SPS-356: Victory with Kindle Vella – with Krissi Dallas
Experienced writer Krissi Dallas got in on the ground floor of Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. She’s found it both lucrative and challenging and she shares all she’s learned with James.
- Why Kindle Vella caught Krissi’s attention
- On release schedules and releasing content a week at a time
- On hitting Vella’s leaderboard
- How Vella works for readers and why they love it
- How authors get paid via Vella and bonuses for reader interaction
- Is the writing process different when writing episodically?
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
SECRET SPF GROUP: Join us in the Facebook group for writing sprints and up-to-date info on webinars throughout November
PUBLISH YOUR BOOKS: The newly rebranded SPF Launchpad course launches November 9.
MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-356: Victory with Kindle Vella - with Krissi Dallas
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Krissi Dallas: Every episode is important. You have to have some kind of conflict, some kind of suspense, introduction of something new. I want my readers to come back every week. Every Saturday night when midnight rolls around, I want them there. And I have them that are ready to unlock. That's what they do on Saturday nights, they get their app open and they are ready to start reading.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers.
Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is The Self-Publishing Show. Back to our regular Friday slot, it is James Blatch. We are into November. Good morning, Mark Dawson.
Mark Dawson: Good morning.
James Blatch: How's NaNoWriMo going?
Mark Dawson: Well, I haven't started it yet because we're recording this.
James Blatch: Oh, I've given it away.
Mark Dawson: In the past. But yes, we're getting ready to, as we record this, getting ready to get cracking. So lots of content in the self-publishing former community group on Facebook, with sprints and some blog posts. We've had a webinar, another one coming up. We've got some editing. We're going to be offering some free editing in the group as well. And lots of content. We've got a big spreadsheet now with things filling it up, so quite interested to see how that's going to be going.
So as this goes out, we will have been doing it for about, what, three or four days, won't we?
James Blatch: Yeah. Day four. So if you missed our bonus podcast episode, which is at the weekend, we are going big on NaNoWriMo this year. We're going to help you along, hold each other's hands. We're going to throw lots of content your way to keep you motivated, keep you going, and keep you on track. And that started, actually, with a webinar which will have taken place, this is a back to the future type conversation, will have taken place on Monday. This is going out on the Friday, but we haven't got there yet, with Susie K. Quinn. And it's a really important thing to listen to at the beginning, so we will make it available. There'll be a link to it in the group for you to make sure that you remain as focused as you can be.
If you're doing a first draught, people will be all over the place right here, Mark. Some people will be redrafting existing books and so on. But if you're doing a genuine first draught, I do think, actually, writing is the most important thing, particularly if it's one of your early books. But having in mind, staying focused on your tagline, your title, your genre is only going to help you in the future. And that's what that first webinar's about.
Susie's very good at that, isn't she, Mark? Really sort of nailed... More important probably for us in these than it is for Salman Rushdie or someone who gets this massive publicity campaign that goes along with their quirky and original books. But we find life easier when we fit into easily defined genres and our books deliver what they say they're going to deliver.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I think it's just, in terms of getting started with the writing, it's a good idea to know where you're going to end up, and more importantly, that what you are ending up with is commercial and easier to sell than would otherwise be the case. So that's not to say that there's... Obviously, that can include all genres, it's just as apt for literary fiction as it is for thrillers and fantasy and for sci-fi and romance. But yeah, it's a good idea to have an idea before you start writing.
James Blatch: Now, you know I love a spreadsheet, so this morning I have created my NaNoWriMo spreadsheet with a lot of conditional formatting on it. So it's going to go orange if I'm between zero and 500 words behind the mean average, and red if I'm beyond 500 words behind, and green, obviously if I'm zero, I'm level or-
Mark Dawson: What you should do is make that available to everyone in the community group.
James Blatch: Yep, I can do that. I thought about that. Yeah. I should post that into the group today.
Mark Dawson: I've got one similar to that, but yours will probably be better than mine. So I would recommend post that in, make sure it's easy for people to know where do they put their figures and their targets and everything.
James Blatch: Yes. Pretty easy. I'll write a note on the top saying, "Put your daily words in here. Is there anything you need to do? You just put how many words you wrote that day in the one cell and it does the rest." Good. So it's going to be a bit of a tall order, I think, as it always is. But I'm excited about it. I'm excited about pushing through to the end of my current draught, knowing that it's not going to be the final draught, so that actually takes the pressure off me worrying. I've been stressing a bit about it. Knowing that I'm going to start it again with a much clearer idea of why people are doing everything in each scene at the beginning.
Good. Okay. Couple of other things we do have, a course to launch. In fact, it's a sort of a brand new course. It's called Launchpad, Self-Publishing Launchpad. It's a rebrand and a rename for what a course that you knew and loved that's called 101. We decided we rebrand it, refresh it. It's course that's got a lot of components to it and we've been updating them over time and we just felt that it needed a refresh. And so we have done that. Self-Publishing Launchpad will launch on Wednesday, that's the 9th.
Mark Dawson: We should point out, definitely, it's not a new course. So if people are thinking this is a new course, it is not a new course. It's 101 with a fresh lick of paint. Quite a bit of new content where things were out of date or needed replacing, some stuff been taken out. But you won't be able to buy this if you've bought 101. Well, you probably would, actually, but you-
James Blatch: You probably can. I don't think our system's clever enough to stop you.
