My friend BB pointed me towards a website called Wattpad at the beginning of this week. I’d never heard of it before but it’s been running for over a year and currently has over 40 billion stories on it.
Wattpad is a place to discover and share stories: a social platform that connects people through words. It is a community that spans borders, interests, languages. With Wattpad, anyone can read or write on any device: phone, tablet, or computer.
There are two unique things about Wattpad publishing. The first is that you publish a chapter at a time, rather than the whole story. You build up an audience through suspense, in effect, making them anticipate the day of the week that you are due to bring out the next instalment. That’s the ideal, anyway. The second is the level of interaction between reader and writer. The readers can live comments per chapter, email the writer directly with feedback, and even affect the events of the book as it’s written.
This is a very different relationship from the traditional one. The author comes off their pedestal or ivory tower and has to communicate in a dialogue – not a printed monologue – with their audience. We’ve seen something similar develop in other arenas, particularly off the back of fast-moving social media. Consumers want flexible responses and the feeling that they are involved with the creation. This sort of thing is what TV Tropes calls Ascended Fanon, and is especially noticeable in Season 3 of Sherlock, to use an on-screen example.
Anyway, the question I’ve been asking myself whilst looking at Wattpad this week is how it fits in with the road to publication for modern aspiring writers. I have for a long time believed that it’s best to aim for a traditional publishing deal – at least to start with – because there’s so much about the industry that I don’t know. I’m not a professional editor, a marketer or a cover designer. I don’t know how to promote my work most effectively or compete with the gajillions of other new manuscripts out there. Most importantly, I don’t know what I don’t know about publishing. Surely it’s far better to have experience of that structured approach before attempting to strike out into the world of self-publishing?
Ah, but what if you can go to a publishing house and say ‘I’ve already got X thousand confirmed readers’? You’re selling yourself to them as a low-risk prospect with an established fan-base. That’s got to be more attractive than the alternative, particularly in these days of publishing uncertainty.
The ‘chapter by chapter’ publishing model of Wattpad also enables you – if you’re so inclined, and good enough – to make a bit of money. You can publish the first handful of chapters for free and then charge a nominal fee (say, 5p?) for every chapter thereafter. It’s a gamble – you might piss off your readership by suckering them in, or you might lose them if your work just isn’t engaging enough – but the opportunity exists. 5p for 35 chapters is £1.75 per reader. Compare this to the 10% (ish) of the profits you’d get from a traditional e-publishing deal where the whole book might go for 99p. Interesting maths.
I haven’t made my mind up about it yet. It requires further playing with, I think. What I have done, though, is start to post some of my older work (i.e. not Spiritus or Corpus) for free on the site. If you feel like a read, I’d love the feedback! I’d also be very interested to hear what you think about Wattpad and its role in publishing.
EDIT: BB wishes it to be known that he isn’t a little French girl in a red floppy hat, and he should henceforth be known as ‘Benisaurus Rex’. So now you know.