Wattpad and the Holy Grail
How Social Media technologies have transformed the role of the reader
Written by Tegan Gillard for the Social Media, Networks and Communities Conference
In her book, The Digital Literary Sphere, Simone Murray describes the “the holy grail of literary culture” as the intimate one-on-one connection between author and reader (2018, p.?). This connection has been lost since our storytelling evolved from community-based oral traditions to mass produced paperbacks and author celebrity. Through focusing on the online publishing platform Wattpad, this paper will look at how virtual communities are finding this connection again through their interactive nature and the collapse of the distinction between production and consumption (Delanty, 2018). Through a combination of the network building of social media, the user-generated fundamentals of Web 2.0 and the social capitol of the digital economy, Wattpad has revolutionised the way people read and write stories in the digital era.
Oral traditions were replaced with individual scrolls of papyrus, hand-written codices were made more efficient through block printers in 800AD, and the original Gutenberg press of 1440 was revolutionized by the rotary press of 1845 (McDaniel, 2018). Each new advancement made the publication of stories more efficient, lowered the barrier of obtainment for new readers and solidified the commodification of stories, but the ‘holy-grail’ was no closer to being obtained. When digital technology began to leave its mark on the publishing industry, with e-books, online publishing and social media profiles, academics hoped that this would revolutionise the reader writer relationship and return the intimate collaboration of community storytelling. This sought-after communion of the minds remained elusive until one online publishing platform seemed to crack the code.
Launched in 2006 and currently boasting over 80 million monthly users, the Toronto based platform, Wattpad, was created with the intention of making reading more accessible for a digital era, and to break away from the biases of the current publishing industry (Wattpad “about”). The platform encourages a community dynamic similar to the gift economy of fan fiction, promoting interaction and exchange between users through it’s comment sections and validation through likes and shares.
Virtual communities and digital technologies have lowered the traditional barriers that kept large portions of the population out of certain spaces and excluded their voices from important conversations (Delanty, 2018). Online publishing platforms, like Wattpad, have lowered the barriers to participation for aspiring authors, allowing them to bypass “the Big Five” publishing houses and create their own community of readers.
Communities which are built on an egalitarianist foundation and remain outside the dominant ideals of capitalist exchange. A capitalist exchange which values monetary compensation for the consumption of goods. This capitalist model not only excluded creators, but also readers and the traditional market faced a lack of representation for certain demographics in the stories and authors being published (Bold, 2015).
Wattpad instead runs off a ‘gift culture’, which Hellekson (2015) described as “a complex exchange of giving, receiving and reciprocity”. Rather than creating content for profit, authors write works to entertain and add to the discourse within their relevant community, in exchange for validation in the form of likes, comments and shares on their work (Vadde, 2017). Wattpad has not only lowered the barriers to aspiring authors accessing different demographics and communities, but has also increased accessibility for readers and created a more democratic community exchange.
In today’s online culture, everyday people are publishing content constantly; from small tweets, to Facebook updates, to multi-chaptered Wattpad stories; anyone can become a content creator with the click of a button. Publishing sites such as Wattpad are home to diverse community of authors, with the demographics that are underrepresented in traditional spaces being overrepresented in these online spaces. Wattpad has a predominantly female community of authors, who cited the freedom and validation that online platforms and communities provide them in comparison to the more traditional and selective process of traditional publishing houses, as their reason for writing online (Bold, 2015). Karen Hellekson (2015) describes the fan communities, or fandoms who create works of fanfiction, to be built on a universal search for community. The communities on Wattpad are no different, in fact the site is home to a variety of fan communities as well as original content creators and consumers.
Originally restricted to an author’s inner circle, friends, family and eventually, editors, collaboration has always been a part of a work’s curation (Carolan & Evian, 2013), but never on a scale that included an author’s entire readership. Wattpad utilises social media tools such as follows, likes, shares and comments to open up a line of communication between creator and audience which was previously one sided (Humphries, 2019).
