The last time I wrote about publishing on Pipeline Artists, it was all about the ‘pro trad’ vs. ‘pro self-pub’ debate, and my personal experiences therein. I ended that article in the limbo I was living in at the time—the trad attempt didn’t really work, the self-pub thing went well, so … I guess it’s self-pub life forever?
Yes, but also no, and additionally, the plot thickened ...
Have you heard of it?
Almost a decade ago, I hadn’t, so when I received an email from someone working at Wattpad, I was intrigued. It was a startup, they said, a free online reading platform, they explained. And would I like to post the first book in my series for free on this whole new platform, since it was already free on Amazon?
But why me? And also: what’s in it for me?
The email went on to answer those important queries. They’d found me on a book blog, they said—a detail that brought back memories of searching for book blogs in my genre and sending out free copies with the hope of garnering reviews.
Doing your own marketing—as unglamorous as it sounds!
The blog they’d found had written a positive review, and Wattpad believed my story was just the sort of content they’d like to see on their growing platform.
Was there money in it? No. But there was that other thing, possibility, which over time, can end up being worth a whole lot more. In the case of Wattpad, there was the possibility of a different audience of readers finding my book on the platform, which could lead to the next possibility, of some readers going on to buy book two.
As far as probabilities go, I didn’t anticipate a Fifty Shades of Grey level of traction—a book that started out as online Twilight fan fic, funnily enough—but since my first book was already free on Amazon as a gateway drug to book two, what did I have to lose?
[Since you’re very busy and important, I will now summarize the entirety of several years into several paragraphs.]
Wattpad turned out to be more than a little startup-that-could, and it wouldn’t be outlandish to call its rise meteoric. They were also based in Toronto, which made it possible to meet its enthusiastic staff in person. Long story short: they were powerless against my effervescent charm, and our professional relationship is very much alive today (along with a couple of friendships formed over wine and laughter and randomness).
When I look back, being local and getting to know the people behind the startup …it certainly had a role to play in the things that followed. It’s also something that finally made me understand that while you don’t have to be in L.A. to establish yourself as a screenwriter, I can see why people say it helps.
As for the things that followed, I think the key to it all was focusing on my goals and not being thirsty, and I can’t stress how seriously I mean that. Yes, I had visited the offices of Wattpad in Toronto, but you didn’t see me knocking on their door every week, asking for more features or more eyeballs. I skipped all that because a) it wouldn’t have worked, since they’re professionals, and b) ... and more significantly ... much like yourselves, dear reader, I am very busy and important. There were things to do and ambitions to feed, so while the tally of Wattpad reads added up bit by bit, I spent my time as follows:
- I quit my corporate job and moved to Paris to write the third book in my series (which I chronicled in this earlier article).
- I came back from Paris and started to explore a freelance copywriting career—since my soul needed to keep on writing all the time, even if it wasn’t just my books.
- I went back to Paris the next summer and tried as many things as possible, in advance of writing and publishing a fun, no-filter travel guide (which I really need to update for this post-COVID world—just add it to the never-ending to-do list!).
- I focused on regular life responsibilities too dull to outline here.
- I explored more ideas and wrote new stories.
While I was busy being in charge of my own destiny (since no one owes you anything), things were concurrently happening with Wattpad. My story, split out into twenty-eight chapters on Wattpad, had somehow garnered over three million reads, and even though other stories had garnered tens of millions more, this nevertheless felt like something.
Wattpad must’ve agreed, because upon the creation of the Wattpad Stars Program, they invited me into a whole new world of opportunities. Suddenly, I was writing paid short fiction for big brands that wanted to engage consumers with more than just clickbait. Later, I was speaking on a storytelling panel at FanExpo in Toronto, and more recently, I was invited to New York City to speak at another panel, this time at Wattpad’s very own convention, WattCon. I hadn’t anticipated any of this, but it was funny how it aligned my overall ambition to have a writing focused existence (not so funny to me, I believe in manifestation—for my next article: which crystals to wear to make your dreams come true).
Somewhere in between all of that, part way through another pumpkin-spice-infused October, Wattpad asked me if I wanted to participate in November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), as it might encourage other writers to try it, too. I wouldn’t be paid for having my story featured, but I’d be stretching creative muscles by posting a few chapters a week of a story I hadn’t even thought of yet. I mean sure, why not?
That story, 24 Hours in Paris, was based on a question that had been floating around in my head: what if two college students on a class trip missed their flight home and got stuck in Paris? Oh, and they kinda despise each other. What a shit show, let’s do it! And let’s have a POC lead! And let’s make them fall in love in the process!
I had so much fun writing that story. I wrote it during a time when I didn’t have any self-publishing releases coming up, so it inadvertently helped me get back to the important basics: this shit is supposed to be fun!
That story hit a million reads pretty fast, and it was nice to see readers enjoying this whole new concept through their comments. Better yet, it gave me the fuel to explore other ideas: what if an expat living in Paris met an intriguing Frenchman in the subway station, but lost him in the chaos? How would she find him without a phone number or a last name? I turned this idea into a screenplay, a sort of modern homage to the film Serendipity—except with cultural diversity and biting humor, huzzah! That script got an official Recommend from Script Pipeline, and it’s even been requested by industry types a few times. Hey, you never know.
