Why Bestselling Authors may just be Lucky

Creative people know any field where Intellectual Property is the primary value of something is going to be treated subjectively like the customer. It’s one thing to have a plumber who can either fix a leaky pipe properly and on time or who can’t. But writing a book, making a movie or music video, or a card game are totally subjective. These tend to have the very top 1% making a lot of money from their IP, maybe another 3% earning solid money from their IP, and everyone else is just doing it for the passion.

For years people have wondered though, why do some people make so much more money than others? How come one idea takes off, while 20 similar ideas don’t? Two researchers tried to  crack that code this week with their new book, The Bestsellers Code. I’ve added my reactions to help explain what they mean:

 

Back in the spring of 2010, Stieg Larsson’s agent was having a good day. On June 13, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest—third in the series from a previously unknown author—debuted at number one in hardback in the New York Times

The following month Amazon would announce Larsson was the first author ever to sell a million copies on the Kindle, and over the next two years sales in all editions would top seventy-five million. Not bad for an unknown political activist—turned-novelist from a little Scandinavian country, especially one who had chosen a rather uncharming title in Swedish and had written some brutal scenes of rape and torture.Men Who Hate Women—or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as it was renamed in English—was the sensation book of the year in more than thirty countries.

The press didn’t understand the success. Major newspapers commissioned opinion pieces on what on earth was going on in the book world. Why this book? Why the frenzy? What was the secret? Who could have known?

Answers were lackluster. Reviewers scratched their heads about it. They found fault with the novel’s structure, style, plotting, and character. They groaned over the translations. They complained about the stupidity of the reading public. But still copies sold as fast as they were printed—whether you were in the UK, the U.S., in Japan, or in Germany; whether you were male, female, old, young, black, white, straight, or gay. Whoever you were, practically anywhere, you knew people who were reading those books.

That doesn’t happen very often in the book world…The level of sales his trilogy achieved without even the backing of its author was supposedly just unfathomable. Freakish. Unpredictable.

Let’s consider some numbers. A company in Delaware called Bowker is the global leader in bibliographic information and the exclusive provider for unique identification numbers (ISBN) for books in the U.S. Their annual report states that approximately fifty to fifty-five thousand new works of fiction are published every year. Given the increasing number of self-published ebooks that carry no ISBN, this is a conservative number. In the U.S., about 200-220 novels make the New York Times bestseller lists every year. Of that…even fewer hit the bestseller lists and stay there week after week to become what the industry calls a “double-digit” book. Only handfuls of authors manage those ten or more weeks on the list, and of those maybe just three or four will sell a million copies of a single title in the U.S. in one year. Why those books?

Traditionally, it is believed that there are certain skills a novelist needs to master in order to win readers: a sense of plot, compelling characters, more than basic competence with grammar. Writers with big fan bases have mastered more: an eye for the human condition, the twists and turns of plausibility, that rare but appropriate use of the semicolon…But when it comes to the kind of success involved in hundreds of thousands of people reading the same book at the same time—well, unless Oprah is involved, that signals the presence of a fine stardust that’s apparently just too difficult to detect. The sudden and seemingly blessed success of books like the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Help, Gone Girl, and The Da Vinci Code is considered very lucky, but as random as winning the lottery.

 

So these guys are essentially admitting that publishers have no idea how to identify a bestseller, right? And that there’s a lot of random chance in why one book is “it” and 5,000 other books similar to “it” just don’t have “it.”

 

White Swans

The bold claim of this book is that the novels that hit the New York Times bestseller lists are not random, and the market is not in fact as unknowable as others suggest. Regardless of genre, bestsellers share an uncanny number of latent features that give us new insights into what we read and why. What’s more, algorithms allow us to discover new and even as yet unpublished books with similar hallmarks of bestselling DNA.

There is a commonly repeated “truth” in publishing that success is all about an established name, marketing dollars, or expensive publicity campaigns. Sure, these things have an impact, but our research challenges the idea it’s all about hype in a way that should appeal to those writers who toil over their craft. Five years of study suggests that bestselling is largely dependent upon having just the right words in just the right order, and the most interesting story about the NYT list is about nothing more or less than the author’s manuscript, black ink on white paper, unadorned.