Mark Dawson: Please don't buy it if you've bought 101 because you'll have it all for free. So previous students get this for nothing, as we always try to do with our courses. But if you haven't got 101 and perhaps you're doing NaNoWriMo now and you haven't published before, or maybe you've published before but not going as well as you'd like it to and you know that your foundations need a bit of work, then that's exactly what Launchpad is intended to do. So yes, don't buy it again, but if you haven't bought it, then I would give it some thought because it's a pretty good course, I think.
James Blatch: Yes, indeed. Okay. So that goes live on Wednesday and you will find it at selfpublishingformula.com/launchpad, all one word, of course. We'll keep the other URLs going. So we're going to be busy with that.
I've been heads down in things like MailerLite and ConvertKit, making sure they're up to date. MailerLite, recently, if you're on MailerLite, if you use MailerLite, I know a lot of you do actually, they recently had quite a revamp of their system and their pricing. But looks and feels very much like ConvertKit to me with visual automations. I really like it, actually, I think they've done a good job there. Really like the templates, actually as well, on MailerLite, a good package. But I think if you've got a lot of contacts, it is also quite expensive and more expensive than it used to be. But all of that is discussed inside the course. We help you make those decisions.
And what have we got rid of? We should say, actually. I know we'll go through the course in more detail, but I think we've decided that WordPress is beyond the scope of a launch, a 101 environment. And it's a complex platform. Once you start it, there's endless amounts of updates and keeping on top of it, it's almost a webmaster level thing to do. And I think it was probably a mistake of ours, originally, to include WordPress.
We should point people at things like Squarespace and Wix, and that's the level at which authors like you and me, Mark, could potentially do our own thing if we wanted to. So small things like that, we've gone through and made some modifications here and there. As ever, constantly evolving. We can move on to our interview, which is a great interview.
This is Krissi Dallas, who comes from Dallas, and it is her real name. She does and it's a real name. I know, that's what she told me and I believe her because she's a very, very honest person. Krissi talked to me about Kindle Vella. I found it fascinating conversation, because we're in the UK, we don't have Kindle Vella yet, although it's inevitably going to come and it could suddenly arrive, I've had to... Will just suddenly arrive then, they never seem to pre-announce these things. And Krissi is going great guns, she's really nailed it.
She's a bit of an early adopter with Vella, which I think has helped her, is well positioned. She explained how the system works if you're not using it, how she uses it, but there are different ways of using Kindle Vella. So this is a really good, broad introduction to Kindle Vella, how it operates and how potentially you and I might end up using it. Here's Krissi.
Krissi Dallas, welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Thank you so much indeed for taking some time out and joining us.
Krissi Dallas: Yes, thank you for having me James.
James Blatch: So you're Krissi Dallas, but where are you? You're not in Dallas?
Krissi Dallas: I am so in Dallas.
James Blatch: You are so in Dallas. So you're so in Dallas, it's named twice.
Krissi Dallas: Yeah. And it's my actual name, it's not a pen name. So I guess I was made to be here. So yeah, coming at you from Texas.
James Blatch: There you go. Oh, well, here we go From Texas to UK, which would fit into one small little part of Texas several times. We will talk about short stories, about the Kindle Vella platform, and a bit about social media as well.
Why don't we start, Krissi, with a bit about you and your writing background.
Krissi Dallas: I have been an author for about 13 years, while I was full-time teaching junior high kids English. And so it kind of started out as a part-time gig and then it just grew, and eventually got to the point where I was ready to take the leap and go full-time with it. And that was about the time that Kindle Vella was launching last year, July 2021.
My first series, I guess I should say, my first series was Teen and YA fantasy, The Phantom Island series. And there's five books in that, with a sixth one, which is the final one, on the way. I've always been in this fantasy genre. I've been published more traditionally and then got my rights back and self-published that in 2020, and then Kindle Vella came along in 2021. And I had a story that was already completely written and I thought, "I would like to get in from the launch on this and see how this works and if I can make something of it."
So I launched Icarus Flight School, which is the first of a different series, spy thriller, romantic suspense teen and YA. So I launched that and I had crazy amount of success, it hit number one the first day of launch and stayed number one in teen and young adult for 11 weeks while the chapters released. And had so much fun with it that I thought, "I want to do this again, but where I'm writing it each week as I go and actually doing the true, serialised fiction style." So that was the origin of Wish Upon a Streaming Star, which is teen and YA romantic comedy. That started launching back in November. We're finally in the finale episodes of it, so coming up on a year. And it has been so much fun and it has grown my readership like crazy. I'm making more money than I did as a teacher, which is crazy when you can start making money off of what you love.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, that's the key thing, isn't it? Even if you made the same or a little bit less, if you're doing what you love, that's worth so much more, but to make more is great. I do want to talk definitely about Vella tonight, and I want you to explain the platform to me.
That commercial success, that's much more Vella than it was your more traditional, should we call them, with that confusing word to use, but your more traditional Kindle-based books.
Krissi Dallas: I really had never made a lot of money on royalties or things like that. I've been a hybrid, traditional situation with my publishing. But what it did create for me was longevity and continuing with the series and having this loyal readership that then followed me, some of them, onto Kindle Vella. I did primarily write for teenagers, prior to Kindle Vella, and now I'm mostly writing for adults because teenagers are not really on Kindle Vella, which has been interesting. So it's also having to grow a whole new readership through this experience. This is the first time I'm actually making income beyond just keeping my business writing afloat.
