Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wattpad: A Very Bright Idea

A new way authors can take control of their own work is through Wattpad, a platform that brings writers and readers together to create and edit stories.♦

Branching out into that big world of writing can be tricky: where does one start on this epic journey? Query agents and begin the waiting game? Start a blog and hope for the best? Shoot for the stars and self-publish that novel you’ve been laboring on for the last three years? While traditional publishing is still the elusive gold standard many writers hope for—the big advance, the large readership, the good reviews—the reality of big publishing is often a long and fraught process from manuscript submission to final book, not to mention a struggle to get readers’ attention and an unfortunate disconnect between author and reader that means one may never really know who his or her audience is, if authors are lucky enough to develop a readership at all.
       But all of this has changed in the digital age; where an author once seemed to be at the mercy of publishing forces beyond her control, today an author can take full charge of the experience of writing, editing, and connecting with readers. One of the best ways authors are taking charge of their own work and its distribution is through Wattpad.com, a website designed for readers and writers to connect and trade off in their roles. Today, the site has over forty million stories to read and twenty-five million ‘wattpadders,’ an affectionate term for their online community. They believe in constantly expanding their database and the types of stories there - you could write a story about coasters bringing about the end of humanity and it could be their next big thing! Each year, the site hosts two contests: the Atty Awards judged by a panel of poets and Margaret Atwood herself, as well as the Wattys where writers can submit non-fiction and fiction shorts to be carefully reviewed by authors from around the world. There are endless possibilities with Wattpad at your side!
       The site offers a writing platform geared toward making the process as easy and accessible for writers as possible—it automatically saves your work to avoid losing chapters, has the option of a timer where you can set certain chapters to be released at different times throughout the day (or a given week), and more. It is not rare for a writer to post all of their book on the site, but those with the most followers publish a chapter or two a week to grab the reader’s attention and keep them interested in their role as a writer. Some provide the whole work on the site while others may give most of their collection or a little bit and provide an option to buy their work on sites like Amazon.
       When asked to describe Wattpad, writer Janelle Ruiz explains that it is a big part of her creative experience: “It is a platform for me to share my stories and hone my craft. It is not every day that you get to have instant feedback on your writing, and you get that very easily on Wattpad. Social reading offers writers the tools to improve on their craft that traditional publishing or reading couldn't.”
       Ruiz’s role as a Filipino Ambassador for Wattpad focuses on this community aspect of the site, from searching for Filipino stories to promote and share to relaying user concerns to Wattpad Headquarters to organizing get-togethers and events in the Philippines. On top of maintaining this role, Ruiz—also known as ‘greenwriter’ on the site—is herself a successful Wattpad author; her story “The Bachelor” was selected by Pop Fiction, an imprint of Summit Books dedicated to publishing Filipino Wattpad writers, for a print run, while the online version has received over 13 million reads (and counting). When asked how she feels about that number, Ruiz says, “It is overwhelming, but I don’t let it get to my head. What matters to me the most are the comments and votes, because they give me a glimpse of what my readers are thinking, and it can be a very powerful tool I use to improve my works.”
       Fellow Wattpad author Eric Edstrom, who is currently in the ‘Featured’ section for one of his many stories, agrees that the readers really make the experience, and he admits that many of his readers respond to characters and scenes in ways he’d “never expect.” Wattpad offers statistics on its author dashboard which show where readers became disinterested in or even abandoned a story, allowing authors the ability to edit the content and work on problem spots to keep readers coming back (and to know what kinds of issues to watch out for in later chapters). Still, even though Wattpad offers such invaluable information and a platform for refining stories and even full books for publication, Edstrom—a self-published author with books available on Amazon and Goodreads—admits that, although he loves the phases of publishing, “It has been a bit of a challenge getting over my own unconscious biases against self-publishing.” Meaning that if you’ve been having doubts about this method of releasing your work, and whether self-publishing is the best avenue, then you are definitely not alone.
       There are other websites that offer a similar approach to sharing creative content without going through the sometimes-frustrating traditional routes associated with the publishing and media industries, like HitRecord.org. The site, started by none other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt, offers several creative outlets in addition to reading and writing, such as video design, music, and art. It also offers the option to add onto someone’s work and expand the idea, so long as the original artist agrees. This is a great tool for those wanting to do more than just write: you not only collaborate on a project, but you reimagine the original idea into something much bigger than you ever intended. These types of sites offer an outlet for your work, confidence boosts, and helpful, immediate critiques all for the simple price of your quality time.
       Edstrom believes Wattpad is a good place to start for writers and recommends beginning by going back to your roots as a reader. The community aspect of the website plays a big part in the grand scheme of it all, from Beta readers to Critique Committees, all within the reach of your fingers to assist you whenever and however. “Wattpad is a rapidly growing platform,” Edstrom says, “and its reach is incredible. They don't have a business plan—and neither do I—but I believe that in the long run, having tens of thousands of readers who know my name and love my writing cannot be a bad thing.”
  • About the Author
    Whitney Claypool is a Junior Creative Writing and English Literature double major at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In her spare time she enjoys singing, star-gazing, and attempting to master all dishes she sees on the food network (a work in progress).

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