The way that stories are published on Wattpad is in a chapter-by-chapter format, rather than uploading an entire finished product allows authors to test their work incrementally on their audiences whilst honing their craft and enhancing their over-all creative process (Navarro, 2012; Pecoskie & Hill, 2015). Through community engagement in the comment sections, or readers votes and shares, an author can see what their audience responds to in real time and respond accordingly in future chapters.
This level of collaboration with readers and authors promotes a community identity around a work, rather than the single ownership of the author in traditional publishing. Crowdsourcing creativity and feedback in this way invokes a sense of ownership amongst the audience and fosters an intense brand of loyalty to the work and the author which can translate into traditional spaces (Vadde, 2017). A prominent example of this is the success of “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2012) and its author E.L. James. The first incarnations of James’ infamous novels were “Twilight” (2005) fan fiction on FanFiction.net published under the title “Master of the Universe”. Similar to the Wattpad model James posted her work chapter by chapter and regularly engaged with her fans through the comment sections (Pecoskie & Hill, 2015). As the story progressed, James built strong relationships with individual readers by replying to comments as well as participating in regular Q&A’s with her fans. If James had followed traditional routes to get her books published, it is unlikely they would have reached a fraction of the popularity they have today. It was the strong sense of community around James’ original fanfiction, the loyalty and the number of those readers, that prompted a traditional publisher to pick it up (Pecoskie & Hill, 2015).
The Reader Has the Power
Before online platforms and communities, readers were restricted to showing their support for a work or an author through purchasing their books. As discussed earlier, this option was not accessible to all readers. Through Wattpad’s use of social media tools, readers now have a plethora of opportunities to show support for their favorite works and to promote them to other members of their community.
Wattpad uses user votes and comments as a way of ranking works on their site; user data is fed into an algorithm which creates lists that feature up and coming works, ranks content within specific genres and promotes the top stories of all time in regularly updated lists (Bold, 2013). These lists are important because readers can apply filters when searching for new content on the site, such as sorting stories by the amount of “reads” they have or the number of positive reviews. This allows the audience to sift quickly through thousands of stories to find the ones that have been selected as premium by their peers.
The more ‘likes’ a work has, the more it is valued within the community. Receiving a position on one of the trending lists becomes a status symbol amongst the community and form of validation for authors (Vadde, 2017.) These online communities that surface within self-publishing sites not only offer collaborative opportunities, but are also a form of peer-review and validate the author and their work within the industry (Bold, 2015). This democratic review and ranking system supported by the strong community involvement in Wattpad publishing has also began translating into the traditional publishing spaces. “The Big Five” and other print publishers are adopting digital methods to adapt to a changing industry and market (Mustafa & Adnan, 2017). Rather than focusing solely on editorial influence, they are also anylising the user data of online publishing services to stay on top of market trends and find the next best-seller (Wilkins, 2020). If an author has built a strong enough community for themselves or their works online, they have a stronger chance of receiving a book deal (Carolan & Evian, 2013). Notable examples of this are the previously mentioned Fifty Shades series, and notable Wattpad success story, Anna Todd. Todd’s One Direction Fanfiction “After”, received over a billion views on Wattpad which prompted both a publishing and movie deal for the original work and the subsequent sequels. Authors like Todd and James are seen as a risk-free investment since they bring their own following (Vadde, 2017), which means readers and online communities are deciding the future pop culture phenomenon just by liking, commenting or sharing.
The relationship between readers, authors and publishers was linear and one sided, until online publishing sites like Wattpad revolutionised the way people create and consume content. Wattpad promotes community growth and involvement through social networking tools, cultivating a collaborative relationship between authors and their audiences. These collaborative relationships foster strong community connections on the platform within genres, single works and author networks. Readers feel a strong sense of ownership over the works that they have participated in and use the various tools at their disposal to show their support via likes, shares and comments. This support then translates to the promotion of certain works on algorithm based ranking lists, which are in turn picked up by traditional publishing models due to their established community backing and low-risk return. If the “holy grail” of literary culture is one to one communication between reader and author, then Wattpad has found it, smelted it down and created a brand-new chalice of collaboration, grassroots literary promotion and reader agency.