James Blatch: Okay. All right. Well, let's start with the writing then. So fantasy, YA fantasy obviously is where you started and I guess your first love writing.
Was that partly because you were immersed in junior high school teaching world and those kids?
Krissi Dallas: Oh, for sure. Absolutely. I've always said my students have been my inspiration. I've always been a writer since I was a kid, wrote novels and scribbled stories all the time. But when I got serious about taking it professional, was because I was in the classroom and I was reading all these great stories with my students and watching their imaginations come to life and watching how inspired they were. And that led me to go, "I love to write, why am I not writing something for them?" So that's definitely where the inspiration began.
I started with a portal fantasy, so I've got elements of contemporary YA romance and then elements of fantasy, mystery, lots of plot twists. And I think that's what I love about writing Teen, YA, is you can cross genre, jump a little, as long as you're in that age range and hitting those things that make first love, finding your place in the world, all those experiences so special.
James Blatch: So Portal is sort of Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe-style setting?
Krissi Dallas: Mm-hmm.
James Blatch: Okay. Because obviously, I write thrillers and I'm not always au fait with all the expressions that are used, but I can work that one out.
Krissi Dallas: You nailed it.
James Blatch: Yeah. There you go. Because that's almost, thinking about it, it's almost like urban fantasies, isn't it? Where you're grounded in the real world, but there's this other world in the back of a wardrobe, or I guess urban fantasy is more kind of mixed in with the real world.
But as you say, it's almost cross genre in a bit because you've got contemporary and fantasy.
Krissi Dallas: And honestly, one of my favourite books growing up was the Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and the Narnia series. But I felt like I was always disappointed when I came back to the real world in these books. The magical world is so rich and so amazing and then you come back and it's just this letdown.
James Blatch: It's all in black and white.
Krissi Dallas: Yeah. And so in my series, it really is finding the simple magic in our world and the things that are special about here and then also spending this time in this magical world and how the two connect. So I really wanted there to be a level of magic in both. And so you have this, even though there's not magical things necessarily happening in the real world, but you have this connection, that wherever she ends up, we're going to be okay. There are things that are special and unique about both places. So that was kind of my response to being like, "I don't want to come back to reality after I've gone through the portal." So hopefully, readers will spend time on both sides of the portal in my series.
James Blatch: Okay. So you've got your five books out or I don't know how many it was at the time that Vella was launched, but Vela caught your eye.
Tell me what it was about Vella that you thought, "I could do that."
Krissi Dallas: I think, one, my personality has always been the kind of person that likes to jump in from the ground up on something. I just like being a starter and helping establish the culture of something. I helped start a school, so there you go. I think I have some strengths and flexibility that allows for that and problem solving. So that was kind of exciting, and just going, "Hey, we could get in from the ground up. It's a risk. It might not work, I don't know, but I have something ready."
And I was really trying to find the right medium for Icarus Flight School to debut into the world. I was on KDP but I was like, "How do I grow my readership if I just stay on KDP?" I needed something new to try to get more attention.
Also, at the time, I had some producers, movie producers that were looking at my stories, that were looking at Icarus before it even came out. And so I was like, "I've really got to prove this has a place." Vella just came up right at that time and I just knew. I didn't know enough about serialised fiction at the time or how things were going to work because I probably would've done things a little differently from the get go. I was releasing five episodes every weekend for 11 weeks versus holding back some and letting it go longer. But I learned pretty quickly, "Okay. So that's how you do it."
James Blatch: You had the book, the manuscript completely written when you started on publishing on Vella?
Krissi Dallas: Yes.
James Blatch: And is that the advised way to do it? Because I imagine the terrifying way to do it is to write as you go along.
Krissi Dallas: Well, now I've done it both ways, yes, terrifying. Having to meet weekly deadlines with Wish Upon a Streaming Star has been interesting. Everybody does it differently on there.
Some people have had stories that have been sitting in a drawer that maybe were rejected by publishers. They're like, "Hey, I could put it out there." And they're having success with it, putting it out there themselves this way. So if you have a story, it's definitely easier because you're also having to promote and market every week as you go. You're teasing what episode's coming next, you're interacting with readers. And so it's this constant flow of all that. So when Icarus was already written and I was mostly just having to just tweak, edit, write my author notes and put it out there, then I could focus more on the marketing.
With Wish Upon a Streaming Star, I write every single week. I wish I was organised enough to get ahead of it. I wish I could to do that, but I can't, I don't know. But it's worked for me, I've never missed a week since it launched.
James Blatch: But you set the delivery schedule. It's not like I would set a release date on Kindle and you really should hit it?
Krissi Dallas: Right. But I highly recommend if you're going to be on Kindle Vella, you need to release at least once a week. Because we really haven't talked about how Kindle Vella is set up, but it's very competitive, there is a leaderboard. And so the readers are the ones who pick on the leaderboard by giving them a crown.
So you get this little crown called a Fave. Every reader gets one when they pay a token or when they buy a token package they've paid to unlock an episode. So then they get to bestow that on whatever story they're reading, that they think is their Fave of the week.
