Tune in Next Time…

To be continued…

Tune in next time…

Remember seeing those awful words on-screen at the end of a show?

Those words always brought me misery, because I wanted to know what happened next now. There was the uncertainty that I wouldn’t be able to find out the ending, as I might miss it.

Here’s the story of how I joined the ranks of authors torturing readers an episode at a time by writing the story, Extinction Isn’t for Everyone.

Throughout high school and college, I spend free time reading stories from fanfiction.net, which is a delightful (free) community of writers who reprise their favorite characters in entirely new lives (an “AU,” or alternate universe), inject themselves as new characters into stories (the “Mary Jane”), bring characters from one story into another (the “crossovers”) and more. It is a dazzling play place of asking, “What If?” So naturally, I read nearly everything out there related to stories like Phantom of the Opera, Harry Potter, Dragonriders of Pern, The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce, and other personal favorites.

Those stories were told episodically. Authors–everyday people like you and me!–posted their chapters one by one.

Fearful of engaging a story that an author would abandon and thus be left on an eternal cliffhanger, I filtered stories by whether they were Complete or In Progress, and I’d typically only read the completed ones.

Now, in my emerging career as a writer, I’m finding that episodic writing is terrific training grounds for me. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Releasing bite-sized episodes enables me to focus on one portion of the story at a time and not get overwhelmed.
  • Feedback from readers per episode helps me hone my understanding of what readers like. (And don’t like!)
  • Writing in episodes gives me good practice for scene-writing in a novel. Episodic structure requires me to practice ending each scene with a question or cliffhanger or something to “hook” the reader into reading the next one.
  • There are no barriers to entry so publishing is fast and up to me. No publisher or agent to wait on to approve the story. (Downside: No one else is reviewing the story pre-publication to tell me whether it needs improvement or not! Yes, I could ask someone to…but like most writers once I’ve written something, reviewed it myself, and I’m impatient to share it!)

For these reasons and more, I’m trying out Kindle Vella, Amazon’s new episodic storytelling platform. In a nutshell, I can release an episode immediately or set it to release at a later date. There’s no limit to how many episodes there can be. Episodes are encouraged to be a minimum of 600 words and a maximum of 5000 words. I can go back and edit episodes if *gasp* I discover errors (it’s happened more than I care to admit). Readers can “Like” a chapter and, if they spend money on tokens, they can “Fave” one story per week.

Screenshot of “Liking” a chapter.

There is a small payment which authors can earn if readers choose to spend tokens to unlock an episode at a time (hence the importance of ending each episode on a cliffy so they want to read the next one!), but it’s so small as to be really unimportant to me now (which is why I didn’t even list it as a benefit). Essentially it’s roughly 1 token for 100 words, and readers can buy 140 tokens for $1.99, and authors gain 50% of the royalties. So, “if a reader spends $1.99 to purchase 200 Tokens, then spends 50 of them on your 5000-word story, you receive $0.25. This comes out to $.0005 per 100 words.” Or often, even less. (SOURCE) So I harbor no illusions that this is a worthwhile source of profit. What is important is the practice and the motivating excitement of releasing the story into the wild!

I was surprised when Amazon sent me a bonus payment of $37.16 for the activity on the first few episodes! Whew, big money! Haha, I know it’ll likely be the most that I will make on this story. But what fun! Thanks, Amazon. That was pretty cool of you.

Email from Amazon. A nice surprise!

They’ve provided a dashboard and slowly begun to add functionality to it. Right now it looks like this:

Behind-the-scenes snapshot of the dashboard for “Extinction Isn’t Everything”

There are other episodic publishing platforms; some of the best-known are Radish, which started in 2015, and Wattpad, which started in 2006. These are far more established than Vella, which just began this summer of 2021, and offer better dashboards, tons of stories, more complex author payout structures, and long-running story options. But…from what I see, they tend to be saturated markets already, and the majority of stories run to R-rated content. Vella offers the opportunity to be one of the first authors on the platform just due to its novelty, and Amazon has the deep pockets and wide reach to promote Vella stories more broadly to readers. Though Amazon has tried other forms of serialized storytelling, which didn’t work out so well, there a few reasons Vella seems like it might stick around. So, I gave it a shot.

I wanted to give myself a break from the long and getting longer Christian fiction novel I’m writing. Currently I’m wading through the middle of the novel, and putting all the pieces together is giving me a headache. (The second act of novels is notorious for being a bit difficult compared with the first and third acts.) So, I wanted to reinvigorate myself by embarking on a departure from novel-writing and doing this completely unrelated monster fiction story.

And thus “Extinction Isn’t for Everyone” was born. Well, ok, it’s still in the middle of being born. Bad metaphor, haha. Let’s say it’s planted, put down roots, sprouted leaves, and the bud is beginning to blossom. I released Episodes 1, 2, and 3 in July (the first three episodes are free, so the pressure is on these to set up the story and hook the readers to want to read more!). With glee I sat at my in-laws’ kitchen table, waiting anxiously to see if I could search the Kindle app and see the story. Then suddenly, it was THERE! For the whole world to see! Just as I’d written it! The feeling of delight and heart-pounding terror that people would see it and know I’d written it was extreme. What if they wouldn’t like it? What if they judged me? What if there were errors in there I hadn’t caught? What if it was dumb? All of those questions stabbed and stung like poisoned arrows for the next few days. My sister-in-law Leslie helped me overcome my self-constructed house of horror by just asking, “Are you proud of it?” And yes. I am. So there it is, world!

With a mixture of relief and disappointment, the number of readers and likes didn’t really rise for the next few weeks. It illustrated to me that just because you make something and make it publicly available, people won’t necessarily find it. The “Field of Dreams” quote, “If you build it, they will come,” is not actually the case. I posted it on Facebook stories, and sure enough, the numbers rose. For someone with a graduate degree in Marketing, this shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Marketing is something that I know about and plan to invest in when I have a novel ready to promote, and I’m actively attending seminars on marketing through Goodreads, social media, BookBub, and more, plus investing in my Facebook account and this WordPress blog (and eventual newsletter) on occasion. But for now, my focus is on the writing moreso than audience growth.

I decided to continue writing the episodes, because well, it is a really fun story to write! My original reasons for writing it as practice and enjoyment for myself remain true, regardless of whether there’s a large volume of readers. (Though even a few are a major boost to my motivation!)

For a time I published an episode a week. With feverish joy I’d set up camp at a coffee shop, research mythical monsters and sketch out an episode, write it in fits, then review it when I could take a break from it to approach it with fresh eyes. Then I took a break for a few weeks as episodes 7 and 8 were especially critical in answering some of the question I set up. Now I’ve got the final episodes 9-12 sketched out, and I cannot WAIT to write them (which is a mix of plotting and pantsing, which is writer jargon for seat-of-your-pants discovering sentence by sentence) and call this story Finished.

It’s a small step. As usual I’m tuning in to Andy J. Pizza’s Creative Pep Talk podcast, and the latest episode (vastly simplified here, you should just listen to it!) encourages artists to not expect that everything you produce is Shakespeare. Whether it’s fine art or not, we’re making something new. And that is squarely where this lands for me: I’m making something new, it’s good and fun for me, and it’s energizing for now!

If you’ve read all this, thanks! I hope you’ll check out Extinction Isn’t for Everyone and let me know what you think! And, of course, tune in next time…

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