Wattpad is an online community of authors and readers that hosts stories from typically unpublished authors. The site is unique in combining social media and a reading platform, which allows readers to interact with the books and the author. Wattpad was founded in 2006 by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen as an e-reading platform where “readers could download an app to read and chat about fiction shared by professional and aspiring writers from around the world.” According to Lau, being mobile was the top priority. This mobility allowed for interaction on the site to skyrocket. Wattpad appeals to up-and-coming writers who wanted to distribute their work without going through a publishing process.
Writers typically release the book a chapter at a time and readers can make in-line comments on stories, allowing the writer to adjust the book to the reader’s preferences. Wattpad readers are primarily young people who were drawn to the appeal of free books written by their peers instead of older, more established authors. Many of these young authors became success stories through the constructive criticism and praise they received from their fans.
Anna Todd and Happily Ever After
Wattpad has been a powerhouse for undiscovered authors in the past few years. Anna Todd’s After began as a Harry Styles fanfiction in 2013. Written under the name @imaginator1D, After became an almost overnight success, with the fanbase reaching the hundreds of thousands. Todd wrote the majority of After on her phone, with no outlining or proofreading before she uploaded the chapter to Wattpad. While some may dislike the lack of outline, Todd and her fans equally enjoyed the “social writing” model. Todd would listen to her fans’ feedback and adjust the story to their preferences in real time. Not only did Todd’s fanbase grow, but the relationship between the fan and the author grew as well. Readers felt like they had a say in the story, which increased their loyalty to the author, as well as their willingness to offer financial support.
With the help of Wattpad, Anna Todd received a book deal with Simon and Schuster in 2014, just one year after she published her first chapter on Wattpad. After was also granted a movie in 2019, with three sequels to follow. Todd’s story is a testament to the power that her fans and Wattpad hold. The first movie currently holds an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, though fans give it a significantly better rating of 66%.
Wattpad to Movie Pipeline
Though Todd’s story is one of the most notable, it is far from the only success story that has come from Wattpad. At seventeen, Beth Reekles became the youngest Wattpad writer to score a book deal for her story, The Kissing Booth. Reekle later went on to earn a movie deal with Netflix, though that movie also did poorly on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the abysmal critic reviews, The Kissing Booth garnered immense fan support. According to Sara Perez, this disconnect is due to the “built in audience” of Wattpad users.
Readers don’t just read and watch these stories, they create them. Wattpad utilizes the fan base when adapting stories for film. In an article for Quartz, Adam Epstein discusses Wattpad’s story-to-film process. The fans are integral to the adaptation process, with some “superfans” gaining access to the script to provide feedback before the film hits the box office. This process seems to work well. Epstein writes,
Wattpad is unique in that its user base not only reads and shapes the stories on its platform, but also the way the stories transition off the platform.
According to Aron Levitz, the fans’ engagement is part of the “microtrend,” which allows Wattpad to know what will sell based on the size of the fanbase and reader engagement. Macrotrends are made possible by Story DNA. Story DNA is Wattpad’s deep-learning AI technology, which, according to Ashleigh Gardener, “deconstructs stories into their elemental features, such as sentence structure, word use, and grammar,” This gives Wattpad further insight into what makes a story popular outside of comments, likes, and shares. As a result, up-and-coming stories are given a greater chance at being discovered and transitioning off of Wattpad. The development of this technology is leading to a future of reading that is not just consumed by the reader but also formed by them.
Wattpad is unique in the fact that it is constantly reinventing itself to the benefit of its writers and readers. Wattpad has adapted from merely presenting stories to publishing them and promoting them outside of the digital platform. Wattpad not only publishes for fans but with the fans. The future of reading is driven by the reader, not the author or publisher.