Those accrue throughout the month, but the readers, they don't accrue for them, they lose them if they don't use them within a week. So you want to get that episode out because it notifies in the Kindle app, "Hey, Wish Upon Streaming Star just released another episode." And they go in, they unlock, it pops up, "Hey, who do you want to Fave?" And then they give me that crown. Well, then that shoots me up the leaderboard. So it's a game, you have to play the game.
James Blatch: So you're hitting that once a week. Tell us a little bit more about the platform then. I haven't been on it, which is remiss of me, but a stack of things to do. I will make some time after this call to properly investigate it.
What does it look and feel like?
Krissi Dallas: So the best way to read is in your Kindle app, but you can also read on your browser because it is formatted to look like a phone. It's made specifically for digital reading and they've been called snackable episodes, snackable reading, which I love. When you're on the go, or you're waiting in the car line or whatever, at the doctor's office, it's so easy to just pull up and go, "Hey, I'm going to catch up on an episode." You unlock the episodes with tokens. You buy your token packages and then you can spin them on any story on the platform.
And what's cool about that, is if a story you start, you're like, "This isn't really for me." You don't have to keep reading it, you can find other stuff. So the tokens will go towards any story on the platform and then it downloads into your Kindle library so that you have access to it and you can go back and read and keep going. There's also thumbs up at the bottom of each episode, so you can like that episode when you get to the bottom.
And then every episode, this is kind of a cool part, we get to talk from our heart as an author. So we get an author at the bottom, so I can talk about things that inspired that particular scene, experiences from my life that played into how things went into the writing of this, or just encouraging my readers with their interaction, "Come find me." It's just a way for them to connect with me.
And then we also have the option to put a poll at the end. So sometimes you can ask questions, "What was the reaction to that particular episode or what happened in there?" Or you can ask questions like, "What age group do you fall in?" Which gives you information about your audience. I was pretty shocked to find that most of my readers are all 30 years old and up, very few, 19 to 29, very few teens, which is also kind of cool. It tells me who my demographic is that's hitting my stories and enjoying them. So that's kind of how it works, there's a lot to it, but it's super fun.
James Blatch: What's the exclusivity aspect of this. Is a story, once uploaded, exclusive to Vella?
Krissi Dallas: When they first started out, I think they've kind of changed some of this, when they first started out, you could not have your story on any other platform. Now, it just has to be behind a pay wall. So you couldn't put it for free on Wattpad, but you could put it behind a pay wall on Radish or Patreon or all the different places. But it just has to be paid.
Now, the first three episodes of every story are free, are offered for free on Kindle Vella, and so those are okay, but everything has to be behind a paywall. Then once you have finished publishing, you can publish in long-form, at least 10 episodes, I think is the minimum. And you can do that after 30 days, from the time that you publish the last one. So Icarus Flight School I just released in paperback and hard cover, the digital version is still on Kindle Vella though. I did not do an ebook, which I don't know if that's smart or not yet, I'm banging it out, but I was like, "I want to point my digital readers to Vella."
James Blatch: But you could, after you've done your last chapter on Vella, and then a certain period of time's passed... Did you say that was 10 weeks or...?
Krissi Dallas: 30 days.
James Blatch: You are then free to, for instance, produce the Kindle and put it into KU even, although not-
Krissi Dallas: Oh yeah.
James Blatch: Could it be in KU if it's still on Vella, would it still be on...?
Krissi Dallas: It can.
James Blatch: It can?
Krissi Dallas: Yes.
James Blatch: So if you've got a current book in KU, what's to stop you moving that across to Vella and releasing it episodically?
Krissi Dallas: You can't go the opposite direction. You can't have something that's already been published put on Vella, but you can go Vella to other formats. And some authors have strategized and done, and I would probably do this with the ebook for Icarus, but they'll put a season one on Kindle Vella, their readers follow along, then they'll go and put that on ebook and they'll sell it in the ebook and then say, "Hey, at the end of that, come over to Vella if you want to read the sequel." And so it gets the readers to cross back over.
So depending on where you sell better or what your comfort level is, you may get more people coming over. I have not done that yet. I'm just sending my digital readers to Kindle Vella right now, but Wish Upon a Streaming Star is about to be finished and a sequel on the way with that, so who knows, we may have to try it.
James Blatch: So for instance, my next book, I'm in KU, so my next book I could episodically release it on Vella, and then 30 days after I got to the end of it, after 12 months, whatever, how long it takes me to do it, I could then put it onto KU?
Krissi Dallas: Yes. You could. If you want to give it a shot, just whatever you put out on Kindle Vella has to be original and that's the first a first place for it. So we're all figuring it out.
James Blatch: Yeah. The way it fits in.
And just on the paid side, you talked about the Faves, the sort of, I guess, the kudos, the likes with all different platforms have their own names for these things, but what about your payment? How does that work?
Krissi Dallas: When you get royalties, which are 50% of whatever people pay for tokens, the tokens are calculated for each episode based on word counts. So if I have a chapter that's 2,500 words, then it'll be 25 tokens. But depending on what token package they bought, it usually ends up being about a cent per token. So let's say, that ended up costing them 25 cents to pay that 25 tokens, I get half of that. So that's how the royalty part works.
