Serialized Storytelling: Wattpad
What is Wattpad?
Of all the platforms currently available to authors seeking to get in on the serialized storytelling game, Wattpad is by far one of the most popular. The Toronto-based website/app is probably the closest thing we have to a social media platform specifically targeted towards writers and readers. Wattpad allows users to upload their stories to its library. That library is then accessed by readers (anyone who makes an account can browse the library of published stories). What makes this different from regular self-publishing? Well, Wattpad is, essentially, free: the writer doesn’t have to pay to publish, and the reader doesn’t have to pay to read. While there are opportunities to monetize content on Wattpad, this blog post is going to focus on the free-to-play tier.
How to Upload
Once you make a Wattpad writer account, you can upload stories directly to the site. You can name your story, add a quick blurb where you pitch your novel as Game of Thrones for toddlers, upload cover art, select a genre category (hint: this is important), and add tags that relate to the content of your story. All these tools help make your story easier to discover—but more on that later.
With those formalities taken care of, you are now free to begin uploading the actual text for the first chapter of your manuscript. You can either key the text in directly through Wattpad’s text editor, or copy/paste the text in (but in either case, I highly recommend saving a backup copy to your hard drive). All that’s left after that is to hit publish! That’s right: you don’t even need to have your entire book completed to begin publishing. And that’s where the serialized aspect off Wattpad comes into play.
Developing an Update Schedule
You’ll want to upload your story piecemeal rather than dumping the entire manuscript on readers at once. Why? Well, when browsing the library of stories, readers have the option to sort by “new” within each genre category. Every time you post an update to your story, it should, in theory, show up under “new” in its respective genre. Uploading a new chapter, then, is a lot like bumping a thread on a forum—it gives your work visibility. If you upload the entire novel at once, you’re wasting all those bumping opportunities.
Another aspect to consider is reader psychology. Remember, Wattpad is, at its core, designed for the social media age. A Wattpad reader is more likely to be intimidated by a story with a high chapter count. Here’s another way to look at it. If you upload, say, one chapter a week, your story becomes a habit—dare I say an addiction? Your readers will come back every week craving more. But if you upload the whole story at once, slogging through the entire manuscript now becomes a chore.
So how frequently should you post? Back when I was using Wattpad, the consensus seemed to be that posting once or twice a week offers the best results. And you’ll want to keep your posts short. If your chapters tend to be overly long, you may want to consider splitting them up into digestible chunks of about, say, 1500 words. Why? Well, first of all, recall what I said about reader psychology. Readers like to feel accomplished. Wattpad has a little progress bar at the top of the screen that shows readers how far they are in a given chapter—or part, rather, to use Wattpad’s terminology. If that progress bar scrolls too slowly, readers can easily become discouraged. That’s one aspect. Here’s another. Wattpad keeps track of and displays the amount of “views” your story receives. Views are counted per part rather than per book—so the more parts you have, the more views you’ll wind up with. Readers are also given the option of “voting” on each individual part of your story in addition to leaving comments. The more views, votes, and comments you rack up, the higher you’ll rise in rank on the charts, and thus the more exposure your story will gain. So it’s definitely in your benefit to divvy up that mammoth of a manuscript into lots and lots of bite-sized chunks.
Getting Discovered on Wattpad
If anyone can upload to Wattpad, it must be pretty difficult to get noticed, right? Well, yeah, it kind of is. Effective story tags, compelling story blurbs, and eye-catching cover art are all tools that will give you a leg up. Having a concrete and frequent upload schedule will also boost your chances of building a readership. If all else fails, head to the forums and join one of Wattpad’s many “book clubs”, where you will be paired with another author and tasked with reading and commenting on a set number of chapters in return for their doing the same. Raising your view count this way may seem time-consuming and high-effort, especially for views that feel rather hollow (since your book club buddy is obligated to read your story and will often drop the story once that obligation has been fulfilled), but it can go a long way towards getting the ball rolling. After that, it’s all luck, really. But the main benefit of a site like Wattpad isn’t the promise of an easily acquired readership. It’s the creative freedom that the platform allows.