Using a computer model that can read, recognize, and sift through thousands of features in thousands of books, we discovered that there are fascinating patterns inherent to the books that are most likely to succeed in the market, and they have their own story to tell about readers and reading. In this book we will describe how and why we built such a model and how it discovered that eighty to ninety percent of the time the bestsellers in our research corpus were easy to spot. Eighty percent of New York Times bestsellers of the past thirty years were identified by our machines as likely to chart. What’s more, every book was treated as if it were a fresh, unseen manuscript and then marked not just with a binary classification of “likely to chart” or “likely not to,” but also with a score indicating its likelihood of being a bestseller. These scores are fascinating in their own right, but as we show how they are made we will also share our explanation for why that book on your bedside table is so hard to put down.

Consider some of these percentages. The computer model’s certainty about the success of Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, was 95.7 percent. For Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer it was 99.2 percent. Both were number one in hardback on the NYT list, which for a long time has been one of the most prestigious positions to occupy in the book world. These are veteran authors, of course, already established. But the model is unaware of an author’s name and reputation and can just as confidently score an unknown writer. The score for The Friday Night Knitting Club, the first novel by Kate Jacobs, was 98.9 percent. The Luckiest Girl Alive, a very different debut novel by Jessica Knoll, had a bestselling success score of 99.9 percent based purely on the text of the manuscript. Both Jacobs and Knoll stayed on the list for many weeks. The Martian (before Matt Damon’s interest in playing the protagonist) got 93.4 percent. There are examples from all genres: The First Phone Call from Heaven, a spiritual tale by Mitch Albom, 99.2 percent; The Art of Fielding, a literary debut by Chad Harbach, 93.3 percent; and Bared to You, an erotic romance by Sylvia Day, 91.2 percent.

These figures, which provide a measure of bestselling potential, have made some people excited, others angry, and more than a few suspicious. In some ways that is fair enough: the scores are disruptive, mind-bending. To some industry veterans, they are absurd. But they also could just change publishing, and they will most certainly change the way that you think about what’s inside the next bestseller you read.

We should make it clear that none of the books we reference were acquired based on our model’s figures, and figures, beyond the ones you’ll read about here, have never been formally shared with any agent or publishing house. We should also be clear that these figures are specific to the closed world of our research corpus, a corpus we designed to look like what you’d see if you walked into a Barnes & Noble with a wide selection to choose from. Agents and editors do a good job of putting books in front of consumers—it’s not as though we are short of things to read. And some individuals in publishing have a particular reputation for the Midas touch. But remember that the bestseller rate in the industry as it stands is less than one-half of one percent. That’s a lot of gambling before a big win. Note, too, that year after year, the lists comprise the names of the same long-standing mega-authors. Stephen King is sixty-eight. James Patterson is sixty-eight. Danielle Steel is sixty-eight. As much as fans are still thrilled by another new novel from one of these veteran writers, it is telling that the publishing world has not discovered the next generation of authors who will similarly enjoy thirty to forty years of constant bestselling. Nor did the industry find, despite the thousands of manuscripts both rejected and published annually, a runaway bestseller for 2014 (Dragon Tattoo, Fifty Shades, and Gone Girl had been the standout hits of previous years), and neither did it publish a manuscript to impress the Pulitzer Prize committee in 2012. Why?

Well, it is a universal wisdom that bestsellers are freaks. They are the happy outliers. The anomalies of the market. Black swans. If that is the truth, then once you find a bestselling writer, why put your money anywhere else? Why put your millions on a new twenty-year-old writer instead of Stephen King? How could you possibly know if a new literary author is worth the sort of investment worthy of a future big-prize winner?

If you review their computing model, you find they only review bestselling books against each other. They don’t compare the bestsellers to every book ever published, or even a random collection of 10,000 indie  books or 10,000 traditionally-published books NOT on the bestsellers’ list so it’s unclear why bestsellers do better than non-bestsellers, according to their algorithm.

 

The conventional wisdom has always been that it’s random chance, and so publishers and agents take total guesses as to what book will become a bestseller in the future. Because of this, they look for authors who fit the ‘profile’ they’ve built up: someone between the ages of 25-39 with a killer manuscript and either a) a big following already (celebrities) or b) the chance to gain one super fast. The MS fits the common themes assigned for that particular genre but also has a twist on it so it seems fresh and exciting and can be promoted in 18-24 months when the book comes out (assuming it does). The public at large, who may prefer different novels, will love it as much as librarians.

