Sunday, August 24, 2014

On WattPad

During the beginning of 2013, another author spoke about this website called WattPad. I'd never heard of it, but he spoke highly of it and I went to have a look. What I saw was an interesting community of writers and readers. It reminded me a lot of, a website I was intimately familiar with, as I'd been writing on it regularly for nearly a decade at this point. (I'm still operating there, though not nearly as much as I used to.)

I decided to give WattPad a try, and I experienced unprecedented success. I wrote my first novel, Necropolis, over the course of six months and it got up just over 250,000 Reads and hit #1 of both the Sci-Fi and Horror 'What's Hot' lists. Obviously, I've lost a lot of traction since then, but there's a good reason for that. That's not what this article is about.

I've been operating on WattPad for almost a year and a half now with fair consistency. Along the way, I've picked up a lot of hints, tricks, tips, dos and don'ts, and I'd like to share them.

DISCLAIMER: I'm going to say right here and now that this is for those who write on WattPad and are looking to get serious amounts of readers. This isn't intended for hobbyists.

Blanket Advice

  • Snap Judgments: People tend to make snap judgments, whether they intend to or not. I think there are two reasons for this. The first being that it's human nature, we evolved to be able to immediately size a situation up to determine whether or not it would kill us and it's kind of filtered into everything we judge. The second reason being the absolutely insane amount of content on the internet. Consider the fact that hundreds of millions, if not billions of people have access to the internet. Chances are, if you've done it, so have seventeen thousand other people, and unless you're really good at it, most of them can do it better. You need every edge, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, if you want to be noticed.
  • Consistency: I'd say the absolute, number one most important thing that has granted me any measure of success was consistency. A lot of people mentioned in their comments and even sent me private messages about how one of the things they liked about me the most was that they could rely on me for an update. In the beginning, I only updated once a week, but I've eventually gotten to the point where I update three times a week, every week. People respect consistency.
  • Grammar: This applies to literally everything relating to words. I don't care if you're tweeting, slamming something out on your Facebook page or sending a private message. Use capitalization, use punctuation, fully spell out words...seriously, if you're message looks like this 'omfg i luv ur bookss s0 much! im ur bigust f@n!' Then you're just embarrassing yourself and everyone that reads that statement. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate everyone who lets me know they're reading my work and liking it, but seriously, grammar that bad kills my soul one piece at a time. It does that for a lot of people.
  • Care: I've noticed this a startling amount in my twenty six years on this planet. Apathy is everywhere. Everyone seems to have an eye-rolling attitude towards a lot of things. Everyone seems to think that adopting a 'been-there-done-that-and-it-was-boring' attitude is the cool thing to do...which doesn't really make any sense. I could be wrong, but I think a lot of this has to do with the Hipster movement. (My loathing for Hipsters knows no depths.) For some reason, they popularized this blanket apathetic attitude and it's seeped into everything. I think a lot of them have confused 'I'm too cool to care' with 'That makes me a grown-up adult'. I honestly thought this kind of thing would have died out in high school, but it's extremely depressing to see it everywhere. Anyway, contrary to this, I've noticed something. Caring is intoxicating. In a world of apathy, someone who actually gives a shit about something (even if that something is their own work) shines like a beacon at night. People will notice if you care about your work and, whether they'll admit it or not, they'll likely respect you for it on some level. It's easy to shrug everything off, it takes work to give a shit.
  • Read: Read your ass off. Stephen King once said, 'If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write.' Read a lot of books, a lot of different kinds of books. There's enough free content out there to keep you reading for a lifetime. Go read the stories at the top of the What's Hot list and see if you can figure out why they're up there. (If it's a One Direction fan fiction, you can safely ignore it.) Go to Amazon, search for Free stories, (at any given time, there will be THOUSANDS of them, in every genre.) If you don't have a Kindle, grab the KindleForPC app, or download the Kindle app for your phone. This is so easy, there's no excuse not to do it.
  • Patience: This shit takes time. Yeah, sure, sometimes people blow up overnight and make the rest of us feel like shit, and that could be you, but it probably won't be. Building a readership is a slow, long game. Be prepared to stick with this and work on it to some degree every day. This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.
  • Be Independent: Do not rely on anyone if you can help it. Are you relying on someone to edit your work for you before you put it up? Don't. What happens when they get bored or some kind of emergency comes up or they lose the work and forget to tell you about it? Learn to do it yourself. Whatever it is, if you can help it, learn to do it yourself. No matter who you rely on, the will let you down at some point, and your rock solid schedule will be thrown out of whack because someone else fell through. Your goal should always be to rely entirely on yourself. 
  • Luck: Even if you follow every single piece of advice here, and all the other advice you find, you need to understand that a huge part of this game is luck. I know it sucks, it may drive you up a wall, but at the end of the day, whether or not you get read and get big is a throw of the dice. And sometimes the deck maybe be stacked against you. But, if you follow this advice, you'll at least be able to begin stacking the deck in your own favor.
Your Profile

