Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Wattpad boasts that it’s the web’s largest community of writers and readers, and whether this is true or not it’s certainly proven itself big enough to be worth most authors’ time.
I’ve written before about the numerous success stories – authors like Emily Benet, Liliane Carmine and Estelle Maskame whose millions of readers nabbed them publishing deals – as well as how you can turn success on the famously free site into paying work, but it’s also important to appreciate Wattpad for its own merits.
The truth is that even natural writers need to work at their craft, and while there are a variety of online writing courses that teach how it’s done, sometimes the only way to really learn is to do it for an audience. Wattpad shines in that regard, and writers looking to improve will find it’s just the beginning of what the site has to offer.
Let’s take a look at six skills that Wattpad can teach budding authors, and how going the extra mile can bring you success that will be useful down the road.
#1 – It teaches you to research your market
The first thing any author should know about Wattpad is that not all genres are equal. Reliant on technological know-how and social media acumen, Wattpad is hugely popular among a young demographic. That means that genres such as fantasy, romance, horror and Young Adult writing are incredibly popular, although perhaps ‘popular’ isn’t the right word.
The genres above are so beloved by Wattpad writers that they cease to be useful terms, both when searching for something to read and in advertising your own work. Authors who want to get their work read will have to look far harder at what their work offers that’s unique to the genre, and what their audience is looking for.
The great thing is that Wattpad’s community are more than happy to tell you. Discussions rage night and day on what genres and sub-genres are missing, what readers want to get their hands on, and what trends are sweeping the mini-marketplace.
Figuring out what will ‘sell’ on Wattpad is great training, helping authors develop the ability to study what will sell in a marketplace and create work that fills that niche. It’s a skill vital to professional success, and on Wattpad all the readers are in one place, and generally enthusiastic to share their opinions, so there’s no better way of getting comfortable with doing your research and applying the results.
That’s not to say that this kind of information is only useful for assessing what will ‘sell’; it also allows you the opportunity to practise pitching your work.
#2 – It teaches you to pitch your work
I mentioned before that ‘genre’ is not enough to convince Wattpad readers to try your work. The fact is that it’s also not enough to entice writers elsewhere, or to attract an agent or publisher. Most authors struggle to describe their work when asked outright, but it’s a vital skill when pitching your work to a potential buyer.
What else do you need? Well subgenre is becoming more and more important, especially for genres which are already popular. ‘Sci-fi’, for example, doesn’t really tell the reader anything about what to expect, whereas ‘coming of age, sci-fi dystopia fiction’ appeals to a specific audience.
The real marketplace works through a combination of key words and phrases, targeting of the intended audience, clear plot description and references to comparable works. And, what do you know, that’s how Wattpad works as well.
Stories on Wattpad need to be pitched in their description, genre markers and key words, and in direct conversation with potential readers.
When dealing with descriptors attached to the book itself, you’ll be building the exact skills that lead to success in a digital marketplace. Here the number one attractor for your work is going to be whether or not it appears when someone searches for a good read. With Wattpad you can develop this skill not just through applying it, but by experimenting. Try different combinations, adjust to the responses you get, and you can get forensic insight into what works. Wattpad is free, and you can always make changes, so there’s no risk of hurting your work. There’s just a perfect place to experiment with researching your market, and applying that research, all with potential readers who you can directly consult for feedback and insights.
When discussing or advertising your work – pitching to individuals and groups – you’ll hone the skills you’ll need to win over an agent or publisher. This is many writers’ nightmare, but it’s not so bad when you can talk with relative anonymity to people who are already interested in your subject or genre. Again you can experiment, seeing what works, what doesn’t, and how you can improve.
And that’s not the only way the Wattpad community can help…
#3 – It teaches you to network
Many writers struggle with the thought of networking, let alone the act itself. Some can’t reconcile the creativity of writing with the business-orientated act of selling, while others just don’t know where to start.
The truth is that networking is vital to an author’s success, and has the power to catapult them into the spotlight at a moment’s notice. It’s an important skill, but you could spend a whole day reading articles on how to do it without really feeling like you’d learnt anything.
On the other hand, there’s Wattpad. Here networking is a must, not just to sell your work but to use the site effectively. All Wattpad authors are in the same boat, and the vast majority of them are also Wattpad readers. Leaving a pleasant comment or review on someone’s work won’t go unnoticed, and you can freely and easily enter into conversations with anyone on the site (even joining long-existing groups on topics you enjoy).
