This week, prompted by Amazon’s announcement of their new serial platform, Kindle Vella, J Thorn and Crys Cain talk about evaluating new opportunities in the industry: whether they’re worth it, how to test them, and whether it’s right for you.
Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost, J Thorn.
J: Hey, Crys. How you doing?
Crys: I’m doing good. I’m snug as–well, better than a bug, because a bug would be completely drowned out by the massive amounts of rainforest rain I am getting right now. But I love it because it calms everything down to the point where it’s not too hot and I just focus.
J: How long does that last?
Crys: Oh, there is no telling. It could last a full month. It could just be a day or two. And especially because of climate change I think this year is either one of the NiÃ±o’s, or NiÃ±a? NiÃ±o? Or it’s adjacent to one, which means that weather systems are all kinds of whack, regardless of all the other changes. So it is unknown.
J: I guess you just make the best of it while you can, right?.
Crys: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. How about you?
J: Doing well. I finished off two big projects this week, so that felt really good. Things that I’ve been working on for months and a gig that I had that wrapped up. Yeah, I feel pretty good this week.
Crys: Excellent. Before we get to our question, which I will have worded very clearly and concisely in our podcast titles and our listeners will already know. As we’re talking, Kindle Vella just got announced a couple of days ago, a day or two ago. I don’t even know. Not long ago.
And what this is, Amazon, it looks, is trying to move into the serialized, bite-size fiction realm. Radish Fiction is probably the largest platform that does this in English, but it’s really popular in Asia with China, Japan, and South Korea. So this is pretty exciting because it is a new realm for us.
And the question I have for us, for J, is how do you engage with new opportunities like this, not necessarily one that where, a friend says, “Hey, I have this idea.” We’ve talked about when you pick up those kinds of opportunities, but one that’s big, time limited. Like you, if you are an early adopter, you could see massive gains or you could lose everything.
How do you engage with this?
J: Generally speaking, I leap before I look. In these kinds of situations. Because I figure if it’s a new opportunity, there’s probably not a big risk yet. And it’s easy to just throw something at the wall and see if it sticks.
I think the reason I have that approach is because there could be a potential big payoff.
In the entrepreneurial world, they call it “first mover advantage.” So if you get to a market first and you have the first product or the first app, or whatever for service, you tend to get an advantage. And over time it accumulates. That advantage grows.
The tricky part is trying to figure out what is the difference between a new opportunity versus, say, just a shiny object.
How do you make the decision between which of those two it is?
Crys: Before I say how I make the decision, I would like to show you the four pages I have of notes for an entire, at least five to eight arcs seasons arcs of a serial. So that’s how my brain deals with that.
I get a lot of energy out of starting things. I have always done that, it’s very likely that it’s an ADHD trait. And I’m really good at starting things. And I have taught myself to finish things because that’s a necessary skill when you don’t have anyone hired to finish things for you.
There are people who make their entire careers out of starting projects and then handing them off. We just don’t get to do that when we work for ourselves. We’ve got to start and finish.
After our conversation about shiny objects, And in, the two weeks or so since we’ve recorded that, I realized that one of the problems I’ve been having is that I haven’t allowed myself to engage with any shiny objects at all. And shiny objects give me energy.
I need balance between something new, where I am learning a lot very quickly. And the slow and steady stuff that I need to keep my business going.
In this particular instance, I think that I am going to definitely jump. A lot of times I have to say no to jumping because I don’t have either mental capacity, time, capacity, or physical energy capacity.
I happen to have capacity right now. Or think I do. Particularly because of the kind of energy that it’s generated in me. I like, I can never, I have never, before in my life plotted out a story from start to finish in anything longer than a short story in this short of time.
I basically did this in one evening and granted, I have lots of tools from lots of years of learning on how to write stories. So all of those are at my disposal, but nothing has engaged me in the last four years in the way that this has. This particular opportunity. And so combining my energy with the knowledge that there might be that first–
What was it called? First to… it’s not first to see an advantage, you called it something else.
First mover advantage.
Combining those two kind of makes it ano-duh for me, with the caveat that it does depend on what the legal terms end up being for this extremely particular circumstance that we’re talking about.
J: Yeah. In the case of Vella, does the fact that Amazon dropped it into the KDP dashboard, have any significance for you?
Crys: Not in my decision at all. It certainly makes it a lower technical barrier for me, so that I’m not learning peripheral tools. What I’m learning instead is very craft-based: how to write a long running story, how to write– I know that I’ll be focusing on cliffhangers and and tying multiple threads through long stories.
I’ve been writing romances for four years. And each book is its own one and done. And you have maybe a plot thread that goes through the entire series to tie them all together. But you don’t have a ton of plot threads that go from book to book, and this will be a very different kind of storytelling. And that’s what excites me. And that’s more what drives my decision than anything else.
J: Yeah. Yeah. It’s always a challenge because there’s an opportunity cost involved with anything. So if you choose to do one thing, that means you’re choosing not to do something else. And in this case, because it is an opportunity that’s really, craft-based it’s not a marketing play it’s about, creating more content. It means that you’re not going to be using that time to create content for something else.
So I wonder if another variable in this decision-making process is your existing bandwidth and the amount of resources you have to allocate to this new, exciting thing versus the things you know, you have to get done.
