Guest Blog Post by Dmitri Ragano
Last spring, I discovered Wattpad by accident. I was having lunch with my boss who told me his 13-year-old daughter had fallen in love with a new online fiction site where she could submit stories and get feedback from users around the world.
Needless to say I was intrigued. I knew it was only a matter of time before creative writing and social media began to intersect in a big way. Now it was finally happening.
A couple weeks later, I submitted the first few chapters of my self-published novel The Fugitive Grandma on the site. Pretty quickly and to my surprise, Maria Cootauco, Wattpad’s Engagement Manager, stumbled across my story and offered to put in on their Featured Story list. This was an incredible, completely unexpected chance to highlight my work on a site with an audience of 30 million readers, a content destination that receives roughly 1,000 fiction uploads every day.
Wattpad’s agreement around Featured Story placement is pretty reasonable: they offer to give your work marquee placement for 6 months. The most important exposure comes when Featured Stories rotate on the landing page for site’s the tablet and smart phone apps, where 85 percent of the reading takes place. In exchange, you consent to make the story available for free during the period of the promotion.
As soon “The Fugitive Grandma” began its Featured Story run in July 2013, interest spiked and I received a deluge of fan comments and followers from a variety of locales including Kenya, Iowa and Brunei. To date, “The Fugitive Grandma” has been read by hundreds of thousands of people on Wattpad. It has also received over 7,000 votes and more than 600 fan comments, both key metrics in the world of online content where engagement is everything.
My popularity on Wattpad includes no small amount of luck and serendipity. But I can offer a few suggestions for any author interested in finding an audience on the world’s largest social reading site.
Study the Wattpad Community
Wattpad’s audience is diverse and skews young. More than 75 percent of site visitors are outside the United States, showing the growing demand for English-language fiction in developing nations like India, The Philippines and Turkey.
Though I don’t have detail stats, I can safely say most of Wattpad’s users are under 30-years-old. Many are under 20. Generations Y and Z are discovering their love for fiction at a time when software and smart phones are the dominant platforms for all media. Book stores (along with physical books) are a fading memory, if they ever were acquainted in the first place. This is an incredible opportunity to reach the global audience, fiction’s future, a readership without pre-conceived notions who can challenge you to experiment and think outside the box.
Will Your Story Connect with Them?
Consider whether your fiction is going to connect with Millennials their younger cohorts born around the turn of the 21st century. And don’t have any delusions. This is a site full of user-generated fiction, mostly from adolescents. Yes, there are a lot of vampires, zombies and ill-conceived teen romances. No, Wattpad is not a paragon of literary excellence and it’s not going to be mistaken for The Paris Review anytime soon.
But from my experience, your work doesn’t have to be shallow, formulaic “YA” to win hearts and minds. On the contrary, young readers are as hungry as anyone for innovative stories with serious themes and compelling characters, which is one of the reasons YA has been such a dynamic niche in an otherwise flat market, carrying authors like John Greene and Suzanne Collins toward critical acclaim and cross-over acceptance.
If you’re writing fiction aimed at the over-25 crowd, that’s fine too. Just be aware older readers haven’t migrated en masse to Wattpad. I suspect they will continue to grow in number, just as they followed their kids to Facebook, Twitter and What’s App. I see an increasing number of fan comments for women over 60 who empathize with Stella Valentine, the shotgun-toting “ fugitive grandma” who is one of the main characters of my novel.
Write Your Story in Bite Size Chunks
As I mentioned before, 85 percent of Wattpad’s stories are read on smart phones and tablets. Cognitive researchers have documented that people read differently on electronic screens and mobile devices. The user interface and the context of these gadgets are better suited for narratives that can be easily consumed in small doses with quick payoffs and cliffhanger follow-ons. If you’re book is composed of larger chapters of five to ten thousand or more words, you probably need to break it down into smaller segments.
“Two thousands words is roughly 10 minutes of reading,” says Wattpad CEO Allen Lau. “The makes the story more digestible, something you can do when standing in line.”
Publish serial chapters in a recurring pattern, typically once or twice a week with a shout-out to followers. Online readers are accustomed to a steady, continuous stream of content through blogs, feeds and apps. Fiction is no different. A serial strategy for sparking interest, building momentum and accumulating fans has been very effective for some of Wattpad’s most successful breakout authors. Anna Todd’s novel After was released over the course of a year through hundreds of episodes, each no more than a few thousand words. By the end of the series, she’d attracted millions of Wattpad readers and landed a major book and movie deal.
Respond to Fans
This may sound like common sense but it can’t be emphasized enough. Reciprocity is at the heart of social networks. And Wattpad is foremost a community.
Therefore, make an effort within the best of your ability to respond to anyone who takes the time to sample your work. You will need to find the right balance for you in terms of frequency and who gets a response. I have over 7,000 followers and there’s no way I can make the time to reach out and thank everyone one of them individually. But I have a system of following up every two weeks to reply to any readers who have left comments, feedback or praised my work. With a demanding day job and busy family life this is the best I can do.
Promote Purchases of Your Book, But Don’t Expect a Big Sales Impact
When you post a book on Wattpad you retain full rights and have plenty of options to promote your titles by cross-linking on Amazon and other retail channels.
My experience is that it doesn’t have much impact at all on sales via Amazon and other outlets. Many Wattpad readers are too young to purchase online or live in countries where it is difficult to obtain credit cards. Besides, it was the specific promise of free fiction that attracted most of them in the first place.
A handful of first-time authors have used Wattpad as a platform to land deals with the Big 5 publishers, but this typically goes hand in hand with a lot of traditional methods of seeking attention from the publishing world.
We all write for different reasons. For me it was important to share my work and see if it resonated with readers I never could’ve reached on my own. My fiction was experimental, combining themes and genres. It was unconventional enough that I felt I’d have to show evidence of reader interest before anyone in the publishing world would take me seriously.
If you are focused on the traditional goals of a professional author, such as sales or attracting the attention of agents and publisher, Wattpad is probably not going to be the single thing that makes your career. But it is a great tool to test out new story ideas, prove they have an audience, and find fans in exotic far-flung corners of the world.
About the Author:
Dmitri Ragano is an author and journalist. His latest novel, The Fugitive Grandma, is available on Wattpad and Amazon.