It’s a low-stress introduction to networking simply because it doesn’t feel like networking. It does, however, work like networking, with other authors drawing their readers’ attention to your work, and clueing you in on opportunities you might otherwise have missed.
Again, the relative anonymity of the web and the enclosed nature of the site make everything a little easier, and a few months on Wattpad will make you far more comfortable networking as well as making you more aware of its benefits.
Of course those months will have another lesson all of their own…
#4 – It teaches you how to maintain interest
Wattpad lends itself to serialization, and users are wise to adapt to this style of presentation. That might mean writing a deliberately serialized work or just releasing a longer story chapter by chapter.
While this may not sound like much, it invites a near-instant and deeply important change in mind-set. For many long-fiction authors chapters don’t mean much – they break up the story, but they’re mostly there because the books they’ve read use chapters.
On Wattpad each chapter has to pull its weight, not just enthralling the reader but making sure they remember the story for the next instalment. Making every part of a story worth reading is a challenge, but it’s a skill that Wattpad instils in its writers.
Again, the low-risk nature of Wattpad allows you to experiment with your work, and collect real-time data on when you lose or gain readers. Not only that, but you can outright ask them what lost their attention, and figure out what changes are necessary to get it back. All that, and there are definitely rewards for keeping readers happy…
#5 – It teaches you to be comfortable competing
Competition may not seem like an important skill for authors, and at first glance it isn’t. Authors don’t want to steal readers from other authors, but they do need their work to stand out from the crowd. Writing isn’t about accolades, but knowing how to compete when necessary can make or break careers.
There are a few ways to compete on Wattpad. The first is simply to pursue readers, whose time and interest are copious but finite. The second is to arrange a friendly competition with another author, such as two versions of a shared idea with a certain number of reads or positive comments as the goal. The most straightforward type of competition on Wattpad is the Wattys, an annual set of awards designed to highlight excellence on the site.
We honor all kinds of writers with Wattys: from a Beginners Luck award for people who have just started writing on Wattpad, to a People’s Choice award for writers with the most viral stories. This year’s awards highlight the love the community has shown for the most popular genres on Wattpad, while also recognizing the strength of writers in the international community. We’ll even be presenting surprise awards.
These awards are a great way to ready yourself for the trials and successes of being an author. Whether it’s a pitch to publishers or a nasty review, every author will try and fail at some point. Being afraid to do so guarantees you won’t reach your potential, but with Wattpad you can submit your work without anyone having to know you’re competing.
Sure you can drum up success, but equally you can pursue acknowledgement without risking any sense of embarrassment.
Not only do these types of competition help you to grow as an author, but they also offer a constant incentive to pitch your work, network with future voters and, most importantly, to get writing.
#6 – It teaches you to write
It’s a favourite saying in the industry that ‘writers write’. The ability to produce writing and to keep producing writing is, in the end, the only definition of a writer. It’s also an absolute must if you dream of publication.
How does one get published? How do you do it? You do it. You write. You finish what you write…. On the whole, anything that gets you writing and keeps you writing is a good thing. Anything that stops you writing is a bad thing.
The other thing I’d suggest is Use The Web. Use it for anything you can – writers groups, feedback, networking, finding out how things work, getting published. It exists: take advantage of it. Believe in yourself. Keep writing.
Many writers suffer from wanderlust, beginning one project only to move on to the next. Engaging with a real, vocal audience can help you focus on one project at a time, with sincere complaints coming in when you don’t keep to a schedule. If that’s not for you then you can warn your readers upfront that chapters won’t be regular, but it’s a great way to motivate yourself and see a project through.
It’s also helpful that Wattpad depends so strongly on a community, and includes the constant encouragement of possible awards. It’s one thing forgetting about something only you’ve read, but when there’s a community invested in your work – and in you – then it won’t be quite so tempting to quit.
Putting it all together
Wattpad is a great place for authors to improve their creative skill and professional acumen, but that’s because it’s a place full of real, enthusiastic readers and writers who have gathered to appreciate the written word.
It’s a low-risk environment but still one that offers a genuine sense of success. Authors who find a place there won’t just be building their skillset, but engaging with a readership whose enjoyment and opinions they sincerely value.
Do you have any Wattpad worries? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them.