Kindle Vella: some reactions from writers thus far

I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. This isn’t because of any principle-driven objection on my part. I actually like the idea of serial fiction.

What I don’t like are the genres that presently dominate serial fiction on sites like Wattpad: YA romance, teen werewolf fantasies, and (of course) endless stories about teenagers with super-powers.

Nothing wrong with any of these categories, mind you. But I’m a 53-year-old adult. I don’t play in those fields, and have no interest in starting now.

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Vincent V. Triola is another 50-something writer. Having perused his online footprint, I suspect that his politics are a bit to the left of mine. (That’s okay, most writers have politics to the left of mine.) But we’re both old enough to remember the pre-Amazon, pre-Internet literary world. I suspect that Mr. Triola, like me, spent some time in mall bookstores in the era of Ronald Reagan and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Mr. Triola is pessimistic on Vella, having dipped his toe into it. Writing on Medium, he describes Vella as “a writer-driven marketplace”. What this basically means (for those unfamiliar with Wattpad) is that most of the readers in a given literary marketplace are fellow (and competing) writers.

This is perfectly acceptable on Wattpad, which is youth-centric and mostly free. Wattpad also appeals to the generation that loves social media, and lots of step-by-step peer group engagement. My teenage years ended long before Instagram and TikTok, but I can easily imagine hormone-soaked, teenage brains lighting up with every social media “like”. We are all pack animals below the age of twenty-one or so.

But this community-based, social media-esque approach isn’t as appropriate for a paid platform like Amazon, where most readers aren’t hawking their own books and stories, too. There is nothing wrong with readers who are also writers, of course. But when that becomes the entire basis for a marketplace, the marketplace tends to become incestuous and spammy. (I’ve definitely seen this on YouTube, with all the “sub for sub” comment spam.)

As evidence for his claim, Triola notes that Vella has been almost exclusively marketed to authors thus far. This is a fair observation. I interact with Amazon as both a reader and a writer. I’ve received all Amazon’s communications about Vella so far via my writing communication channel.

Finally, Triola mentions that Amazon emphasizes the youth-centric genres that comprise most of Wattpad. There is only one tag for nonfiction. But “nonfiction” includes everything from historical biographies to automotive repair, to horticulture.

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On the other side of this coin, some of the writers in several Facebook groups where I lurk are quite bullish on Vella. Almost all of them, however, write in the YA fantasy and/or romance fields. Back to some of Mr. Triola’s points.

Also, Amazon does now have a large banner ad for Vella on the front page of the Kindle store. So if Amazon isn’t exactly pushing Vella at readers, it isn’t exactly hiding it, either.

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What is Amazon’s longterm strategy with Vella? Vella is obviously intended to be a Wattpad-killer, and Wattpad, as noted above, is all about YA fantasy and romance.

My guess is that Amazon realizes that YA fantasy/romance readers and writers tend to be “different” from readers and writers in other genres.

For one thing, the boundaries between readers and writers tend to be a lot more fluid in these genres. Note the prevalence of YA fan fiction. No one writes fan fiction based on the novels of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, or Clive Cussler. But there are online oceans of fan fiction for Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games—all of which are focused on a predominantly youthful market. The Wattpad format is appealing to writers of fan fiction because of the low barriers to entry.

Also, this group, being younger, usually has less disposable income. As noted above, Wattpad is a mostly free platform. Amazon is probably uncertain about the long-term monetization prospects for Vella, beyond the writers who are presently participating. (As an adult reader, I have very little interest in paying for serial fiction installments, for whatever that’s worth.)

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We shall see. No one knows how Vella is going to turn out, or if it will even exist a year from now. After all, Amazon has in the past killed initiatives that proved unprofitable or unmanageable, like Kindle Worlds.

For now, I’m going to continue my wait-and-see approach with Kindle Vella.

Kindle Vella launching for readers in July

Several months ago, Amazon rolled out its new Kindle Vella program to writers. Amazon has just announced that readers will have access to Kindle Vella by the end of July.

What is Kindle Vella, exactly? It’s a serial fiction app, somewhat analogous to Royal Road, Tapas, Radish, and Wattpad.

Will Vella prove the death knell of these other services? Who knows? But the fates of Barnes & Noble and Borders suggest that this might not be a good time to be purchasing shares of Wattpad, if it were publicly traded.

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Will I publish on Kindle Vella? Probably. Eventually. But not right away. I like the idea of serial fiction, but I am most concerned with giving readers what they want. I’m not sure that most of my readers really want micropayment-based serial novels.

Initially, at least, success on Kindle Vella will probably go to certain kinds of genres, for certain kinds of readers. Which kinds? Well, probably the ones that are already successful on sites like Royal Road and Wattpad. This means: YA romance, YA fantasy, and YA science fiction, often with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean anime tropes.

