What is Kindle Vella?
If you publish with KPD, you probably received an email recently introducing you to Kindle Vella, a new storytelling option coming from Amazon. If you missed it in your email, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a lot of Indie authors talking about it, and for good reason. There are a lot of questions about this new service and a lot of uncertain feelings, all of which I can understand.
Some authors are excited about it, some are angry about it, and others simply don’t have a clue what’s going on! If you’re in the latter group, then this post will be especially helpful for you because I have decided to take one for the [writer] team and try out Kindle Vella myself. As of the time I am writing this, I have written and published 5 episodes to a story I had been planning to use for a Reader Magnet to build my list before Vella was released. Since it is previously unpublished in any form, it’s perfect to test drive this service.
So, let’s start with the basics for those who are just catching up. What is Kindle Vella? Here’s what Amazon has to say:
We’re introducing a new storytelling option: Kindle Vella. With Kindle Vella, U.S. based authors can publish serialized stories, one short episode at a time. In the next few months, readers will be able to access Kindle Vella stories in the Kindle iOS app and on Amazon.com.
What is in then? It is a new way for authors to share serialized stories with readers, one chapter at a time, over time. Authors can self-publish Kindle Vella stories in a serial format, one short 600–5,000-word episode at a time, using the same Kindle Direct Publishing platform that we have always used in the past. It’s similar to Wattpad (which doesn’t pay authors) or to the many apps like Readict and Radish that currently exist.
** Author’s Note: Many Indie authors have experienced difficultly with these apps, as people have stolen their books, offered them on the apps as their own, and the app-makers do little or nothing to help seek justice for plagiarized authors. If you see other authors complaining about these apps, that’s usually why.
Amazon has clearly made Vella as a way to counter those competitor apps and also to get their own “piece of the pie”. And while there’s a good chance Amazon won’t even make a big profit (if any) from the initial launch, they may keep Vella going and expand it to other countries besides the United States, if for no other reason, than to cannibalize sales from those other apps.
If you’re a younger reader, you’re probably already familiar with this serialized format. Older readers (in actual age or just old-at-heart) may not have the same experience with this format and also may not be as interested in trying it. I predict young adult (YA) books and books that cater to younger readers will do best on the platform but a lot of it is going to be a wait-and-see approach. Anyway… let’s move along.
Here is the Author FAQ from Kindle directly (if that doesn’t answer your questions, keep with me until the end because I test and explore it more deeply for you):
Frequently asked questions
1. When will my story be available to readers?
Readers will be able to enjoy your stories when we make the Kindle Vella store available in the next few months. Learn more about the reader experience.
2. What happens if I publish an episode before the Kindle Vella store is available to readers?
With Kindle Vella, you can choose to publish your episode immediately or schedule publication on a future date. If you publish a story before Kindle Vella is available to readers, all stories in compliance with our content guidelines with a Live status will be ready and waiting when Kindle Vella stories become available. We recommend publishing at least 5-10 episodes before stories become available so readers can dig in right away.
If you’re not ready to publish or don’t want all your episodes to go live at once, we recommend leaving episodes in a Draft status, then publishing or scheduling publication after the Kindle Vella store is live for readers. Learn more about episode release dates.
3. What kind of content should I publish?
To provide the best experience for readers, Kindle Vella stories should be written specifically to be released in a serial format, one 600–5,000 word episode at a time. If you have a story in this format that is available elsewhere, you can also publish it with Kindle Vella. To ensure a good customer experience, Kindle Vella does not accept content that’s freely available. Learn more about our content guidelines.
4. How will I earn royalties through Kindle Vella?
You’ll earn 50% of what readers spend on the Tokens that are used to unlock your story’s episodes. You’ll also be eligible for a launch bonus based on customer activity and engagement. To make it easy for readers to find stories they love, the first few episodes of every story are free. The number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode is determined by the episode’s word count at the rate of one token per 100 words. Learn more about Token pricing and royalties.
5. Where is Kindle Vella publishing available?
Kindle Vella publishing is currently available to publishers who reside in the U.S. to publish stories in English.
As you can see, Kindle Vella is only available (at launch) to publishers in the U.S. This could change after it has been out a while, but no one can say for certain at this time. Some authors have asked if they will have access to Vella if they are from another country but currently use Kindle U.S. to publish their books. From what I can tell, yes.
