Wattpad: Why I Hate It (And Why I Don’t)
Yeah, you heard me. I hate Wattpad.
Or…okay. Maybe I’m fibbing a little. I don’t HATE Wattpad. Not really.
Even though, as a writer, I feel like maybe I should a little.
Wattpad, for those of you who’ve not yet had the dubious privilege, is a free fiction site similar to the old school fictionpress.com, only prettier. Anyone of any skill level can upload a story–the layout of their app seems to encourage extemporaneous composition. You can upload a cool little cover of your own design, update in installments, even add in celebrities you think would do well in certain parts in a cast of characters. There’s everything, from fanfiction to poetry to short stories by Margaret Atwood and Hugh Howey.
It’s good old fashioned fun. It is. You’ll never hear me say otherwise–I just spent two hours I could have spent doing something MUCH more productive making Wattpad covers for all my Aurian and Jin stories. (Check the one up top out. It’s the cover for Bonemaker. It’s DELIGHTFULLY inappropriate for the story. And it has skulls. And a font that’s MADE UP OF BONES. I am kitsch queen of the universe).
You get to talk to people, too. Many of them are good at what they do: there’s no shame in anyone, from a thirteen year old girl writing her first Edward Cullen fanfiction to a published award winning author, writing for Wattpad. All skill levels are represented–Wattpad makes it possible to find people who write the sort of stuff you write and have a conversation, if you so choose.
But here’s the thing.
Wattpad isn’t rigged up the way poor old Fictionpress used to be. On Fictionpress, back in my highschool heyday of churning out angsty poetry and fanfiction (yes, it happened. I was fifteen. Sue me. Anne McCaffrey, if you’re reading this–not literally, please,) Fictionpress worked pretty simply. You wrote an installment of your story–when you clicked the ‘update’ button, it went to the top of its category for a while. Another person updated–their story appeared on top of yours, forcing yours down the page. If someone commented on your story, your story shot back up to the top.
That’s a decent way to do it. It’s fair. Folks who had more people interested in their story got better exposure, but that’s just the way of the world. You want people to have what they like. But you could also get better exposure by dedication–by writing more. And if someone liked your story, they had to leave a comment to let you know, so a little thought and effort was required.
Wattpad, on the other hand, has rigged a little social media system based entirely on views and ‘votes’. And that would be fine–if it wasn’t completely geared towards the viewing of stories which are already popular.
A new story on Wattpad, from a completely new writer, has only one chance of exposure that doesn’t involve the more social mediaesque aspect of the site–the ‘What’s New’ column in the story’s appropriate category. Which is slightly difficult to find: when you click on a category, the site consistently displays the most popular stories first, large and in clickbait position, and ‘popular stories’ second. New stories–or the ‘undiscovered’ category, which I’m still not totally understanding–are at the bottom of the page. Depressingly, a lot of people don’t scroll that far. (NOTE: there are a few more similar categories on the actual website, as opposed to the app. They are also towards the bottom of the page, and are based on the reading lists of your followers.)
What Wattpad does, essentially, is force your participation in its community for popularity and proper exposure. There are no bonus points for good writing, no showcase immediately obvious to a random browser for works considered ‘quality’. And, trust me, I get it–I sound ancient, complaining about something like that.
But there’s a part of me that finds it distasteful. Especially as a reader–especially when I have to go searching for something I’d like to read.
Popular vote is a great way to run a country, but it’s a shit way to run a writing community. It leaves you with a showcased collection full of typos, poor writing, and white teenaged heroines. (A note: some of the popular stories on Wattpad are GREAT. I’m not by any means saying this is true in all cases–but it is in several. Sorry. It is.)
I’d like Wattpad better–a LOT better–if there were some sort of ‘moderator’s choice’ column, showcasing skill regardless of votes. Should there be such a thing, I might be tempted to post more on there than I do. I might buy in to the Wattpad Way. A system that doesn’t provide incentives for skill doesn’t retain skilled writers for very long: it’s a miracle there are as many awesome stories on there as there are.
As it is, I’ve tried to come to terms with the elements of the site I don’t like by posting only stories related to my novel on there–something for my fans to read, for free and for fun. Those don’t rely on exposure, after all, for success–I just have to know someone who’s looking forward to Little Bird is reading them and enjoying them.
And that–unless you want to get all caught up in yet another social media web of interactions and likemongering–is about what I’d recommend you’d do with Wattpad. If you’re new to the site and you don’t have a lot of time to spend on it, you will not get popular. It’s as simple as that. Effort breeds success on social media and always has.
It’s not much different, in its way, from the parts I dislike about indie pub.
Just find something to do there where it doesn’t matter so much if you’re a bigshot or not. Enjoy the site’s slick layout and its publishing power, instantaneous and easy and free. Meet some people, vote for some stories you respect. Tell the writer you respect them. Do what you can to help the online writing community–by giving votes where they’re deserved and not just where you think they’re likely to get you votes in return. Wattpad can be a great thing. If nothing else, it’s a cute way of rounding up all those stories without making your folks pay for a whole new book.
Otherwise, One Direction fanfiction and stories about teen wizardesses named Sapphire will rule the day.
I’m just going to sit here, batten down my hatches, and prepare for the angry onslaught of whatev u just jealous type responses to this. Maybe I’m a snot. I probably am. But my intentions are good, and that has to count for something. And what Wattpad does for young writers is, in essence, a very positive thing–it gives new writers and young people, who might otherwise have little opportunity to share their keyboard clatterings, a chance to bring their writing in front of the world.
I think any system that spawns entire books on how to trawl for exposure is unfair to new writers. And the fact that it’s all being done for free–for electronic votes, for God’s sake–well. I’ll leave this post to linger, and let you decide whether or not the internet has turned writing into something totally exploitative.