A Change in the Flight Plan

I was one of “those” pilots who filed a flight plan for every flight. Some flights for private or personal flying don’t require a flight plan–though it would be good if they did–but no FAA employee ever wanted to see the headline, “FAA Safety Official Missing on a Flight – No Flight Plan Filed.” At least I didn’t.

Of course, inherent in that is the fact you have to be willing to change that flight plan if necessary, say if the weather changes en route. That’s part of air traffic control’s job–to accommodate a pilot’s necessary change in plans. Oh, they’ll grouse about it, make a snarky remark on air (don’t let them get away with that, BTW), but in the end it’s the pilot’s decision to change a flight plan for safety reasons.

Okay, so, what does this have to do with writing and authorship?

Kindle Vella

Let me say right away, I’m in no way dissing Kindle Vella, KDP’s relatively new way to publish an author’s work episodically. In the year or so it’s been available, hundreds of authors have found new audiences and had great success with this innovative publishing methodology.

I wasn’t one of them.

And that’s not Vella’s fault.

I was a KDP author who was offered the opportunity to beta test Vella, and I was intrigued by the concept. So, I hopped on board, as it were, to extend the aviation metaphor somewhat. I had a story featuring my two spies I’d been working on, and with some judicious editing, it would fit the Vella format–episodes of 600 to 700 words.

The Vella guidelines explained how you should be consistent with episodes and have them “publish” on a regular basis, and the interface allowed you to schedule episodes days or weeks apart. I thought once a week would be ideal. I had a finished story, neatly separated into 13 episodes (think chapters), so I was ready to go.

And here is why indie authors in particular need to read the fine print.

I thought I was beta-testing publishing via Vella. Instead, I was beta-testing the efficacy of the interface.

With all my episodes uploaded and scheduled, they “published” right on schedule, all of them, every episode–within the beta version of Vella, which was not available yet to the public and wouldn’t be for almost a year.

Now, I wasn’t the only author this happened to. Every author who’d been offered the beta-test was in the same boat, but we couldn’t “see” each other’s works. So, no way to do any marketing research to determine what genres were the most common.

I Did What I Was Supposed to Do

I talked up Vella in social media and marketed my story as “Coming Soon to Vella.” I explained how Vella would work in a blog post or two, mentioned it in several of my online writers groups, and was looking forward to engaging with new readers. Indeed, one of the features of Vella I liked a great deal was that the author could put “notes” on each episode to give the reader some background or insight to that particular episode, and readers could comment on episodes.

Vella finally went public, and there my story was, all shiny and somewhat new, and as more and more people published in Vella I finally had the metrics I needed for some analysis.

Vella is the perfect publishing route if you write high fantasy, young adult fantasy, paranormal romance, romance in general, and any of the other popular fiction genres. It is a great place for LGBTQ+ fiction. Science fiction, too, is popular.

But not apparently “real spies with real lives and a hint of romance” or a quasi-literary story about resolution of a family’s conflict with a bit of World War II history tossed in.

So, my bad. I picked a good story that was a bad fit for Vella.

Even after I joined a special Vella promotion and got nearly 100 readers to follow my story, in almost a year I’d had only three reads of the first, free episode, a couple of thumbs-up to that episode, and nothing more. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

I joined a Vella authors Facebook group and saw people having great success with Vella. Give it time, I thought, have some patience.

Nada. Zilch. Zero.

Was my story that bad?

My editor and some friends I sent non-Vella copies of the story to didn’t understand it. It was a good story, but for the wrong audience–because there’d been no way to judge who the Vella audience would be.

Vella is Still a Good Concept

Again, not dissing Vella because I misjudged what kind of story would work best in that publishing format.

I think Vella is good for a beginning author to start building an audience. If your story can get dozens or, yay, hundreds of followers on Vella, they will follow you to either traditional publishing or KDP.

Vella is good for genre writers whose stories are epic adventures, like Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire, multiple-book series, or standalone novels with high word counts that promise the reader a lot more is to come.

I have a couple of non-spy mysteries I’m thinking of using Vella to publish, now that I have a better understanding that you don’t use it for a short story and you don’t upload it all at once.

So, What Happened to My Vella Story?

I unpublished it from Vella after a discussion with Vella support, which was a positive experience, much as any of my interactions with KDP Support have been.

But, it’s a good story, and I believe in it. I edited it some more, and at the end of August, I’ll publish Old Love Does Not Rust, a Novelette, via regular KDP. You can preorder it HERE.

Yep, the flight plan changed in mid-flight, but we’ll arrive safely at the destination, where this old dog will once more try a new trick.

How’s that for a mixed metaphor?