And I will say, I'll throw in here before I talk about the bonuses, but most serial fiction, you really want to stay between 15 and 20 tokens. That's the sweet spot. But I've found as I go along through my stories, my chapters get a little bit longer. My readers are invested, they want a little bit more of the story, but if I start getting up to 32, sometimes I'll be like, "Oh, I could split this into two and just make it a little easier for people." But you can go anywhere from 600 words to 5,000 words in a chapter. So that's six to 50 tokens. So you just learn what your audience likes on that.
But the other part of Vella that has been the part that is been so great for me, is the bonuses. So the more reader interaction you get, Amazon, we don't know the exact formula of course, but Amazon will pay us bonuses. So we get our royalties and then we also get bonus money. I have always been in the top 25, both of my stories have always been in the top 25 most Faved. And then there's popularity stats on top of that, with likes and follows and who you're bringing to the platform, because I'm trying to bring a lot of readers to the platform through ads. So that also, I think, plays into how they calculate your bonuses. But of course, nobody ever knows how many Faves they actually have.
James Blatch: And you don't see the number of Faves, you just see the resulting chart?
Krissi Dallas: Right. Yeah. So I can see likes, I can see follows, and I can see unlocks live as they happen. So it's really always fun when you have somebody who shows up that binge reads the whole story, you just watch them unlock all day long, just going through the story. And then you can see, if they use free tokens, because Amazon does offer free tokens to new Kindle Vella users and they do reimburse us for those, so those will come in with no royalties. I get a lot of those because a lot of people are first time Kindle Vella users finding me through ads and they're unlocking that way. And then they'll go and unlock, pay money to keep going, which is what you want. That's the game, you want to keep them coming back.
James Blatch: We should say, actually, I haven't said this yet, but Kindle Vella is a dot-com, USA product at the moment. And I think it was a question at, I haven't seen any announcements recently, but it was a question at our live show in the summer in London to Amazon who were there, and they did indicate clearly, if it's successful, it's something they're going to roll out elsewhere. But I don't think that would stop me using the platform as an author, it just would stop me using the platform as a reader, being in the UK.
Krissi Dallas: Right. Yeah. Right now, it's currently only open to US, but I did ask the Kindle Vella team, I was like, "Hey, I'm going on The Self-Publishing Show and they're UK, what can I say about that?" So they told me that obviously it's all still relatively new, but they are just getting started, so stay tuned UK. Hopefully y'all get to join the party with us soon. And I will say this, we did notice in the last month, that little American flags started popping up on our reviews on Kindle Vella.
James Blatch: Preparing the ground work. There you go. That's a great insider information. And what's really exciting, is that someone listening to this interview now could be like you, in the UK, they could dive in and be those early adopters and stake their place out in that Fave chart, whatever it's called.
Krissi Dallas: It's so true. As we've learned historically, when you get in from the ground up with something with Amazon, you usually stand the most to benefit from it.
James Blatch: Well, we know those people who launched it their Kindle books in 2009 and didn't have to work as hard as we have to work today to get success, but lucky them. Well, this is really fascinating to me.
Let's talk a little bit more about the writing process then. So writing episodically, in the end, does your book look and feel the same as it would've done if you'd written a full-length manuscript for publication? Or do you think you are writing slightly different style because it's released episodically?
Krissi Dallas: That is such a great question. For me personally, I still feel very passionately about good writing is good writing, and I like having a flow to a climax and a resolution, but not all serial fiction writers do that. Some of them it's just like, "Oh, let's just hang out with the story and see where it goes and these characters." And that's great, it works for them, they're successful. But for me, I still like having a season. We call them seasons.
James Blatch: Is that a Vella expression? I know that's used TV a lot, but is that officially an expression in Vella or is it just something, as authors, you use?
Krissi Dallas: No, they're called episodes and we call them season. Vella currently doesn't have a way to divide our seasons out. We have to put them all in the same book right now and then you go, "Okay, season two starts on episode whatever." Hopefully that's a tweak that will be getting made, we authors have asked for it. But I do think it's funny that we've taken TV terms, like you said. And now I'm noticing on Disney Plus, I'm watching, they're calling their episodes chapters and releasing-
James Blatch: All switching.
Krissi Dallas: They're releasing... I know. Releasing all at once. It's all the buzzwords, so we stick with the buzzword. Yeah. I write episodes now. But yeah, what was the question?
James Blatch: Yes, it was whether the end the book is the same.
Krissi Dallas: Yes. So for me, or I'm going to just say this in general, when you are writing on Kindle Vella, because anybody can pick that story up, start it and walk away and never come back. When you sell a book, you get your money, they bought the book, whether they read it or not or like it or not. But on Vella, they can walk away. Every episode matters. Every episode is important. You have to have some kind of conflict, some kind of suspense, introduction of something new. You never leave your readers in a comfortable place.
And not in a way that's annoying, "Oh, every episode is cut off in the middle of something." There's lots of ways to do cliff hangers or foreshadows or things that will keep them coming back, but man, I want my readers to come back every week. Every Saturday night when midnight rolls around, I want them there. And I have them that are ready to unlock. And that's what they do on Saturdays, they get their app open and they're ready to start reading.
It does change how you write. You have to be more concise. You cannot spend a tonne of time on story description and setting. You can pop those things in as you go, but man, if you, especially in those first three episodes that are free, that they sample for free and then decide, "Am I going to actually pay money and invest in this and unlock?" You cannot waste any time on tonnes of backstory, setting description. You start off with your main characters very quickly, because really, that is one of the things about serial fiction, it's the characters that really keep people coming in.
