Serial Publishing: Kindle Vella Alternatives
Kindle Vella opened for readers earlier this month (July 2021). As a new serial publishing service offered by Amazon, this platform allows writers the opportunity to share writing with readers while they write… and still collect royalties on works in progress.
Kindle Vella is far from the first platform to adopt this method. Serial publishing goes back centuries, and many literary giants including Charles Dickens wrote their books in a serial format.
What are the pros and cons of serialization? And are there any better alternatives to Kindle Vella—especially for writers who don’t want to rely on Amazon?
On the plus side, serialization allows you to grow your fan base while you write. You only need to focus on one chapter at a time, and you’re welcome to plenty of that sweet, sweet instant gratification we all love to get. Plus, it's pretty sweet to be able to cash out royalties while you work, and the income adds a fun incentive to your projects.
On the downside, it’s easy to get so caught up pantsing your story that you lose sight of the main plot...and many devoted fans in the process. Mainstream publishers today steer clear of it, and overall standards tend to be lower than for more polished releases. If you keep needing to change a serial while you write it, the final result will be unpolished and struggle with building continuity.
Alternatives to Vella
There are a couple of different ways to go about serial publishing online. First is to decide whether you want to actually “publish” your book for an audience, collecting royalties and flaunting your cover; or simply want to get feedback and build up a fan base while you draft.
Wattpad and Tapas
The first two platforms I’ll discuss act as a publishing solution and work harder to promote your book to new readers with the intent that this is (likely) your book’s final form.
The giant of serial publishing over the past decade is Wattpad, a platform with an energetic and youthful audience that hosts contests and boasts some impressive success stories. Wattpad emphasizes community in addition to publishing and has claimed its own Internet subculture over the years, hosting fun contests and encouraging interaction between readers and writers.
If you want to succeed on Wattpad, browse it first as a reader. That’s good advice for any of these platforms, but the strong personality of the Wattpad clique serves as a qualifier and indicator of how well your writing should perform. If it looks like a good fit, go for it!
Note: some writers denounce Wattpad as a “cheap” alternative while others credit it heavily for their success. Why is this? It’s strictly a matter of Wattpad’s culture and attitude toward publishing. Don’t let the naysayers distract you if you think it’s a good alternative, but realize that it isn’t for everyone.
Tapas focuses on accessible, bite-sized stories that readers can buy with the “Tapas Ink” currency, a currency that can be bought or earned for free. This platform is multi-media and offers a variety of webcomics as well as serial novels for readers to enjoy.
Tapas caters to a community similar to Wattpad’s, but offers a more streamlined and traditional structure that works better for writers looking for a more standard publishing experience. It’s still casual and energetic, and it also hosts a share of more serious authors mingling with debuts.
Fictionate and Hermit
Both of the options discussed above are “casual” publishing platforms where writers typically publish their chapters as they write them. While that experience has a lot to offer on its own, some writers might find a lack of quality that comes from not being able to edit a book as a whole.
These next two platforms attempt something different. Instead of being the platform where you’ll find and keep the bulk of your readers, these places offer a way to give readers sneak peeks of your drafts as you write—promising better editorial quality when the final draft comes out later. This experience is the best of both worlds.
Fictionate aims to be far more than a serial publisher—it wants to be your top publishing solution, period. With Fictionate, you can opt to publish chapter by chapter or book by book. The payment plan is also unique in that you can choose your own payment plan. You can opt for readers to subscribe on a time basis or buy your writing as it comes out.
Fictionate, like Hermit below, has only a small fan base and probably isn’t good as a final spot for your readers, but if you want to set up a way to earn royalties while you draft and get some fans on board from an early stage, this could be a good solution.
Unlike the options listed above, Hermit doesn’t market itself as a publisher but instead as an online writing client. Its free service allows you to write and format your novels directly onto its platform and has a variety of sharing and exporting features featuring attractive layouts. You can export a PDF to your computer and share it with alpha or beta readers at intervals as you write.
Hermit also has the option to publish to Hermit’s “library,” its publishing platform where readers can follow up on your works in progress. You can’t collect royalties through Hermit, and it isn’t intended to be the final stop for your book. But it is a good way to issue a soft release or get feedback as you write that you can later implement into the final draft.
Choosing Your Platform
If you want to try out serial publishing for yourself on a platform other than Vella, keep these factors in mind:
Production quality. This varies from platform to platform. Keep in mind that unless you write and edit your serial beforehand (which is a fully valid approach), the quality of your finished novel will likely fall short of its full potential. Find a platform where your writing will fit in so that it doesn’t look under-performed.
Budget. Tapas in particular is a visual platform, and professional artists love to flaunt their styles in the covers. This doesn’t just apply to the comics—many novels show the same aesthetics. Before committing your book to one of these serial platforms, check to see what the popular covers look like. You might be able to piece one together on your own, but you might need to invest extra if you want to stand out and get noticed.
Your personal goals. What do you want to get out of serial writing? If you want fame and competition, Wattpad might be a great fit. If you want something more private to test the waters, you could check out Hermit. Either way, find something that pushes you forward in your career and takes you in the direction that excites you the most.
This post is an answer to a request from a member of Pen and Glory’s Facebook group for self-publishing fiction writers. You can join here or share your thoughts in the comments below.