Digital publishing has re-envisioned many of today’s traditional publishing methods, like the serial novel. While serial fiction is a piece of literature released through installments like it is now. Historically, each installment contained its own story loosely connected to an overarching narrative and popularized by The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Outside of Dicken’s writing style and themes, its popularity came from its accessibility. Besides being inexpensive like the traditional publishing texts, the modern serialized story is composed of episodes, or mini-chapters, that actively support a more significant narrative than individual shorts. Therefore, making it vastly different from its predecessor.
As digital publishing grows, many new outlets for serialized fiction develop, allowing more authors to thrive. The popularity of the modern serialized novel could arguably be traced back to websites like Wattpad, a highly interactive platform for digital publishing. Websites like these restructured how a community can create readership and reader retention, especially with the growth of the author’s note, and allow authors like Pepper Pace on Kindle Vella to become successful.
Kindle is not a new market in the field of digital publishing or self-publishing. However, Kindle Vella relatively is. While it did a soft launch in 2021, its official launch in 2022 was successful, albeit through marketing and a free set of tokens for new readers. Its success was thanks to the soft launch—ultimately benefiting many authors.
Kindle Vella is user-friendly and allows the reader to be as interactive as the author and platform allow. At the end of each episode, readers can like the episode, follow the story, or continue reading. Polls can even be done if the author wills it. Thus, building a community and allowing personability to negate pitfalls that can be faced in choosing to publish serialized novels, like upset readers from infrequent or inconsistent updates, grammatical errors, or what appears to be filler content that doesn’t move the story forward. Therefore, implying that reader engagement is the sole reason for success on Kindle Vella, as the top five promoted stories are stories that are “favorited” by the audience.
The Serialized Cost
As Kindle Vella is a self-publishing platform for serialized novels, authors have complete control over their success. No contracts hold the author to a particular word count, specific release dates, or approved plot arches. As a result, an author, in theory, can actively work on uncompleted stories like they could on platforms such as Wattpad or Inkitt. Except with compensation and, in turn, more options for revenue later as many outlets have strict guidelines for works that were previously available for free.
However, Kindle Vella charges approximately “one token per 100 words,” making word count crucial for pantsers—writers who don’t plot, plan, their novels—on the platform. Other platforms are successful due to regular updates and consistent costs per episode. Not ensuring these terms for readers can be highly detrimental for authors, even when delving into genres garnered towards adult audiences, making Pace’s success on Kindle Vella notable.
Pepper Pace and Audrey Carlan
Ever since the hard launch of Kindle Vella, the first and fifth place positions for the monthly top five favorited novels have stayed the same. Pace’s The Galatian Exchange has remained in fifth place for four consecutive months since January 2022. Her dedicated installment schedule and her personability through her reader engagement led her to this. The Marriage Auction by Audrey Carlan has remained in first thanks to Carlan’s pacing or, on Kindle Vella’s platform, low-cost installments.
While serialized stories are often accessible because they are generally affordable, Kindle Vella has made many readers feel as though they are being extorted by authors. This is one of the significant issues Pace has faced since the beginning, and it is most likely the reason she has not resin above fifth place. However, because of the platform’s emphasis on the author’s note and reader engagement, Pace has retained readership despite fluctuating prices due to word count. Since most users often don’t look for price explanations in publishing guidelines, as they are readers rather than publishers, Pace took it upon herself to explain. However, she only did so after much backlash in later chapters.
Alternatively, Carlan maintained her position arguably solely based on her accessibility. Though readers may complain about infrequent and short installments, Carlan seemingly follows a similar update schedule to Pace—updating twice about a week, negating such claims.
Knowing the main reasons why each author has achieved success, as well as what sets their levels of success apart, is key to understanding how to maintain success in self-publishing a serialized fiction in the digital age.