So even if a world seems really cool, if they don't relate to those characters from the get-go, that they want to just keep hanging out with them and following their story for a year, some have on mine, then that's kind of a killer, too. So I always say get in there quick, hook them, every episode has got to hook. Keep them coming back, plan your big, some kind of big reveal or whatever at the end of episode three so that they'll come into episode four. So it does change how I write.
James Blatch: Everything you've described is a really positive way of writing a book. What you were talking about is getting rid of all the bad habits and writing a tightly written book in the way that the best writers in the world write books. That's what singles them out, they don't waste time and there's a reason to turn the page.
So it all sounds a very positive way of disciplining your writing.
Krissi Dallas: And just like in any self-publishing place, you're going to get some bad eggs and you're going to get some good eggs. But you'll notice that the ones at the top really... One of the things is almost all of them do employ a professional editor, too. I have an editor, even though I'm writing every week, we keep a Google doc open between us.
James Blatch: I was going to ask you about the editing process. I can't imagine. I have to book editors months in advance, as most people do, how does this even work with you?
Krissi Dallas: You'd have to find somebody cool, who's willing to dive into this journey with you. My editor and I have literally, there have been times where we are up until time to publish on a Saturday night, hit that publish button, are still working in that Google Doc to just kind of tweak and make sure. But I write it, I try to draught earlier on in the week. And she pops on there and I can see her live changes, I can see her comments saying, "Hey, can you add more to this? This doesn't make sense. Or this could use a little more whatever."
But especially with Wish Upon a Streaming Star, I really do rely a lot on dialogue and action, lots of action and adventure. In fact, in Wish Upon a Streaming Star, every so often I'd pull out of the narration and I'd switch to a transcript style of writing, which is kind of my attempt at screenplay writing a little bit. But in this story, I'm dealing with a YouTube star and his neighbour who hates him, or they used to be friends and they hate each other, but now they hate each other. They're having to work together to complete a challenge on YouTube, live broadcast for $500,000, over a period of two days.
I want my readers to get the feel that like, "Hey, this is also happening live and people like you are watching it, go on." So I switch every once in a while out to this transcript style to make them feel like, "Oh, this is how it would translate if I were watching this on the screen right now, and these two people doing this crazy challenge reenactment." And so that's been kind of fun. But again, it's also that concise way of writing, getting your dialogue in, relying heavily on dialogue in your characterization to keep the people coming back.
James Blatch: Yeah. Sounds like really fun, actually.
Krissi Dallas: It is fun, totally.
James Blatch: Obviously, there is a treadmill aspect to it. Once you are in there, you've got to plan. So how long will it take you to do your book. Now, I know your first one you did over a year, but the one you're... You're working on one at the moment, you are releasing one at the moment?
Krissi Dallas: So Wish Upon a Streaming Star is the one I started back in November, that was my second Kindle Vella, and that one has been ongoing all year. One chapter a week, sometimes two.
James Blatch: So that's still going?
Krissi Dallas: Yeah. That's still going. I'm in the finale of that right now, which I say the finale, we think, "Okay. Four or five chapters left," but that's going to take me four or five weeks to get there.
James Blatch: What happens if you want to go on vacation?
Krissi Dallas: James, I don't go on vacation. No, that's when you go, "Okay. I know this is coming up." I had to this summer because I had camp and Disneyland and all these things going on, where you try to get ahead so I try to write. But I'm not kidding, I have been taking my laptop with me and sometimes sitting... Even at Disneyland, I had it already in my dashboard and I had went and published at the same time.
James Blatch: I could just imagine you on Space Mountain with your laptop. Yeah. "Hit publish."
Krissi Dallas: Seriously. That's how committed we are at Kindle Vella.
James Blatch: Yes. There you go. I like it. But I suppose, you write ahead or perhaps you plan it's going to be 10 months and you get two months and the summer off. But it is a different way of working.
Krissi Dallas: It is.
James Blatch: For you, it's been the commercially successful way of working.
Krissi Dallas: Yes. For me, I have found success with it and joy. There's a certain joy, and you know this as a writer, when people are reading what you're writing, sometimes we labour for so long on a book and then you don't get to experience how the readers love it until years later, or sometimes not at all, if they take the book and you never know. In this kind of medium, it's so fun for the readers to interact, to message, to come follow me on social media, to have opinions and thoughts about what's going on. It's like having beta readers all the time, there to just tell you what they like about it.
So yeah, it's been joyful, it's been successful. There are people obviously all levels of success on Kindle Vella, I'm definitely not the top. I did hit number three at the start of September and number two at the start of October, which was really exciting. So I kind of play around in the top 10 because the leaderboard changes every hour.
James Blatch: It's a fast-paced environment.
Krissi Dallas: Yeah. And I'm competing with other authors up there who are, some of them are New York Times bestsellers, who have this wide audience already who are going to come. A lot of them are writing outside of my genre, teen and YA, I'm teen and YA. And so not all of those adult romance readers go over to my brand of romance.
James Blatch: Does Vella lend itself to particular genres?
Krissi Dallas: On any kind of serial fiction, romance is heavily there. Some of my favourite authors are mystery genre. We've got a lot of science fiction, fantasy. Wish upon a Streaming Star happens to be contemporary, which that's not usually what I've done. And it's finding success. There's a lot of sweet romance on there that's doing well. It's a pretty heavily romance.