Your profile is important. It's your first line of defense, your first foot forward, your first impression. One thing I'll say right now is that appearance is half of everything. How do you think a lot of mediocre books get not only published but bought like crazy? Appearance. I've seen dozens upon dozens of C average books make it to the bestsellers list on Amazon simply because they looked and sounded good. Inversely, if you have a fantastic story, chances are no one's going to read it if it has no cover and a crap description.
  • Your Profile Name: Often it'll be the first thing people see. That and your profile pic. Tell me, which name are you going to take more seriously? loliloveharrypotter or Emily_R_Pierce. Your name says a lot about you, because you're choosing to put it in there. I put my actual name in there, but that doesn't mean you have to. A pseudonym is fine, so long as it doesn't sound stupid as hell like Johnny_Badass or Number1Alpha (unless you're primary writing comedy, that opens up a whole new field and stupid or silly names might actually help you). It doesn't even have to be a name, really. Over on I operated under both Obsidian Productions and Obsidian Nexus. Whatever you choose, spell it right and keep it grammatically correct.
  • Your Profile Picture: If you can manage it and feel comfortable doing it, I'd say use an actual photo of yourself. Everyone feels more comfortable having an actual human being they can connect the writing to. If you're uncomfortable, try something a little different. I finally found a good enough pic of my face to use. Also, don't try to 'look cool' for the camera, nine times out of ten, you're just going to come off as an elitist jerk-off who thinks they must be so attractive that anyone looking at the picture is just the luckiest son of a bitch in the world.
  • Your Profile: This one is a bit more subjective. All the regular rules apply, by which I mean grammar. I'd personally say give a bit of background on yourself, any links to social media you might be using as satellite support for your writing (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Blog, etc.,) and then give a list of your works in progress and upcoming works. I'd advise against giving a total list of all your works, since, well, that list already exists directly below your profile, and because you only get 2000 characters to work with. This window of space is important, as it's your virtual representative in the world of WattPad. Try to make the layout visually appealing with a good balance of words to white space. Avoid blocks/walls of text.
  • Following: This one is, again, highly subjective. My primary advice is Follow as few people as possible. This may sound like a jerk move, and hey, maybe it is, but I have a good reason for suggesting it. I've noticed that people tend to take those who have a high Followers but low Following ratio more seriously. It also has an added benefit. If you want to help out a friend, you Follow them, and then everyone who glances at your Followers/Following box will see that while you may have a thousand Followers, you're only Following a single person. Naturally, they'll wonder, "Who the hell is this one person they've chosen to Follow?" and will investigate accordingly.
  • Banner: Choose something visually striking that will look good as one solid picture, without being too distracting. A fantastic go-to is landscape pictures. If you have a specific kind of genre you tend to stick to, try to make it match. Sci-Fi? Use stars, a picture of the galaxy, or planets. Horror? Creepy, fog-shrouded woods at night. Fantasy? An epic mountain.
Your Works
  • Title: Your title is important. Think hard about it. I've discovered that, as a rule, shorter titles tend to do better than longer ones. It needs to be short, sweet and catchy. Try to think of something that gets the feel for the story you're trying to tell. If you can quantify the feeling, genre and/or general plotline in just the title, you're definitely on the right road.
  • Cover: I'm lucky, I have a friend who is extremely talented at making covers and can produce New York Times Bestseller levels of cover art. That's what's needed if you're looking to self-publish and actually make a living off of writing, but for WattPad, it tends to be overkill. But you've got to put something up there. If you aren't any good at making covers, I can sympathize. When it comes to visual art, I'm about as capable as a preschooler. (I'm not kidding.) But here's a quick recipe for having a passable cover. Go to Pixabay, it's a website where all the pictures are free and in public domain. That means that you can use them and there's no messy copyright infringement. Look for a picture that goes with your story. Is it set in space? Look for a picture of the stars or some other planet. Is it set in the desert? In