How I Went From 350 to 10,000 Reads on Wattpad in a Month
Writing is often an isolating, frustrating experience. An enormous weight is lifted when that final draft is complete and you send it out into the world. But that terminus is the origin of a whole new struggle: finding an audience for your story. Bridging the awareness gap is the most difficult hurdle to clear, and, for me, Wattpad has been indispensable in that battle. It also provided me with important data I would have otherwise missed. There are two types of readers I was surprised to find were fans of my Johnlock future AU stories — middle-aged super hardcore Sherlockians who know the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories almost by heart and teenagers who have never consumed any other Sherlock Holmes media (never read a book, watched BBC Sherlock or seen a film).
I’m relatively new to Wattpad. I joined in mid-2016, but I was a bit flummoxed about how to use the site and really became active only in September 2016, during the site’s 30 Day Writing Challenge. In that short time, I have been able to grow from a few hundred reads to over 10,000, and the growth continues at a steady clip.
Wattpad is the Only Social Media Platform for Readers and Writers That is at Scale
Wattpad has 45 million unique monthly users who are ALL looking for something to read. They’re not looking for cat videos or gif sets or fan art. They’re looking for books. It is incredibly difficult for writing to get attention on sites where videos and images can also be posted. Reading takes more attention, more time, more focus, and most social media sites are optimised for shorter, snackable content. Everyone knows figuring out social media is the key to getting any marketing campaign off the ground, but so many writers aren’t on the only social media platform designed to showcase their work and provide a way to connect with their readers about their writing and only their writing. The focus of Wattpad cuts out the competition from other forms of media and puts you in a position to compete against only other books. In the noisy, ever-churning world of non-stop social media activity that is already a small victory.
Another victory is the ability to gather critical mass as your story gets read, voted on and shared. The more people interact with your story, the more it gets recommended by Wattpad’s algorithm, and the more people interact with it. Wattpad is an incredibly crowded, competitive space, but the algorithm makes small wins multipliable in ways they just aren’t on most other fanfiction platforms.
Wattpad understands the importance of other social media platforms, and on top of sharing to most of them, you can integrate YouTube videos into your stories and create quote cards like the one below for your stories to post on Instagram, etc.
The common (unfair) complaint about Wattpad is that it is jammed full of fourteen year-old girls writing terrible One Direction fan fiction. Wattpad still skews young, but every social networking platform begins with a young crowd and eventually ages up if it achieves scale and stabilises. All those fourteen year-olds who were there when Wattpad was founded ten years ago are twenty-four years old now. Their taste in stories has surely matured and will continue to do so.
Success on Wattpad is Hackable
Wattpad is incredibly daunting when you step into it as a new writer looking for success. Nevertheless, there are strategies you can implement to give you a better chance of getting your fics read.
Post Stories Wattpadders Will Want to Read and that Wattpad’s Algorithm Won’t Punish
This is a tough one — drawing the line between artistic integrity and marketability. Stories with a romantic storyline over-index on the site, but certain kinds of experimental work does quite well. The piece that broke me out on Wattpad was a novel in which each chapter was based on a Tumblr prompt. I also had points working against me. My stories are rated “Mature” because they contain frank discussions of sex and suicidal ideation. This means none of my books will ever make Wattpad’s Hot List (an excellent way to get discovered on the site). Much of the most popular fanfiction is erotica, and “adults only” material is not favoured by Wattpad’s algorithms. If you are looking to spread your wings, it might still be worth it to cross-post to Wattpad and try to gain some new readers. If you’re not married to the inclusion of the explicit material, consider dialling the sexual content back to “mature” to cast a wider net.
Optimise Your Story for Wattpad
Keep the chapters short — around 1,500–2,000 words or less. If your chapters are longer than this, break them up into parts. This is incredibly important. Most readers are on their phones and are less likely to complete long chapters. Also, consider adding a cast and using other media to spice things up.
Design a decent cover
Many of the covers on Wattpad are professional quality or close, and you have to put some effort into your cover. Keep it simple. The website Canva has a partnership with Wattpad and provides free templates. The covers are professional quality, but the downside is that your cover art won’t be unique. There are tons of free/cheap stock images you can use to differentiate your cover, but the design will take more effort and still look a bit generic. Canva also has paid templates that are probably used less frequently, and, if you have a few dollars to spare, it might be worth it.
DO NOT POST IN THE FANFICTION CATEGORY!
This was my biggest rookie mistake, and it was a GIANT one. One of the ways stories get attention on Wattpad is their ranking in the genre under which the story is posted. Those One Direction fanfics? The most popular ones rack up hundreds of millions of reads. It’s impossible to compete with them. The fandom is just too huge and engaged. Romance is another category where big numbers get thrown up. Find a smaller, less competitive category to post in. I write stories that don’t really fit into a single genre. Upmarket, slightly dystopian fanfiction with speculative and literary elements best describes most of my work. I file under Mystery/Thriller because Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are my OTP, and there are mysteries and thrilling moments in my stories. The top stories in Mystery/Thriller rarely have more than 1 or 2 million reads. That’s still a giant number, but it’s much more manageable than half a billion. The rankings aren’t based on raw numbers, and are more “currently trending” lists, but fighting off the One Direction fandom is an incredibly tall order. Posting in a genre that doesn’t get much traffic might suppress your read count as well, so do your research. Obviously, still tag your stories #fanfiction and with your OTP’s portmanteau so they turn up in searches.