On that note, “Hey, you never know” is the tagline to my entire relationship with screenwriting. Getting recognized here and there has been great, but I refuse to get too close to a medium where the public won’t ever experience a story until it winds up on the screen (which, let’s be honest, is exceedingly rare). Because here’s the thing: I may not be thirsty to get 50 million reads from Wattpad, but I am definitely thirsty to share my words with whomever wants to read them. Behold my tales, vast abyss of the Internet!
I think that’s why I’ve always felt open to what Wattpad brings to the table. With Wattpad, no one can ever stop me from finding out how humans react to my stories, whether it’s adapted from a script or a whole new thing cooked up in my crazy head.
And then there was COVID.
When the pandemic hit, Wattpad took on a whole new meaning. I still had full-time copywriting hours keeping me busy, and I still fell into the inevitable rabbit hole of quarantine cooking to avoid existential doom (baguettes, focaccia, fried chicken, I tried it all), but despite all of that, I found myself with more and more time to write.
During much of that excruciating year of 2020, I adapted the loose homage to Serendipity into a Wattpad story, and I have to say, it was so cool to see other humans connecting with my story through the comments, however far away they were in their own mandated lockdowns. It didn’t translate into dollars, but it was priceless to me. I will definitely self-publish that story one day, because the Wattpad audience and the book-buying audience does not fully overlap (and if you don’t believe that, try to explain how, despite Wattpad growing and growing, book sales—even print ones—were somehow up during a devastating pandemic).
As I said, Wattpad continued to grow. They created a Wattpad Studios division, which has already brought all kinds of content to movie screens and streaming platforms worldwide, they started their own publishing imprint, Wattpad Books, which brings user content into the traditional book channels you know and love, and they started a Paid Stories program, which allows readers to purchase coins and unlock paid stories, thus giving writers a way to monetize their content on the platform.
In the summer of 2020, Wattpad approached me with an offer to bring 24 Hours in Paris into its Paid Stories program. This was the story I’d written during National Novel Writing Month for fun, and I have to admit their offer caught me by surprise—did they really think a story with "only" 1.8 million reads was worthy of their program? But that’s the thing about a digital platform, there are all sorts of mechanics in play besides just reads—drop off rate, how long readers spend with each chapter, re-reads, all kinds of things. So, who am I to question my worthiness?
24 Hours in Paris launched as a paid story in October, and it felt amazing to earn some money from a story I’d only written to strengthen my creative muscles and have some fun. Maybe it should always be like that.
I would’ve been perfectly happy if that was the end of the journey for 24 Hours in Paris, but it wasn’t. In January 2021, a whole different team, the Wattpad Books team, approached me with a book deal offer. I couldn’t believe it. They explained they’d be launching a new imprint focused on women’s fiction in 2022, W by Wattpad Books. They thought my story would do well in this space, but would I be open to aging up the characters from college students to co-workers?
Stretching creative muscles and having fun with a whole new angle, you say?
You bet I was fucking open to it.
It makes me laugh and marvel and shed a tear to reflect on the beginnings of my journey, when the only decision was whether to be ‘team trad’ or ‘team self-pub.’ Little did I know that I’d become a self-published author and wind up with traditional exposure anyway, thanks to a whole new option I couldn’t have dreamed up if I tried.
The all new version of 24 Hours in Paris will be in bookstores and online marketplaces in North America on May 10, 2022. And I’m so excited to share it.
Does that mean everything’s perfect now and totally anxiety-free?
My anxiety now centers on the following: is representing diversity a crutch to being successful? Will having a brown character on the cover of my book limit my sales? It’s the same way I would wonder if I wasn’t getting fifty million reads on Wattpad because the cover wasn’t all white characters, or because it lacked the shirtless bad boy with the six-pack abs. I shouldn’t be having these anxiety-ridden thoughts, because Wattpad wouldn’t be investing in me if they didn’t see the potential. I guess it’s just an inferiority complex based on decades of societal conditioning that may take decades more to unlearn. Good times!
Before I go, I should give you the latest update on Wattpad ...
In January 2021, Wattpad announced they were acquired by Naver, in a deal worth over $600 million USD. What does that mean? From my basic understanding, it means more expansion, more initiatives and opportunities for writers, and more content developed for big and small screens.
So, let’s get down to it: am I telling you to join Wattpad?
This is not an ad, and there certainly aren’t any kickbacks. All I’ve been saying all this time is from the first moment I sent out a query to a literary agent all those years ago, I stayed open to whatever came up, adapted to what didn’t, and carried on with the mantra that no one owed me anything. I think that’s the key, and the first part especially guided me along. I said yes when a startup wanted to share my story on their platform way back when, I said yes to trying branded fiction, I said yes to digital monetization, and I said yes to dreaming up a story during novel writing month, for nothing more than the fun of it.
What I’m saying is, I basically invented The Year of Yes before Shonda Rhimes stole it from me (kidding kidding … carry on Ms. Rhimes, looking forward to Bridgerton season 2!).
So, what’s your version of saying yes and doing what you love for the fun of it?
Maybe it’s Wattpad or maybe it’s something else, but remember: good things tend to happen when you’re busy having fun and embracing possibilities.
P.S.: If you’re thinking “Cool story bro, but Wattpad’s not a new startup anymore, so it’s not like they’re going to reach out to feature my stuff.” First of all, I’m not your bro, and secondly, you know what’s kinda cool? Once you’ve started posting your content on Wattpad, you can actually apply to opportunities these days, like contests and the Wattpad Stars Program (and it’s free). Check it out.
*Feature image by Cristina Bernazzani (Adobe)