A little more than a year ago, I took a chance and posted one of my novels in its entirety on a site called Wattpad. It's a social reading site, meaning writers post their fiction for free for readers to binge on, bolstered by the force multiplier of social media.
Since then, I've racked up three-quarters of a million reads of my work, obtained a generous sponsorship from a major television studio, had my work plugged into Hollywood movie campaigns, received serious consideration for TV adaptation of one of my short stories from a well-known producer (fingers crossed) and much, much more. Wattpad even accepted me into its Stars program, a special incubator for writers' careers.
As I mentioned during my presentations at the 2016 Writers Digest Conference, it turns out Wattpad is proving out a publishing model that could well be the standard in years to come. Here's what all writers need to know about Wattpad.
Despite that success, my skepticism about Wattpad only recently faded away. To be frank, a site requiring work be posted for free turned me off. Why cut myself short?
Yes, You Can Get Paid in Exposure
Even if you're already familiar with Wattpad, you may not have heard of Wattpad Futures, announced in August 2016. This new feature on the site makes good on Wattpad's goal of becoming "the YouTube of books." Readers still read stories on Wattpad for free, but every now and then they are prompted to watch a sponsored video.
For writers, this means getting paid a majority of those ad dollars every time one of those videos is viewed. The more reads a story gets, the more video views roll in and the more the writer gets paid.
For readers, these ads certainly intrude on the reading experience. However, Wattpad readers aren't typical readers. They are voracious, loyal and 45-million strong. Whether they are also understanding of the link between writers getting paid and the content they enjoy for free is yet to be seen, although I'm optimistic.
Wattpad Futures is still rolling out, and isn't available for every writer on the site quite yet. But I fully expect it will be. That's worth keeping an eye on, because...
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Wattpad Futures Could Be as Disruptive to Digital Books as the Kindle was to Traditional Publishing
If you want to know where publishing, or any other market, is headed, look at the way its youngest consumers are interacting with its products. Their preferences will echo far into the future.
Eight-five percent of Wattpad's 45 million readers are between the ages of 13 and 30, and they read, read, read. Not only that, they tweet, tweet, tweet. They're easily capable of making or breaking a writer's career. Just Google Anna Tood.
On top of that, they expect the content they read to be free, and there's no reason to anticipate that to change. Look at the larger media market. This is the era of the Netflix model. What is that going to look like for publishing in 10 years? Or five? Or three? Do you think readers will be more or less social? More or less likely to binge on content they enjoy? More or less inclined to offer their attention spans as payment instead of dollars?
Add these factors together, and I see Wattpad Futures playing a disruptive role in the publishing world that could rival the seismic shift Kindle introduced. And as with any disruptive force in the digital world, the sooner you jump on, the better your chances of success in the new paradigm.
Wattpad is a Slow Burn
The future requires patience. Writers new to Wattpad shouldn't expect their lives to change overnight. It may take several months before the gravity of the reads on your stories pulls new opportunities into your orbit.
But if you play your cards right, you'll wind up with something more valuable to your writing career than a third hand and an IV drip of caffeine: the captive attention of thousands and thousands of readers who give a good damn about your work. What can you do with that? Well, what couldn't you do with that?
Wattpad Will Continue to Be One of the Best Platform Builders Out There
Even if I'm wrong about Wattpad Futures becoming a major publishing force, Wattpad is still an incredible tool for building a platform. Unlike Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and other social media, the people who follow you on Wattpad are actually readers.
That gives you ammunition when you're pitching publishers and agents. How much easier is it for someone to say "yes" when you can deliver a built-in readership?
Wattpad is a Home for the Homeless (Stories)
My Wattpad journey started because one of my thriller novels, Glass Eye: Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective, couldn't find traction anywhere else. Posting the entire novel on Wattpad was a last-ditch effort to make all that work worthwhile.
Glass Eye went on to pull in 214,000 reads, a ringing endorsement from The Girl on the Train movie and a fanatical readership that requested and demanded I turn it into a trilogy. The sequel, Black Eye, quickly yielded 80,000 more reads. I'm working on the third novel now, lest my readership turn this into a Misery type situation, and with any luck will attract an agent or publisher interested in leveraging this trilogy's built-in audience. Even if that doesn't happen, Wattpad Futures offers a way to make money without signing on a single dotted line.
All that from a novel that was, up until that point, a total dud. Huzzah.
Prove Me Wrong
The future of publishing may well be painted orange. Give Wattpad a shot and see what happens. At worst, you'll be out some time. At best, you'll have a head start on everyone else.