The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne

2016 Week Twenty-Three: Let’s talk about Wattpad

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I’m too grumpy to write a fun post about my life today so I’m going to tell you about Wattpad instead. It’s a post that is probably of most interest to self-publishers who have been in suspended animation since circa 2013, which I think is when there was a flurry of interest in whether Wattpad was of any use as a publicity tool. If you happen to see a time machine, please feel free to chuck this post at it so I can have a go at being relevant.

So, dear denizens of the past, is Wattpad good for self-publishers? Short answer: probably not. But then, that’s not really what it’s for.

Let’s back this up to the beginning. Wattpad is a site where you can share your writing. It looks like this.

The front page of Wattpad - basically just a sign in box on a pretty background

I’d say it differs from other sites where you can share your writing mostly in terms of visual design. A lot of older sites, like Fictionpress, just display stories as text across the screen. Wattpad formats them like ebooks, with “pages” you can “turn”. They’re not really ebooks, in the sense that they’re not available to download in common ebook formats like epub and PDF, but they look like them. There’s a Wattpad app that you can use to read them on your phone or tablet.

a screenshot of my story on wattpad, showing that it's laid out to look like an ebook, but with sharing buttons down one side of the text

So, it’s an old idea, prettied up a bit. What’s so exciting about it? Well, there’s potential for a lot of exposure. The biggest success story must be Anna Todd, who wrote an incredibly popular piece of One Direction fanfiction which was viewed several bajillion times on Wattpad and ultimately scored her a book deal. There’s apparently a movie in the works, too. Other people have had more modest successes, although I can’t remember their names and, to be brutally honest, I can’t be bothered to look them up. (I should write all my posts in bad moods like this. Apparently it’s a real timesaver.)

Anyway, if you look at the front page of any category on Wattpad, you’ll see stories with hundreds of thousands (millions, in Romance) of “reads”, or views. In theory, if you’re an author trying to find an audience for your books, this is a good place to look. Post a story, get hundreds of thousands of readers hooked on your writing and tell them where they can buy more.

I don’t think my approach to Wattpad was quite as cynical as that. I’ve always liked posting my writing online because I get praise knowing that people are reading my work helps motivate me to write and means that I’m not alone in the dark with the squirrels. I think my goal was to find a few readers who would come back every chapter and post encouraging comments, and might be willing to accept ARCs and maybe leave Goodreads reviews or something when I was ready to publish. There’s a lot of space between that goal and “literally millions of views” so I thought that was pretty realistic.

In practice… it did not go that well.

I can come up with a lot of explanations for this. Some of them are to do with me. For instance, I wasn’t an engaged member of the Wattpad community when I started posting, so I didn’t have friends there. I did make an effort to engage afterwards – posting in forums, commenting on other people’s stories and so on, but I didn’t keep it up. This is partly because it felt like there was a huge quid pro quo culture (“you read mine and I’ll read yours”) and partly, probably, because of a starry-eyed fantasy that people should want to read my story just because it’s pretty awesome. This, incidentally, is what crushes the souls of a lot of self-publishers, so I realise I have to toughen up on that front. But there’s a difference, I think, between promoting a book you’ll at least get royalties for and one that’s free, especially if what you really want is feedback, not just clicks.

There’s also a strong possibility that my work just wasn’t right for Wattpad. There’s no real reason why it should have been, because it wasn’t written for Wattpad. I’ve written before about how the rise of the ebook might be changing writing and I think it’s fair to say that the Wattpad audience probably has a unique set of preferences that distinguish it as a discrete subset of ebook readers. (Wow, I could not have made that sound more grandiose if I tried, huh?) Wattpadders read episodically and often on their phones, so they need short chapters that move the story on quickly. Faustina, particularly in the draft I’m talking about, takes quite a lot of ~2000 word chapters to get to the romance set-up promised in the blurb, so I can see how I might be losing them.

Putting aside things that are specific to me and my story, though, there are a few other things about Wattpad itself that I found frustrating. The stats, for example. I was really excited when I saw how many graphs you get in the stats for your story (I am all about simple pleasures) but, well… I won’t go into it, because I just tried to and it was just me screaming questions into the void, but it is all very confusing and unhelpful.

screenshot of a baffling graph with a question mark superimposed on it

The very worst thing about Wattpad, by miles, is discoverability. For a start, your story can only really be discovered by existing Wattpad users, because you have to sign in to the site to read anything. I’m sure they know what they’re doing but this seems like a terrible idea to me – surely you want to give people a chance to get hooked on a story before demanding their details?

