• Madison Siwak

A Guide to Kindle Vella for Writers.

by Kate Khavari

The Count of Monte Cristo. Crime and Punishment. The early adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Secret Garden. The Phantom of the Opera. And Then There Were None.

All of these stories have something in common. Well, more than one thing. They are all classics in literature that make their titles, if not their plots and characters, incredibly recognizable, and they were all originally published in magazines or newspapers. Yes, newspapers— you have heard of them? Before the age of cost-effective printing and book binding, these short weekly installments were the only way that the general public had access to these beloved tales, and indeed, the only reason they became so beloved.

Serialized fiction is coming back. Amazon caused waves in the spring when they announced a new storytelling platform, Kindle Vella, which provides U.S.-based storytellers the chance to share their fiction and nonfiction writing in serialized format. They recently announced their plans to launch Kindle Vella in July.

I’m going to skip over the basics of Kindle Vella— things like royalties, tokens, app availability, and the like— because those details are readily available with a simple Google search. Instead, I’m going to focus on what writing a story, or reformatting an already completed novel, can look like, as well as tips to make your experience with Kindle Vella go more smoothly.

The Format

The structure of KV is simple— you create a new story on their website, add a title and a blurb, add your genre, and add some tags to make your story show up in readers’ searches. My story, an urban fantasy featuring vampires and hackers, has tags like “vampire,” “sci-fi, and “fantasy.” Similarly, you might want to add in a warning for sensitive topics in your blurb. You also need to provide an image to go along with your story, but more on that later.

I found the website really easy to navigate, partially because of the sparse features and options. For first time users and people inexperienced with the intricacies of self publishing, where there are a thousand options to fuss with and lose sleep over, there is a very low learning curve on Kindle Vella.

The episodes

You then create your first episode. Add a title (if you want) and upload (or copy & paste) your episode into the form. Again, there are few options for formatting, so be prepared for a very limited offering.

Episodes have to be within the word limit of 600 words to 5,000 words, and the price of each episode is based on the word count. This is where I find the experience of someone who is adapting their prewritten work and writing something entirely new for the platform will diverge.

My story, Blood Print, was written, beta-read, and queried a handful of times before I even knew about KV. It was ready to go. But that meant that the chapters I had arranged were sometimes too long (read: way too long because I love me a long chapter). That led to some serious soul searching (read: despair and pleading with the literary deities) about what scene needed to go where and how I could slim down my word count. Other chapters had the opposite problem and I wanted to maximize my word count (for monies) while staying true to having an incredible story for my readers.

Let me be clear— no book benefits from bloating, no matter where it’s being published. I am not advocating for writers to just add more words. That is not storytelling. I’m saying that I saw that I had an opportunity to add more details, inner dialogue, even jokes— all of which would benefit the reader by adding more to the story. And honestly, half the time I was happy with what I had and added nothing, even if it meant the chapter was only 3,000 words long.

If you’re writing a story from scratch to serialize it, and you’re not doing self-contained episodes without an arc carrying over to each episode, that means Really. Careful. Planning. Yes, you could wing it. You could write wherever your brain and characters take you. It would be fun and freeing— until you wrote yourself into a corner or your readers lose interest in your wandering storyline. If you plan on writing as your story is being released (meaning you’re publishing chapter 1 but only have up to chapter 10 written), then you should have a thorough outline that is, if not iron-clad, is at least very firmly plotted out. I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too, when a favorite show or book series suddenly stops being so amazing, so engaging because the story is wandering and the characters are no longer growing— it’s because the writer or writers are no longer going off the main arc that kept their storytelling tight and compelling.

And how frustrating would it be, to be publishing your 17th episode and writing your 30th and THEN you get the brainwave for the twist that would take your story from great to amazing? But you can’t use it without totally confusing your readers because you’ve already put into place the bones of a totally different ending.

Thus, a thoughtfully constructed outline that you use and reference and update as you go. I’m not telling you that you must hand in your pantsing pants for good, I’m just saying that your serialized story requires more thoughtful planning to make sure your whole story makes sense. You won’t have the option to reread the whole thing to catch your inaccuracies before you put it out there into the world.

