Wattpad works because it makes it easy for readers to fall in love with your words.
I should not be writing this. When I joined Wattpad in 2015, I was skeptical. No, wait; that’s not doing it justice. It was more than that. Try “suspicious.” Post my stories for free? Why? What kind of scam is this?
I’d written what was some of my best work, or so I assumed, and put it up for sale using the usual self-publishing methods. Few readers cared. Even fewer picked up copies. Self-publishing, this panacea for jaded writers turned off by the typical grind, didn’t work. The small presses I signed with weren’t much better. The big, traditional publishers weren’t answering the door. To be blunt, I was stuck, feeling hopeless and more than a little frustrated with myself, my writing, and the publishing game.
So I had every right to be cynical back in 2015. Soon after my meltdown, I read an article about a writing conference featuring a website out of Toronto called “Wattpad.” The article detailed how writers post their works for free on Wattpad and then benefit from the readerships they build. Not “free*,” not “free,” and not even “free for a limited time.” Just free. Free-free. As in, forever free, until the sun turns into a red giant and swallows the Earth or I delete the story from Wattpad, whichever comes first.
Were I not so thoroughly finished with the “normal” rules of the writing game, I would’ve given in to my skepticism. But at that point in time, listening to the digital crickets chirp—or maybe laugh—at the frozen response to my fiction, I had absolutely nothing to lose. I shelved my skepticism for the time being, posted a couple of works, and sat back to listen to the echo of my writer buds: “This is against the rules. You’re not supposed to post your work for free.” There were, of course, exceptions but none reserved for this “What-pad.”
Like most rules about writing, this one was to be tossed into a meat grinder and scraped into a dog bowl. Posting those stories to Wattpad turned out to be the best decision I ever made. The reason is the same one that explains why Wattpad works. It’s a simple reason, really, and brilliant. But like so many brilliant things, the apparent simplicity disguises the genius beneath. Wattpad works because it makes it easy for readers to fall in love with your words.
Note the most popular digital properties and how they keep their users engaged. I won’t list them here, but I’m sure their names come quickly to mind. Whatever it is that they do, they work because they make it easy for their users to [fill in the blank]. This is the epoch of digital convenience. If it isn’t quick and easy, it won’t exist for long because either a competitor will come up with a better way of doing things or users will lose interest. There are simply too many alternatives.
I only belabor this point about ease and simplicity because it runs counter to the self-loathing and masochism of writers in general. If it isn’t hard, if the writer isn’t suffering, it must not be correct or worth doing, right? Though sometimes this is true, often it’s all in writers’ heads, along with everything else. But something must be doubly wrong if that simple, easy thing involves giving away content for free, right?
Recalling my skepticism from earlier on, the answer to that question was a resounding “Absolutely yes, something is wrong!” However, that was before that sixteen-word phrase became abundantly clear to me. There is, in fact, nothing wrong with giving content away for free. It’s been done before, and it’s being done right now, albeit in a different way. Wattpad doesn’t work without free content.
Let’s not confuse “free” with what it isn’t, though. “Free” reflects price, not value. The difference is that “price” is what a person pays and “value” is what a person gets, as Warren Buffett might say. That’s something that the Wattpad experience understands better than any other player in this social-reading experiment, and it’s another reason why Wattpad works.
Simply put, there is value in a reader paying attention to a story or a writer. It might not be measurable in strict monetary terms, but there is definitely a transaction occurring. A writer puts out work and receives two or two hundred or two million people’s attention in return. A reader devotes two minutes or twenty minutes or two hours of attention in exchange for entertainment. That this is wrapped up in a medium like Wattpad is innovative, but it’s nothing new. Broadcast media built an entire industry on this model, and radio and TV are still “free” to this day. Whether through ads, branded content, or up sells, the value is monetized, but it’s not for the sake of price.
What does this mean to writers on Wattpad? How can that value be exchanged for something that helps a career? That’s what this guide intends to dissect. By the time you’re finished with it, you’ll be in a much better spot to understand this burgeoning publishing model and how it complements, not competes with, the rest of the publishing and entertainment industry. The short version is, once again, those sixteen words: Wattpad works because it makes it easy for readers to fall in love with your words.
The Comprehensive Guide to Building and Sustaining a Successful Career
Wattpad is the destination for a whole new paradigm in 21st century publishing. This online storytelling community is where sixty-five million monthly users (and counting) can read or post entire novels, short stories, fanfiction, poems, and more. In return for posting this content for free on the Wattpad website and app, writers can build a platform of passionate readers, better their chances at a contract with a publisher or agent, earn money through branded campaigns, and engage with their audiences in innovative ways.
To help you take full advantage of these opportunities, Wattpad staff, Stars, and Ambassadors created this guide to help you launch and sustain a successful writing career through the platform. Get a copy here.