yes, serial fiction is ultimately just a novel. However, serial fiction usually ends up being a lot longer than what we’d call a novel. The Victorians called theirs “three-decker novels”: books divided into three parts, all of which were long enough to be a full book on its own. Many fans get excited about fanfics that go on for hundreds of thousands of words.

So, serial fiction tends to go long. Yet the chapters themselves are not long. They’re usually bite-size. Kindle Vella, for example, allows chapters up to 5,000 words. Many serial fiction writers feel the “sweet spot” for chapter length is right in between, at 2,500 to 3,000 words.

Why are the chapters so short if the books are so long? Think about it like half-hour TV programs. You tune in once or twice a week and get a quick hit of endorphins. At the time, half an hour isn’t much of a commitment at all.

A woman holds a smartphone and looks at the screen as she lays down. Most Kindle Vella readers will be looking at stories on their mobile devices.
The average fanfic reader at 2 am. (Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com)

Today’s readers are often on the go, and they’re often on mobile devices. They don’t want long chapters; they want things quick and dirty, so they can skip along to the next thing they have to do. Some will binge-read a new story if it’s already long (and hooks them), but most people are not sitting down for a long reading session. If they were, they’d be picking up a book.

Think Like a Soap Opera

I mentioned I’d studied Victorian three-decker novels. These are the literary equivalent of the soap opera. And if you think about how serial fiction works, that makes perfect sense. (“Sensation novel” is another term for Victorian works, because they focus on getting readers to “tune in next week.”)

Since serial fiction has been dead for more than half a century, though, Amazon and other platforms have adopted TV terminology. Chapters on Kindle Vella are “episodes” and each part of your three-decker novel is a “season” rather than a “book” or a “part.” These are all pretty much synonymous.

Adopting the TV mindset will be helpful for authors who haven’t yet written or read a lot of serial fiction, be it fanfic or otherwise. You want to think long and hard about character development, plot arcs, and so on.

A TV sits in the middle of a number of guitar amplifiers, records, and other vintage technology.
Everything old is new again, I suppose. (Expect Best / Pexels.com)

The soap opera is a good example here. These shows focus on “sensation” and drama, much like the Victorian three-decker novel did. And they run forever. While I can’t recommend dragging out the action quite as much as a soap opera does, the idea is there.

If you’re writing action-adventure, sci-fi, or fantasy, think about long-running shows that you’ve enjoyed. Cartoons, which can often run for several seasons, may be more instructive here. And don’t be afraid to turn to comics or manga to get a feel for how storytelling happens “in serial.”

Is Kindle Vella for You?

If you’ve written fanfic or serial fiction at some point, you’re probably champing at the bit to get at Kindle Vella. Some authors will want to try their hand at serial fiction for the first time. Remember that you’re not just chopping up a novel you already have written into 3,000-word bites. Serial novels have a different structure from their trad pub cousins, and their audiences have different expectations.

If you’re not sure your idea has “legs”—that you can squeeze a couple of seasons out of it—then you might be better off writing a “traditional” novel. Similarly, if you’re not sure you can keep up with the demands of a regular posting schedule, then it might be better to work on traditional standalone novels.

If you decide to try Kindle Vella, then make sure you read the rules and understand the exclusivity clauses. You can republish Kindle Vella works as novels, but there are restrictions. You can also serialize your stories across other platforms—but again, only if you fulfill certain requirements. Finally, you’ll want to make sure your work hasn’t been published elsewhere; Kindle Vella is very focused on new and exclusive content to attract readers.

When Will Kindle Vella Be Available?

For a while, the team at Amazon had been saying that Kindle Vella would go live for readers in July 2021. Speculation in recent weeks suggested that the platform would launch any time between July 12 and July 16. This will be an open beta period, as Amazon’s engineers will be improving the platform.

Kindle Vella will be open to Americans first, which means only US authors can use the platform at this time. The plan will be to roll it out to other countries, much the same way KDP was rolled out in the past.

If you’re not in the US and don’t have an American co-author, then you may feel like you’re out of luck. Actually, this is a great time to start preparing your serial stories. Many serials have 48 to 60 episodes per season, and many run for multiple seasons. If you want to stick to a regular posting schedule—and you do—then getting ahead of the curve now is a smart plan.

A great developmental editor can help you as you begin to plot your new Kindle Vella serials. Get in touch with the Inkwell’s team and see how we can help you write for a new type of audience!