I talk a lot about Wattpad. It is, after all, where I have chosen to share one of my earliest book babies with the world. But what is it, exactly? What does it do for unpublished writers, and how might it benefit you? How can you protect your work if you share it? Hopefully this post will answer those questions for you and many more!
First, here's a little background on why I chose to post a story on Wattpad.
Last January, I was tired. Tired of getting into every contest I entered, yet not having agent interest pan out. Tired of getting a full request from almost every query, but still no offer. Tired of worrying that publication would only ever be a pipe dream and I lacked the talent/luck to pull it off.
But you guys know I'm not one to sit around and wallow. I like to take action, and I like to be in control of the things I can be in control of. So I decided that if the right agent never came along, I would take my work directly to the people for whom I actually write: potential readers. Potential TEEN readers.
I didn't know enough about self-publishing to jump in and do it well, since I had been focusing on traditional only. So where could I go to post my work that would be quick and easy? Where could I get immediate feedback from the people whose opinions mattered most to me?
"Aha, Wattpad!" I said. (I actually did say it out loud, because I am that crazy lady who talks to herself.) "I will build my empire on Wattpad and show those agents what they're missing!"
I had built a huge readership on a different site when I was 20, with a super melodramatic romance, so I knew I could do it again. I believed my work had merit because every time I put it out there, people seemed to enjoy it. So I went out full force with all the confidence in the world and prepared to hit "Publish."
"I hope you're ready for this, agents!" I yelled.
And then I got an agent.
What Is Wattpad?
Wattpad is a social media site. Think of it as YouTube for writers. All you need to do is open a free account and BAM! You can post your work for the millions of predominantly teen/pre-teen readers scouring the feed for addicting stories.
Also scouring the feed? Big Five editors. There are some massive success stories that have come out of Wattpad in recent years, like Anna Todd, whose One Direction fanfic snagged her an enormous (I believe six- or seven-figure) deal from Simon and Schuster. Or Taran Matharu, whose fantasy swept up millions of views, an agent, and a multi-book deal with Feiwel and Friends.
The site has an editorial team that makes executive decisions on whether a book gets Featured (meaning it appears on the front page) or whether it wins a Watty, the Wattpad version of an Oscar.
Getting Lots of Reads!
Here's the blog post I wrote when I introduced PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS to the world for the first time.
When I first posted PPP, it scored a decent number of views right away, thanks to amazing friends who opened Wattpad accounts just to read it. But what really helped skyrocket its popularity was the fact that I became a Featured Author after the Wattpad editorial team got in touch with me. (I believe you can also apply for consideration; check the website FAQ.)
To have your story be Featured, it needs to be well-written and almost or completely done. These qualities are determined by the editorial team. I will say that having an agent probably didn't hurt me here, either. As soon as they selected PPP, my cover landed on the front page next to Wattpad superstars and New York Times bestselling authors promoting their published works with novellas (a trend my agent started!). Immediately, my view count exploded into the thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands as word of mouth spread.
I was also lucky that my book hit that website at the right time. I'd say 85% of stories on Wattpad are very sexualized. I got SO many comments from younger readers saying they loved PPP because there is no swearing, sex, or drinking/drugs. Of course not, it's an MG, right?! But most stories there are written with racy New Adult themes (just count the number of Featured books with the words "Bad Boy" in the title), and MG may be a much-needed niche. Most pre-teens don't have the money for books and don't tend to read e-books, so they're relying on Wattpad for good stories they feel comfortable reading.
Other options for getting reads include: posting a link to your story in the Wattpad forums, or commenting on other writers' work and hoping they return the favor. You can also enter your story into the Wattys, and if you win, you'll likely get higher readership along with that shiny badge on your cover!
When you post your work, you have the option to add tags. These will help readers find your work more easily. So, say you've written a urban fantasy involving vampires. You would add the tags #vampire, #urbanfantasy, #urban, etc. and anyone typing those into the search engine will have a better shot at finding your book.
