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What About Wattpad? 21 September 2015

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Happiness, Publishing Industry.
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Have you heard about Wattpad? For those who grew up with traditional publishing, it’s a bit of a different cup of tea.

When I first heard about it, I was… hmm… not happy? It was launched a year before Every Day Fiction was born, but it didn’t cross my personal radar until after we’d started running with the concept of novel serialization, and where we hoped to attract paying subscribers for our novelists, here was a site where anyone could just give serial installments away for free.

Smut, I thought. Fan fiction. People who couldn’t find publishers. (Bear in mind this was before indie publishing had gained status as a respectable choice for those willing to hire professionals and put in the hard work.) When I heard Margaret Atwood had embraced Wattpad, I felt betrayed. Support small presses and money for authors, not this… thing. But she, and Wattpad, were just ahead of the curve.

Since we’ve learned that readers don’t generally want to pay for serials, it appears the choice isn’t between Wattpad and paid subscription — it’s between Wattpad and serializing free on your own blog, or not doing it at all. And Wattpad offers a community of over 40 million people plus an established platform to handle new-chapter-up notifications, comments, votes, and reading lists.

The business of writing and publishing is in mad flux and probably will be for some time, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the primary burden of promotion and brand-building is falling on the author, regardless of whether one is following the traditional route, the indie route, or a hybrid of the two. Building a toolkit of ways to reach out to new and existing readers is essential.

These days, I’ve completely reversed my original opinion of Wattpad.

As a platform, a brand-building and networking tool, it has a lot to offer: here’s a blog post by indie author Katie Cross sharing her experience, complete with stats and graphs. And this article/podcast on The Creative Penn has an answer to the question of how Wattpad helps to sell books: “It’s about building a fan-base for your writing, as opposed to your tweets or blog posts.”

No cat pictures, no memes, no linkbait — just stories. Yes, there’s plenty of smut, and fan fiction, and doubtless some people who couldn’t find publishers. There are also established traditional-path authors, rising-star indies, a globe-spanning community, and every kind of writing you can imagine (not just fiction, either; I’ve found poetry and self-improvement advice). It’s hotter for some genres than others, and apparently has a demographic tilt toward readers who are female and under 35, but it’s been great for me so far.

I’m currently serializing a novelette on Wattpad under my pen name, and I’m absolutely thrilled with the experience. Words like empowering and addictive and fun come to mind. I specifically chose to do this with a project that I wanted to give away, to start developing a world I’ll write further in (and building a fanbase for that world).

I expect that more experienced authors will be divided on the merits of Wattpad, just as there tends to be a divide at a certain level over whether to continue submitting to token-paying markets once one can command a semi-pro rate. As always, my feeling is that it’s an individual author decision: you have to weigh the costs (lost income opportunity, sacrifice of prestige, time) against the benefits (brand extension, networking, enjoyment) and do what’s right for your own journey.

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