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42 thoughts on “Wattpad and the Holy Grail: How Social Media technologies have transformed the role of the reader”
I loved that you wrote about Wattpad. I remember when I was twelve, publishing my first story in the hopes of receiving some validation that I had potential. I must admit that to this day, I am still on it precisely for the reasons you mentioned about it possessing opportunities for budding writers to get their work out there. Wattpad is a little underrated and there lies some assumptions that its only for fan-fiction. ALthough a large community of wattpad is dedicated to fanfiction, there are many writers who just want a free place to get some input on their work. I think a lot us know there have been multiple published authors who have made it successfully after being discovered on this website, like. For instance, Anna Todd with her novel After, and its following series, had begun as a Harry Styles fanfiction and it gained a huge popularity online. https://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Anna-Todd/474410587. It’s crazy to think that back in 2013, she only had a few hundred followers when she had uploaded the novel, and now she is a New York Times best-selling author.
I really appreciate that you shed some positive light on how beneficial it is for the common writer to gain feedback from readers, to have that safe space of communication between other writers, and to have an opportunity to expose their work.
I loved reading your paper!
I remember how prevalent Wattpad was when I was a teenager and how much of an impact it made on my reading habits, for the better!
To me, any platform that encourages creativity and freedom of expression is reflecting of the way Web 2.0 was designed to give its audience.
I think Wattpad gave so much agency to aspiring readers as well as being able to give readers and writers a platform to communicate and debate on stories and ideas.
I remember often reading fanfiction on Wattpad. According to Ak Basogul “Youth enjoy spending a long time on Wattpad via their phones and feel themselves free. They think that the application develops reading and writing habits; read and write mainly about love and science fiction”(2021. p. 124).
What is really interesting to look at is the way TikTok has also taken on this format of fanfiction but transformed through video. There are countless amounts of videos on TikTok showing people editing clips from movies and inserting their own footage, to make it look like an actual scene. Remixed and modeled to see like a romance or quirky scenes between characters.
My point is that this level of creativity and remix of popular culture elements, truly shows how social media platforms have given agency to creators to express themselves as well as create sort of portfolios for their creations which can be seen by anyone online, within communities, or just randomly.
Hope you have a great day!
Ak Basogul, D. (2021). Wattpad in youth literature based on the experiences of turkish teachers and secondary school students. International Journal of Education and Literacy Studies, 9(1), 124-135. Retrieved from https://link.library.curtin.edu.au/gw?url=https://www-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/scholarly-journals/wattpad-youth-literature-based-on-experiences/docview/2527329420/se-2?accountid=10382
This was a really interesting paper! I have only briefly been on Wattpad, but I am aware of its power in the publishing and entertainment industries. My best friend and I have definitely discussed collaborating on a story together and publishing it on there to see if we can get a following (and maybe a movie deal).
I was just wondering what your thoughts were on authors who actually discourage the fanfics of their works? Do you think that by doing so their fanbases actually lose valuable communities and networks that others have? And in regards to Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, do you think that its fair that E.L. James had this massive following and received a book deal, whereas Meyer probably had to go through the traditional avenues to get published?
Looking forward to your reply!
As soon as I saw “Wattpad” in your title I was instantly drawn to your paper. I have never written or published a story on the platform, but I have definitely read a fair amount of the content on there. I never used the platform to read fan fiction directly but as a source for free books, especially when I was younger without a constant income source to buy books.
You mention in your paper how it’s a very collaborative community, and whilst I do agree with that mostly, I was wondering what were your thoughts in regards to copyright and the legality of the works on the platform. I know through my experience reading through comments and author’s notes there has been issues around authors who felt like another author had plagiarised their work. I’m interested to know your thoughts as to the extent that can be copied for it to be considered an infringement? Especially for works that are highly collaborative in nature.
Look forward to your response 🙂
I’m glad you were drawn in, it definitely sounds like we have a similar experience with the platform. I’ve never been on the author side of the transaction before either, and I definitely used it for free content throughout my teens. I think that platforms like Wattpad and AO3 that offer a space for free content consumption is such a barrier breaker for readers without the resources to participate in ‘traditional literary culture’.