snow? Does it rain a lot in the book? Basically, an easy go-to is a setting picture. There's a lot of great ones. Take that picture, open it in Paint (everyone should have a copy of that) and apply text. Your name on bottom, the title on top. Make sure it actually shows, which means select a color that's opposite to the color of the picture it's going over. Try to center both of these. One thing I do to make it even easier is to put black bars along the bottom and top, and then put the author name and title in those bars. It looks a little more pro and you'll guarantee that they'll be clearly visible. Also, make sure you set the aspect ratio to look like a rectangle, like a real book, otherwise the sides will get clipped off when you upload it.
  • Description: Okay, so people have seen the cover and the title. They've been drawn in and actually clicked the link. Now they're brought to your description. This is just as make or break. Longer descriptions are better, but not too long. Three paragraphs max. If you want a crash course in descriptions, just go and grab half a dozen of the nearest books or go to Amazon and check on the bestsellers. Look at those descriptions. You want to give hints about what you're book is about. Give a basic plotline, set up the character(s), the setting, the conflict, and leave off with a question if you can. I've heard that works. Obviously don't give too much away, you want people to read the book because they want to find out more.
  • Length: This is going to apply to both the length of your average update, i.e. each chapter, and the length of the overall work. As for chapters, I've found that between 1,500 and 3,000 words works perfectly. Any less and you'll leave people too hungry for content, any more and you'll find your readership slowly slipping away. In this new age of the Internet and instant gratification, people tend to want bite-sized content. Something they can read in fifteen to thirty minute segments. Now, on the overall length, more tends to be better. If you decide you want to take the next step and self-publish, you'll find that novels sell roughly 100% better than short stories, novellas and collections. On WattPad, longer works have a better chance of being seen and rising in the ranks. A story with 50 parts is WAY more likely to get big and seen than a story with 5 parts.
  • Upload Schedule: I'd say your minimum is once a week. It's a good baseline. Choose a day you feel most comfortable writing, sit down and write the chapter. Or, if that's not how you work, cobble it together in bits and pieces over the course of the week and make sure it's ready to go. I'd advise against uploading more than three times a week, because you tend to burn yourself out, but everyone has their own limits. The goal is find a compromise between pushing yourself and still being able to reliably get content out. I cannot emphasize enough how important choosing a schedule and sticking to it is in terms of gaining a readership.
  • Planning: There largely seem to be two kinds of writers: those who plan and those who don't. I'm a planner. I'd advise against not planning. More and more often, I see that the writers who run into writer's block are those that don't plan. When you think about this, the reasoning is obvious. If you're making up your story on the fly, you are relying almost completely on inspiration to tell you what happens next. Inspiration runs out. Doesn't matter who you are, how long you've been doing this, it does. Even Stephen King puts up with this crap. A great way to combat this is by planning out your whole book. Personally, I plan out the whole thing before I begin. I know how many chapters there are going to be, the name of each chapter and at least a basic idea of what's going to happen for every chapter. When the inspiration dries up, I can keep on writing because I know exactly what happens next and it (usually) doesn't affect my schedule.
  • Editing: Right off the bat, learn basic grammar. This is key. If you're serious about writing, this is an absolute must. There's just no way around it. It's like building a house. Even if you have plans for a fantastic house, if you use shitty building materials, you'll build a shitty house. Now, beyond that, whenever you have a new chapter ready to go, make sure you edit it first, before publishing. It's better if you can wait a little while after finishing the actual writing. Go take a break, grab some food, go for a walk, watch an episode of something, then come back and read over it again. You'd be surprised how much you'll catch. And your readers will thank you for it.
