Kindle Vella's biggest flaw at launch

Amazon’s Kindle Vella is a new (about a month old as I write this) serialized fiction service. I had the first four episodes of my Vella, The Dragon of DC available on launch day and posted episode five a few days later. So I’m coming to you with my perspective as both a Vella author and reader. I’m also coming at this from the perspective of someone who has published several books with KDP.

There are a number of things to like about Vella but, as of today, there’s a fatal flaw: It’s too hard to learn about new episodes of Vellas you’re following. To me, this rises almost to the level of “you had one job”. The whole point of serialized fiction vs. a novel is that it’s delivered in parts. If someone actively clicks a button saying, “Follow this Vella”, they’re sending an unambiguous signal that they want to know when new episodes are released.

How people find out about new episodes

I want to acknowledge that Vella is brand new, but my point in writing this is that they’re missing something that seems like table stakes for a paid, serialized fiction platform: Letting readers know in a way they’ll actually see it that there’s new content for them to read.

Kindle notifications bell

As far as I can tell, the only place Vella actively tells you there’s a new episode is via a notification from the Kindle iOS app. If you haven’t enabled push notifications for the Kindle app, the little bell pictured above is the only place you’re going to hear about the new episodes and, if you’re like me, you probably never even noticed the bell up there. I initially had push notifications off and had to tap More, then Settings, then Push Notifications on the Kindle app to get to the prompt to allow notifications.

The only other place to read Vellas today is in a web browser. Rather than sorting by Vellas that were recently updated, the stories default to being sorted by “newest follows”. When you click over to a Vella’s page, they do at least provide a big clickable area to continue reading with the next episode. But the episode listing below that starts at the beginning and nowhere does it say when a new episode was last published.

Web readers of Vellas do not have any kind of notification delivered to them about new episodes.

The one weird trick that could make it all better

There is one kind of notification that works, regardless of how the reader reads: Email. A weekly “New for You” email highlighting the Vella episodes published that week in the Vellas I follow would be a huge improvement.

So much so, that I’m actually not inclined to publish any more Vella episodes until something like this is done to let readers know when new episodes arrive. I might not be able to help myself, because I like The Dragon of DC idea, but I’m not going to be happy about the fact that new episodes will likely just disappear, unseen (unless someone happens to see it based on Twitter posts, etc.)

Things I like

Amazon has gotten some important things right from the get-go:

  1. Reading and publishing are both smooth and easy. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to publishing a novel.
  2. I appreciate that people can Like and Fave episodes, in addition to reviews for the series. Being able to get feedback from readers is awesome.
  3. I like the tagging system. It’s nice to have granular ways to find more Vellas.
  4. They’ve given everyone 200 tokens to try it out, and I appreciate their decision to pay authors for episodes purchased with those free tokens.
  5. Author’s notes are a nice way to provide some backstory and be a little more human with your readers.

Yes, the launch has a fatal flaw, but they have a lot of good stuff in place once they fix that.

More to improve

Vella is very new, and there are undoubtedly a bunch of features on their roadmap already. Even so, I thought I’d mention some things that come to mind:

  1. Kindle for Android support, which is so obvious I’m sure it’s on the roadmap
  2. Kindle ereader support is actually less obvious than Android support, but would still be a nice addition. Since Vella episodes are meant to be bite-sized, the read-on-mobile-device experience does seem more critical than getting it onto Kindle Paperwhites.
  3. The “popularity” sort on the top lists makes no sense at all. I had made a note of this earlier, but I’m not actually seeing this sort listed any more. Essentially, I could see nothing that made sense about the sorting of Vellas. Perhaps this has already been improved?
  4. Publish to beta readers before publishing to everyone. This would be a delightful enhancement down the line, especially since I’ve heard that there are some people putting first-draft quality material up and then revising after feedback. Vella is a paid serial format, so I would expect the quality of episodes to be much closer to the quality of a fully edited novel. Encouraging a round of feedback will help keep the quality up.

I’m fine being early to the party, but really hope notifications are fixed

I don’t think my primary complaint here is just coming from impatience with a new product. A hundred years ago, serials were delivered in newspapers. People who were following a serial would automatically get the new episodes when they got the rest of the paper. Today, with so much more media available, ensuring that readers learn about new episodes seems like a basic requirement for a serial format.

Thanks to u/SourSensuousness for pointing out that system push notifications are available on iOS and making other suggestions, including that push notifications are something authors could mention in the Author’s Notes.

Thanks to u/DisastrousBass1123 for noting that Vella is not actually considered beta by Amazon, and my original version of this article said that it was a beta. This makes it even more surprising that the notification story isn’t better worked out.

Finally, I’ll note that I changed the title from the original “fatal flaw” to “biggest flaw”. The iOS experience isn’t terrible once you get notifications turned on, but this remains a huge issue.

(Note that this article includes affiliate links, so I may earn a small commission.)