If you wander around the online literary community, chances are you’ve heard whispers buzzing about names like Wattpad, Authonomy, Fictionpress and the like. But what are they? If you’re curious, and bored on a regular basis like I am, then you’ve probably already meandered your way over to these sites to investigate. But in case you haven’t, here’s the rundown:
All of these are Manuscript Display Sites, or in less glamorous terms, online slush piles.
The idea is that authors post their work online for free, gaining exposure to droves of readers, as well as peer feedback and critique, and the elusive possibility of being scouted by editors/agents
prowling for new talent. Think Facebook for writing. And while there are accounts of authors finding success this way, they’re maybe a handful compared to the thousands of writers flooding these channels. Making the statistics for success about the same as they are via traditional routes.
So why would you want to use these sites when a) you’d be giving away your work for free, and b) you waste your first digital publication rights in the process, making the chances of finding a traditional publisher even less likely? That’s a surprisingly difficult question to find answers to. I was amazed at the lack of search results that really shed any light on the subject. After weeks of wading through pages and pages, I could only find 6 articles that had any real substance. (Links are below, if you’re interested.) So what follows is mostly conjecture– my own impressions of the situation. Feel free to correct me if I’m way off in my interpretation.
Typically, these sites are not recommended if you plan to pursue traditional methods of publication for the exact reason I mentioned above. Posting your work online counts as publication. And it’s difficult enough for a debut author to beat the slush pile without the added pressure of convincing publishers to republish their work. So, despite the attractive tag lines touting the possibility of being randomly selected by agents of the traditional publishing world, it’s really not worth the risk. Besides, there’s not much evidence to support the claims that agents/editors actually do use sites like these to find talent. Most publishing professionals are so inundated with manuscripts coming through traditional veins that I find it highly unlikely they would need to go scouting online for potential clients.
Where these sites do have potential is with self-published authors. Retaining publication rights in pristine condition is less of a concern in the self-publishing world. And in that regard, sites like these offer a tantalizing prospect– instantaneous access to potential readers. Success in publishing relies heavily on exposure, regardless of your mode of publication. And for indie authors, it’s absolutely crucial. You don’t have anyone backing you, helping you with promotion tips and steering you in the right direction. So how do you go about finding readers?
Enter sites like Wattpad and Authonomy. (I wasn’t impressed with Fictionpress, finding it’s layout rather clunky and visually uninteresting, so I’m going to focus on these two instead.)
Things to Know About Wattpad:
- Better known than Authonomy, claiming to be the largest online reading/writing community complete with mobile app
- Attracts about 8 million viewers monthly (according to them)
- Users seem to be primarily teenaged girls, but this is changing as the site’s popularity grows
- Most popular genres are those targeted at younger audiences
- No minimum word count to start posting
Things to Know About Authonomy:
- Founded by HarperCollins Publishing with the supposed premise of finding new authors to publish
- Has a built-in system for potentially gaining feedback from a HarperCollins editor
- Generally higher quality work than Wattpad
- Typically users are slightly older than Wattpad’s with a serious approach to writing as a career
- Must post at least 10,000 words initially
Both of these sites offer writers that coveted opportunity to get their work before the public, with the best part being that it doesn’t even have to be finished yet. Both sites display work in a serialized fashion where novels are broken into bite-sized chunks, making them more appealing to digital/mobile readers. And because you can upload your work chapter by chapter, you have the unparalleled ability to generate a reader base before your novel is even published. How cool would it be to already have an established fan base by the time your book is finally available for purchase?
True, you are giving your work away for free, which does have potential to cut into your profits, but it’s not like this is a new concept. Offering books for free has been a long-standing tradition in literature, whether it be through libraries, or sharing circles where members pass titles back and forth, or even just within your family. How many times have you borrowed a book from someone? It’s the same idea. Just because you read a book for free doesn’t mean you won’t go on to purchase it if you really liked it, or that you won’t buy the author’s future titles now that you know you’re a fan. This core philosophy is what prompted me to consider the marketing strategy I’m about to explain, which inherently goes against every normal thought process about earning a profit.
Using Wattpad and Authonomy, I’m going to start posting my work-in-progress online in the hopes of generating some interest, getting my name out there and accumulating a fan base. Because Unmoving is the first in a series I have no intention of publishing traditionally, it’s likely I would offer it for free on Amazon anyway, for the same reasons– to generate a reader base and potential sales for the subsequent titles. By using these sites as well, I’ll hopefully be able to reach more readers; readers I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.
Still need more convincing that I’m not completely insane?
Well, how about this: self-publishing is all about word-of-mouth. Without support from readers, your book will get lost in the digital ether that is Amazon. And indie authors, like indie musicians before them, are realizing that the best way to create this effect is through personal interaction with fans. Accessibility is one of the advantages of sites like Wattpad and Authonomy. They give fans the ability to communicate directly with their favorite authors, giving them a personal stake in the success of the book. Which translates into the exact type of grass-roots recommendations that spread like wildfire– networking at its finest.
Then there’s the potential feedback that could help me grow as a writer. I’ve been lucky to have an invaluable group of fellow writers for critique partners, (and I will continue to give them first run at chapters-in-progress), but that could be magnified tenfold by the sheer number of people that could now offer me their input and become part of my story’s journey. (Notice I’m optimistically ignoring the fact that the majority of feedback I’d receive, if any, would be entirely useless. I said I was crazy, not stupid. But it’s my fantasy. I can picture it however I want to.) It’s a pretty well-known fact that, despite all their claims otherwise, these sites are primarily filled with writers. But writers are also readers, are they not? With the added bonus of understanding the intricacies of writing.
So yes, you probably won’t get the casual readers, the people who only buy whatever’s hot on the shelves at the grocery store, or looking for something to bide their time with in the airport, but chances are good those people would never know about you anyway. And what’s wrong with targeting the hardcore readers? The ones who were labeled bookworms as children because they found reading a better pastime on a summer day than sports? The people who probably also have an inherent wealth of insight into the craft of writing because of that avid appetite for reading? The people who might one day become the very editors you’re looking for? Or at the very least, fellow writers? I don’t plan to discount them lightly. Those are the people who can catapult your success to the point you might actually register on a casual reader’s radar. A reader is a reader, right? Who cares how they found you?
Speaking of discounting, don’t discount the motivational potential that posting online can provide. One of the articles below talks specifically about the idea of “little wins.” And I wholeheartedly agree. Self-motivation is actually a weakness of mine, which is surprising given my background in home-schooling and martial arts. But the truth is, I need a deadline, a purpose, to keep my lazy side from winning over and plunking me squarely in front of the TV with promises that we’ll be productive later. Knowing that people are waiting on me is better than caffeine for my productivity. So the thought that I would have potential readers, even if it’s only my four friends and my mom, waiting for me to post the next bit would be a massive kick-in-the-pants for my inspiration. And is probably one of the main things I find attractive about my reckless experiment in marketing, if I’m being truly honest.
So there you have it, my maybe brilliant, maybe ridiculously stupid plan. Is it wrong to use a project I’ve spent two years of my life on as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of self-publishing? Maybe. Will it backfire? Probably. Am I gonna do it anyway? You bet! Just as soon as I get the cover art done. 😉
Writing itself is about experimentation, so why not take that philosophy to the publishing side as well? If I pick up even one more reader out of the process, it will have been worth it. And maybe, I’ll finally manage to finish my aptly titled novel that seems more than content to languish in its incomplete state. Heck, if that happens, it will definitely have been worth it!
What do you think? Is marketing through Wattpad and Authonomy smart or have I completely lost my marbles?
The 6 Helpful Articles: