For the unpublished author truly serious about publishing their first novel (the category I fall into at the time of writing this), is posting some or all of your yet-to-be-published work on Wattpad a good idea? And what are the downsides?
In this post, I’ll explaine how to best from Wattpad and how to get set up so that you drive early attention and quickly gain a following. In Part 2, I cover the pros and cons from the point of view of the unpublished writer who is serious about publishing their work.
Wattpad is an online community that brings readers and writers together, enabling anyone to post anything they’ve written, in whatever state, for others to read. From short stories and poetry, to partially complete or full novels. It’s completely free for both writers and readers. Readers can follow authors, read their works online or downloaded to their mobile device, and interact with the author, by voting for and posting feedback on individual chapters.
Writers posting works on Wattpad range from schoolchildren posting their first short story to already successfully trade-published authors (such as Wattpad’s poster child, Margaret Attwood) and everything inbetween. Many writers do so just for the love of it, gaining feedback and moral support from a voraciously hungry and highly interactive readership. Many have no intention of seriously publishing their works. But, like me, many do. Some post the opening chapters of a novel, using it as a teaser to purchase the rest of it elsewhere. And some publish a whole novel on Wattpad as a teaser to get people hooked on the next one in the series, again available for purchase elsewhere. And some just post their work to be read, with no plans beyond Wattpad.
Obviously, there are pros and cons. I’ll cover that in Part 2 of this post. Before I get to that, let me explain how I approached and used Wattpad to preview my debut novel Invasion of Privacy, while it was still a work in progress.
First of all, I registered and set up my profile. Then I familiarised myself with the site and began following people, especially those with works in similar genres to my own, or readers of other writers in similar genres to my own. Like Twitter and Facebook, many people whom you follow will follow you back. It’s important to have a following to begin marketing your work to.
Then I loaded up my work, one chapter at a time. I ended up adding new chapters once a week, sometimes twice. I broke up longer chapters in my manuscript into multiple chapters on Wattpad. It seems that Wattpad readers have short attention spans and typically prefer chapters of no more than 3 or 4 pages. And, because of the way Wattpad counts reads and votes by chapter, smaller chapters increase both metrics, which influence potential readers.
At the beginning, it’s hard to get going. I tried reading, voting and commenting on other writers’ works in order to earn the same favour in return. Many times this worked, but many more times it didn’t. And it is incredibly time consuming. I’ve seen an awful lot of vote-for-vote or comment-for-comment bartering on the site. I didn’t succumb to this but came fairly close. Slowly, I began to generate a small readership and soon began to get noticed.
For the first few months, I found myself tracking rankings every day. When you load up your work you can assign it to two categories. In my case, I chose ‘Mystery/Thriller’ and ‘Action’. Wattpad has a secret algorithm that takes into account the number of reads, votes and comments you receive in a week to work out your ranking. It is also affected by how often you post new chapters. In the end, I found myself posting more frequently than I’d planned in order to positively impact the rankings. The rankings are point in time and so the only way to remain high in the rankings is to gain more readers, votes and comments and post new chapters. A potentially vicious and time-consuming circle. Your ranking only appears on your profile if you make it into the top 1000 in either of your work’s two categories. The upside of a high rank is that your work will appear in the What’s Hot list for the category, in the order of its rank. For the record, the highest I achieved was #31 in ‘Mystery/Thriller’ and #14 in ‘Action’. Being ‘hot’ is one of the most effective ways for new readers to discover you as they’ll often browse the What’s Hot list for inspiration.
I tried to market my novel within Wattpad to gain new readers. There is a community section within the site where members have discussions with each other. The clubs are broken down by the various Wattpad categories. In each, there is a Share your Story area for writers to advertise their works. These get cleaned out each week and so I ended up trying to get in early each Monday so that my advert showed up on the category’s first page. I was frequently too late! Another way to drive new readers is to become active in the discussions, but of course this is also a time consuming activity.
As readers voted or left comments I made it my top priority to send them a message of thanks. I still do. Almost every comment I received was helpful in some way. Some were simply good for the ego but many were useful and constructive. I’ve made lots of changes to my manuscript as a result. Only a few were negative and even then I appreciated them, as they helped me fix underlying issues.
I never intended to post the whole of my novel on Wattpad and abided by this principle despite many flattering requests to post more. Even so, I ended up putting up much more than I originally planned – the first 25,000 words. This was because my ego was caught up in the whole rankings system and I loved the feedback and novelty of interacting directly with readers of my unpublished novel.
After a while, I was contacted by the people behind Wattpad, who kindly invited me to become one of their featured writers. I was seriously flattered and considered it for a long time. Featured writers typically receive hundreds of thousands of reads and votes and automatically generate a massive following. (To date, I have amassed a profile of 14,000 reads, 377 votes and 82 followers, which is not bad for a non-featured writer.) The only proviso was that I had to publish the complete novel on their site to be accepted as a featured writer. Given my novel was unfinished the decision was pretty easy. However, there is another downside which I share in Part 2 of this post, where I explore The Pros and Cons of Wattpad.
What were your experiences? Was it worth it?
If, like me, you’re serious about publication, do you think it’s helped or hindered you?