A Month in Vella

Since I didn’t want to miss Amazon’s Vella bus, I dusted off a 40 year old SF novella (my first), to use as a setting, and adopted the new plot from the comic book version of that story that I had penciled a decade later. Out of those sources I produce a 26,000 word SF novella in 20 episodes for the new serial story platform. Vella and my story have been live for a month. What sort of business has resulted?

In one month, my story has one thumbs-up “fave,” with a grand total of 13 episodes read, including 8 of the locked episodes. I’ve not made a cent so far. Presumably the 8 paid episodes were paid with free promotional tokens.

So how does my offering compare to other stories? Well, the top faved story, “Wolf,” is a paranormal, “wolf shifter” romance. It has over 9,000 faves and 44 star reviews. The next most popular is “The Marriage Auction,” a steamy, arranged marriage romance adventure, with almost 2,700 faves and 14 stared reviews. A close third is a witches, werewolves, & vampire fantasy SF story, “Demon Accords Beginnings,” also having nearly 2,700 faves and 15 starred reviews. The authors are not unknown authors. They brought their fans with them to Vella.

Closer to home, my story, as a space opera, is one of 125 stories in that category. As an adventure story, it’s one of 900 stories. The highest faved story in space opera, “Forgotten Planets,” is a sexy enemies to lovers space fleet story with just under 500 faves, and no star rating. The highest faved adventure stories ranged from 2,600 to 1,300. The one with the most star reviews, had 21. In both categories, once you start scrolling down the list, you quickly reach stories with double to single digit faves, and many with none at all. The vast majority have no reviews.

I have found a recent thread on K-Boards where Vella authors recounted their experiences on the platform. All of them tell similar stories. Little engagement, no money, and, so far, a waste of time and effort. It seems that unless you brought your readers over to Vella, you’re not likely to find many readers. In part this is due to Amazon. As far as I know they have not widely promoted the service. Vella is almost impossible to find on the Amazon homepage on the web, and I gather it’s just about as hard to find on the Kindle app in iOS. Apparently they are launching the service very tentatively – basically a beta version, likely to work out the bugs before going big.

Of course it is too simple just to blame Amazon. Clearly I hadn’t written a story for the type of readers Vella has attracted to date. If I had to take a guess I’d say that most likely the readership skews towards young, predominantly female romance and paranormal readers. Not my readers.

So how have I responded?

First, I’ve not abandoned hope. It is still early in the game. I did change the name of my story and rework the blurb to be a little less, shall we say, staid. Second, I’ve taken the option to publish a completed Vella story as a book on Amazon after 30 days. I slightly revised, reformatted, created a cover, and published the novella in the KDP program. Though I have released all my books wide, going all in on Amazon has been an idea I’ve toyed with off and on for some time. Now, since this story is already tied in with Amazon, it was the perfect vehicle to experiment with that option. In its first four days I’ve sold two copies at $.99 (half of the price a reader would pay on Vella), but have no page reads yet. I’m not holding my breath.

Am I disappointed? Not really. I had no great expectations. I just didn’t want to end up kicking myself for passing up the chance to be on the ground floor of a big new thing. My primary goal was, and still is, to use the Vella story as free advertising for my other novels. Plus, I got a novella written out of the project, so all in all, I think that I’m on the positive side of the ledger. Just.

To sum it all up, I have to say that if you don’t have a story on Vella, you haven’t missed anything. And I would be in no hurry to get one in. Maybe once it gets on its feet. If it does. And if you write the right type of story.

I’m not sure how much of my Vella experience, or Mark’s recent one with self-publishing his literary fiction novel The Dime are working to support writers, which is the title of this blog. I can’t say that we’ve offered very many hot tips to success. What we are doing is showing things we’ve tried. Things which you might consider either trying, or avoiding, in your own publishing endeavors, while keeping the bar of success pretty darn low. Which I hope is some comfort to all.

An Update 16 August 2021

Amazon posted some information about the Vella program that may change the calculations a bit. First they said that there are over 9,000 stories on Vella. That’s a lot, and not a lot, depending on where your story falls. It certainly gives creators a lot more room than publishing a story on KDP.

Secondly they said that they will pay creators royalties on all paid episodes, even if those episodes are paid with free promotional tokens, at least through the end of the year.

Thirdly, they announced the creation of a $200,000 bonus pool for the month of July to be paid out to creators based on episodes read, number of followers, and faves. Apparently this will be a monthly feature, much like what they pay out in the Kindle Unlimited Program. I was paid $12.82 out of this fund for July based on my rather modest performance. This all but guarantees that I will be able to order out a pizza with my 2021 Amazon royalties.

The most significant takeaway, I think, is that it does indicate that Amazon is serious about Vella, willing to make changes to make it work better, and that they are in it for a long haul. The payment of bonuses will no doubt motivate creators to do what they can to get their readers engaged in the program and grow the platform. Perhaps this is enough to make Vella an option for you, especially if you think you could create content that might appeal to its potential readership.

It seems that I’m now on the bus. We’ll have to see where it goes.


  1. kingmidget says:

    Chuck … thanks for posting this. As you say towards the end, my recent post and this one aren’t necessarily “supporting” by offering advice or tips. But I think these types of posts are helpful as we go through our experiences and share them with other writers so they can know what to expect, and also to learn from our failuires and successes.

    Your experience with Vella confirms what I have come to believe over the last eight years. Books/stories written in popular genres and that fit the “formula” of those genres have a greater chance of success in the indie world than literary fiction or stories that don’t fit neatly into those genres. Having read Beneath the Lantern, I’m guessing that your books are in the latter category. Meanwhile, my biggest success was my first novel which fit very neatly into a populare genre — legal/courtroom drama.

    The books you describe as doing best on the Vella platform after one month sound exactly like the genre-fitting books that fit into the former category. As one of my writing friends has complained about a number of times — it seems like the most popular books are the ones with busty women and buff men in various stages of undress on the cover.

    Thanks again for posting this.


    1. chucklitka says:

      Oh, I knew where my books fitted in — or rather didn’t — right from the get-go. I was writing the old fashioned books that I wanted to read, but that weren’t being published today. That told me that my type of story wasn’t what most people were reading. However, from my painting experience, I knew that there is a market for just about any type of art. It is only a question of how big that market is, and how it can reached economically. In 2015 -16 books still could be discovered organically. In 2021 I wish I knew how to reach the ebook readers who are still open to non-mainstream books.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. kingmidget says:

        I totally get this. It feels like it’s almost impossible now to find readers.


  2. I’ve had a similar experience with a speculative novel that skews literary–only one paid reader so far, a dedicated fan who has read most of my other books. But I am viewing the whole thing as a grand experiment. I have yet to decide if I’ll convert the book for Kindle, but that might be a possibility.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s