Kindle Vella Top Faved Author Maggie Evans on Serial Fiction and Setting Expectations
Kindle Vella's Top Faved author discusses serial fiction and setting reader expectations.
Maggie Evans is the author of Covert Hearts, a YA slow-burn Reverse Harem story about a girl disguising herself as a boy in an all-boys boarding school. Samantha Hart isn’t the only one with secrets; some of the boys are recruits for the FBI!
Covert Heart is currently the #1 “Top Faved” story on all of Kindle Vella, with 98 episodes and over 76,000 likes.
Greetings Maggie! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Congratulations on hitting the #1 spot on the Vella leaderboard! How does that feel? Has the serial’s growing popularity changed your approach to writing it in any way?
Hi, thanks for having me! It feels SO surreal having my story hit #1. I honestly cannot wrap my head around it. I wish I could show my Vella to my 13-year-old self, because she would lose her freaking MIND! (Kind of like how I still do now, ha.)
My writing approach hasn't changed, aside from feeling more pressure. The whole Covert Hearts series is already plotted, and I'm just updating weekly as I write it. It's a weird experience having readers waiting for the next update, but I love the hype and how invested my readers are in Covert Hearts!
Had you published anything prior to the launch of Kindle Vella, or did your publishing career coincide with the launch of Amazon’s serial fiction platform? What made you decide to start with serialized fiction?
I started writing Harry Potter fanfiction in middle school, which led to my love of serials and posting on Fictionpress and Wattpad for fun. When Kindle Vella was announced, I just had to jump on it! That was the turning point to make writing more of a career.
Not many words, I’m afraid! Ugh. I'm slower than most of my writing friends, but I aim for around 5,000 words a week and sometimes I actually get that many.
What advice would you give to someone considering publishing serialized fiction? Are there any mistakes you’ve made along the way you’d want someone else to be aware of, so they don’t do the same thing?
Be dependable and consistent. Communicate!! One mistake (of many) I've made is under-communicating announcements. I tend to limit my social media posts and updates because I don't want to annoy my readers, but there have also been times where I post an important announcement only once and readers miss it. :(
But also, life happens. Authors get sick. Family emergencies happen. Burn out. If something happens, tell your readers and make a plan to move forward!
For a lot of authors, it can feel hard to gain traction on a serial platform if you didn’t already have an established audience. What have you been doing to grow your fan base and keep readers interested?
It’s so hard. I'm a reader at heart, like most writers, so anything I do from the author side is based on what I like to see as a reader. I read long series with characters that are the heart of the story, so my goal is to write long series with investable characters.
For growing my reader base, my reader group on Facebook is a place where readers can come to keep up-to-date and talk about all things Covert Hearts.
In the author’s notes of the early episodes, you do a lot of work educating readers on how Vella works, as well as setting expectations for readers. For example, describing the pace of the romance as “glacial.” What was your thought process when deciding what to put in your initial author’s notes? How important is it to set audience expectations early on in a serial? Do you think that process differs from conventional novel releases?
Setting reader expectations early is important to me, because I don't want readers getting invested and spending money on the story then later feeling "tricked" when there isn't spice. Covert Hearts is a reverse harem romance, meaning the main character gets a Happily Ever After with multiple love interests, and I've had readers assume that means there will be mature scenes. I also like to be upfront about what to expect from the very beginning, because my writing is slow-paced and slice-of-life, which isn't for everyone. But then the readers who love that style also know what they're getting early on! :)
I do think the expectation process is different between standalone novels and serials. With a standalone book, readers are getting the full story at once, they know it's completed, and they know how long it is & its exact cost. With an ongoing serial, readers are coming back for each update and making the choice every episode on whether to continue or not. How long will it be? Will it be abandoned? Will the reader lose interest? There's risk, but I love the tradeoff of my readers being a part of my weekly process. They're involved and invested in Sammy's story as it happens, vs waiting a year for me to write and release the book.
As a girl in disguise in an all-boys school, Sam will have plenty of challenges maintaining her cover. How do you approach plotting / planning for a concept like that? There are so many ways things could go wrong and she’d blow her cover. Within the first 10 episodes, she’s dealing with a roommate, lunchroom awkwardness, and bathroom encounters. How do you come up with scenarios to put Sam in, and keep it fresh across 90+ episodes?
Coming up with scenarios is the least of my problems! I live for that part. There were so many more I wanted to do in Covert Hearts, but I just couldn't fit them all in with the timeline. The plan is to write bonus scenes for the ones I'm really sad about not making it in.
On your site, you indicate you use your own mortifying experiences for inspiration. Any examples you feel comfortable sharing with us?
Of course! So, in The Duet Dilemma, Emma trips in her college's quad and face plants--showing the surrounding student body her underwear. Yep, totally happened to me, but it was in the cafeteria and right next to a fraternity's very occupied table. Turns out I slipped in some orange Gatorade, and I'm still not convinced they didn't pour it there themselves as a trap… #memories
Any other information you’d like to share with us?
Thanks so much for having me, Nate and Laterpress! Just a shout-out to my awesome readers, my weirdo writing friends, and to 13-year-old Maggie (who would've laughed her butt off if someone told her she'd actually get to be an author one day and do an interview like this). 🥰