Empowering writers online: The rising influence of Wattpad

Graphic by Penelope Taylor ’20

Graphic by Penelope Taylor ’20

BY BEATA GARRETT ’20

This year, “The Kissing Booth,” a romantic comedy on Netflix, and the supernatural thriller “Light as a Feather” were released on Netflix and Hulu. Both films started as novels on Wattpad, a website and a community for the online publication of user-generated fiction, and were subsequently published by Penguin Random House and Simon Pulse, respectively. According to TechCrunch, a startup and technology news site, “The Kissing Booth” piqued the interest of Penguin Random House after reaching 19 million hits on Wattpad and winning the 2011 Watty Awards “honoring the creativity and craft of storytelling on Wattpad.” Similarly, “Light as a Feather” has accumulated 3.6 million views on Netflix since its initial Wattpad publication, largely due to its presence in the paranormal category.

On its official website, Wattpad brands itself as “The world’s most-loved social storytelling platform [connecting] a global community of 65 million readers and writers.” Besides publishing stories and commenting on them, writers and readers can participate in clubs and contests, vote for winners in the yearly Watty Awards, and attend WattCon, an annual writers’ conference hosted by the company.

Wattpad provides opportunities for writers to gain enough popularity that they can publish their work professionally, but it did not originally begin that way. In a 2012 interview with The Literary Platform, Allen Lau, the co-founder and CEO of Wattpad, said, “For a lot of writers their motivation may not be making money. For most people the motivation is having someone to appreciate their creation. They care more about people showing appreciation of their work.”

Since its creation in 2006, the average age of writers on the website has increased, and the website has continually proven its success. According to Goodreads, 91 Wattpad novels have currently been published, and even writers like Margaret Atwood and R. L. Stine have accounts. These well-known authors often have excerpts of novels available to read for free and host contests for writers, giving out prizes like signed books and illustrations to the winners. These are a small part of the other contests Wattpad hosts each month. The company partners with a variety of organizations like National Geographic, Chipotle and Marriott Hotels to offer prizes like publication and travel gift cards. They also partner with movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” to reward members with exclusive merchandise.

While Wattpad offers great benefits like publication opportunities and prizes, it can be detrimental to writers looking to get published. In an article for The Writing Cooperative, Ajinkya Goyal, a short story writer and blogger, writes, “I also know how awesome it feels when a particular chapter sparks so many meaningful conversations — I know people enjoy that (so do I). But the thing is, all that happens if you gain enough traction. And that’s a man-sized if. Wattpad is not a scouting platform.” He went on to explain that Wattpad is difficult to use for writers who are too busy to promote themselves on the site through clubs and networking. Goyal also noted that publishing work anywhere on the internet makes professional publishing — and the entire process of editing — more difficult to accomplish. “Your story doesn’t stay yours,” he said, “because it’s difficult to make changes to your story due to the chapter-by-chapter uploading system.”

Stories published on Wattpad are also at risk of plagiarism. In 2016, Charlotte Eyre, a children’s book editor at The Bookseller said that published authors sometimes find their books on the site illegally. These copies can be difficult to track down. Writers also note that Wattpad’s complaint form is strenuous to fill out, and that new copies of their pirated stories keep popping up on the site. It was once possible to be able to copy text from Wattpad, which led to stories being uploaded with small changes into “new” ones.

Wattpad has its issues and writers on the site may feel frustrated with plagiarism and a lack of attention for their stories, but it continues to connect readers and writers around the world. According to the company, the app is available in over 50 different languages. Other networks such as SYFY and Sony Pictures Television have acquired rights to “Expiration Date” by Mikaela Bender and “Death is My BFF” by Katarina E. Tonks, both originally published on Wattpad. There are currently three trailers for “Expiration Date” available on the site for voters to decide on a director for the new series. From the small site where Lau “pretty much knew every single user” to a company Forbes estimated at $400 million, Wattpad has come a long way since its founding.

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