I personally have an theory it’s the AUTHORS, not the books, that drive sales. You get an author willing to take risks and to become a lightning rod for attention (and controversy) and I think sales will increase over authors who just have good stories. I would love to prove the conventional wisdom wrong- quit look at the Manuscripts, agents! But then again, I’m a lowly writer with 43k Wattpad views and no fiction sales ever, so what do I know, according to them?

Well, at least we can agree on something- no one knows exactly how to build a bestseller. The difference is, I’m willing to bet that I can create them without needs for silly algorithms or guesswork.

 

Source Me: Wattpad Changing their Featured List Algoritm

 

I got this from Wattpad. Basically, I should expect my book’s ranking to drop after the six month period is over and if you’re Featured or looking to be Featured on Wattpad, be aware:

 We’re reaching out to you because one of your stories is currently Featured in 
one of our genre categories. We're making a few changes to the process in the
coming weeks and wanted to keep you in the loop!
The Featured List has been around since Wattpad’s inception, and since then we’ve
 had the pleasure of highlighting many remarkable stories through this carefully
 curated and coveted list. 

As you can imagine, after ten years there are now thousands of stories on
our Featured Lists all vying for placement. Unfortunately some are from 
writers who are no longer active on Wattpad or stories that have been removed. 
The more stories we add to the list, the less effective the list becomes and we 
want to make sure that all featured stories have a fair shot at being seen and 
discovered by our amazing community.
We’ve discovered that the Featured List is the most impactful in the first 
six months, therefore featured stories will now have a limited time of 6 months 
on the list. After that, they may be removed to make room for newer ones to keep 
things fresh and diverse. *Please note that some categories will be more 
affected than others as popularity varies by genre.
We want to thank you so much for sharing your story with the Wattpad community.
 It is writers like you that keep us all entertained and inspired!







Source: Wattpad May Pay You…(Call Me) Maybe

Apparently Wattpad has rolled out a new feature for top authors: Get paid with ads in your story.

I received a tip from a fellow Wattpader with a story that has over 200k reads who announced that she is getting involved with a new program to place ads in her featured story as a means of seeing if Wattpad can  ever turn into YouTube and entice people to post, just like YouTube.

Now obviously you are almost impossibly unlikely to get rich making YouTube videos , even if some guy named Shaytard (more like Fucktard to be honest, proof that America is truly becoming an Idiocracy) made tens of millions “working” as a “video producers” (I don’t even want to link back to that) but if you are able to earn a few bucks or even a few hundred, it’s a nice night out gift. Here’s another article about your odds.

Now Wattpad is much smaller than YouTube: whereas YouTube has over 1 billion monthly users, Wattpad is just over 50 million. So Assuming a YouTuber with 1 million monthly views earns say twenty grand a year from her videowork, divide that by 20 and you can see that even the top Wattpadders will likely only take home pocket change.

However, this program could be a boon to authors who cannot get traditionally published or who are not good at selfpublishing, so even 2k is better than none.

 

My Novel got Rejected Again

After revising my query and trying again, I finally got an agent to request a partial. After she read it, here’s what I was told:

” I read it and found the plot interesting, but wasn’t as taken with the dialogue or writing, so I’m going to pass on the opportunity to represent this.”

I offered another novel that’s totally separate but that was declined as well (without being read).

So what does this mean? Ironically, I thought the writing and dialogue were good and the plot not so much, so this agent saw things completely opposite. However, as of this writing I’m over 17.5k reads in less than 3 months, and my story is consistently in the top 400 (as high as #49) out of at least 100,000 fantasy stories on Wattpad, so clearly there is interest in Bradan’s story. Per popular demand, I will post book 2 as I have no ability as of yet to market the novels themselves. I will continue to try to seek a traditional publisher but if no one wants the novel, I will self-publish the series rather than sit on them forever.

While I appreciate this agent’s time in reading the first 50 pages of ERA OF BRADAN, it’s disappointing that yet again, I cannot get interest in a novel that, as I note above, has a pretty solid following on Wattpad, especially given that it’s my only book and I only began posting it this calendar year. While the number may fluctuate, I gain about 1000 new reads every 4-5 days, which means close to 7,000 new fans a month or another 55,000 by the end of this year (this is just at current trends- typically as books get more reads, they attract even more people so I could end up averaging 1,000+ a day). Now that’s not a lot of reads on Wattpad, but it does suggest there’s interest in this story. Keep in mind this is a MG novel and isn’t even the right age for Wattpad’s readership. By the time I post the second novel, I should be able to easily get over 100,000 views (and no money for it). This doesn’t even count my kid beta readers, the few who’ve read the whole thing on PDF and have liked it, if not loved it.