Authors copying other authors work is definitely such a big issue on these sites, there is no real support in place, often they must rely on their communities to rally around them to force the other user down or boost their story up.
Punishing plagiarism on user generated sites is tricky, especially when all users are not monetising their works meaning there is no loss of profit to either party. Unless you count the social capitol of likes, follows, shares etc. , in which case there is definitely a cause for action to be taken.
It is also hard to know if a work has been copied or if a trope has been copied. I’m sure you’ve seen on Wattpad that the romance genre and the supernatural romance genres are quite busy. In these genres most stories follow the same plot line or they have similar character archetypes, but the world and the characters are packaged slightly different.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a slow-burn, enemy to lovers story, but has every story that’s come after it been infringement?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Do you think that perhaps authors on these platforms should be able to lodge complaints with the platform to have works removed? If so, other than the work being word for word plagiarised, how could they judge?
Thanks again for commenting!
Hi Tegan (and Terina)
You do have a good point about plot and character archetypes and yes, plot devices do recur across a genre. I don’t think you can claim intellectual property rights over these–there are many ways to work a pride-and-prejudice kind of story in romance novels. I would argue that it’s only infringement when the original work is protected by copyright law. So you can write a modern version of an Austen novel–set it in rural Australia, perhaps–but you can’t write a story featuring a boy with a scar who goes off to a school of magic.
Hi Tegan and Deepti,
I completely understand and agree with your statements about how the stories’ characters and plotlines may have the same devices and recurring themes, can’t necessarily be claimed with intellectual property rights. I guess if there was, it would severely limit the wide variety of books that exist today.
As for your question Tegan, I think the option for authors to be able to lodge complaints could be a tool that could be added. I guess we need to consider the pros and cons of adding such a tool. As could adding such tool result in the community breaking down or becoming a negative space with individuals arguing over who had the idea first – breaking down the collaborative nature of the site. I did just have a look at Wattpad’s Q&A section and they mention:
– “Adaptations or slight alterations to a work, such as changing names, copying the events and writing them in your own words, changing character point of views, are a violation of copyright” (Wattpad, 2021).
– “Using an image that you do not own. This includes making a cover with an image that you do not own the rights to (unless it is in the public domain)” (Wattpad, 2021).
I definitely feel as though through my experiences I have read the exact same book and storyline and the images used for book covers have appeared before. But once again I guess it begs the question of how much needs to be changed for it be copyright vs following/inspired by a trope. There’s also the discussion of whether the book with the most votes/reads is the ‘original’ or is it the book that was first published?
Also, off topic to our above discussion, as I was looking into copyright of Wattpad I found out that Naver, a South Korean company, has acquired Wattpad. Just thought it was an interesting note that would be fun to share 🙂
Article link – https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/naver-acquires-social-storytelling-platform-wattpad/articleshow/80360988.cms
Wattpad. (2021). Copyright FAQ. Wattpad Help Center. https://support.wattpad.com/hc/en-us/articles/216192503-Copyright-FAQ
I really enjoyed reading your paper. Like Sonia and Nathan, I’ve never heard of wattpad until reading your paper so thank you.
You mentioned the relationship between authors, writers and publishers were linear and one-sided, until online publishing sites like Wattpad revolutionised the way people create and consume content and I think it’s amazing to see such platforms evolve for other communities such as writers.
You also mentioned – Through Wattpad’s use of social media tools, readers now have a plethora of opportunities to show support for their favorite works and to promote them to other members of their community. With the advancement of technologies and social media platforms, it has become efficient and effective for people to participate and produce content as opposed to merely consuming them as they have been in the past. The technological advancement has allowed the culture of ‘participatory’ where we are able to work collaboratively with other users and give feedback and discussions on such topics which is now an amazing tool.
Hi Saranya, thanks so much for reading my paper and engaging with it so wonderfully.
I agree, I think that this participatory culture has been an amazing advancement in how we communicate and build our communities online, especially around the content we create.
I do think that this has changed our culture slightly as well. With a generation that is being raised in these collaborative spaces, the lines can blur. Look at shows like Supernatural that are so tuned into the fan base and the fandom communities that have grown online that they create entire story arcs for them. This begins are a validation for the fans but soon the fans take ownership, and the show begins to lose creative freedom to a degree.
