Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Known as ‘the YouTube of writing’, Wattpad is the incredibly popular online service which allows authors to freely share their work with a dedicated user-base. We’ve covered how Wattpad works before, but as it continues to grow in popularity we know that you want to know even more about this intriguing service.
In this article I’ll be exploring how Wattpad users can turn success on the free-content site into the kind of popularity that pays. I’ll begin by discussing some of the ways you can encourage Wattpad fans to migrate to places that help you as an author, then move onto a theoretical model I believe digital authors could and should adopt to help each other succeed. Before that, however, it’s worth remembering that Wattpad is useful in its own right.
The amazing Estelle Maskame
Wattpad is free, and the company have made repeated statements that they intend to stay that way – ‘it will remain a free app forever’, says CEO Allen Lau. That means that for the foreseeable future, authors aren’t going to be able to make money from their activities on the site. While Wattpad have experimented with crowd-funded publishing it was never an easy fit, and is unlikely to ever become a reliable fixture, if only due to the existence of crowd-funding giants like Kickstarter and Patreon.
That means that the only reward Wattpad can offer its authors (other than the enjoyment of having your work read, and some free beta reading) is the ability to establish an audience. It may not sound like much, but it’s something many authors struggle with and sometimes it’s even enough to get you noticed by publishers.
That was the case for Estelle Maskame, a young author whose Did I Mention I Love You? series garnered 4,000,000 readers on the site and brought her to the attention of Black and White Publishing. Maskame’s story is an outlier – Wattpad users shouldn’t expect the imminent apparition of their own book deal – but it does show that the site’s users are a large, vocal, influential audience.
While Maskame was lucky (and talented) enough to see an immediate benefit from this audience, other authors will find that even a large Wattpad readership is only the first step to success. Having fans is great for the ego, but unless you’re monetizing their attention, then that’s all it is.
Wider social media
There is a single, frank answer to how you can turn Wattpad fans into paying readers: lead them to where the money is. Social media is a must for authors, and some of it is more useful than the rest.
Wattpad is popular, but it’s a site geared around free content. Getting readers to engage with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Tumblr changes the relationship. These spaces are sharing sites, where attempts to make money from your work will be better received, and popularity is self-propagating. Similarly, if you can get readers to sign up for an email list then you create a permanent fiscal relationship – you can let them know when you have something new out, but also steer them towards the best deals.
This may sound cynical, but it’s a sad truth that artists need to get something back from their work. It’s what allows them the time and resources to create more. What’s more, no-one is suggesting you trick Wattpad fans into engaging with you elsewhere. In fact, in the same way you need readers to pay for your work, you need to reward their loyalty.
Creating a migration plan
The end goal of a Wattpad author who wants to go pro is to get fans to engage in a way which is a) highly visible and b) open to the financial side of writing. To do this you’ll need a migration plan.
Wattpad is obviously the starting point, and as mentioned above there are a few different end points to choose from. Sensible authors will pick a few, say Facebook, an email list and a blog, and create social media content which allows interaction between the three – a new blog post is linked on your Facebook page, and fans are alerted to its existence via email.
The challenge then is to get fans from Wattpad to these social media ‘hubs’, and the way in which you plan to do it is your migration plan. As I mentioned above you shouldn’t, and probably can’t, trick fans into following you to hubs. What you can do is make it worth their while.
One example would be a competition offering some merchandise related to your work. This could be advertised through your Wattpad content, and would require readers to like you on Facebook, follow on Twitter, or sign up to an email list to enter.
Another example would be providing most of a story on Wattpad, and then saving the final chapter for your blog (again, perhaps requiring some social media engagement to unlock). You could even go a gentler route, and offer bonus materials for fans willing to sign up to your website, à la J.K. Rowling’s ‘Pottermore’ website.
There are a lot of sites where you can easily set up a competition, and maintaining an engaging social media presence isn’t as hard as you might think. Whether it’s through shares or hashtags, these sites are full of ways to broadcast your advertising to a willing and receptive audience. The key is to have a plan in place, so that fans have a reason to go where you want them and, once there, have a reason to stay.
Once fans are congregated at hubs you can start selling, advertising work with a price tag through engaging content and direct emails. That isn’t to say you should get pushy, just that sites like the ones mentioned above exist in an environment where advertising your work is more acceptable.
The short answer to ‘How can I make money from Wattpad?’ is therefore to persuade fans to migrate to sharing sites, and use effective social media content to sell your work. You can find guidance on creating that kind of content here.
While this is something all Wattpad authors should do, I also believe there’s a habit the writing community could embrace which would be incredibly helpful to authors looking to monetize popularity.
All that’s old is new again
Having friends in the business is nothing new, but it does have a new form in the medium of digital publishing. Authors who’ve studied up on their social media know that it’s a good idea to publicize other authors. It’s a win/win relationship – the author gets their name around, your readers get a recommendation for something they might enjoy, and you’ll likely be paid back in kind.
This usually comes in the form of retweets, forwarding on another writer’s promotional materials to your own audience, but it could be something even more.
Those who flick through the backs of their paper books will know that publishing companies often use this space to advertise new titles. They may be the back catalogue of the author, or they may be similar works from the publisher’s stable, but either way it’s a great way to recommend something to an already engaged reader.
This practice could be a revelation for self-published authors, who if anything have an even wider stable of colleagues to publicize. If you’re part of the Wattpad community then you likely know other budding authors with self-published works for sale, and if not the site certainly gives you the opportunity to make those connections.
It would take very little effort for an eBook by one author to contain, as bonus content, the first chapter of another writer’s story. Authors do it all the time with their own work, but using Wattpad as a networking tool means authors can enter into this kind of mutually beneficial arrangement as a matter of course.
It’s an incredibly effective technique, since you’re not asking readers to start something new, but to continue with something they’ve already started, and will lead to increased awareness and sales for the authors involved. Not only is there the quid pro quo of attracting each other’s readers, but your book gains value from the bonus content. Everyone wins, and all it needs is for authors to reach out to one another.
History is replete with stories of writers helping each other out in this way, and I’m happy to say that there’s no reason to see digital self-publication as an exception.
Planning for your Wattpad success
At the end of the day, Wattpad is a particularly brilliant launch pad for authors, but staying in the air depends on having a solid plan for where you’re going next. The more you work at creating an interlinked social media presence the more you’ll benefit from success in any part of it. If Wattpad is growing your email list, funneling fans to Facebook, or even taking them direct to where your work can be bought, then it’s making you money.
Do you have a question about Wattpad, or advice for users who want to expand their fan base? Let me know in the comments.