For Maximum Results, Post a Novel-length, Complete Story
Some short stories and one shots do well on Wattpad, but multi-chapter stories are the biggest winners and get the most attention. Most Wattpadders are looking for novels, and the multi-chapter format also has the benefit of racking up reads — the major measure of success for a story (along with votes). Complete stories obviously do better and have a better chance of winning you loyal readers. Post something that that is already finished or that you know you are capable of finishing in a reasonable time. There have been a lot of complaints about orphaned stories cluttering up search results, and I think Wattpad will eventually address it and start pushing stories that haven’t been updated for several months out of the search results.
If you have only one shots or short stories, post them as a collection.
This is another big one and the reason most people end up losing. If you know your interest in projects often flags or that your writing schedule will be unpredictable, do not start posting until you’re close to finished and have enough backlogged material to keep up with your posting schedule. There is too much competition on Wattpad to give readers an excuse to find something else to read. Once you have their attention, you have to hold it.
Participate in the Community
The reason so many writers who try Wattpad (and other social media) fail is because they use the platforms solely to push their content and self-promote. Robust social networking functionality is built into Wattpad, and it is a highly informal, open environment that allows you to connect with people easily. The site also ruthlessly polices spam — it is impossible to send multiple duplicate messages. This is an amazing feature, but it also makes the next thing I’m about to tell you to do incredibly tedious if you start to gain traction on the site. THANK EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO ADDS YOUR STORY TO THEIR READING LIST, VOTES OR COMMENTS ON YOUR STORY, OR FOLLOWS YOU. ANSWER *EVERY* NON-TROLLING COMMENT. Most writers thank followers, but many (probably most) of the people who read your story won’t end up following you. It’s not enough to put out good work; you have to show appreciation for being appreciated on an individual, one-to-one level. This all makes it more likely that they will continue to read, vote and comment.
Quick story: A couple of my early readers voted for one of the last chapters in my book. I messaged them saying thanks, and they went back and voted for all the other chapters, multiplying each of their original votes by thirty. Votes help your story’s ranking, increase the likelihood of it being shown to other readers and are incredibly important for discoverability.
Interacting with your readers, reminding them you still exist, giving them subtle nudges to keep reading and voting allows you to gather critical mass and create and maintain momentum.
Join groups and enter contests. Read and recommend other writers’ work. These are all ways to help your work get discovered and read.
From what I can tell (I’m still a relative n00b), Wattpad is a laid-back, supportive environment that is meant to nurture amateur writers. The overwhelming majority of the people posting are just kids who don’t have much life experience and are using their writing to explore the world. They get things wrong, and jumping down their throats about it isn’t helpful and is seen as bad form. If you’re the type who likes to mount self-righteous Twitter/Tumblr attacks and defaults to that kind of behaviour, Wattpad is the wrong place for you.
THE MOST EFFECTIVE HACK: Try to Get Featured
Getting featured is the cheat code. It was the turning point for me and most other writers who have put up decent numbers in recent years. Submitting to be featured on Wattpad is a bit like querying a publisher, and they are inundated with requests, but it’s definitely worth the effort because the upside is so huge.
In September 2016, I participated in the 30 Day Challenge, and posted a new chapter to Wattpad every day. At the end of the challenge, the story had 351 reads, a handful of votes and a few lovely comments from some very kind readers. I’d applied to be featured about half-way through the challenge and was accepted a week later. The feature began on October 18. A week later, the story had over 2,500 reads and 100 votes. A month later, the story had over 10,000 reads and was closing in on 400 votes. I went from 13 to over 150 followers in that time. Wattpad doesn’t keep track of the number of people who add your book to their reading lists, but there was an enormous cascade (in the hundreds) of those as well.
Remember what I said about participating in the community? I’m certain that my having signed up for Wattpad’s 30 Day Challenge was a key factor in nudging them towards looking at the story I’d written for the challenge in a favourable light and choosing to feature it.
Choose your genre carefully before applying to be featured. When I submitted my story to be featured, it was in the fanfiction category and is trapped there being suffocated by 1D stories until the feature ended. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Use Wattpad’s “Conversations” Feature to Keep in Touch With Your Followers
When you’re posting a story, obviously notify your followers to keep them up to date with what’s going on and to manage their expectations. If you’re going to take a hiatus from posting, let them know. Don’t just disappear! Along the lines of not using social media solely to push content, don’t fall out of touch with your followers when you’re not posting. Stay in regular contact, and let them know how your new writing is going (or if it’s not). Tell them about interesting stories you’ve come across (other books, TV shows, films, etc.). Try to stay on their radar.
Succeeding on Wattpad takes a lot of work, but there is a dearth of mature, well-written fanfiction that creates a gap that can be exploited. In addition, if you eventually want to segue into sharing wholly original work, Wattpad provides much more fertile ground. The site is aging up slowly but surely, and it’s best to plant your flag now before the traditional publishers start flooding the site to siphon off older book-buying readers.
This has been my most read story by a huge margin, so it seems there are a lot of people who are relatively new to Wattpad who might need some insight on how to use the site. As a result, I’ve decided to do an ongoing series of articles on how I use Wattpad.
I’m keeping a list of all the articles here.