I get that agents have a lot of submissions and it’s a totally subjective field. But I think they are looking for different things than what readers are looking for. And remember, we aren’t even up to the publishers yet. Oh well. In the meantime, back to selling card games.

 

What do you think about the traditional book publishing process ? Have you experienced rejection within the industry?

3 Kickstarter and Wattpad Tips

So now that Kickstarter is over, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Kickstarter was fully funded! I cleared $4100 in 30 days, which is a good marker of success. I now hope I can deliver, both figuratively and literally, within the next month.
  • Waiting to get my cards printed up. Expected deliver is May 27th. My printer doesn’t move any faster. Check below for tips for success.
  • Got an agent requesting a partial! It’s not much but it is pretty cool. First time I’ve ever gotten a literary professional interested in any of my work. With luck, that agent won’t be the last.
  • Story was featured on Wattpad and I am over 8k views in less than 2 months. I expect that by May 25th I will have passed the 10k mark on reads. No, reads aren’t everything. But for those who care about such things, averaging 5k reads a month is not bad at all, especially since i’m still a relative unknown on Wattpad. Probably by the time I clear the 10k mark, I’ll see a bit of an uptick in views per day. My goal is to get 50k reads before my featuring expires. At my current rate I’m expecting 30-35k reads which is not bad given that I won’t write fanfic or teen romances. I’ll check back in periodically to  see if I can hit 50k before the featuring expires.

 

As it’s Mother’s Day, I won’t bore you with a long article. As much as I’d rather Vlog than blog, I just cannot find the enthusiasm to perform like a street monkey for a tiny number of strangers. Plus editing takes a lot of time, even for simple, jump-cut oriented video that is the favorite on YouTube. If you’re wonder why you’re probably not gonna become YouTube or Wattpad famous, I’ll post that next time. Hint: Has little to do with you.

That said, you can have some success, so here are 3 Wattpad tips:

  1. Write in a genre that has more readers, and give them what they want. Teen romance and fantasy (particularly with romance) does very well there, as does fan-fic of popular things. If you do horror or comedy, you won’t have as big a reach. Adjust expectations accordingly
  2.  Don’t do read for read swaps. At first, you will do this because you want to pump up your count. At a certain point there just isn’t enough time. An easier way to find new readers is to post to message boards. You can do this a few minutes a day and still reach a lot of readers.
  3. DO thank voters, commenters, and followers. Not just because it’s nice, but because you will show up on their profiles and this boosts your profile to whoever follows THEM.

 

Now three tips for success on Kickstarter:

  1. I wish I had known how hard it is to raise money by myself. Don’t get sucked into the hype that you just make a profile and “build it” that they will come. The more partners you have on your project, the loftier your expectations will be and the more money you can make.
  2. Get your supporters lined up early. Kickstarter favors those not even with more money, but with a combo of more money AND a higher percentage of their goal reached in the first day and then the first week when choosing which projects to feature. I hit 22 percent of my goal in 7 days, which is the minimum to even have a shot at featuring. But if I had hit 40 percent right away, my ranking would have been boosted and I would have seen my numbers go even higher.
  3. Use the Kickstarter hashtag on twitter. I not only gained a bunch of followers but I actually did get 2 donations of Twitter for boxes, which is pretty cool.

 

Got questions or tips? Post ’em below.

A Tip for Getting Featured on Wattpad

logo property of Wattpad.com

I got a note from one of Wattpad’s Ambassadors, which is (for those who don’t know) an unpaid position to help Wattpad monitor the site to keep it clean (or at least that’s my impressions anyway) saying they liked my store enough that they’d like to feature it when I finish posting it, in late March. Of course, I accepted it.

Here’s what the Ambassador said:

Your story will get a week or so pinned to the top of it’s genre List, then it’ll join the main part of the List. Each section of the List is randomised each day to give everyone an equal chance. Although we ask for six months, we’re happy to leave the story up there longer if the writer is happy and the story remains complete. Anyone with a Wattpad account can see your story and the Featured Lists are given prominence on various home pages on App and Web so you should see your exposure grow.

I’ve heard it’s difficult to get a story featured, because there is only so much space to promote work and so many stories to read. In this way, I’m grateful, even though I won’t make any money from the story. The network is about 40 million people, which means many potential readers.