  • Formatting: Smaller paragraphs are better than bigger paragraphs. The more white space you can have, the better. Obviously, this can be taken too far. Don't hit enter after every sentence. The more you practice this, the better you'll get it developing a sixth sense for when to hit that enter button. The only thing I can say that you really need to watch out for is if you copy/paste your work into the publishing window, go back after you hit that Publish button. For some reason, the website tends to put an extra line of space between every paragraph. That's gotta go. I know it's a pain in the ass, but just go back and remove those lines of dead space.
  • Tags: I don't know how significant tags are, but I assume they're important. It is how people find your book, after all. Generic tags you should put into every work is the title of the work, your name and both genres you selected. Beyond that, you want to put words relating to your story. If you're writing a book about zombies, the tags would be: zombie, undead, monster, dead, infection. You get the idea.
  • Music: WattPad allows you to link a YouTube video to each chapter. This is a fantastic opportunity. There are so many videos and songs out on YouTube that you can find pretty much whatever you want. Writing a horror? Choose some dark, ambient instrumental tracks. Writing a romance? Go find some love songs. Writing action? Grab some hard rock or fast-paced techno. Although I generally recommend ambient tracks with no spoken lyrics. A great place I go to is the Cryo Chamber channel. They make a lot of great tracks.
  • Rating: I'd say that 90% of all things on WattPad should be rated PG-13. Few people tend to write stuff that's below that rating and if you rated it above that, you become much harder to find. R rated stories do not chart. As for R rated content...well, unless you're writing straight up porn, you're probably safe in the PG-13 territory. Also, don't use hate words, i.e. racial, homophobic or ethnic slurs. Not only do they get your story automatically rated R, but we, as a society, should just stop saying them. They're utterly useless words with no value. Also, do not rate just one chapter R, because once you do, the story becomes locked. Every chapter after that will be rated R and you cannot change it.
  • Copyright: This is important. If you are writing an original story, make sure you select All Rights Reserved. If you're writing a fan fiction or an obvious rip-off, make it Public Domain. Also, you probably shouldn't be writing straight-up rip-offs.
  • Cast: I've never used this, and I don't plan to. While initially the idea seemed a little intriguing, I've ultimately decided against it. With the exception of romance novels, I'm of the opinion that covers shouldn't show protagonists. Or people at all, really. Because then the readers always associate that one image with the character. It's always, always, always better to let the reader make up their own mental image of the characters. This goes the same for casting.
  • Fan Fiction: If you're writing fan fiction, there's a good chance that some badass pictures, screenshots, wallpapers, etc., exist of whatever it is you're writing about. Those make great covers.
Your Public Face
  • Be Courteous: This is the most important bit of advice I've got. In replying to comments, to private messages, to posts on your message board, always be nice. At the very least, don't be a jerk, even if the other person is. Personally, I'd advise straight-up ignoring haters and trolls. Delete their comments and block them. Now, do not confuse genuine criticism with hating. If the person is criticizing your story, don't be afraid to either explain yourself if you think they may be wrong or confused, or thanking them if they've actually pointed something out. No one is flawless. We grow from failure. But if they're just some jerk-off trying to get a rise out of you, don't hesitate to ignore their ignorant ass.
  • Be Available: By this I mean try to respond to as many messages and comments as you can. Don't let yourself get bogged down by this, but even a simple 'Thank you!' will go a long way. And hey, you should be thankful. None of these people owe you anything, they've gone out of their way to not only read your work, but reach out to you in the form of a comment or message.
  • Be Relevant: If you're sending someone a message, make sure it's relevant. I've been getting this a lot lately and frankly it confounds me. Sending a private message of 'hi' or 'hey' is a little redundant. Why are you sending the message? What's the purpose of the message? Be deliberate in everything you do. Ask yourself, 'Does this need to happen?' before every message you send out yourself. By this I mean, every message that isn't a response to another message, but ones you initiate.
Getting Your Work Out There
