The Curse of Vella

This is the time of year for curses. With Vella, it’s a mixed bag.

I picked this image for aesthetic reasons, i.e., I like it.

For those of you who may not know, Vella is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing’s self-publishing serialization platform. It’s not a subscription service. The first few chapters are free to read. After the first three gratis e “episodes” (as Amazon calls chapters) readers “unlock” subsequent chapters with tokens. Amazon gives readers 200 (!) free tokens. The number of tokens it takes to read a chapter depends on how long it is. After that, if readers want to keep reading they buy tokens. This is the first of Vella’s curses. At least for writers.

Writers have to promote the heck out of their novels, hence this picture once again.

In my historical romance, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, readers can read nine chapters without paying anything. Of course, that means that neither Amazon nor I get our percentage. It’s a good thing for Amazon and me that my novel is long. I didn’t write Exile with Vella in mind. It didn’t even exist when I finished my manuscript. On the plus side, Amazon pays bonuses when people read and order more chapters that they pay for. The bonus amount varies from month to month. Amazon should give away fewer tokens. If readers haven’t been hooked by the first three chapters, are they likely to read the next six or more even if they’re free?

It’s good to have options.

It’s not necessary to have an e-reader in order to read stories published on Vella. Any electronic device will do, including smartphones, laptops, and even desktops. I learned this by trying it myself. The customer service rep I asked told me that Vella books can only be read with mobile devices. Either he didn’t know what he was talking about or Vella’s options have been updated since then.

Looks painless. It’s not.

One of the biggest curses of Vella, and every other self-publishing platform is DIY marketing.

Years ago when I was in San Francisco, walking in Union Square, I encountered a poet standing on a street corner peddling his poetry chapbook. I can’t remember how much I offered to pay for his anthology. Whatever the amount was, it wasn’t enough. He said, “Most people give me [X number of] dollars.” Talk about nerve. I’d have expected him to be grateful for any amount. It’s not the kind of gumption I have. I can’t remember if I gave him his asking price. Probably not. I’m not “most” people.

Thanks to the internet, writers don’t have to stand on street corners hawking their books. Nevertheless, I still hate marketing, as many writers do. I want to write, not to have to market. When I post links to A Home for an Exile’s Heart on social media, I feel like I’m not much different from that street corner huckster. I do it anyway but it’s pretty much the only thing I do in order to sell my book. That and write about Exile on my blog.

Something I strive for.

It’s a toss-up as to which is the biggest curse. Marketing? Or the fact that Vella allows writers to edit their published material any time they want as many times as they want. I must be a compulsive editor. I can’t seem to leave my novel alone and go on to something new. I love spending time with my characters so I sometimes reread a chapter or two. In doing so, I discovered that my story’s not nearly as complete as I thought. Reading an article in The Washington Post about what writers should look out for only made matters worse. I discovered a bunch of words that I’ve been unconsciously abusing that I had to get rid of or change. Once I finish editing the whole darn thing, I promise myself to stop and go on to something new. Even The Washington Post and other prestigious publications have typos and other glitches and people still read them.

Now that I’ve finished writing this post, I will let it sit for a while before reading it again to see if it needs more editing. Then I’ll do some more editing on Exile.