These kinds of fiction are perfectly fine, but none of these categories is really my bailiwick. I’m 52 years old, and I usually write with the adult reader in mind. I have some idea of what a certain kind of Baby Boomer, Generation X, or older Millennial reader might want. A Gen Z reader…not so much. So I’ll probably proceed slowly where Kindle Vella is concerned.

Whatever Amazon does, Amazon usually does well. I see only one problem here, and that involves revenue. While there are paid stories on the various web serial sites that already exist, much of that content is presently provided for free.

Web serial readers not only skew younger, many of them are also outside the United States. Only about 25% of Wattpad’s traffic is U.S.-based.

Nothing against non-U.S. readers (or younger readers, for that matter). But it’s worth asking: will a medium that is mostly patronized by younger, non-U.S. readers elsewhere find traction with the over 35, U.S.-based readers that are currently Amazon’s bread-and-butter?

I don’t know, but I’m sure someone inside Amazon has considered those questions.

Vella could could turn out to be as ground-breaking as the Kindle was, changing the way millions of people read. Or…maybe not so much. I wouldn’t want to bet money on this one either way.

Goodbye to Goodreads

I’ve closed both my author and personal accounts on Goodreads. My books will still be listed there, of course; but I’ll no longer maintain an active presence there.

Since its launch in 2006, Goodreads has inspired both enthusiastic fans and detractors. There are controversies about the outdated design of the site, and whether or not Goodreads has declined since it was acquired by Amazon in 2013. I’ll leave those debates to others.

Since I first dabbled with Goodreads almost a decade ago, I have found it to be neither a uniformly good nor bad experience. Goodreads is social media. And all social media is a mixture of good and bad, best encapsulated in the acronym, YMMV.

Most of the people I interacted with on Goodreads were pleasant. I also ran across a few yahoos, of course. Once again: social media.

But it’s important to remember that Goodreads is for readers, not writers. I don’t want to be the author on Goodreads who is shouting “buy my book!” Nor is anyone served by the writer who hovers over reader-reviewers.

Nor does a Goodreads account really serve me as a reader-reviewer at this point, because I mostly don’t do that anymore. Once I started seriously publishing my own fiction, I became hesitant to review other people’s books on Amazon, etc. That’s a bit like Ford Motor Company reviewing the latest Toyota Camry, right? If I really want to say something about another author’s book (and that isn’t often), I generally say it here, on my own website.

Finally, throughout this past year I’ve been reassessing my relationship with social media. Since the whole social media thing began about fifteen years ago, I’ve been on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the now defunct Google+. At least I never had a MySpace page.

I’ve really gained very little from social media, either spiritually or monetarily. (YouTube, though, is useful if you want to know how to fix a leaky toilet.)

And so it goes with Goodreads. I don’t exactly hate Goodreads, but nor do I particularly like it or need it. This is not a personal boycott or a blanket condemnation of Goodreads. If the site works for you, then by all means continue to use it. But it no longer works for me.

Jenna Moreci and WriterTube

“WriterTube” refers to the YouTube community of writers. Basically, it is an ongoing discussion about writing and (mostly self-) publishing with YouTube as the platform.

The vast majority of the WriterTube vloggers and commenters are teen girls and young women who are interested in the romance and young adult fantasy genres. I’m a 52-year-old man who writes and reads suspense, horror, and thrillers. WriterTube therefore isn’t a big draw for me, on either side of the camera.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions. From time to time, I have tuned in to the videos of Jenna Moreci. She was recently interviewed by Craig Martelle, whom I follow.

Most indie writers nowadays spend all of their time writing new fiction, and relatively little time building an online platform. Many indie writers have no fixed online presence beyond their Amazon sales page. As a result, they must spend disproportionately on various ads, mailing lists, and the like. Continue reading “Jenna Moreci and WriterTube”

‘The Far Side’ is back

There are many things about the 1980s that I miss.

The music was better, for one thing. (Def Leppard vs. Taylor Swift? No contest, dude.)

Everyone was much less uptight in the 1980s. Less angry about everything all the time.

Everyone seems to have burr up their keister about something in the 21st century. This is the age of trivial anger.

The 1980s were much more chill.

Also…we had ‘The Far Side’. Continue reading “‘The Far Side’ is back”

The ETB Online Books Project

Like all of you, in recent weeks I have been more preoccupied than usual with current events. As a result, the content here since mid-March has focused on the daily news.

The name of this site, though, is Edward Trimnell Books. I chose that name for a reason. Commentaries on the news will always have a place here. (I’m rather opinionated, as you may have noticed.) That said, this site isn’t, strictly speaking, a news site.  I primarily write books, many of which you can find on Amazon

This is a business for me. I’m an author, of course; but I’m also a micro-publisher.

