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Experiments in Serialization

This spring, Amazon announced that it would be launching a new service: Kindle Vella. It’s a format that sells stories by episode or chapter rather than selling the whole book. There are advantages to this format: you can start a book and give up on it without having to pay for the whole thing. And there are disadvantages, too: buying each chapter for a few cents often adds up to more than the price of a normal book, especially compared to inexpensive ebooks.

But that’s not the real thrill of Kindle Vella. The thrill of a serialized book is waiting each week for the next installment. It’s like the way watching a television episode worked back before shows became immediately available and bingeable, or like following a comic or manga one episode at a time.

What’s more, the weekly episode is easy to fit into a busy schedule. Even if one can’t spare a couple of hours of solid booktime, one can probably spare ten minutes to catch up on this week’s episode.

I know all about the thrill of serialization, because I’ve been reading serialized webcomics for the last couple of years. I still look forward to Fridays each week, because three of my favorite series drop their new episode on Friday . . . but that’s beside the point. The point is, this format has worked very well for some platforms. Whether Amazon can make their platform work is an open question; the audience for serial fictions may not overlap with the audience for Amazon’s existing self published works.

I admit that I have a vested interest in seeing if Vella can work: I have a young adult novella publishing on Vella for new. But the bigger question for me is not whether my story will work, but whether Vella will succeed in bringing serialized online fiction to a more mainstream audience. Are readers going to discover and populate Vella? Right now, it’s too early to tell, but I’ll be watching to see.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this, go ahead and give Vella a try. The first three episodes of every story are free, and there are lots of genres to pick from!

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