Browsing the site as a reader is okay, if you don’t know what you’re looking for and are happy to choose from popular options that are served up to you. Each genre has “Hot”, “Featured” and “Undiscovered” lists. The “Hot” list is presumably stories that are currently popular, “Featured” stories are selected by the Wattpad team (I’ll come back to this) and “Undiscovered” is… well, new and undiscovered stories, you’d think, but I’ve just opened the Romance one and there’s a story that has 25,000 reads, so I don’t know. (Stories can sit with 1 or 10 or 100 reads, so it’s not like 25k is a baseline.) You’ll also get stories suggested to you based on the ones you’ve read. So, if you’re happy to just hop from story to story, you’ll find plenty of reading material.

Looking for something in particular, though, is not easy. Faustina is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast so let’s try looking for one of those. If I search for “beauty and the beast”, I get 10,000 results.

search results for "beauty and the beast": "10k results"

10,000 results and there are only two options to refine my search: “include mature” or “only show completed”. I can’t narrow the results by genre – for instance, to exclude horror or fanfiction, if what I want to read is a romance not featuring Harry Styles. (About 90% of stories on Wattpad are about Harry Styles so even a specific Harry Styles filter would help!) And I can’t re-order the search results so that I see the newest ones first. For pages and pages of results, all I get to see are the most popular stories. That’s annoying, as a reader, but what’s really bewildering is the question of how a new story can ever become popular enough to be among the stories that anyone actually sees.

Mostly, they don’t. The stories at the top of this list are years old and I see the same ones whenever I do this search. At this point, they’re probably at the top of the list because they’re popular because they’re at the top of the list. And their age is significant: Wattpad used to both allow and count reads by people who weren’t logged in, so read counts were generally higher. For that reason, older stories tend to appear more popular and are therefore the ones that get promoted.

So, no one is going to stumble across your story – at least not until it’s already popular. As far as I can tell, that leaves you with only a handful of options. There are the forums, where promoting your own stories is banned except in certain threads (which makes sense – although it’s another thing that used to be different and is probably at least partly to blame for those dropping read counts). Or you could read and comment on other stories in the hope that the authors will come and do the same to yours. Both of those feel a bit spammy and undignified. (Genuinely reading and enjoying stories is different and I made a lot of friends on Fanfiction.net that way in my teens, but that was over a period of literally years and offers a terrible return on investment if all you want is to get noticed.)

Finally, there are the “featured” lists for each genre. You can nominate yourself for them. I tried it and was pleasantly surprised to get a nice message back, even though it said my story wasn’t close enough to completion to be featured. It did seem like the staff member had at least skimmed it, which was cool. I could have resubmitted it when I was done but, since I was just trying to get some people to read it while I was actually writing it, and I’ve kind of gone off Wattpad in the meantime, I didn’t. Featured stories do get good visibility, though. If you’ve got a finished story that you’re prepared to post all of, this might be your best (or only) option for using Wattpad as a promotional opportunity, if you can wait the six weeks for someone to get back to you (with your story up on the site the whole time).

So, time to bring yet another unexpectedly enormous post to a conclusion. If there was ever a time when Wattpad was a quick route to visibility as a writer, my guess is that it’s over now. Moreover, my experience with it was pretty frustrating – it’s not just the visibility, it’s dozens of little glitches and idiosyncrasies. For instance, it stops you putting too many tags on your story not by specifying a limit, or actually stopping you from adding any more, but by not letting you add any more chapters to your story until you remove the offending tags. (It also doesn’t tell you this, I found out by googling it.) There’s also a “voting” system, but no one seems to know what it does. The screenshot above shows that I have 97 of them which is… good, I guess?

Having said all that, I think I would have loved it ten years ago. For reading-obsessed teenagers who like their men angsty, their friends online and their Disney fanfic EVERYWHERE, it’s paradise – and I’m sure I would have had the time and inclination then to make the genuine connections with other writers and readers (which, to be honest, would feel a little creepy now – since many of them are teenagers and I’m not). In a way, I’m pleased that this post isn’t timely (although that’s not going to stop me posting it). It means that the exposure-seeking self-pubbers have withdrawn from a space that’s really not meant for us.

Right. I’m off for some ice cream.

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11 thoughts on “2016 Week Twenty-Three: Let’s talk about Wattpad

  1. Your post makes me glad I never bothered with Wattpad. What’s the point if your story’s going to be next to impossible for people to find without you waving a direct link at them? If you’re going to need to do that, you might as well use the perma-free option most eBook retailers have (if you want to wait until you’re done writing it) or just post it chapter by chapter on a blog/website of your own (if you want feedback as you go). Alternatively, just put it up for sale normally, and actually get paid by the few people who bother to go check it out.