Sometimes the audience is meant to be passive to a degree, so it will be interesting to see how this progresses over the next decade.
Thanks again for reading!
This is a great paper, I used to use Wattpad to read fan-fic years and years ago, took me on a trip down memory lane! I’m a big fan of participatory culture and the blurring of lines between reader and author. More traditional views of authorship are outdated and limiting, I love that sites like Wattpad have been a part of what challenged and changed those views. Thanks for an awesome read!
Thanks for reading Silas and for your lovely comment!
Do you still read Fan Fiction? If so, have you branched over to AO3 like so many of us?
I find that I used to read Fan Fiction on platforms that had a strong sense of community, but now as an adult I don’t feel my identity is as deeply engrained in these fandoms and so I find myself reading what I want on AO3 and not contributing to the discourse.
Is this something you’ve found as well?
Unfortunately I’ve strayed away from fan-fic in recent years, and I’ve not had any experience with AO3. Might have to go check that platform out!
I definitely relate to what you said about fandoms being less central to your identity as you grew older. I experienced the same thing, to the point where I completely lost touch with partaking in fan-fic reading and writing. I still engage with other elements of fan culture, but to a much lesser degree than I used to. I used to place the media I loved, and my subsequent participation in those various fandoms, at the core of my identity. Those communities meant the world to me! I wonder why over time we both experienced a dwindling in that centrality. I guess a gradual shift in priorities and a greater sense of who we are outside of the context of fandoms?
This is such an interesting paper! I haven’t visited Wattpad for a few years now, and it was great to hear just how influential it still is amongst the writing community. It’s fascinating to read that online fan-fiction is leading to book and movie deals!
I always appreciated the strong reader/author relationship that was encouraged through Wattpad’s format. I especially enjoyed the feature (unsure if it still exists) that allowed people to. write comments on a specific section of text, such as a quote or paragraph. This allowed readers to read the audience’s immediate reactions to a particular section, as they read through. I was never a writer myself on the website, but it was great, as a reader, to be able to communicate words of encouragement and support directly to the author through likes and comments.
Thank you for this incredibly insightful paper. You’ve persuaded me to go back and visit the website again!
Hi Asha, thank you for your comment.
It seems I’m really bringing back the memories of days gone by on Wattpad for a lot of people, and causing them to head back! I hope you enjoy it just as much as you did a few years ago, it’s still my go to if I have a craving to read on the go.
Thank you so much for mentioning that specific comment feature! It is definitely still there, I also love it and I wish I had thought to mention it in this paper. It’s such an important connection between users, you feel like you’re reading together. It reminds me of the feature on Soundcloud that allows listeners to comment at a specific second of a song or audio clip. It’s very unifying.
Thanks again for engaging and happy reading!
Yes, it feels as if all of the users are reading together, that’s a perfect way to describe it! I haven’t used Soundcloud but that feature sounds brilliant, what a great way to create a sense of community on the website.
Thank you for the reply!
Yes, it feels as if all of the users are reading together, that’s a perfect way to describe it! I haven’t used Soundcloud but that feature sounds brilliant, what a great way to create a sense of community on the website.
Thank you for the reply!
This is a very insightful, well researched and very well written paper concentrating on the positive aspects of what seems to be a great breakthrough within the publishing industry. Like many others I had not heard of Wattpad but from reading your paper I tend to agree with you that this new publishing format offers a whole new generation of readers and writers the opportunity to communicate freely on works in progress and both reader and writer play a part in the formation of the literary piece. This is quite an interesting undertaking and as you point out with over 80 million monthly users it has become quite successful.
I love the enthusiasm that comes across in your paper and whilst reading it I had the feeling that you enjoyed Wattpad yourself and the advantages it offers to budding writers of any age.
I am very pleased to have read your paper Tegan and I too will be looking into Wattpad and check out some of the potential literary masterpieces on offer for all to read.
Thank you Tegan for a wonderful and extremely informative paper.