Which leads us to the next salient point: editing. You have to do it. You could have your CP do it, you could use an app like Grammarly, you could hire someone. But you have to edit your work, otherwise no one will take your story seriously. Yes, Kindle Vella is a fun new way to publish— but you are publishing! You have to edit it. Sorry, one more time: You must edit your episodes.

Finally, to ensure readers come back for the next episode (or click to purchase the next), each episode needs to end with a hook. This is no different than writing a regular book, but I find that my episodes are more addictive if I’m a little more dramatic about it. I always include a cliffhanger (danger and romance being the top choices), a reminder of an unanswered question, or even a prediction from my POV character about what the next chapter will hold.

It’s also worth noting that the first three episodes of every story are free regardless of the word count.

The author’s note

Touted as one of the main benefits of Kindle Vella, at the end of each episode, you’re offered the chance to communicate directly with your readers. Personally, I found this daunting. I have an opportunity at the end of each episode to connect with readers… but what the heck do I actually say? What should my tone be? Can I make awkward jokes about my vampires comparing fang length?

I can’t give advice backed up with actual experience because none of my author notes have been read by readers yet. But I will say that, as I edited each episode, I jotted down notes about what it was like writing the episode, the things that made me laugh or smile or feel nervous or excited for my characters, and I include some of that. I also sometimes include hints about what the next chapter would include. And, of course, I always include a thank you and a call to action for my readers to fave, follow, and thumbs up each episode and connect on social media.

The image

When you make your story, you are told to include an image that will be cropped into a circle to be displayed alongside your title and blurb. They provide instructions for the size and style. As with any self publishing, there is a thriving market for designers offering these little coin images for your story. I made mine on Over (soon to be GoDaddy Studio) and had a ton of fun creating not only circular graphics, but full covers for my story. Canva is also a great option. I recommend starting with some eye-catching elements that reflect your story and genre and then arranging them with a circle graphic overlay so you can see exactly what your readers will see. As the instructions say you do not need to include your name or title in the graphic. You can see below how the readers will experience your story’s landing page.

I based my KV graphic on my full cover, so that way if and when I decide to publish Blood Print in print, my readers can still recognize it.


Full stop: this is important.

You can and should upload several episodes worth of your story to start with. That way you don’t get behind and disappoint readers who expect you to upload every Wednesday or something. But I would strongly suggest not publishing your story until you are absolutely certain you want it to be out in the world. Don’t make the mistake I did and eagerly upload and click publish. This is something that I hope the KV developers are already working on: there is no option to unpublish a single episode without unpublishing the entire story and starting over. You cannot unpublish or delete individual episodes, only edit them. You also can’t reorder episodes or upload episodes out of order.

So be patient and thorough. Leave your episodes in draft form, preferably copied into a single document so you ensure they’re in the correct order, until a few days before they’re set to come out then publish using the scheduler. The scheduler won’t work until the platform launches.

I mentioned above that I might want to someday publish my story separately from Kindle Vella. My understanding is that you can unpublish your story and publish it elsewhere without any problems. You cannot have your story for free anywhere, like Wattpad or Radish, and there is some talk about having Kindle Vella content for sale elsewhere. Before you click publish— please research the legalities yourself. This former-teacher-stay-at-home-mom-author is not the person you should be relying on for copyright advice!

A few closing thoughts

There is a lot that is unknown about Kindle Vella as a publishing platform. I admit, I’ve frequently wondered if this was the best option for publishing Blood Print. It’s so new, so untested. But serializing stories? That is tried and true. Some of the best fiction in the world was originally shared in installments. I believe that readers will enjoy the change of pace that the anticipation and payoff of weekly episodes offers in the age of binging content. It’s something to look forward to at a time when the world is still a pretty uncertain, tumultuous place. I look forward to offering my readers the comfort and excitement of my story, and I hope you consider joining me on Kindle Vella.

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