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Redefining Storytelling: A Wattpad Primer

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I have to admit it — I’m a Wattpad newbie. Even though this online story-sharing community has been around since 2006, it’s stayed on the edge of my radar, something I’d always planned to investigate further if I met a lot of teens who were into it. Then, I heard about Anna Todd’s After series and its beginnings as a Wattpad story with one billion — billion! — reads on the site. Clearly, readers were into Wattpad, and I needed to find out more.

In perfect timing, I read on the Hub about YALSA’s Twist Fate Challenge, a partnership with the Connected Learning Alliance, DeviantArt, National Writing Project, and Wattpad. The Feb. 18 webinar, “Storytelling and Making Redefined: Get to Know the Wattpad Community,” is available to view online, and features input from Jing Jing Tan, the Community Engagement Lead at Wattpad, as well as Kassandra Tate, a teen Wattpad user with over 21K readers.

The video is long, but an excellent overview of Wattpad’s features and teen appeal: storytelling that is multi-format, multimedia, and social. (In-line comments and chatty author’s notes erase any space between writer and reader, and comments often influence the direction of a serialized piece.) At 18:43, host (and YALSA president!) Candice Mack asks what type of support educators and libraries can provide to Wattpad users. Kassandra notes Wattpad’s ease of providing feedback and challenge exercises, and Jing Jing points out Wattpad’s untapped potential by educators as a network for consumption, collaboration, and creation.

wattpad stats
From Wattpad for Business

Wattpad’s founders, Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen, don’t believe that teenagers are reading less — just differently. “We just have to make sure reading and writing can adapt to the current culture,” Lau says in this 2014 HuffPost Tech interview. He and Lau seem to have found a winner in the app version: 90% of Wattpad’s activity is on mobile. Publisher’s Weekly took note as recently as January: “Designed for a generation that does most of its reading on a smartphone or tablet, [Wattpad] has become a petri dish for studying the new habits of mobile readers. [It] attracts more than 40 million unique visitors each month—visitors who are overwhelmingly young, international (50% of users are from outside of North America), and love to both read and write on their devices. Interestingly, Ashleigh Gardner, head of content for Wattpad, says that while Wattpad members read stories on their phones, they ‘don’t see themselves as reading e-books—they’re following social media.’”

Wattpad’s embrace of fanfiction, too, is important. “It’s…arguably the most important thing Wattpad has done to boost its visibility and stature among the mass of online teen readers,” writes The Daily Dot. “Those same readers have boosted site engagement to nearly 30 minutes a session. Wattpad’s userbase is massive and highly engaged: any random work, be it original or fanfiction, may have more comments than the top reads on Movellas, Quotev, Fanfiction.net, and AO3 combined.”

TeenInk columnist HeisAidanD writes, “Due to the highest percentage of Wattpad members being teenagers and young adults in high school and college, it’s consistently growing to be both a reading and writing haven as well as a social network to compete with major powers in social networking such as Facebook and Twitter.” Ali Novak, the young Wattpadder interviewed in this video, takes the sentiment even further, having abandoned Facebook altogether: “Wattpad is my Facebook.”

So…what is Wattpad’s impact on teen collections? Well, there’s the obvious incubator for print books. After is more new adult than teen, but having begun on Wattpad, will have its share of teen readers. (Its Wattpad version remains freely available, while its print version has been released in “an extremely fast publishing cycle aimed at fostering binge reading” — something else that will appeal to teen series readers.) Ali Novak’s My Life with the Walter Boys (a Teens’ Top Ten of 2015 — coincidence?) began as a Wattpad book, as did Lailah by Nikki Kelly and UnSlut:A Diary and a Memoir by Emily Lindin. Some efforts aren’t in print, but their impact as teen creations is notable.

The annual Wattys Awards celebrate the best in digital storytelling.
The annual Wattys Awards celebrate the best in digital storytelling.

YA authors have taken notice of Wattpad’s social capabilities, too, joining to add bonus content or host contents, from Jennifer L. Armentrout to Maureen Johnson to Lisa McMann to Rainbow Rowell. The Wattys are Wattpad’s own contest and awards, leading to extra recognition for Wattpad books and e-books that you may see elsewhere on the Internet. If your teens are author superfans OR budding writers, you’ll want to know about Wattpad. “A lot of people are lamenting the end of the novel, but I think it’s simply evolving,” explains Charles Melcher, a publishing consultant who hosts the annual Future of StoryTelling conference.

Wattpad is certainly a teen-dominated platform, and one that I’m glad I researched. What angles have I missed? Are your teens into it? How do they use it? Share your thoughts in the comments!

–Rebecca O’Neil, currently listening to Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson