Kindle Vella – a Writer’s (and Reader’s) Perspective

Amazon’s new episodic fiction platform, Kindle Vella, launched last week, and a lot of writers have already jumped on the bandwagon, myself included. So, let’s take a look at how Vella is stacking up against what I imagine is its chief competitor: Wattpad.

As a Wattpad star and Watty winner, I’ve had a lot of success on that platform and have enjoyed the experience every step of the way. I especially enjoy the social interaction on Wattpad. It’s fun to chat with readers in the comments and offer suggestions to other writers via book clubs and contests. Politeness and positivity are encouraged.

Wattpad started as a free reading platform and has slowly adapted its business model to include a paid membership (no ads and a choice of profile color) and now offers paid stories redeemed with purchased “coins.” The latter seems to be Amazon’s inspiration for Kindle Vella, an app where readers may access stories (the first three episodes are free) by purchasing tokens. Additional features include author’s notes at the end of each episode. Readers may voice their approval with a thumbs up or by rewarding their favorite story with a coveted crown by redeeming tokens.

Caught up in the hype and eager to get in on the ground floor like many of my fellow authors, I uploaded the first eighteen episodes of my epic fantasy Starlex to Vella. The multi-character POVs and various plotlines seemed ideal for serialized fiction. For my launch, I did the requisite email blast and ran some Facebook ads. But after all the effort, my story is pretty much dead in the water. Not even a crown! (cue sad queen face).

Scrolling through the comments on some of the Facebook groups I belong to, I see that I’m not alone in my struggle to find readers. Part of the problem, for me perhaps, is that I’m trying out a new genre. I usually write horror so there hasn’t been much reader transfer. It’s also possible that readers haven’t yet discovered the new platform despite all the promotion authors have been doing, or maybe there is just too much damn competition. I’ve already detected notes of despair among some authors’ comments, some already expressing a desire to give up. Maybe there is too much expectation to strike Amazon gold. I went in with the attitude of experimentation so I am fine with diligently updating my story every few days along with a Facebook post boost expecting little returns and being pleasantly surprised if someone discovers my story.

Depressing? I suppose that depends on one’s perspective and is a topic for another blog.

On to the Vella reading experience. Stories are divided into episodes (akin to Wattpad’s parts vs. chapters). Leading up to Vella’s launch, there were plenty of discussions in the Facebook groups about how serial fiction differs from a standard novel approach. From the stories I sampled there doesn’t seem to be much distinction. There is, however, a lot of talent on display here. The stories I read were decent genre fiction I hope will attract a readership.

Comparing my reading experience on Vella to Wattpad, I have to say Wattpad wins out on two fronts. One, Wattpad offers a clever feature where the reader is shown how much time is left in the chapter. This is useful, like Kindle’s progress feature, for readers to gauge if they want to stick out the chapter (part, episode) or put it down for now. Vella’s episodes vary from 500 to 6,000 words so there is a lot of range. Coins are redeemed according to word count.

The second drawback is the reader’s inability to leave comments. After giving a thumbs up, I found myself returning to the Facebook groups to give a quick take on what I read and to offer words of encouragement, the same type of give and take that is part of the Wattpad experience. There are many conversations happening on Facebook that could be taking place on Vella. Vella does offer readers opportunities to leave a review (stars and comments) in typical Amazon style and there is apparently a return policy where readers may redeem their tokens if they’re unhappy with the story. Authors understandably are already taking issue with this feature given readers may read the entire story before requesting a return. Obviously, there is still some tweaking to be done.

So, what is your opinion? Are you checking out Kindle Vella as a reader or writer, or both? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you have any favorite stories to share, please let me know. I believe online fiction sites will continue to develop, hopefully offering more opportunities for writers to share their stories. But is there any real money to be made? Time and talent may tell.

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