Thanks for your comment Bernard, I’m glad you found my paper engaging.
Wattpad is definitely a sift to find the treasure type of site, especially with that level of content, but there are some diamonds in the rough. The level of interaction and collaboration varies from work to work and also from genre to genre.
I have definitely been a Wattpad dabbler for at least the last decade, I used to read it on my laptop before I had my first smart phone. The platform was very different back then and predominantly Fan Fiction. Now, it has really grown from strength to strength, but wether these strengths are community or money focused is yet to be seen.
Happy reading Bernard! I hope you find something to your liking
I am the mum of two teenagers and one of them talks about Wattpad quite a lot. She was quite obsessed with this particular story.
I work in social media and communications, and I have to say I was not familiar with it at all. Your paper is so well written and explains how it all works. Thank you so much! It really is a true collaborative online community.
I love the collaborative nature of Wattpad as you have explained. How uploading one chapter can be reviewed and then the author can curate and write the next chapter in response. What a great way to engage with an audience. It completely throws the traditional publishing route for authors on its head.
My 13-year-old daughter has never been a big reader. But she loves Wattpad. It has encouraged her to find content she likes and actually sits down and reads it. So I am grateful to Wattpad for encouraging reading.
I found this link on young people and Wattpad. Like anything, there is always going to be inappropriate content. I am a firm believer in not restricting my daughter’s social media use but teaching them how to navigate it.
I found these reviews from teenagers
And this article.
Do you have any thoughts on younger readers and Wattpad? The risks? The opportunities?
Hi Michelle, thanks so much for interacting!
I’m so glad you found my paper informative, and it also warms my hear that your daughter is on there and finding her passion for reading. It just takes one good story.
Wattpad is definitely a teen domain, that’s not to say there aren’t adult writers on there, Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaids Tale) has been known to publish stories or poetry on there occasionally. It’s just the perfect space for young writers to stretch their wings, write in a collaborative space with their peers and also most importantly write about the stories that teens want to read. There is no lack of highschool drama fiction, young adult romance, self insert fantasies and supernatural twilight-esque love triangles.
I think spaces like Wattpad, that are filled to the brim with free content, are important for young readers, especially those that may not have the opportunity to buy the all the current YA novels trending at Harry Hartog.
I agree with you on the the helping to navigate rather than restrict method, I find that the more you tell someone they can’t or shouldn’t do something the more likely they are to do it dangerously without you knowing.
Obviously on sites like these there are risks of children being exposed to content that could be deemed too mature, to Wattpad’s credit they do tend to hide or tag these stories so users can steer clear or have to actively search for them. The creators also tag and label their works as 18+ as a courtesy to the community. Obviously teens are curious but I think an overall understanding of internet safety and open communication with the adults in their lives can help them unpack anything they find that might be too mature for them.
Thanks again for commenting! I really enjoyed those reviews and articles as well!
I really enjoyed reading your paper! I’ve always preferred AO3 over Wattpad and FanFiction, but you have made me curious to look back into Wattpad again (it’s been many years!). It’s interesting to me that chapter by chapter slow release of fic has a similarity to the serial publishing of the 19th and 20th century – building a community and following of readers who become invested in finishing the story.
Have you noticed if Wattpad users are active on other platforms? I feel like Tumblr and AO3 are constantly referring to each other between both authors and readers.
AO3 is definitely superior for Fan Fiction, the searching/tagging is unparalleled. When I go onto Wattpad I get so frustrated that I can’t curate my search exactly. But it does have a lot of original content which draws me there when I need an easy read and something that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
I think Tumblr is also a go to for Wattpad, but surprisingly Pinterest is the biggest one, specifically for mood boards, character looks and outfits to help readers set the scene and picture the story as it unfolds. I have also noticed that as a newer generation rolled in that Instagram started cropping up a bit more often, but this was mostly for authors that also drew or featured fan art for their works as well.
Thank you for your reply. I am honestly so surprised that Pinterest is popular with Wattpad users! I would never consider Pinterest as I feel like its a clunky site way past its prime, and attracts an older demographic of users. I can understand it would work for creating the mood boards etc though.
