Note: This article previously appeared in a slightly different form in Write, The Magazine of The Writers Union of Canada
Confession: Sometimes I have trouble writing the next page of my new novel. Not because I am short of ideas, but because I have a lot of other urgent matters that demand my attention. I have often envied the writers whose editors or literary agents I imagine standing at their sides like midwives, encouraging them throughout their labour, reminding them of the rewards of manuscript delivery, telling them how much the world wants to see their next baby, and finally urging them to “push.”
When I heard about Wattpad, an Internet platform for readers and writers that attracts 27 million unique visitors per month, and 200,000 uploads of writing per day, I thought it might be part of the answer to my problem. And it has been. But it is also other things.
What It Is
Wattpad is a social storytelling platform where writers can register to post all kinds of work – poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction – and where readers can read that work: all at no charge.
Most writers post short segments of their works in progress (1,000 to 2,000 words at a time, sometimes much less, sometimes much more), adding to it at regular (or irregular) intervals. Some writers are posting whole manuscripts in serial format that they have previously completed. Others (like me) are posting early drafts of longer works one section at a time. Still others slap up writing fragments like ill-mixed paint with hairs in it, and leave it there to dry — perhaps intending to come back and edit later, perhaps not.
Once the piece is up there, the effort to attract readers begins. You can contribute to this process (but probably only once) by emailing all of your friends and inviting them to check your story out, and by posting your Wattpad link to other social media sites (here’s mine). Of course, you also want to encourage visitors to your page whom you don’t already know, and you can do this indirectly by reading and commenting on the writing of others on the site, getting involved in the discussion forums, and entering the informal competitions Wattpad puts on from time to time. The goal is to get people to “follow” you so that they will be notified whenever you post a new installment or an update.
Every time someone takes a look at a segment you have posted, your “read” counter goes up. Readers can also vote for or post a comment on your work. The more reads and votes you get, the greater are your chances of being noticed by even more readers.
Some people use Wattpad as an end in itself – they are not interested in publishing elsewhere. Others are creating works ultimately intended for self- or traditional publication. Many writers have several projects on the go. Some ask for input and guidance from their readers; others just write.
Who’s on Wattpad?
The two Canadians who developed Wattpad (Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen) intended it for readers as much as writers, and Ashleigh Gardner, Head of Content: Publishing, says that “Ninety percent of Wattpad visitors are there to read and comment, not to post stories.”
She also says that regular visitors include publishers and agents who are looking for new talent.
“Some writers use Wattpad to promote their books to publishers,” she says. “Perhaps their novel was rejected when they submitted it directly, but now they can demonstrate that there is significant interest in their work.”
Gardner also tells me that the Wattpad app for smartphones and tablets is downloaded about 400,000 times a day. “Eighty-five percent of our visitors now reach us from mobile devices,” she says.
The advantage of Wattpad’s mobility component is clear: your work is accessible to readers no matter where they are, and your followers will receive “push” notifications whenever you post something new.
Copyright and Other Concerns
Gardner says that the site features a very sophisticated data-checking system that not only protects what is posted, but also works to prevent piracy. “All work on Wattpad of course remains copyright to the author,” she says. “Further, it cannot be copied and pasted, and readers can’t download it.”
A few people have told me they’re reluctant to sign on to Wattpad because they fear it will lead to spam, but so far Wattpad has attracted no more spam to me than have Twitter, Linked In, Goodreads or Facebook (which is, in my case, none).
Wattpad has had a reputation for being a place where teens post stories for one another, but if that were true at one point (and wouldn’t it be great to know that there are millions of teens who are interested in writing and reading?), the demographics are changing. “The majority of visitors are now between the ages of 18 and 30,” Gardner says, “and the subject matter of the content is changing as the average age goes up.”
Making Wattpad Work
The important part of making Wattpad work for you is to remember that it is a social media platform. If you don’t engage with it (read others’ works, respond to comments, participate in forum discussions), you will miss out on the very important reciprocation factor, and your work will languish. Further, thanks to algorithms, the more readers you attract, the more readers who will find you on their own.
Networking is not as painful as you might think. While it’s true that the Wattpad platform sports lots of dabblers and thousands of very bad writers, it doesn’t take long to sort the wheat from the chaff. And there are also some very good writers there, clearly intending to do as I am — get the work written and noticed by intelligent and discerning readers.
I’ve found a few manuscripts on Wattpad whose next installments I am genuinely eager to read and I’ve also found a few very careful and helpful readers who will probably help me get through Seeds and Secrets far more quickly than I would ever have done on my own. There is a definite motivation to keep going when readers start asking when you’re going to post the next installment. (As of Jan 1, 2015, Seeds and Secrets had received 1,500 “reads” and 121 votes. It stands about 450 from the top in the General Fiction category.)
In addition to pieces of my novel, I’ve put up a couple of works of short nonfiction on Wattpad – one previously published, one not yet – and received encouraging – and immediate – responses on them as well. I am also posting blog posts from my 2011 solo trip to India – Watch. Listen. Learn – which seems to be very popular. In fact, the response is making me seriously consider publishing it as a book, which I had not considered doing before.)
For me, Wattpad is like a humungous writing group where no one has to make coffee or serve beer, get dressed before offering feedback on other writers’ works, or pay any attention to comments from readers who don’t get what they’re doing.