James Blatch: Well, that sounds like publishing.
Krissi Dallas: I know.
James Blatch: Generally.
Krissi Dallas: But I will say, if you can get in... The name of the game right now on Kindle Vella is visibility. You want to get in and be visible. So my strategy from the get go was the leaderboard. I knew I wanted to get there, I had my readers activated and ready to go, and I still have people who are my loyal super fans, who stick with me and put me up there every week.
But then your popularity starts to grow and so you can get visibility on tags, so you get seven tags underneath your story. And so if you can select those carefully, pick some popular ones in there and then some that are unique to you, people will click on those tags on the front page and they'll find you more easily.
So your categories, whatever, if you are romance, pick a good strong second category that you might, could rise to the top. Because it's all about not getting lost in the shuffle on that website right now.
It's competitive and it's a game. But the Kindle Vella community has been some of the most supportive, awesome people. We cheer each other on because every success is a success for somebody else. It's been a wonderful experience writing.
James Blatch: Is there a specific place where you can interact with other authors and readers?
Krissi Dallas: So a lot of us have create, not on the site, but a lot of us have created Discord groups, Facebook groups. I'm in several, just interacting. And I'm in some that are just genre specific to me, people that kind of write similar to what I do. And then I'm in some where it's just everybody. And that's the thing, it's still kind of a small community. We've grown quite a bit, there's thousands and thousands of authors on there now, but it still feels like enough that you can root people on. People will comment, "Look how many rates I got this week." And it's exciting. No potato is too small right now.
James Blatch: That sounds like a Texan expression.
Krissi Dallas: Maybe. We like our potatoes.
James Blatch: "No potato's too small."
Krissi Dallas: No potato.
James Blatch: Are there genres they don't allow? What about erotica, which you can't advertise on, what was it?
Krissi Dallas: They do have a lot of erotica on Kindle Vella.
James Blatch: Oh, they do. Okay. I guess it probably lends itself to that as well, doesn't it?
Krissi Dallas: Oh my gosh, yeah. And honestly, because I'm so far in the other direction with that, that's who I'm competing with, and that's hard. On that leaderboard, you are competing with all genres. Those are readers that are not necessarily going to switch over to my story. My readers aren't necessarily going to switch over to theirs. It's tricky. It's definitely tricky. You are competing with all genres when you get on that leader board.
James Blatch: Have you adapted your tone and pitch of your books, having discovered that, say, it's mainly adults reading it?
Krissi Dallas: So that's something I constantly have a conversation with myself about. Teen, YA is still my heart. And my characters though, in all of my books, all of my series, are all 17 or 18 years old. I always ride that line between young adult and new adult. I think probably the difference is the content level, the sex and what not, in my stories. But I don't think it's deterred a lot of adults because adults sometimes do want to read that first love experience.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, obviously they have been, haven't they? It was a surprise to you, you found out they're old.
It probably would be a mistake to adapt your books for them because they're already there reading them.
Krissi Dallas: They are. Right. And I think the only thing is the sequel to Wish Upon a Streaming Star really is going to focus more on the older brothers. So I am getting into more adult romance, but I don't think I'll change my category because it'll still be very on-brand for me. And honestly, to me right now, on one hand I'm like, "Oh, maybe I could get in more readers if I went to just romance and humour," because it's romantic comedy if I chose those two categories. But right now, I can easily top teen and young adult. So you again have to be strategic with your categories, teen and young adult is what I'm getting known for. And if you click on that category, you're going to find me right there very easily in all of the stuff. And so it's tricky.
James Blatch: Well, that is, again, that's the same with marketing, staying in your lane and not being tempted to divert off too much. Marketing just becomes more difficult, doesn't it?
So finally, just the last area I'd like to talk to you about, it's really been fascinating hearing all this stuff, is what else you do to draw people into Vella outside of perhaps the Amazon ecosystem?
Do you use other social media channels?
Krissi Dallas: Absolutely. Social media is huge. And let me preface by saying, it's very hard to be good at all of it when you are your own publisher. You have to really pick and choose what you're going to be good at. I'm already ready to dive into y'all's TikTok strategies because that's the next area I've got to conquer. I'm on TikTok, I just haven't gone viral yet. I need you to make me your project, James. I need y'all to make me your TikTok project.
James Blatch: Well, it'd be like Pygmalion.
Krissi Dallas: So social media is huge. I did write an article for KDP, that Amazon had sent out, which was really a cool thing, y'all. They are watching people, they are. And again, just being on Vella helped me get on people's radar more. They reached out and asked me to write an article. I don't have the most followers, I'm not a best selling author, whatever, but they noticed some things that I was doing on my Facebook that worked. And so they asked me to just share that.
I'm pretty sure that's how you guys found me, was through that article going out. So you just never know, when you're just staying consistent and doing a good job, being a good steward of what you have and where you are, those opportunities can start to snowball as they have.
Social media is huge and I like to employ a tactic of, "Here's my life." I'm not just posting book covers or just posting excerpts. I live on social media in a lot of ways. There's things I hold back, but I have certain areas that I post about that are important to me. People understand I'm a busy person and engaged in a lot of different aspects of life. So that's big. And then I do run ads, Facebook and Instagram ads. And that has been a trial and error process because you can watch everybody out there who's an expert on this tell you, "Here's what works."