My tip is this: You may ask for a story to be featured even if you haven’t posted it. Right now I have a third of the book posted, and while I am promising to post the rest of the story a month earlier than I had scheduled myself to, I must have impressed the Ambassador after 10 chapters because that’s how many were up when I received the offer. Actually, what happened was, I thought you sent them a PDF and if they read it and liked it, they would post and feature your story. So I  told them I would post it and be in touch when it was done. The Ambassador then checked out my story a third of the way in and liked what he saw.

It should be a fun experiment. I’ll keep you posted. In case you’re wondering, the goal is to see if I can get enough reads either to a) attract a publisher and publish traditionally or b) get enough supporters to then promote book 2, and this way if I can’t get a publisher and I self-publish, I’ll have a bigger audience than if I self-published this second.

 

 

 

 

 

What if Harry Potter was Crowdsourced?

Happy-Thanksgiving-Pictures

thanksgivingprayer.com

The publishing world has changed, and the major players have lost ground to Amazon and some new upstarts looking to cash in on the rising indie-author boom, where more and more authors are choosing to self-publish their work instead of seeking a publishing contract.

The style of work has changed too. Short stories have come back in vogue, in no small part due to shortening attention spans among everyone with internet access. Heck, I stopped twice while writing this post to check e-mail. Even shorter pieces, called flash fiction (1200 words or less) are also in style, and some authors are demonstrating their ‘creativity’ and ‘talent’ by tweeting their work, others post to Wattpad or a similar social sharing site, and now we have interactive books courtesy of Apple. There are still ways to tell stories that have not yet been discovered.

One way which has and which is now being touted is crowdsourcing stories. The idea appears to be, someone writes an idea and writers compete to write the best versions of a chapter. Readers then vote on which chapters they like best, and that goes into the book. From Publishers Weekly:

“Traditional print publishing is gatekeeper driven. The traditional publishing model has focused mostly on large-scale print production and relies on a small number of retained authors with a proven track record of generating commercially successful work. The relationship between publisher and author is nurtured at a high cost. Publishers control their ROI by focusing on a small number of proven writers. With the emergence of e-books, the risk of picking the wrong author is reduced, but because of print’s continued focus on big authors, large publishing organizations are still a tough nut to crack for new authors or hard to categorize material.

Digital publishing is automation driven. Digital publishers saw an opportunity to automate many of the steps of traditional publishing, including digitizing books. This created cost efficiencies and increased the size of the market but the essential process of creating content remained the same. Hundreds of Internet-based publishers emerged to sell digital books, which gave birth to self-publishing and hybrid models in which authors pay partners to be published in exchange for a higher percentage of royalties. While digital publishing has expanded the number of published authors, it has not generated the revenues of traditional publishing, or garnered much respect for its content.

The sharing model of publishing is profile driven. In the newest sharing model of publishing, bits of stories are crowdsourced, and the community defines the best writing. Whereas the other models rely on the market to determine quality after the publishing process is complete, with customers using their wallets to vote, the sharing model publishes stories that have already been embraced by the crowd, eliminating the risk of publishing unwanted material. Instead of being process driven, the sharing model is profile driven. Readers and writers sit at the heart of this ecosystem of content generation, with their profiles defining the value they bring. A good analogy for how this model has evolved is the job postings market. Monster automated the process of scanning newspaper job postings. LinkedIn then focused on the profile of job seekers and allowed the community to crowdsource their careers.

Today there’s a similar opportunity for writers with the new sharing models of publishing crowdsourced original content through “competitive collaboration,” with writers competing to write sections of a story, and readers voting to determine which sections are published. Models like this turn the storytelling process into a social media experience.”

The premise is kind of like Wattpad meets celebrity authors, like how sometimes authors collaborate on a project to produce a book. But now, you promote your rough draft to the crowd, and let the reader tell you what’s good, rather than you finishing work and showing it to the reader.

The basic problem with crowdsourcing stories is that not all writers are equally talented. Yes, if five equal authors got together and agreed beforehand on a plot, it might work. The problem with Skrawl’s idea is, if one author is significantly better than another, then the good author will be dragged down by mediocre to poor authors, having to a) publicly show work that isn’t ready yet and b) being forced to compete with someone who may not be as good

Let’s use your favorite book, which is probably Harry Potter, since it seems like a lot of people’s favorite book is Harry Potter. In the old days, JK Rowling wrote an outline, then a book, then queried until a publisher bought the rights to the first book. The publisher edited the book, added a cover, and sold copies in bookstores. Today, if she received dozens or hundreds of rejections due to declining space for new authors, she could self-publish an e-book and hope for the best.