Nevertheless, these are tough times for many readers. The COVID-19 shutdown has cut US economic activity by about a third. Unemployment now hovers at an unbelievable 18%. Hopefully the economy will be reopened soon, and the raw numbers will improve. Many people, though, will need time to recover from this unprecedented interruption to normal life.

In light of these highly unusual circumstances, I would like to make all of my books available to readers for free.

This is already the case with most of my existing library, if you’re a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program

I realize, though, that Kindle Unlimited won’t be the right option for some of you. And as much as I love Amazon, people were reading online long before anyone ever heard of a Kindle. 

One of the purposes of a website is to provide free online content. Without something for people to read, a website is nothing more than a glorified online brochure.

That’s what all too many websites are. I’ve always wanted this site to provide more to the reading community—especially in times like these.

I initially explored the idea of making more of my existing catalog available here on the site. The problem, though, is that I can’t make content freely available to you here, as well as in the Amazon Kindle Unlimited program. Amazon requires that all Kindle Unlimited titles be exclusive to the Amazon platform (in electronic form). I am bound by the terms of that contract, and I intend to abide by it. 

So I had another idea…

The Edward Trimnell Books Online Books Project

I’ve therefore decided to start making some titles available here on the site exclusively—or in advance of bookstore publication. These will not be serials, technically speaking, but I’ll be posting them a chapter at a time, as I write them. And you’ll be able to read them here for free. 

I have several titles in mind for the first round of online books. These will be a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. The fiction books will span several of the genres that I usually write in (thriller, horror, mystery). I also have some short stories planned.

And for those of you who have enjoyed all the news commentaries over these past few weeks, fear not: At least one of the titles I have in the works concerns politics. But whereas the daily blog posts typically deal with ephemeral headlines, the upcoming book one will dig deeper and involve more theory. 

The plan is to serialize several diverse titles at once, so that at least one of them will be something you’ll be interested in reading. As I say on ETB’s About page , I don’t expect anyone to like everything posted on this site, but everyone should be able to find at least something that they like. That’s one of the advantages of a variety format.

How can you support the Online Books Project?

No, this isn’t a prelude to asking you for money.

Some sites that provide free content immediately turn around and panhandle you at every turn—usually via requests to support them on Patreon. 

I don’t necessarily have a philosophical opposition to Patreon (or similar crowdfunding intermediaries, like Kickstarter). I’ll probably put up a Patreon page eventually, for readers who would like to voluntarily contribute. But if I’m going to make that an upfront requirement, I had might as well just put everything on Amazon first. A Patreon paywall is still a paywall.

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But I still have bills to pay, just like everyone else. Can free content work with paying the bills? In part, yes. 

One of the really cool things about online content is that “free to the reader/viewer” need not mean “unpaid to the creator/publisher”. This principle goes all the way back to the origins of the Internet-as-we-know-it, in the 1990s.

In the beginning, at least, the Online Books Project will be sponsored the old-fashioned way: through the placement of a few unobtrusive ads.

Some of these ads will be for my books on Amazon. If you really like what you read here for free, consider purchasing a book of mine that isn’t part of the Online Books Project. You may also want to purchase an edited, proofread version of a book that appears online first. But that’s totally up to you.

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The Online Books Project will also be sponsored (sparingly) by banner ads and affiliate links to third-party products. I don’t fundamentally have any difficulty with the idea of supporting free content with third-party ads. That’s what newspapers, magazines, and television have done since time immemorial. 

Online ads have (not without some justification) gotten a bad rap in recent years. That’s because some sites have totally overdone the concept.

The online versions of The Independent and USA Today come to mind here. These sites are littered with dropdown full-screen ads, autoplay video ads, and many more extremely intrusive forms of advertising. 

Edward Trimnell Books is old-school all the way. Just like I hate social media (why would anyone want to bother with Snapchat or TikTok?), I’m also allergic to newfangled forms of online advertising. I keep the ads here low-key, like they were up till about 2003. 

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Those are my basic ideas about the Online Books Project.

I’ll be posting new content and new chapters daily, more or less, so check back often!

The Internet, Jonathan Franzen, and distractions

About a year ago, literary novelist Jonathan Franzen shared his “10 rules for novelists”. Number 8 was:

“It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

Jonathan Franzen

I’m not sure I would be this absolutist about the matter. But as someone old enough to have reached adulthood before the Internet was “a thing”, I can appreciate just how distracting cyberspace can be.

It was bad enough in the beginning. But then came social media (I’ll spare you my usual rant), and those damned smartphones. 

As for Jonathan Franzen: The guy gets a bad rap, and I’m not sure why. Yes, he is quirky and eccentric. Yes, he is fashionably progressive and eye-rollingly politically correct in his politics. But no more so than many other people in the arts.

I’ve read two of his novels: The Corrections (2001) and Freedom (2010). I thought both books were pretty good.