Monthly Archives: September 2010

Nina Lassam on Wattpad: the Youtube of eBooks

Nina Lassam works at Wattpad, the ‘the world’s most popular eBook community’. Today I’ve asked her to share on the platform – what it is, how it works, and how you may benefit from it.
Wattpad Logo
The way I often explain Wattpad to people who are not familiar with who we are or how we fit into web fiction, is that Wattpad is “YouTube for eBooks + Facebook/Twitter for Authors”. The content on Wattpad is user generated by writers who range from teenaged hobbyists to self-published authors to established writers looking to promote and market their work to a targeted reading community.

Over 10 millions readers and writers visit Wattpad every month, spending half an hour each visit with an average of two visits a day. Like the viral videos that dominate the YouTube homepage, many writers can claim outstanding success with millions of reads and thousands of comments from fans who use Wattpad to find new works to read.

Where Wattpad has shown to be very different from YouTube is in the community-minded nature of the site. A reader comments on a story once every seven seconds on Wattpad, and writers and readers engage in discussions, provide feedback and recommend other works on the site.

There’s an App for That

One of the most common ways people find Wattpad is through their mobile phones. Wattpad is consistently among the top eReader apps in the Apple Store and BlackBerry App World. For authors who want their fiction to reach a mobile audience, Wattpad is available on over 1,000 different mobile devices and eReaders and provides a direct connection with reader.

Mobile is a large area of focus for Wattpad: we see thousands of our apps downloaded everyday and we are continuing to add more and more of the social features that are native to the website. Wattpad is not just a way to read and discover or a spot to upload fiction and poetry, but a platform that bridges both and enables authors to connect with readers in online space.

Who Uses Wattpad

The demography of Wattpad users has changed so much in the past twelve months. From a core group of young adults, we now see mature and experienced authors joining the site. The majority of members are from English speaking countries; the United States, UK, Canada and Australia and English remains the dominant language found on the site. Wattpad also sees a sizable number of readers from Asia and South America and we receive emails everyday from readers who say that Wattpad has helped their ESL skills tremendously.

Since partnering with self-publishing companies; Lulu, Smashwords, and Bubok, our presence in this community of authors has grown considerably. During the summer, we launched a program specifically for self-published writers and have opened a writing contest with literary magazine Shelf Unbound to provide self-published authors on Wattpad an opportunity for additional exposure. There is so much great fiction being self-published, but the struggle is to find readers to enjoy it. Wattpad has been able to fill an important role this way.

The First Age of Print

There’s a remarkable article over at the Boston Globe titled Cover Story, that documents the first couple of decades following the invention of the printing press:

Inventing the printing press was not the same thing as inventing the publishing business. Technologically, craftsmen were ready to follow Gutenberg’s example, opening presses across Europe. But they could only guess at what to print, and the public saw no particular need to buy books. The books they knew, manuscript texts, were valuable items and were copied to order. The habit of spending money to read something a printer had decided to publish was an alien one.

Go read the article in its entirety – it’s well worth it, because there are strong parallels to the current, digital age of print.

I’d like to point out several interesting bits from the piece: Andrew Pettegree, Professor of Modern History at St. Andrews, found that the earliest printers made more money selling almanacs, and calendars, and municipal announcements than they did selling books. The very idea of buying a book off a shelf was alien to a public used to thinking of books as these expensive, made-to-order goods! And that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And even cooler: it took the first generation of publishers 10 years to figure out how to make money off this new technology. No wonder it’s taking time to figure out how to sell digital things, today.

(Digression: it’s hard to imagine people being confused by the book; perhaps they wondered at the invention of ‘turning the page’? And I can’t help but grin at that – it reminds me of this crazy skit.)