Under this crowdsourcing model, JK Rowling would post chapter 1 of Harry Potter to a website like Skrawl or Wattpad and then “compete” with some random schlub named Steve, living in Manalapan New Jersey, whose idea of a novel opener is “King Liprix wore a green coat and carried a purple sword.” Steve would post his chapter 2, and most of us agree it would suck. But, because readers determine via poll which chapter to vote on, Steve would get lots of his friends to vote for chapter 2 of the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s in UK) Stone. He has more friends who vote the same way most people do for social media competitons, so Steve wins. Then for chapter 3, Tanya from Redding, California gets her friends to pick her chapter 3, leaving JK out of the next two. By the time she’s ready to write chapter 4 (“Diagon Alley”), it no longer makes sense because the story is now about Harry using a staff and rubber band ball to fight a unicorn on a pogo stick while Harry Styles of One Direction looks on approvingly. Thus a great story is now ruined.

Crowdsourcing would require previous collaboration between authors, and voters who are truly impartial and capable of understanding the storytelling process are deciding one step of the way; and also if the authors are of relatively equal strength and talent. And as readers are already gatekeepers of literature, do you really need to check in with them first in a race to the bottom to see who can turn literature into whoever can push the most votes online?

Bottom line for Skrawl: Potential as a niche form of storytelling, but unlikely to replace conventional stories. I have a feeling most readers would rather just read a great story when it comes out instead of devoting hours to reading stinky writing so they can feel “important”.

No posts until next week. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Is writing being devalued?

Yes, if you ask Roxana Robinson, head of something called the Authors Guild, of which I am not a member. Heck, I’m not even sure how I would be eligible for this; I guess I need to sell a lot of copies when I finally do get published.

From the article:

“Writers are contributing to the fall in their incomes by penning free pieces for large companies in the hope that it will raise their profile and lead to book sales, Roxana Robinson, president of The Authors Guild, has told The Bookseller. She also said that Amazon was devaluing books and writing.

Robinson right, a novelist and short story writer who has also written a biography of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, has been president of The Authors Guild—the US equivalent of the Society of Authors—since March 2014. She said that “it is clear that writers’ incomes are declining”, claiming a drop in the number of people reading books and “struggles over royalty and prices” were among the reasons for lower incomes.

“Amazon discounting book prices means that there is a movement toward devaluing books,” she said. “And I think that has an impact on the way people look at writing. If Amazon keeps pricing e-books at very, very low prices, people start feeling, ‘well, actually, writing isn’t a valuable product’.”

But, she added, authors were not helping themselves by writing for free. “People write on Huffington Post, they write for Goodreads, they write for Medium.com: valuable sites owned by big tech companies that make a lot of money for those companies. Writers choose to write there for nothing and to provide content for nothing. That’s another issue, and that is something that writers are doing deliberately.”

Robinson said The Authors Guild would not advise any author to stop writing for publications, but argued that an article by an author on a website may not lead to book sales. “I don’t know that anyone has figures on sales that result from this kind of writing (for free),” she said. “Everyone says, ‘get your name out there’, but does that really translate to connecting to the hard mental presence of the book? We want writers to recognise what is happening, to be aware of this trend, that writers themselves are contributing to the idea that their writing doesn’t deserve to be paid for.”

Okay, here’s the rub: She is not completely wrong, but she writes from a different position than the rest of us.

Where she’s right: Digital content has basically been devalued to zero. The top selling mobile games are all free. How many people actually pay for music? You can stream free via Pandora or Spotifly, or just listen on YouTube. Sure, artists make some money, but not a lot.

A lot of this is because since anyone can get in, everyone can get in. And as the polar opposite in sports, where once an owner decided to pay top dollar for the best athletes and thus drove up the athlete’s salary, the moment some people decided to give away freebies because they were in a position too, people began to expect it. Woe be that writer who wants to make even a dollar off his/her work, when most of the public doesn’t mind paying $5 for a Starbucks grande latte. So in the sense that it’s become harder to make a living, let alone money, I think she’s on to something.

