Building a Following Before Publishing: The Wattpad Effect

Everyone may want to publish a book, but only a few aspiring authors will actually get there. Publication can often depend on luck and the right publisher finding the right story at the right time. It is notoriously a grueling process to go from a rough draft to a finished and, perhaps more importantly, published product. This can be a lot for any author to go through, and it might also be the reason for Wattpad’s success.

Launched in 2006 by founders Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen in Toronto, Wattpad creates an online community where writers can share their stories and receive immediate feedback from the people who matter most—the readers. With over 10 million monthly readers and over 80 million readers and writers total, the appeal of Wattpad is drawing in writers who crave that sense of community and the opportunity to share their stories in a way that can offer immediate gratification. Self-publishing is now more accessible than ever, and Wattpad is at the forefront of turning an author’s self-published work into a publishing dream come true.

Perhaps most famously, Anna Todd’s After has defied all odds and grown into a global sensation that has spawned a book series and a growing movie franchise. After starting out with Harry Styles fan fiction on the platform, Todd gained an immense following of millions of readers and was able to snag a publishing contract with Simon & Schuster that allowed her to physically publish her work and gave her the opportunity to write ten more books for the company as well. According to StyleCaster, the print version of the After book sold over 10 million copies and landed on the New York Times best-seller list before being made into a movie that is now streaming on Netflix. But Todd’s success isn’t the norm for authors who decide to introduce their work through self-publishing, and she certainly couldn’t have imagined this success when she was uploading chapters to the site from her phone.

Publishing on Wattpad does come with drawbacks. According to The Writing Cooperative, a major downside is that authors are publishing their work for free, and it takes a bit of social media savvy to give yourself the best chance at becoming successful. There is also the fear that Wattpad readers won’t want to buy a book that they have already read for free, especially as 90 percent of Wattpad’s users are either millennials or members of Generation Z and might not have the money to spend on a physical copy of the book even if they wanted to buy it. The platform has tried to tackle some of these concerns with Wattpad Books, a data-driven publishing initiative aimed at keeping the publishing industry on its toes and combatting the repetitive nature of publishing trends. The one thing that is clear from this platform, however, is that publishing in any sense is a difficult journey where risk and reward go hand in hand, and only time will tell if Wattpad’s unique methods will bring lasting change to the publishing industry.

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