Monthly Archives: July 2014

How to Be A Star on Wattpad

Dmitri Ragano photo

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.

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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 detailed 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 and 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 your 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.”

Post Frequently

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.

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Internet Literary News, June 2014

Pablo Neruda photo

In June, poets were in the news with freshly discovered work from a master, a new US Poet Laureate, the loss of an influential voice, and insights into Anne Sexton’s Pulitzer Prize selection. All this, plus more from Hachette v. Amazon.

Martin Ott

Newruda

Do you sometimes wonder what the world would be like if one of your favorite writers published new work? Seix Barral, Pablo Neruda’s longtime publisher, announced that 20 Neruda poems have been discovered in his archives and will be published in late 2014 / early 2015.

Pulitzer Prize Poetry Politics

Interested in how Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize? In the Poetry Foundation blog, David Trinidad gives us insights into the world of Pulitzer Prize judging  by digging into the Chronicles of the Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry and revealing how judges’ arguments over books by Plath and Roethke provided the backdrop for Sexton’s selection.

New US Poet Laureate Will Do…?

I’ve always thought it was cool that our country had a post for a poet, but I’ve always wondered what it practically means for the art, craft, and popularity of what is, in actuality, a niche market filled with more writers per reader than any other genre. Best of luck to our new US Poet Laureate Charles Wright, who was quoted as saying upon selection: “I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do…but as soon as I find out, I’ll do it.”

Alan Grossman RIP

The poetry world was saddened by the loss of influential poet and scholar Alan Grossman. Winner of countless awards, Grossman was known for a serious style that bridged Romantic and Modernist traditions.

Amazon Looking to Bury the Hachette?

Yes, it’s all about money. As Amazon and one of the big publishing houses Hachette dig in for a fight over pricing and revenue, Evan Hughes at Slate provides insights into a lost opportunity by publishers to thwart the latest Amazon power grab. Chuck Wendig also provides an even handed and humorous look at these two “stompy  corporation” on his blog that I highly recommend.

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Writeliving Interview: Stephen Dobyns

Photo Stephen Dobyns

I was in graduate school when I picked up a copy of Velocities, a volume of new and selected poems by Stephen Dobyns. I remember being struck by two things that resonated (and still resonate with me): that it is possible to write narrative poetry with imagination and a humane voice, and the way writing without stanzas can help the reader focus on content over form. Our best authors always make us look at how and why we write. I hope you enjoy insights into the writing process of this important poet and novelist.

Martin Ott

Who has been a major influence on your writing?

I can’t pinpoint one person. When I started reading poetry late in high school, it was Stevens, William Carlos Williams and Eliot’s “Prufrock”. In graduate school, it was Alan Dugan, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath. But soon afterward (1967), I found my biggest influence from poems in translation–Neruda, Vallejo, Zbigniew Herbert, Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lorca, Alberti, Transtromer, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Hikmet, Pavese, Ritsos and many others. Later still I went back to sonnets: Shakespeare, Keats, Bill Knott and others. Besides liking the poets, I’d look for poets who would foil my attempts to anticipate what might come next, because at those places within the poem I would find what I wanted to learn. It was also important to me to find poets who were engaged in a conversation with the world and not simply with themselves. Also, the work of most European poets was informed by a sense of history, which I mostly found missing in U.S. poetry. Most recently I’ve found that surprise and sense of history in the Polish poet Tomasz Rozycki. I also read many contemporary U.S. poets, but we share a historical context, which may distort the poem for me, making me often see as strong what might be weak, and see as weak what might be strong.

Can you give us insight into your creative process?

I wait for metaphors which will help me approach non-discursively what is otherwise approached discursively. These metaphors may start with the self and then try to move out into the world, until at make my presence hardly a shadow. The form of the poem, the noise, the manner of its telling also combines into a non-discursive metaphor that compliments or heightens the substance of the poem’s telling. Any poet always has a series of concerns which he or she consciously or unconsciously wants to express, so the hunt for the right metaphor, the right telling, always seems to be going on just before the level of conscious thought. Most simply, I can often set this process in motion by reading other poems, especially image driven poems–Yannis Ritsos, for instance. I don’t necessarily take from these other poems, but my brain, in reading, becomes softened or opened to non-discursive thought.  So my waiting is an informed waiting, even if on most occasions nothing happens.

