I’ve known for a long time that the best way to build an audience is to be part of a community. Community, after all, is where we get the support we need to improve our craft, build word of mouth, and get picked up when we fall down. Since college I’ve done quite a few in-person writer’s groups, from large organized groups to a small cadre of like-minded friends from work (oh how I miss you, Scribe n’ Imbibe). What I haven’t done much of is find an online community.
Many writer’s forums are intimidating to dive into, or seem to be infrequently used. While listening to The Bestseller Experiment podcast, an author mentioned using Wattpad to build her reader-base into a career. Well, that’s exactly what I want to do. So I put on my detective cap and dove into Wattpad for an investigation. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:
The straight dirt.
Let’s get this out of the way: Wattpad is a legitimate service. They don’t retain any rights, there are no fees (unless you’re paying for Premium or something), and you have complete control over what goes in your story, what happens with it, etc. We can argue the wisdom of putting your work up for free if you’re trying to get traditionally published, but that likely doesn’t matter for most of us. Wattpad also offers plenty of opportunity for writers. There are contests, an annual award called the Wattys, and top authors have been given publishing deals and even sold movie / TV rights.
As far as I can tell, there is very little risk to publishing on Wattpad. So, the question then becomes: without much risk, is there much gain?
It’s a lot.
Wattpad is huge. There are literally millions of books, tons of features across different payment levels, and millions of users who, collectively, spend 23 billion minutes on the site per month (according to Wattpad). This doesn’t include the forums, which is impossible to manage without carefully curating the settings to your interests. Luckily, Wattpad has lots of explainers and features to help newbies do just that. Still, it can end up being a lot of time and effort to find yourself drowning in content. And if you’re a writer, it’s akin to throwing a drop of water into the ocean hoping that a fish will find it.
Wattpad skews young.
Within a few days of bopping around the forums, searching for an online writer’s group for critiques, I ended up in a Discord chat with another aspiring author. She is a moderator for the chat and was orienting me with the group, and I made an offhand comment about my day job. After a lot of back and forth, I came to find that she was finishing her first semester of college, which meant she was maybe 18 or 19 years old.
Friends, I’m nearly old enough to be her father. (That’s only a slight exaggeration.)
In another interaction on a forum, I found myself giving writing advice to a 15 year old. I had to dig to find older writers on the site, and it’s unclear how many are active in the community itself. The vast majority of Wattpad’s users seem to be teenagers or young adults (according to this article from a successful Wattpad author, eighty-five percent are between 13 and 30 years old), so if you want to publish there keep that in mind. Your James Joyce-ian tome with alternating chapters from a woman on her deathbed and the ghost of her ancestor probably won’t appeal. Which brings me to…
Readers prefer very specific genres.
Wattpad added separate subgenres for “Vampire” and “Werewolf” fiction. That might be a hint as to the types of stories that are most popular on the platform. The most popular stories on the site seem to be absolutely dominated by romance. Specifically, billionaire romance, which is a subgenre of romance stories where one of the main characters is a billionaire. There is also a large fan fiction audience.
In short, unless you’re writing in one of those genres your story will have a tough time gaining readers. Not impossible, and there are some more literary writers that have wracked up tens of thousand of hundreds of thousand of views, but difficult.
I’m only at the beginning of my Wattpad experiment. I’ve found the forums to be friendly and, in the case of my deciding on a cover to use for my posted story, helpful. My (admittedly limited) presence on the forums doesn’t seem to be translating to reads, but I’ve only posted two chapters within the past few days. I’m going to give it a bit of time, continue posting chapters and browsing the forums, and see if that translates to readers.
This investigation is ongoing.
Read my novella, A NIGHT OF CHAOS on Wattpad. I’ll be publishing it chapter-by-chapter for the next month or so. A brief description:
On the night of his bachelor party, disaffected Anh Nguyen is ensnared by wild child Amy Hess with the promise of a capital-A “Adventure.” Anh ditches his groomsmen to wander Buffalo, NY, with Amy and quickly finds that the adventure she promised is really a city-wide attempt at disrupting aspects of society, from the city’s community centers to the highest echelons of its power–all driven by a mysterious religion.
The nature of Amy’s mission forces Anh to question everything he knows about society, religion, and the trajectory of his life. As Amy introduces chaos everywhere she goes, Anh struggles to reconcile who he is with who he wants to be.