This is all exciting, of course. But what really strikes me is how chaotic it all seemed. Nobody knew what to do with the book, and so the current model of publishing – as a solution to the distribution of ideas and stories and such – wasn’t the result of deliberate creation at all. It was a gradual evolution of a reading public, and a bunch of publishers that sort-of, well, accidentally created that group. And that seems obvious now, with Pettegree’s research complete, but the degree of randomness is still very surprising to me.

I suppose I should stop turning up my nose at multimedian books, even if most current attempts really do suck. If what we have today arose out of total chaos, then it doesn’t seem too far off to suggest that the chaos today is a good thing. A sign of a working industry in the horizon, perhaps.

Anyway, I’m acting all confused and rambly now, so I’ll just leave you with this awesome concept video from IDEO:

  •    Never Mind the Bullets – BEAUTY OF THE WEB is an amazing HTML5 web comic. Navigation is hover-based, open only in a fast browser. #
  •    Bill Watterson on not licensing Calvin & Hobbes:
    My strip is about private realities, the magic of imagination, and the specialness of certain friendships. Who would believe in the innocence of a little kid and his tiger if they cashed in on their popularity to sell overpriced knickknacks that nobody needs? Who would trust the honesty of the strip’s observations when the characters are hired out as advertising hucksters?
    An oldie-but-goodie. #

Matt Blackwood on MyStory

Matt Blackwood is the creator and project lead for MyStory – a location-based fiction project funded and hosted in Melbourne. Here he talks about MyStory’s origins – how they got started with it, and why he’s doing the project:

They say it’s all about the details; the minutiae, the flecks of paint, the beads of sweat, the congealed Chupa Chups sticks, the smiles, the snarls and the occasional gleam ”“ and you know what ”“ ‘they’ were right.

The small things have always intrigued me. That’s not to say I don’t dig Space Odyssey 2001 or The Vidiot from UHF, but everyday humanity is something I’ve always cherished. It might have something to do with my background: not having much money, I spent more time staring at Lego catalogues than piecing together choke-sized blocks for spaceships.

And sure, it might not be trendy to be interested in the small and everyday when Sexagenarian in the City and Warepires are ruling the popular mindset, but the way I look at it, it’s now more important than ever to look at the everyday, to assess where we are, where we’ve been and where we are headed.

So these were the thoughts that spun around my head some 12 months ago; thoughts of how being a writer in a City of Literature didn’t automatically make my writing appear in the city. Thoughts wanting more people to read my work, wanting more support as a writer, and wanting to feel more connected with my fellow Melbournians, and so the framework for MyStory began.

In essence I was interested in location based stories.

I started by looking at different ways to combine the surging uptake in smartphones, mobile internet and the human desire to be told stories one-on-one. I wanted people to reconsider spaces they might have already walked down a thousand times before, or take a chance and venture down somewhere new. I wanted to peel back some of the layers, and perhaps even pre-conceptions about some of these spaces, while spinning tales that were true and truish. All this meant creating an interactive database where writing could be easily accessed in a form that made the most of mobile technologies, but also didn’t exclude people without smartphones or laptops. And I wanted to take it a step further, so that people with vision impairments could also access the content.

Then came the realities.

I knew that people weren’t going to stand and experience a story for a huge amount of time, even if they did happen to love the space they were in. The spaces were always going to be dynamic. This dynamism would obviously affect the experience of the literature; if the spaces were too loud or too busy, raining or sunny, busy or quiet, dark or midday bright; it was all going to impact the interpretation of MyStory.

  •    We’ve set up a Google Group called fiction2.0 to help bring together the different web fiction communities. If you’re a writer, a reader, or a leader of one of these communities, feel free to join us. We’ve got a lot of work to do. (Note: original discussion found here.) #

The First Conversation

MCM is likely the most experimental author in the web fiction sphere. He writes (and blogs!) at, does crazy online livewriting events, and has a whole host of books available, for free, at his site. Here he talks about his experience at FanExpo Toronto: in particular, how it’s like talking to web fiction outsiders about the medium for the very first time.