Beyond the Traditional Novel
Writing on Wattpad—and writing serialized fiction in general—allows you to experiment as a writer. As discussed in our previous blog entry, the inability to go back and edit older chapters inspires creative solutions to any structural snags you run into. And since you can, in theory, write your chapters the same week you upload them, it’s possible to incorporate feedback from readers and steer your story into new and unexpected directions.
While some writers use Wattpad to cultivate manuscripts they intend to eventually publish via other routes (note: uploading to a site like Wattpad is, technically speaking, a form of publication in and of itself), for many users, Wattpad is the end goal. And if you’re not worrying about reaching a traditional audience, do you know what else you don’t have to worry about? Any and all genre and/or storytelling conventions. Wattpad is the perfect space to try out your wackiest, less commercially viable story ideas.
The most obvious difference between a Wattpad novel and a regular novel is in the structure. A novel usually follows a three-act structure with a beginning, middle, and end, and generally falls around 80–100k words. Your Wattpad story need do neither of those things. Feel free to make your story as long or short as you need it to be. Try writing in terms of story arcs (look to serialized comics like graphic novels or manga for examples of this narrative structure). You could even go so far as to treat your novel like a TV show, writing “episodes” instead of chapters and grouping those episodes into “seasons”.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to try out new things. Experimenting while writing a novel can feel scary because if your experiment goes wrong, you’ve wound up wasting (not really, but it seems that way) months or even years of your life on an unpublishable project. But on Wattpad, there aren’t really any consequences to failing epically every once in a while. So why not use your Wattpad story to try out new techniques that you can incorporate into future projects? When I joined Wattpad, I had yet to write a story with multiple POV characters. I had also never attempted to write a female POV character. So, to shake things up, I did exactly those things in my Wattpad story, and the success I had experimenting there gave me access to a wider range of narrative voices and structures in all the work I’ve done since. You can also experiment with different ways of writing scenes you aren’t yet confident enough to write—say, action scenes, for example. Diving into the unknown is a lot less intimidating with a chorale of Wattpad fans to cheer you on.
The Ego Boost
For better or for worse, the Wattpad audience is not as… discerning as other readerships you might encounter. If you’re feeling discouraged from writing because you lack confidence in your prose or your mastery of grammar, don’t worry—readers will overlook a lack of polish if you give them a juicy narrative to sink their teeth into. Are you worried that you’re a terrible writer and nobody will want to read your story? Don’t be. Wattpad readers are very good—dare I say better than some editors?—at finding that sparkling gem at the heart of your story and latching on to it. But more so than any of that, the community is just full of a diverse cast of wonderful people, many of whom are writers going through the exact same struggles as you. It’s a great place to make friends from all over the globe. And the readership itself is its own reward. Remember, there’s no such thing as a universally despised story. It’s not that your story isn’t good; it’s that you’re having trouble finding the right audience for it. And on Wattpad, more likely than not, you will find your audience, even if it only consists of a handful of people. And let me tell you, there’s nothing more motivating when facing down the horrors of a blank page than reading through the comments on your story and seeing complete strangers react with joy, awe, or—as in my case—horror at the things you’ve written. After all, is it not true that the reason we write is to share our stories with others?
A Nice Change of Pace
Yes, it’s true that there is a program in place that allows you to monetize your Wattpad content. Yes, it’s true that Wattpad stories have gone on to be traditionally published and even receive movie or TV adaptations. Yes, it’s true that Wattpad also now has its own publishing division. But the promise of commercial success really isn’t at the core of what makes Wattpad such an appealing alternative. It’s the community and, as I’ve rambled on about, the freedom. So, if the monotonous process of drafting, revising, and querying has made this whole writing thing a bit stale for you, Wattpad might be just the change of pace you need to rekindle that creative spark.