How has teaching impacted your writing?

At best, it has made me study subjects I want to learn more about.  If I don’t read a lot of sonnets and a lot about sonnets when preparing for a class on the sonnet, I’ll humiliate myself.  Terror has great pedogogical value. And I’ve been enriched by colleagues and students. But the academic atmosphere can be stultifying. Academics are often tidiers of information; poets–in their search for the right metaphor–can be disrupters of information. This is not a natural fit. There are many academics I’ve greatly admired and have been close to, but for the most part one is sleeping with the enemy. The institutions can be very comfortable and within them poets can become complacent. And deep in their hearts of hearts, etc., the academics have little respect for what you do.

As an author of a popular series of mystery novels, what seat at the table do you think genre fiction deserves in the larger discussion about literature?

A very small seat, maybe a stool. Most genre fiction offers a physical solution to an existential problem: the bad guy is shot. This trivializes the existential problem. Some genre writers, like John Le Carre, can push the boundaries of the genre and tart up the physical solution with brilliant writing and psychological/intellectual depth, but reader still wants the physical solution: the bad guy is terminally dealt with. In Crime and Punishment, Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished student, murders a pawnbroker for her money.  A detective, Porfiry, suspects Raskolnikov and gathers information against him. Perhaps Porfiry could kill Raskolnikov in a carriage chase.  Justice would triumph, but the existential problem would be forgotten.  We even might be somewhat satisfied. But Dostoevsky wants a novel about redemption, not punishment, and so the novel follows Raskolnikov to Siberia where he serves eight years of penal servitude. Here, with the help of Sonya, a former prostitute who becomes his wife, he at last discovers moral regeneration and is redeemed. Whether one likes it or not, Dostoevsky’s investigation of an existential problem is complete. It hasn’t been truncated two hundred pages earlier with a bullet to Raskolnikov’s brain; it moves past a purely physical solution. My explanation is simplistic, but because the best genre writing may explore an existential problem with great subtlety and the book may be written with great skill, those virtues at least earn the genre writer a small stool at the end of the table, almost in the hall.

What is the best advice you can give to a writer finding her/his voice?

Stop thinking about the question and just write. Your voice will evolve our of your subjectivity, which, after all, is unique.

How does being a poet and novelist influenced your work in the other genre?

The poems gain in narrative and the novels gain in image, but they are quite separate in my mind. In addition, the books of poems are quite different from one another, as are the novels, apart from the Saratoga series. I try to avoid self-parody.

Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?

Just being alive is adversity enough. I write to save my life.

What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?

I wouldn’t know where to begin.

About the Author:

Stephen Dobyns’ most recent book is a novel, The Burn Palace, published by Blue Rider/Penguin in February 2013. Palgrave released his second book of essays on poetry, Next Word, Better Word, in April, 2011. His most recent book of poems Winter’s Journey published in 2010 by Copper Canyon. His previous work of fiction is a book of short stories Eating Naked (Holt, 2000). His other work includes Best Words, Best Order (Palgrave, 2003), essays on poetry; and Velocities (Penguin, 1994), a volume of new and selected poems. He has also published eleven other books of poetry and twenty other novels.   Two of his novels and two of his short stories have been made into films. He has received a Guggenheim fellowship, three fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and numerous prizes for his poetry and fiction. Between 1995 and 2007, he wrote more than thirty feature stories for the San Diego Reader. Dobyns teaches in the MFA Program of Warren Wilson College, and has taught at Emerson College, Syracuse University, Boston University, University of Iowa and half a dozen other colleges and universities. He was born in New Jersey in 1941. He lives with in Westerly, RI.

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