A few weeks ago, I was at FanExpo in Toronto, pitching 1889 Labs to anyone and everyone that came by my table. It was an enlightening experience, and one that’s given me a lot to think about, particularly as it relates to web fiction. See, when I went there, I didn’t really appreciate how to talk to people about what I do. Turns out, it’s not a pitch, it’s a conversation. But the conversation is more nuanced than you might expect.

There’s a type of reader that most of us know already: they’ll visit your site regularly, they know the Web Fiction Guide inside out, and if your navigation to Chapter Two isn’t up to their standards, they’ll give you holy hell for it. They’re the key to success and happiness, and when you talk to them, you talk to them about the finer details of what you do, about the pros and cons of Disqus or WordPress or Drupal, or about how your update schedule is killing you. They’re not necessarily writers themselves, but they’re deep enough in the web fiction world that they appreciate what it’s like to be a writer, and they’re supportive and fantastic and keep you alive.

These are the people we’re going to ignore today.

The other type of reader is the outsider. They know nothing about web fiction (except maybe peripheral negative impressions). They may not even realize they can access great content for free on the web. They’re coming to you completely blind to what you do, and it could very well be your responsibility present their very first experience with web fiction. No pressure, right? You’ve just bumped into them at a party or a convention, and they want to know more about you… what do you say? How do you start that conversation?

Here’s the thing about these readers: they very likely won’t be excited by the idea of a full free book online. They might even be turned off by it. I mean, they’d love to get it for free, but if you lead your conversation with “hey! My book is free online!” I think you’ll find the average reader is going to wonder what’s wrong with you. You’re worth what you charge, and if you’re giving yourself away for free, you must not be worth much. It may seem heretical, but volunteering the best aspects of web fiction are the worst possible idea. You need to work your way there.

The State of The Web Fiction Community

Note: this is an edited version of the original post. Removed a number of paragraphs for tone, focus and clarity.

When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. Your tastes only narrow and exclude people. So create.

Here’s a plan, and I’d love for you to hear me out: I want to get web fiction mentioned in the New York Times, in the space of a year.

No, scratch that. I will get web fiction mentioned in the New York Times, in the space of a year.

Maybe it’ll be on an NYT blog. Maybe not. I’ll leave this deliberately ambiguous because the goal in itself is big enough, and audacious enough to try to attempt – and when it’s done, I’ll write about it on Novelr. The results? We get publicity, we get attention, and – most importantly, we’d have proven to everyone in the Web Fiction community who wants to continue this effort – that anything, marketing wise – is possible, and that you should try. You should do it, you should talk to people, you should change things.

Right now.

What This Has To Do With The Web Fiction Community

I want to talk about a disease that has settled amongst us, as a community of writers. I don’t mean this as a bad thing. When I say that this is bad, I mean it in the same sort of way someone would say that being laid-back and relaxed (and maybe lazy) is okay, but being active is so, so much better.

And that disease begin with a question: what have we done in the past couple of months, in the past two years? What have we done that has fundamentally changed the way web fiction is read, the way it is written?

The answer: very little. And we have all had a part to play in this.

I believe that we have lost our culture of communal creation. We have stopped building things that make web fiction better for ourselves.

Things weren’t always this way. In the not-too-distant past we had some culture of creation. Quite a bit of it happened here at Novelr. And I know what you’re thinking – you’re probably saying that I’m biased this way, because I created Novelr. But I’m not. I’m not kidding when I say that the community – once clustered around this blog – got things done; I had to learn this the hard way.

The Nature of Getting Things Done

Ideas are a dime a dozen on Novelr. They always have been, and they always will be. There have been a crazy number of ideas that have graced the front page of this site for years now – many of them made as observations: ideas for publishing-related startups, ideas for community sites, ideas that writers can adopt in their writing, immediately. They come naturally from Novelr’s job of observing patterns in the digital publishing sphere, and then simplifying that for the use of any writer who so wishes to write and publish web fiction.