You also need to have an eye-catching cover. Think about the book covers you've seen online. Whatever people say, they DO judge a book by its cover and if it's pixelated or blurry with cheesy, tacky font, they will be less likely to read it. If you're graphic design-challenged, have a friend help you or find a designer on the forums.
How to Protect Yourself?
I've had so many issues over the years with people stealing my ideas and work.
I had a "blog buddy" copy the look of my blog and my profile description word-for-word with her name inserted into it. If you look at her blog today, her "My Writing" page is still identical to my "My Writing" page.
I had someone enter Pitch Wars with basically a copy of ELEGY the year after I entered, subbing to my mentors (who told me about it), and borrowing lines directly from my query.
I've had people stealing my blog posts and rewording them slightly to pretend they'd written them themselves.
This is why I no longer talk freely about the projects I'm working on and why I have made all of my important Pinterest storyboards private.
So when concerned readers messaged me a few weeks after PPP got popular, telling me there was another story entitled "PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS" with MY characters' names, MY kingdoms, and MY plot (except with extremely poor grammar and spelling), I was not surprised.
I got in touch with my kick-ass lawyer friend, Susan Spann, who runs the #PubLaw tweets on Twitter. She was one of my mentors in Ireland and I knew she'd have the answer. She advised me to file a copyright registration on PPP through the U.S. Copyright Office (copyright.gov), which costs about $55. Although this would not stop plagiarism, I would be able to take the person to court and win in the most extreme case, like if someone were to make and sell e-books or physical books of PPP on Amazon or something.
So I did that (and got my official certificate just yesterday!), and I also got in touch with the Wattpad team. They are good about cracking down on stuff like that. They contacted the person and she took her version of PPP down immediately.
Just be aware that when you post work publicly, there will always be thieves. So weigh the risks against the benefits.
The biggest pro I can think of is I'm building up a huge readership for any future books I may publish. Readers who enjoy PPP will likely go out and buy a physical copy of another story I write, or tell their friends and classmates. Wattpad is an immensely powerful marketing tool for that purpose because you're hitting your target demographic directly. On my other social media sites, my following is mostly writers in their 30s and up, so posting PPP benefited me hugely because it gave me access to my audience that I wouldn't otherwise have.
This direct contact with pre-teen and teen readers has also given me a ton of insight into the way they read. What do they want? What attracts them most? How do they behave when they like or don't like something? I've learned that they LOVE to compare... they'll say, "Oh! This is just like that Barbie 12 Dancing Princesses movie" or "This is like Brave/Frozen/Tangled!" or "Kit reminds me of this guy from Teen Wolf..." So comp titles can be a huge benefit, because I've reeled in readers by including ELLA ENCHANTED and THE PRINCESS DIARIES in my story description.
If you want to be successful on Wattpad, plan on devoting time to answering comments. Be kind, be patient, be funny. It makes readers SO happy and they are likely to keep coming back and to tell all their friends about you and your story. I try to answer every single one because I figure if they can take the time to read my book and tell me they loved it, I can take a few seconds to say "Thank you." (This is a good rule of thumb on all social media. How much does it suck when you congratulate or compliment someone and they ignore it completely? That's an automatic unfollow on Twitter for me, by the way.)
Also, if you post a story on Wattpad, be aware that some publishers consider this to be "previously published." So don't post anything you're hoping will be traditionally published one day. Huge success stories like the ones I mentioned above are extremely rare, so don't go in expecting you'll be the exception. The great thing is, if you build up an enormous readership, you can definitely tell agents this when you are querying another book or maybe even have your agent mention it to editors when you're out on submission. This is, of course, assuming you have MILLIONS of reads; anything less should not be mentioned because it likely won't help you.
I hope this gave you guys a good basic introduction to Wattpad! Let me know in the comments if you have other questions or if there's anything I missed.