Crys: Absolutely. And another factor for my decision, personally, is how I’ve struggled for, almost two years now to get enough energy away from the romance to write under my name, to write the science fiction and fantasy, and making a switch is hard for me.
I’m really bad at doing two similar energy things at the same time. I really only have enough focus for one most of the time. But this energy boost, I am harnessing it and utilizing it to push me forward in my long-term goals. Even if the particular Vella platform doesn’t end up panning out in any way, shape or form I’m using my interest in this format, this platform to push me forward in my other goals.
So I think a lot of my decision-making is never just one thing. Is this going to get me more money? That’s never my only decision factor. It’s: what are all my goals? And I want to do the things that cover more of those goals than other choices might.
J: Yeah. Yeah. I think too, for me, I have a resource that not everyone has, I’m sure you do. And I’m sure some of the people in our family who have been doing this for longer, probably have this advantage too. But over time you accumulate a lot of stuff.
You write articles and posts and short stories and flash fiction. And some of it is licensed. And some of it, the rights come back to us. Some of it doesn’t publish or anthologies fall through, and over time you start accumulating all this stuff.
I always go back to that, especially when I have a new opportunity. Because I look at the opportunity and I say, okay, If I want to get in this fast, or I don’t want to spend the resources to build something from scratch, what do I have that I could either reuse or tweak somewhat that might work?
And not to get too in the weeds on the Vella thing, but Rachael and I did a project on the Writer’s Well, and we wrote three chapters of this project and we were going to see where it went and then we never did anything with it.
And I was like, maybe I could take that, because we wrote it as a serialized story. And that’s good because now it, I don’t have to spend that time and I can still take advantage of that.
But that’s something I think that it occurs over time. And the more you write, the more you produce, the more of that kind of stuff you have sitting around on the shelf.
Crys: Yeah, I actually do have a story that I started about two years ago in another romance genre that I got about 6,000 words and I intended for it to be a serial, because I wanted to engage my brain on a different format, and then energy-wise had to set it aside. So I actually did upload that to Vella just as my experiment to like, okay, what is the platform allow right now?
And for listeners, if you’re not familiar with it, this will probably release in July is the whispers in the air. Amazon hasn’t said a specifically, so don’t worry if you hear this and this particular thing excites you, you’ve got plenty of time to check it out.
Crys: But yeah. The, yeah, the decision making process. I used to have to convince myself to not jump at everything. Now my default often tends to be no, unless I can prove to myself that it hits multiple goals for me.
Because, as we talked about in the shiny object episode, just that negotiation between all the things you want to do and the things that make sense to do.
J: Yeah. And all opportunities aren’t treated equally as well. There are a lot of, I shouldn’t say a lot. I will get things that come through my email or things shared in the Slack group or in the community about, “Oh, this is, this place is open to submissions” or “there’s this thing happening.”
You have to look and see, who’s behind it or who’s running it. And does that matter?
For now, for me, the Vella thing is exciting because whether you love Amazon or not, or you hate them, like you, you recognize that there they are, this global publishing power. And if they feel it’s worth experimenting with this and opening it up, there’s probably something there. They have all the data.
When I see something like Amazon saying, we’re rolling this out, like I’m definitely paying attention to that, not, and I know it’s going to be exclusive and that’s going to bother me and it’s going to bother a lot of people and it’s going to be a trade off.
So regardless of how they run the program, the fact that we know how Amazon works, and how they prioritize things, I’m paying more attention to that than I am like a standalone website that pops up with some new features for writers.
Crys: I can actually share a story of an opportunity that I pushed myself at that failed.
And that is Findaway Voices I’d been publishing my individual audio books through them, by going non-exclusive with Amazon, I would communicate with my narrators on Amazon and then move everything over to Findaway. But when I had my box set, I was like, I want to experiment possibly with selling direct.
And to do that, at the time, I thought you had to go, and I didn’t research well enough. I thought if you went exclusive with Findaway on a title and I verified that a box that counted as its own title, and didn’t matter that the others were non-exclusive. If you went an exclusive with Findaway, I thought you automatically got access to sell direct with their Authors Direct platform.
1: that turned out not to be true, and 2: a fairly short time later, maybe a year later, Book Funnel came out with their direct sales platform, which I adore Book Funnel. I’m already all in with them. And they allow me to sell from my website versus Authors Direct being you have to have intro, make people get on a new platform.
And then Findaway did open Authors Direct and had weird terms for it. And I lost a few hundred in sales by going direct with Findaway rather than having Findaway and going directly through Audible.
So yeah, you can absolutely lose. One, if you don’t do your research, always bad idea. But you can always lose some cost, some benefit because you can’t predict what’s going to happen.
I would be really interested in our listeners letting us know what their decision process is with this kind of new, early adopter opportunity. And these don’t come along that often. So I think that’s what gives us a little bit more FOMO and weight when they do come along.
J: That’s true. Especially things getting added to KDP dashboard. So that doesn’t happen very often at all.
Crys: Also the fear that strikes my heart every time Amazon announces something new and then September rolls around because that’s the month of KDP glitches and people losing money. So deep breaths through the summer, people. New things coming. Focus on some fun.
J: Give it a shot. Why not?
Crys: Thanks for joining us this week. Comment below! If you would like to be part of the conversations in real time, you can join us at The Author Success Mastermind.