We know authors are always looking for ways to maximize their exposure and increase profits. You worked so hard writing that book, why wouldn’t you want everyone to read it? Today author Linda Poitevin shares how she struggled with her career at a major publisher and found success (and earned money!) in giving her stories away for free. Yes, you read that right. Read on to find out how she made it work for her.
If you’re like me, you like your books to earn money. This, of course, means you need to sell books. And to do that, you need to find—and grow—an audience willing to buy those books. So what I’m going to tell you now about a free reading platform called Wattpad may seem a little counterintuitive … but bear with me. I promise you’ll be glad you did!
First, a bit of history. Three years ago, I published my first urban fantasy novel, Sins of the Angels, through Ace/Roc (Penguin USA). The book got good reviews and did moderately well. The second in the series, Sins of the Son, followed six months later. Again, good reviews, but numbers dwindled. Eighteen months later, the third in the series, Sins of the Lost, was published digital-first…and, frankly, sales tanked. As a result, my publisher declined to put the book into print, or to offer for the final book in the series. Talk about a blow to a writer’s ego.
As you can imagine, there was a bit of floundering on my part as I tried to figure out what to do next. I knew I needed to grow my audience, but the question was how? I was already active on social media, I did book signings, I blogged…what more could I possibly do? Then, a little over a year ago, I stumbled onto a rapidly growing but as yet under-known platform by the name of Wattpad. Well, stumbled might be a bit of an understatement, because repeated mentions by authors in my circle of acquaintances felt more like the universe was whacking me over the head…but I digress.
Wattpad is essentially a social media platform for readers and writers. Based in Toronto, Canada, it began in 2006 and currently has more than 40 million users spanning the globe. Writers share their stories for free, and readers can vote for those stories and/or leave comments and feedback. The platform is hugely popular with the YA and fanfic crowds, but its reach with successfully published authors is growing rapidly, with such heavyweights as Margaret Atwood and bestsellers Scott Westerfeld, Julie Kenner, Colleen Hoover and many others now offering work there.
I was more than a little skeptical about Wattpad’s platform to begin with, but I was also willing to try just about anything … and so in April 2014, I embarked on what I called my Great Wattpad Experiment. Under my contract with Penguin, I could only post a certain percentage of my Grigori Legacy novels, but I had a self-published romance that was mine to do with as I pleased. As my Urban Fantasy series has a strong romantic element to it, it made sense for me to work at building a romance audience in the hopes of generating some crossover.
I began releasing my contemporary romance, Gwynneth Ever After, as a serial — one or two chapters at a time on Fridays. I blogged about my experiment, and I posted links to the story on Twitter once or twice a day, and on Facebook a couple of times a week. And then things started to happen.
First, a welcome message from Wattpad, thanking me for joining and for my blog post, and letting me know about opportunities to boost my story. I responded, and in short order, Gwynneth became a featured story and my numbers exploded. [Editor’s Note: You can learn more about Wattpad’s featured story selection process here.]
Within four weeks, the story had risen to No. 10 on the Wattpad romance list and received 814 votes and 116 comments from readers. Within eight weeks, it reached the No. 1 spot in romance and received 7,679 votes. I also had 771 people follow me so they would be notified by email whenever I posted a new chapter. At the three-month mark, the book remained in the No. 1 position and had 25,000 votes, and I had gained 3,200 additional followers. By the time the story was complete, it had more than 4 million reads and 59,000 votes — and I now have 34,500 followers.
All well and good, you may be thinking, but how does any of this translate into selling books and earning money? An excellent question — and to answer it, I have a few more numbers for you.
I originally released Gwynneth Ever After as an ebook in June 2013, ten months before I began putting it up on Wattpad. During that time, the book sold a total of 314 copies across all platforms (Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBook). In the first nine weeks following its debut on Wattpad, it sold 399 copies. This was followed by sales of 100-350 copies per month for the entire duration of my Wattpad experiment. It turns out that many Wattpadders are not only avid readers, they’re impatient ones, too! (Note: to avoid triggering Kindle’s price-matching clause, I left Gwynneth up for a month to allow readers to finish the story, then took the second half of the book down. The first half remains as an excerpt and continues to attract new readers.)
Will every book will perform the same way on Wattpad? Absolutely not. Results will vary depending on factors such as genre (romance is huge), and your activity on other social media (remember, I was directing traffic to Wattpad from my Facebook and Twitter communities). Given that I’ve been able to duplicate my results with a second romance release, however, I can unequivocally tell you that the possibilities are there. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the jump in sales I experience each Friday when I release a new chapter of my latest novel, Forever Grace:
Well? Have I convinced you yet that Wattpad is worth looking into? I certainly hope so — and to help you get started, I’d like to offer a few tips from what I’ve learned:
1. Remember Wattpad is primarily a social platform. Respond to reader comments, thank readers who follow you, and so on. If you’re just starting out and you don’t have other social media communities you can point toward your stories, you can also follow others on Wattpad, give them feedback on their stories, and participate in a variety of group forums in order to build your presence there.
2. Release your book as a serial (a chapter or two a week) to build reader interest, engagement, and anticipation — which is more likely to lead to purchases.
3. Wait until your story is complete and available on ebook before you begin putting it on Wattpad, and don’t just publish on Kindle. The majority of Wattpad users are reading on mobile devices, and my own iBook sales are nearly identical to Kindle (in the graph above, Kindle sales are yellow, iBook are pink). Side note: If you have a publisher, check your contract terms to see how much of the story you’re permitted to post.
4. Each time you upload a new chapter of your story, include a short reminder to readers that, if they can’t wait to find out what happens next, the completed ebook is available for purchase. While you can’t put links directly into your chapter, you can include them in a comment — or you can do as I do, and simply direct people to your website for buy links.
5. Be consistent. Readers appreciate that, it builds good will and, again, it works to build anticipation.
6. Be patient. Building an audience on Wattpad can take time. Post links to your Twitter and Facebook followers (and any other social media you’re on) to let them know you’re offering a free read.
7. Post often. The more activity you get on a story (votes, comments), the higher the story will rank and the more attention it will receive from new readers. Once a week is the minimum I recommend; twice a week might be better when you’re starting out.
8. Reach out to Wattpad itself (contact information is on their Help page). The people behind this app are enthusiastic, incredibly helpful, and all about promoting authors. They may be able to include your story as a Featured Read or in other promotions.
9. Make sure you’re putting up a quality, professional product. There are millions of stories on Wattpad, and proper spelling and grammar will help you stand out among the crowd (I’ve actually had comments from readers to just that effect).
If all of the above isn’t enough to convince you to give Wattpad a shot, I’d be remiss in not mentioning an additional bonus: the pure delight of reader interaction. You see, Wattpad doesn’t just allow general comments on chapters, it also allows inline comments — which means readers can highlight and comment on phrases they found particularly entertaining, sad, witty, etc. If you’ve ever wished you could see a reader’s reaction to a certain scene or turn of phrase in your story, you’re going to love that feature.
I hope you’ve found this article useful! If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to answer. And if you’d like a complete look at the evolution of my own experiment, check out the Wattpad article series on my blog.
— Linda Poitevin
Thanks for sharing, Linda! You can read several of Linda’s romances on Wattpad here.