She is also correct that sites like Wattpad, Goodreads, Medium, etc., make money by essentially getting people to post free stuff, without being more supportive of indie authors who want to earn an honest buck selling their work (Wattpad is particularly unhelpful). While it does build exposure for some, it encourages people to expect to never pay for anything, because if you see all stories as merely words on a screen, and not anything with meaning to you, then it’s easy to just read free books. Look at all the folks who only ever go to the free-book section to download work.

However, suggesting that it’s bad to post free content to build a following is nuts. What am I doing now? How about your blogs, which I follow and read from time to time? How about Kboards, or Goodreads, or Wattpad, or any other place? The big advantage of these sites is that they allow anyone, even those without a “platform”, to get one. How can one get a platform if one isn’t already famous or well-connected? These sites, and the entire concept of self-publishing, do just that. It isn’t like I have a published op-ed column in a national digital newspaper with tens of thousands of views per article. So what to do if Oprah doesn’t know your cell by heart, or Bill O’Reilly can’t announce in on his show? Only via social media can some of us reach an audience.

The big question for anyone who writers, whether indie or trad-pubbed, is this: Will the market for paid books at least hold steady, or will we turn into the music industry, where a few megastars make tens of millions from sales of everything, while most indies struggle since no one wants to pay for their music?*
*I have bought indie albums before, so don’t blame me.
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Is Wattpad a Waste of Time or an Indispensable Tool?

Rachel Reuben, who blogs at writingbytheseatofmypants.com/, has a great blog for tips on social media, different writing sites, and anything else you want to know about the indie author market. I found where when searching randomly about Wattpad, a free story posting site apparently populated by girls and women 15-25 (Average Wattpad age is 20) who like romance, vampire love stories and Harry Potter fan-fic.

I sent Rachel an e-mail a couple of weeks ago asking about her thoughts Wattpad since she didn’t appear to have any good experiences using it, even though she writes in the most same genres as Wattpad’s audience likes to read. Here’s what she wrote back:

“What I meant about the Wattpad post was that I believe it’s a site for building a platform of readers who like your work but not much else.  This is ideal for those authors looking to traditionally publish because several writers on the site have gotten publishing contracts after scoring millions of views.  It’s well known that agents and acquisition editors want authors with a built in platform before they’ll dare to sign them.  Wattpad shows them that you’re marketable and you can build a following without them.

However, if you’re an indie author with a book to sell, it’s probably not worth the time.  I don’t know of any indie authors who can trace any boost in sales to Wattpad.  If you want sales, you’ll have to advertise and borrow the platforms of other influencers in your genre.  Wattpad makes it difficult to sell a book on its site because the buy buttons are nearly invisible.  I had a reader ask me to post the rest of my book on the site (I posted only the first 3 chapters).  I told her it was available on Amazon and all she had to do was click the buy button.  This caused a bit of confusion because she had no idea there even was a buy button.  Yes, it’s that tiny!  But Wattpad does this in order to keep readers on their site and not send them off to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  It’s a wise move on their part, but it sucks for us indie authors looking to sell a book.  So no, I don’t believe this site is ideal.

The only reason I would use Wattpad again is to post a short story or prequel to a novel I’m already selling.  I would link to the novel in my bio as well as mention it at the end of the story.  Bestselling authors like Margret Atwood are doing this on Wattpad too.

It’s a smart move because these days, we have to maximize our time and that means staying away from things that don’t work and Wattpad just doesn’t seem to work when it comes to sales.”

I signed up for a Wattpad account, though I haven’t yet posted anything (I will with things I don’t mind giving away for free). A review of the most-read stories shows, indeed, that romance, paranormal, and teen “chik-lit” stuff dominates. For example, fantasy and sci-fi’s most popular (non romantically-oriented) stories were in the six figure reads. But when it came to romance, some stories had as many as 40 million! Look at the genre followers, and romance far outpaces every other topic.
Now even as a man I have some romance story ideas which someday I will publish. The concerns I have are:
  •  Wattpad stories are free which means you could reach millions of readers but have zero to little sales. If you have a site where people expect a free story, then asking them to buy it is a problem.
  • If you don’t write primarily for teenage girls or young women, you probably can’t get noticed since your writing likely won’t interest the typical reader.
  • they apparently are allowing bigger names like Margaret Atwood to post on the site, which will make discovery for new writers even more of a challenge.
Among the pros, if you do write romance or chik-lit, you stand a better chance at building an audience or adding e-mail subscribers. If you want to test a story, this looks like a great place to do a run and see if it’s working.
What about you? Have you tried using Wattpad before?