    Also, based on what you’ve said about your story, and the piece you posted of it recently, I’d be interested in an ARC of your book, when it’s at that stage. If you’re still looking for advanced reviewers, I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to write on Wattpad, and everything you said here was true. Most of the readers there only want to read romance and even getting reads takes so much time it’s not worth it. The older, popular stories won’t go anywhere because the site never takes them off the hot list. All in all, writing on Wattpad isn’t worth it. It’s basically a teen writing site.

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    • Thanks for commenting!

      It’s interesting to hear that you noticed the same thing! How long were you using the site? And how many stories did you post?

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome, and I want to warn you now, you are about to get a lot to read lol

        I was on Wattpad for about three years. I started writing off fanfiction for a popular anime called Attack on Titan. The character I wrote about was VERY, VERY popular at the time, so eventually the reads just flocked in. I also wrote x reader fanfiction, and on a site like Wattpad, that ensures you’ll get readers. However, I got tired of writing fanfiction and wanted to start writing my own stories. At that time, I had 2500 followers on Wattpad, but they were following me for fanfiction.

        When I posted my first original story, Love for an Angel, barely anyone read it. Next, I posted my fantasy story about a merman and THEN I finally started to get readers.

        I’ve since then left Wattpad, but on my account I have the following stats:

        3190 followers

        Clash of Tides – 59.5K reads (This is after a year of writing the story. I don’t consider this good).

        Love for an Angel – 25K reads (Again, I don’t consider this good).

        I did everything I could to promote my stories, but I found I was wasting too much time on threads and forums not actually writing. Also, a lot of the writers on Wattpad feel they are better than others. They easily insult other people’s writing and form groups only praising each other. In short, Wattpad has a lot of issues besides getting reads. At the end of the day, it’s like a popularity contest for a community of teen writers.

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    • I’ve run out of nesting so I can’t reply to your other comment directly, but thanks for posting it! It was really interesting to read about your experience.

      I guess, from my own experience of writing fanfic, I’m not surprised that you had trouble getting readers to follow you to original fic (although I can see why you’d be disappointed!).

      Your numbers sound very impressive to me (my story is at ~1k reads after ~9 months!), but I don’t have your background of being a popular fanfic writer on Wattpad so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I think that’s something I wasn’t expecting about Wattpad, actually. From the outside, it doesn’t really present itself as a fanfic site (despite the fact that Anna Todd’s breakout success was obviously fanfic based). Fanfiction is just one of the 22 genres under the “Discover” tab right now. But from the popularity of stories I’ve seen, and from your experience, it seems like it’s actually pretty dominant there. And that’s another thing that makes the lack of browsing options so frustrating – if ALL fanfic is under the “fanfiction” genre (or even spread out into “romance” etc), how am I supposed to find a particular type of fic about a particular character from a particular show? Maybe it’s just because I’m used to Fanfiction.net, where you can browse by fandom and then break down the results by genre and character and sort by age, length and so on. I don’t know. But it doesn’t make sense. NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE. D:

      I’m glad that a popular community for (mostly) teenage writers exists and, like I said in the post, I’m sure I would have loved it when I was a teenager myself, because it offers a bit more of a social element than FFdotnet. But I definitely picked up on a sense of desperation to get noticed in the forums, and I feel like that wouldn’t be the case if discoverability wasn’t such a problem.

      Overall, are you glad that you spent time there, even though eventually you felt you had to move on?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would say that Wattpad is mostly a fanfiction site. While original stories have done well there, it takes a lot of time to get noticed. I don’t regret spending my time there, I just wish I didn’t put so much effort into fanfiction and being social. Sure, I’ve met some awesome writers and made some friends, but writing and publishing my book is more important.

        Some of the writers there are “stuck up” and consider themselves the best writers compared to other writers in the community. Honestly, if you are an older writer comparing yourself to teen writers, of course, your writing may be better. I feel like that is another downside of Wattpad. Too many, I’m a better writer because my story is more original and better written than all the cliches.

        As I said before, I don’t regret my time there and I’ve built fans for my original stories, but overall, I’m happy to be done with the website.

        However, I do long in once in a while to talk with my friends.

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  5. Hi, I don’t have any friends on wattpad. Never thought that I needed. But I have a really good story ( I know all writers say that cliché line). Where should I write it?

    Like

    • Hi, thanks for commenting!

      Well, it depends why you want to post your story online. If it’s to get feedback on it, you might find that a writing critique forum works better for you. If you just want to share it with readers (but aren’t ready to publish it for sale yet), Wattpad is probably as good as anywhere else, it’s just frustrating to use for the reasons I mentioned above. But a lot of what I was talking about in this post is whether Wattpad works as a promotional tool for writers with published books. If you’re looking for more of a writing community, and would like to make friends with other new writers and comment on each other’s stories, Wattpad could be great for you. I’d just keep your expectations low in terms of how many readers you’ll get – especially when you’re starting out.

      Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

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