And then Kindle Vella is its own redheaded stepchild. So we have learned, and for anybody listening, if you're on Kindle Vella, we have learned having an image, single image, that shows some kind of movement, that looks realistic, that doesn't look like an ad, with an excerpt and linked to your episode one, is the best way to get readers in. It's very interesting.
James Blatch: So an advert that doesn't really look like an advert?
Krissi Dallas: Yeah. Here's the thing about romance readers, we read for the serotonin. So you want to create that experience, that serotonin levels in somebody, the second they see that ad, it's a snapshot, it's got to happen really fast. The excerpts immediately draw them into the story. The picture has to draw them in.
James Blatch: Actually, an interesting point. I noticed the TikTok ads platform is immature at the moment, I'm not convinced. Certainly in our little test it's not going to be particularly useful next to the organic reach of TikTok, but the guys who are doing well on it, their posts, even if they're big corporations, their posts look like normal TikTok posts. That seems to be the way that it's working as well with Vella with you.
Krissi Dallas: Yeah, for sure. The ad thing, and it's different on every platform, honestly, because the stuff that gets attention in reels on Instagram, flops on Facebook. The stuff that does well on Instagram, flops on TikTok. The stuff that's not good on TikTok, Instagram wants nothing to do with it. It's very interesting and it can be very overwhelming, so that's why I say, pick an area at a time that you can be good at. The most important thing is to be consistent and to be authentic, and I think that you'll find your stride with all of that.
I do think that Kindle Vella lends itself really well to having strong social media presence, too, because they're reading digitally, they can click over and find you. If they like Kindle Vella, they like engaging in the polls, they're usually going to want to engage with you, too, because they're there about for the connection. And that's where I become a brand, so I'm crossing selling, too. It's not just, "Here are my Kindle Vella readers." Well, many of them switch over and go read my KU books now or go find my other Kindle Vella stories. So it's all connected and it's super fun to watch how it's all been growing, and I hope they make it available in the UK soon, because we'd love to have our UK friends on there with us.
James Blatch: I hope so too. And there's a whole new set of readers for you there.
Krissi Dallas: Yeah. And new authors. That's the exciting thing. Right? It would just be another avenue to try.
James Blatch: Have you planned your next one after Wish Upon a Streaming Star? Are you going to give yourself a break?
Krissi Dallas: I would love a break, but no-
James Blatch: You're not that person, are you?
Krissi Dallas: I got to keep the gravy train rolling.
James Blatch: You've got to keep the potatoes growing.
Krissi Dallas: That's right. Love my potatoes. I am planning the sequel for Wish Upon Streaming Star. And then I have some other ideas, we'll see what happens. But yeah, I'm just excited about the opportunities that have grown out of it. I'm excited about the new readers, because there's a poll even on my Kindle Vella that asks, "How did you find me?" And 85% of that poll found me either through ads or the leaderboard. There's a 15% that already followed me on social media or heard about me from somebody else. That tells you right there, it's a place to grow. You can definitely grow there.
James Blatch: Krissi, it's been brilliant. Thank you so much indeed for coming on. I'm so pleased to that Amazon picked up that article from you and put it out there because that's switched me on to all the work you're doing. So you've explained it really clearly, so like you say, it's theoretical for us here in England, but hopefully not too much longer.
Krissi Dallas: Yeah. Thank you so much, James, it was fun.
James Blatch: There we go. So just a reminder, we are in NaNoWriMo. Not too late, we're only day four, so you've got three days to catch up if you haven't started and you want to start. We're helping you along the way. Keep in touch with our Facebook group, selfpublishingformula.com. Sorry. It's facebook.com/groups/spfsecretgroup. If you're not in it already, just apply to be a member.
Mark Dawson: Or just search for SPF Community, is another way to do it as well, rather than remembering the link.
James Blatch: And we're going to have lots of lives in there. Hopefully by this stage you and I are already doing some live sprints and we'll have chats every day. We've got Jennie Nash, fantastic editor with brilliant advice to help you write. She's going to be very much a part of this as well. We've talked about Susie's webinar, we'll make sure that's available. So let's have an energised November. That's not alliterative, I know, but...
Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. So it should be, I think it will be a good one. So seeing lots of, as we record this, lots of anticipation of getting started with NaNo. So yeah, bring it on. You'll have to get me one of those Pomodoro timers, like the one you showed last episode. Yeah. Nice one, man. I like that.
James Blatch: I'll send you one. In fact, it's your birthday on Monday, isn't it? So I'll get you one for your birthday.
Mark Dawson: It is my birthday on Monday. Yeah.
James Blatch: There you go.
Mark Dawson: Happy a birthday to me.
James Blatch: Indeed. Well, don't get ahead of it. It's only the 28th of October. Happy Halloween. Thank you very much, indeed. I want a huge thank you to Krissi Dallas, who was a really good interviewee. Loved chatting to Krissi and I found it very illuminating, personally. Looking forward, Mr, Mrs. Amazon, if you're listening, at some point, maybe having Kindle Vella in the UK. Darren, paging you. Here we go. That's it for this week, we'll be back next week. Good luck with your writing and stay in touch with us in the community group. All that remains for me to say is, it's goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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