What can you publish on Vella? This is one of the most common questions I am seeing from authors who are curious. Here is what Kindle has to say about it officially and I will add my own experience and thoughts at the bottom:
Kindle Vella is a serial reading experience. To protect readers from purchasing Kindle Vella content they have already read in a different format, you cannot:
- Incorporate your Kindle Vella content into other long-form content (e.g., a book) in any language. If you wish to incorporate an episode or story into other content, you must unpublish all episodes of that story from Kindle Vella.
- Publish in Kindle Vella content that is in the public domain or freely available on the web.
- Break down your previously published book or long-form content into Episodes and republish in Kindle Vella, even if that book or long-form content is no longer available or is written in another language. If your Episode or Story is derived from another work you have authored (e.g., it continues the story from a book), you may include up to 5,000 words of content from the other work in the first Episode to bridge the story, provided you control the rights to do so.
You can add up to seven tags for each story. To ensure tags help readers get a feel for your story and make good purchasing decisions, please avoid:
- Information covered elsewhere in your Story’s metadata (title, contributors, etc.)
- Subjective claims about quality (e.g., “best”)
- Time-sensitive statements (e.g., “new”)
- Information common to most items in the category (“story”)
- Spelling errors
- Anything misrepresentative, like the name of an author who’s not associated with your Story. This kind of information can create a confusing customer experience. Kindle Vella has a zero-tolerance policy for metadata that is meant to advertise, promote, or mislead
- Amazon program names like “Kindle Vella”
- Language promoting violence or intolerance
- Sexually explicit language
Note all eBook keyword guidelines also apply to tags.
This is a tool to build engagement on your story, so avoid including any links or prompting readers to leave the reading experience.”
A Real Author’s Breakdown
So… a lot of my fellow Indie authors have read that and sat scratching their heads, or still having questions. This is why I decided to test it out so that I can answer all of your questions (hopefully) about the dashboard, the process, and why you may want (or not want) to use this feature.
First, let me say that the Vella publishing option IS available to KDP authors already. You can submit your stories and episodes now and they will be reviewed by Kindle staff. Once reviewed, they will go live. However, the Vella app is not live for the reader to purchase yet. All Amazon says for a timeline is “in the coming months”. My guess is that they are waiting for enough stories to be added to make it viable to launch officially.
There would be no point to Amazon releasing an app for readers that has only a small handful of stories on it. While it is expected that the story archives will grow over time as more users participate, there still needs to be something to start with, right? Okay, so I volunteer as tribute! I’ve decided to be one of the first authors to put a story on here and I’ll allow you a backseat ride on this trip to see how it all goes.
Look Behind the Scenes of Kindle Vella
Now, let’s take a look behind the scenes. This is the Dashboard (currently in Beta) and my first story that will be available on Vella. Once it is live and we can start to sell our stories to readers via the app, I will update this post with more details about the payment processes and user experience, and whether or not I think it’s beneficial for Indie authors to try it. Right now, I think those who get it fast and early will probably reap the most benefits from the program. I am not a fortune-teller, though. This has just been my experience in years’ past with similar models.
So, this is what the dashboard will look like.
You will find the place to create a new Vella story from your KDP Bookshelf (if you’re already publishing with KDP). At the very top of the Bookshelf page, you will see:
If you click there, it takes you to the Vella Dashboard and you can create your first story. If you have already started one, this is where you will see your story listed and you can add new episodes.
From here you can fill out all of the details of your story. Remember that proper keyword use here will be very important to helping the right readers find your story. However, you will also be limited on space so use the space you are given smartly. Here are the character limits for these initial details.
Story Title = 100 Characters
Description = 500 Characters
Look at each of these how you would look at metadata and fill it out accordingly.
Next, you can also include your author name (pen names are acceptable), and you can choose a story image. This is NOT sized the same as a Kindle book cover, so please make note of that. The image I am using in the screenshots above doesn’t fit properly for this reason and I plan to edit it or redo the image before Vella goes live.
Recommendations from Amazon: “We recommend uploading a square image, with any important visuals centered. It doesn’t need to include the story’s title.”
Accepted file formats: JPG and TIFF. Recommended dimensions are 1600 x 1600. Your image cannot exceed those dimensions. File size should be 2mb or less.
You will be able to preview your image before you save it, but there is currently no feature to crop or edit it directly in the upload area. Be sure you have the image you want, sized the way you want before you upload it to save yourself time and hassle.