  •  Clubs: Forums on WattPad are called Clubs. There's one for each genre. I spent a little bit of time in the Clubs in the beginning, but not much seemed to come from them. A lot of people say that being social is the only way to get your work out there. Maybe they're right. I'm kind of anti-social, so I guess I've been pretty lucky to be doing as well as I have. If you're into that kind of thing, check out the clubs for the genres your writing in. I know there do exist places to post ads for your work. If you do, make sure it looks good. I know there's a way to put pictures into the posts. Figure that out. Posts with pictures are much more likely to get attention than those without. Write a snappy, shortened version of your official plot description and provide a link directly to the story.
  • Read Around: Go read other people's stories. Comment on them. Get involved. This is a good way to get your name out there. But don't be obvious about it. Pretty much no one likes to feel like they're being sold something when they didn't ask for it. Try to stay on topic when commenting on another person's story and don't make it about yourself.
  • Read My Story!?: So...there's a part of me that's tempted to say don't ask other people outright to read your story. I never have, but that's because I'm kind of stubborn and I don't like asking for help. I have gotten a lot of requests to read stories and...well, to be totally honest, almost every time I get asked this the story is terrible. I don't just mean the story itself, I mean the grammar is so shoddy that I have a difficult time believing it's written in my language. I think a lot of newcomers tend to reach out and ask like this, and as a result, people who send private messages asking for a read have been labeled as newbies who flunked out of Remedial English. On the other hand, I, myself, have done this on a bigger scale. I've reached out to people I never thought would respond...and yet, sometimes, they have responded. In my time of reaching out to certain people, I've managed to talk with: a NYT Bestselling author who's sold millions of books, Carbon Based Lifeforms, a Hollywood screenwriter, a Hollywood director, a video game company that seriously considered letting me novelize some of their games and several other published authors. So I guess don't be afraid to reach out and ask someone for something, but make sure you're clear, concise and respectful. And be prepared to be either ignored or rejected.
  • Social Media: If you think you can manage it and update it frequently, I'd say make yourself a Facebook page, Twitter account or blog dedicated solely to your writing and yourself as an author. It's important that you commit to whatever you create. If you make a Facebook page, update it at least once a day and respond to your readers. Don't let it stagnate. Conversely, don't let yourself get bogged down by it. Social media is intoxicating if it goes well, and you can find yourself spending hours maintaining your sites and pages. But remember, the writing is always what's important. Nothing else is more significant than the writing.
  • Networking: While I'm not sure it's a good idea to ask people to read your work, I do think it's a cool idea to reach out to other successful or talented but struggling writers. Ask them for an interview or a guest post to put on your blog. It helps both of you and drives traffic in both directions. Your fans discover a new author, the other author's fans discover you. If you think you can manage it, collaborate! Don't be afraid to write a short story together, or maybe a whole novel.
Final Advice
  • Don't Rely On WattPad: What? Is that a typo? I'm afraid not. I saved this one for last on purpose. WattPad has been good to me...sort of. I realized something massive when I published my first novel, Necropolis. At the time of publishing, it had just hit 200,000 Reads. That's insane for a first work from a nobody. I had a lot of support. A lot of Followers. I told everyone that I was publishing it for ninety nine cents on the Kindle, I passed out a direct link to the KindleForPC, as well as the published work, for days. I did a lot of work promoting it and spreading the word like crazy. And...after a whole month, less than 1% of everyone who read the work bought a copy. Do not trust people. I can't tell you how many people I had telling me they'd buy the work when it became available...and most of them didn't. WattPad is a good place to get your work out, grab a readership and learn the craft, but eventually, if you want to make a living out of this, you'll need to sell your work. And if the choice is between reading your work for free and buying it, people generally choose free if it's more convenient. Even I'm not going to be on WattPad forever. Eventually, I plan on just writing fan fictions or posting freebies on the site to serve as a platform for people to discover me. The ultimate goal you want to be shooting for is self-publishing novels, if you're looking to make a living at writing.

I hope this was helpful.

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