Wattpad is not for everyone, of course, but if it sounds like a tool you could use to stimulate your writing and find new readers for your existing work, check it out. I’ll be happy to read the writing that you post – as long as you read mine. :)
Update: You can check out Wattpad’s 2014 Year in Review here. According to Nazia Khan, Wattpad’s Director of Communications, the company has noted some interesting trends this year:
- People are writing novels on their phones
- Episodic/serial reading is back (Dickens would be so pleased)
- Everyone is a fan of something as evidenced by the growing number of fanfiction stories
- Teens are reading. Yes, really.
I recently got challenged on a Linked-In group forum to suggest some ideas for selling novels. I set down some ideas that popped into my head off the top of my head (which is where I keep ideas that I don’t have room to store inside my head) and I thought I would share them here as well. So this is mainly a cut-and-paste, with embellishments. I have lots of other ideas too, and so I’ll keep posting them as I have time to check them out and get them written down.
The first idea was one that a fellow writer named Thomas Knight (The Time Weaver) came up with on a FaceBook writers’ forum the other day: make bookmarks with your book cover on it and a bit of blurb-type info, and leave them here and there in public. On the Linked-In forum, I suggested leaving them in libraries, seniors’ centres, recreation areas, coffee shops – places where real readers are likely to congregate – and just leave one or two here and there: not a stack of them.
Another writer on the Linked-In forum said that the bookmark idea was from the 1990s. “It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.” I beg to differ (especially since Thomas is a newer, younger writer than I, and he is writing fantasy, and he is selling books. And his book cover just won a design award). The difference between then and now with bookmarks (or postcards) is that people who were intrigued by your bookmark ten years ago had to take the bookmark home, keep track of it, and have it on them when they got to a bookstore to buy the book. Now if they are intrigued, they input the title into their mobile phone and if they’re still intrigued, they press “purchase.” The impulse buyer has never been so available to writers. I buy books on impulse all the time. Especially ebooks.
Other ideas I proposed included:
- offering to do a guest post on someone else’s blog (I don’t mean another book-writer’s blog: break out of that circle) – one that relates to the subject matter of your book.
- having a blog of your own that actually GIVES something to the reader instead of just promoting yourself (like this article tries to do)
- getting your library to stock your book just because you are a neighbour and a patron, and then host an author event for you (or a group of you)
There are other suggestions here from Rodney Walther on one of my Militant Writer blog posts: https://maryww.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/how-to-sell-your-published-book/
Also, you can go on Google and type in “How to Sell Your Book.” You’ll get dozens of FREE articles with great ideas in them. Here is a very good one that I am using myself:
In the world of algorithms on amazon, etc., promoting your own book also means writing another one, and then another one, as more books attract more readers, and more readers attract more readers. If you have an out-of-print, traditionally published book, as I did, get it back on the market.
To paraphrase T. Harv Eker, what sells is dreams. You have to think about those to whom you’re selling your book, instead of thinking of yourself. What does your book offer them?
More later… stay tuned.
(I have written quite a long blog post called “In Praise of Revision” and posted it on my Militant Writer site. You can check out the whole post here http://tinyurl.com/yeahd3h. Below are the first few paragraphs….)
When I was a new writer, I read a lot about how other writers wrote, and I became deluded into thinking that I could calculate how long it would take me to complete a writing project.
My reasoning went like this: if I wrote 500 words per day, I would be able to complete a short story in about ten days. If I upped the total to 1,000 words per day, I could finish a novel in 60 to 100 days, depending on the length of the novel. Those word goals seemed fairly modest to me, even a bit cushy: hadn’t I just been reading about writers who set themselves to write 5,000 words a day—and did it?
I got out my calculator and started pressing buttons. I reasoned that if I took a weekend off from time to time, and a week or two for vacation every year, I could still complete about a hundred novels and several collections of short stories by the time my 80th birthday rolled around. All I needed was the will power and fortitude to actually get the work done—and I was sure I had those in abundance. (I always feel that way before I start a project.)
It was then that I first faced what have come to think of as the “Four Fails” of trying to write the last draft first.
The first of these Fails occurred when I started my next novel. (It was my third, the first that would be published. My first and second novels had been abandoned part-way through, perhaps because they had failed to write themselves fast enough.)
I set out on the first day to write my 1,000 words, my schedule in hand and my determination firm. But I found I could not think of which 1,000 words to put down first—or, in fact, which one word to put down first. I told myself it was natural to feel this hesitation: with the schedule I’d set myself, a lot relied on the first word. The rest of the story had to ride effortlessly and smoothly on its back.
Keep a file in which you note the dates of your characters’ births and any particularly relevant events in their lives, such as their marriages, or the deaths of family members. A file or chart of names and dates helps you orient yourself consistently, so that you don’t inadvertently refer to one event in 1987 as having taken place when the narrator was five, and another in the same year as having taken place when he was seven.
Also keep track of the dates in the current time frame of your story. If it is spring one week, even with climate change it is unlikely to be mid-winter the next. If your character’s sister breaks her leg at Thanksgiving, the healing process will probably extend into any Christmas scenes you may want to depict.
Especially with supporting characters, authors can lose track of time and place, and errors can be overlooked by editors as well. Sharp readers will be distracted from the story by such mistakes, and after they do it takes time to get their concentration back again.