You can update your story details at any time and you can also choose to postdate the episodes:
Other than that, it’s pretty much the same as publishing your other books with KDP. Each episode must be between 600 words and 5,000 words. How can you choose your word count? Well, that’s a good question. Personally, I’m looking at it a bit like chapters in a traditional book. Each “episode” will be a new chapter. And I tend to keep my chapters under 1,500 words.
This works well for my readers and my genre. I also like the format because I believe it gives readers a chance to read in small snippets and easily put it down and come back if they need to. While we all want readers to binge-read our books, and it’s awesome when they do, it’s just not possible for everyone to read 5,000 words in one sitting.
I feel like breaking it down to smaller pieces makes it more consumable by a larger group of people. But that’s just me. If you’ve already been publishing on KDP, I would advise you to go with what has been working best in your other books.
The only other tip I would add is that I made my first three episodes only 600 words each. Why?
Because the first three episodes are offered FREE to the reader. Ie. You do not get paid for them. So, why write more that you’re not getting paid for? Instead, these first three episodes and roughly 1,800 words should be carefully crafted to draw the reader into your story so much that they want to instantly smash that BUY button and get some tokens for your next episode.
This is how it will show to readers on the app:
This is presumably what readers will see in the app when they go to sample and purchase stories. Kindle has announced that Token will cost $1.99 for 140, $4.99 for 368, $9.99 for 770 tokens. Authors will get 50% of those earnings.
But the big question authors have is how that translates to what we get paid. The pay works out to roughly 1 token per 100 words. For the minimum 600 word episode, it would require 6 tokens. If you maxed out at the 5,000 word limit for one episode, that would be 50 tokens.
From there, you can do the math to sort out about what you’d earn. Another part we don’t know too much about yet is a feature called “crowns” that will be added with tokens. It seems that readers will be able to rate their favorite stories with crowns and if your stories earn these crowns, you can earn more tokens. A lot of that is still unrevealed so I’ll update as soon as I know more about it. As you can see, you won’t make a lot of money off of just one person reading your story.
However, popular stories that get a lot of reads can really add up in tokens. To determine whether or not it’s worth it for you, then you’ll want to calculate how much you “need” to make from a story and then do some math on how many token purchases you would need to reach that goal. The simple answer is: no one else can tell you if it’s right for you or not.
A good question I’ve seen come up is: Why would we want to release serialized stories in the first place?
The context in which I’ve seen this is typically authors envisioning the entire book is completed and only releasing it piece by piece. That’s not how I see this happening.
The way most people will use this format is to release it as you’re writing it (chapter or “episode” by chapter). And you can leave author’s notes and the readers can vote and leave comments about what they want to see. So essentially, the reader helps shape the story. Then, when it’s completed, you can pull it from Vella, and publish the full book wherever you normally would.
This is much more like the way Wattpad is used, except it’s monetized and gamified. This is the way I plan to try to use it and again, this is all a learning process. I am testing the waters the same as anyone else right now, since none of us know exactly what to expect.
But the thing that tipped me over the edge to go ahead and try it is this: you can put it out in episodes (chapters) as you’re writing it and potentially earn money to write a book. You can also leave author’s notes to the readers and they can leave feedback saying what they want to see in the book, basically helping direct the story they want to read. And once it’s all completed, you can pull it off Vella, package it as a regular ebook/print book and then do another one.
Some rumors are saying Vella will be released by July. I will definitely have my story The Emerald Fairy released by then and if it’s not released until July, I expect to have a second previously unreleased story up as well. Again, I’m playing it all by ear.
At this point, I’m not 100% sure how to feel about it. However, I can always pull my episodes, bundle it like I would any of my other books and offer it that way. So for me, it’s worth giving it a shot.
Additional Questions Authors and Readers Have Asked
Can you publish blog posts?
You have to follow all Kindle Direct Publishing guidelines so a blog wouldn’t work. But for nonfiction books, you can do a blog-to-book style and I can see that working. Where each episode is another subtopic of the main topic. but it does still need to read like a book.
Can it accept images? Like picture book stuff or comics or blog images?
No. It’s a very basic text editor (at least at this time). You get bold, italics, underline and that’s it. You get one image for the series that is shared with every episode and it’s small, like avatar-sized and that’s it.
If you’re reading this and you’re also a reader, please let me know in the comments: Would you be interested in reading my books, or books of your other favorite authors, on Kindle Vella?
Learn more: Do you have questions I didn’t answer in this post? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to find out and update for you. Thank you!
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Check out more posts like this for writers by Annalise.