What’s Old is New Again – Explorations in the Serial Format

by Janis Patterson

If you’ve been reading my various posts and blogs over time, you are probably aware that I bore very easily. That’s why I write in so many different genres and so many variations of my name. However, sometimes even variety become stale and boring, so lately other occupations had been sending their seductive lures my way.

Then came Vella. (Sounds sort of like the title of a rom-com, doesn’t it?)

For those of you who don’t know, Vella is a new platform by Amazon Kindle that is sold serial-format, i.e., chapter by chapter. (Shades of Charles Dickens, not that I am comparing myself to Charles Dickens…) Sort of like the old Saturday morning movie serials we old people remember.

Being very bored one afternoon I thought I’d give it a try… and stepped into a new world. Before going to bed – happily exhausted, I remember – I had written three episodes. Within just a short time I had finished all thirty-six episodes of what I called GHOSTS OF BELLE FLEUR and had them loaded on the Vella platform.

I had already started another story, too, a crime-and-chase fem-jep tale called THE SWABIAN AFFAIR, set in Stuttgart during the time of the Christmas market. At just nineteen episodes it’s roughly half the length of GHOSTS. Both are now available on Kindle Vella.

Quite honestly, this serial format is so much fun I started yet another story, this one set in South Carolina called THE HOUSE WITH THE RED DOOR and have fourteen episodes finished. The first couple of episodes should go live next week. (One neat thing is that the first three episodes of every Vella story are always free!)

So far all my stories have been written by my Janis Susan May persona, but I’m planning to do a murder story under my mystery name of Janis Patterson. This, of course, will require more forethought, but it will be an interesting process.

As I come to the end of each episode I have to think, “What can I do to these poor people now?” Although there does have to be a cohesive story arc from the beginning to the end, I find there is so much more latitude in this unabashedly ‘hook-ish’ serial format. I can pull all kinds of circumstances from my little bag of tricks. Usually I decide on something that is either so intriguing the reader can’t wait to get to the next installment, or something so off-the-wall and unexpected that they’re startled and can’t wait to get to the next installment.

I know that writing and reading tastes are cyclical (just look at the rebirth of the serial format!) and that what is fresh and new and fun now will eventually become tomorrow’s tired and old hat drag, but I’m going to enjoy it while I’m here. The best thing is that so far I have not been desperate enough to have a T-Rex rise from the lake and eat all the characters, as happened with a regular book not too long ago! But it’s a nice twist to have up my sleeve if needed…

Serial novels… wonder what will come back next?

9 thoughts on “What’s Old is New Again – Explorations in the Serial Format

  1. I also love the idea of serial novels. I had one in the works when Vella launched and I thought about pubiishing there, but I never did. I heard bad things about the pay and format. Sounds like you’ve found a great niche for you! Congrats!


  2. I’m writing two Vella’s currently – one a Fantasy (writing as Kyeli Sky) and one a clean PNR under my romance pen name. I’m loving the platform and especially loving publishing as I go, and I will def be writing more once I’ve finished with these two.
    I was wondering what your sweet spot is for episode length? My fantasy comes in at around 2K words per episode, and my romance comes in at around 2.5K per. I’m still trying to figure out what metrics Amazon uses to rank the stories (to get mine on the front page one day hopefully) and it occurred to me earlier today that the thumbs-ups might be more beneficial if I wrote shorter episodes. I was reading another Vella that I’m totally hooked on, and she’s got 49 episodes published (meaning 49 thumbs-ups from me) BUT – they’re all around 600 or 700 words each. So my 19 episodes of my romance Vella have already outstripped her in word count, but I can’t hope to out-pace her in thumbs-ups, reader for reader.
    Any thoughts?


    1. I’m a big believer in an episode being just as long as it needs to be to tell what needs to be told. As there is ‘world building’ in the beginning – and the first three chapters are free! – I usually run 2000-2500 in the first three. After that it depends on the story. I like it when the episodes run around 1000, but again – what needs to be told in that episode dictates the length. In RED DOOR, which I’m working on now, each seems to be about 1500-1800. The stories should dictate the length.

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      1. Thanks! I guess it’s silly to worry about the thumbs-ups anyway, LoL. I’ve had people read through my stories in their entirety, in a single day, and not leave a single thumbs-up. So maybe they’re not weighted as heavily as I suspect anyway.


  3. I had been hearing about Vella but hadn’t taken the time to check it out. I know a writer who does something like this but only for his fans. They get a “serial” story in their newsletter every month.


  4. Thanks for this, Susan! I’m thinking of using Vella for my newest book/series so every time I hear good things about the program, I get excited all over again.

    Good luck and God’s blessings with your stories


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