I know, it’s still something I don’t quite understand.
I agree it is very clunky.
I think Tumblr is still the most prominent, but i suppose not everyone is also on that platform and participating in that community.
I was surprised to see someone talk about Wattpad. It was the website/app I would go to when I wanted to read a book during my teenage years. I gradually started writing as well and I do believe it is partly thanks to Wattpad that I got this passion for story writing. I feel like the internet is constantly trying to blur this line between consumer and producer which is where Wattpad comes from. I have seen countless times where my favorite Wattpad books getting published as well as getting movie adaptations such as ‘After’ that you mentioned in your paper. Do you think Wattpad or similar websites/apps would completely replace the traditional ways of going through publishing houses at some point? I mean, I have seen authors that were rejected by publishing houses but found success on Wattpad.
Hi Munika, apologies for my late response.
Thanks for engaging with my paper, it seems I’m making a lot of people nostalgic for their teen days. I love that so many of us were consuming content so rapidly and in such interactive ways. I wish I could write, but I’m definitely a professional reader.
To answer your question, I don’t think one will replace the other completely since there are always traditionalists but there are definitely more options. Authors can test their stories through Wattpad or AO3, build a following on their social medias and even self publish through Kindle Unlimited. Publishing Houses and their marketing, sales and editorial teams, is simply the option which leaves the author with the role of just author, so I think it will definitely still appeal to most.
Fantastic that digital technology has lowered barriers for hopeful writers to produce their own content. I had never heard of Wattpad before but then I am not involved in the author community. I do have a friend who is and have heard from her the barriers in trying to get her work published. As a result, she is a self-published author.
Authors like independent music artists, which my paper in on (https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/26/the-rise-to-fame-the-power-of-music-fandom-communities-using-social-network-sites-to-promote-musicians/), have previously found themselves in a loop of needing a publishing house, one of the corporate elite, to publicise their work, much as independent music artists needed to be signed to a music label, another of the corporate elite. It’s great to see that there are other options out there but I note that like an independent musician ideally seeking a music label, a deal with a corporate publishing house would allow an author more publicity and further opportunities such as a book or movie deal than obtained through online publication alone.
I like that Wattpad allows for engagement between the creator and the audience and even allows through uploading “in a chapter-by-chapter format” for the author to try out their content and receive feedback from their audience. This reminds me of the interactive engagement that occurs through the gaming platform Twitch which I read about in a paper contained within this conference stream (https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/28/twitch-tv-empowering-fan-communities/). I think at the core of these types of immersive communication platforms is the encouragement to engage which makes people feel connected and contributing to a community regardless of it being virtual.
I note that an echo-chamber is still possible through Wattpad’s algorithm as it is through the music streaming service Spotify, resulting in people seeing more of the same content and possibly missing out on those deemed ‘not worthy’ due to lack of votes or interest. It may also encourage an author to stay on a tried-and-true recipe for their work rather than branching into new territory and losing their status. I guess this is no different online than it is when engaging with a publishing house that also wants what sells.
This was an interesting read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my paper.
There is definitely a cross over between creative industries and their dependance on corporate support, so I really appreciated your connection with traditional publishing and traditional musicians.
Much like how Wattpad provides a community and space for collaboration for authors and readers, do you think that there is a platform that provides that for musicians?
TikTok seems to have a large musical community with high engagement and Soundcloud also has a similar commenting feature that Wattpad has where users can leave their comment on a specific line or at a specific time in the content.
Would love to hear your thoughts.
Musicians do engage with their fans on varying SNSs depending on what their fans choose to use. They can also choose to set up their own blogs or websites to promote their music, engage with the fans, build contact lists and sell their merchandise. It allows them more control than a SNS and they can curate the content to promote their image and “monetise fans” (Brewster, 2021).
Maddison provided me with a great example of Taylor Swift who is all over self-promotion through engaging with her fans. She stalks her fandom communities, which has been coined as “taylurking”, on social media, such as on Instagram and reposts it on Tumblr ( Collins, 2018) giving the fan cred within the fandom community.
Thanks for your reply.
Brewster, W. (2021, 19 Feb). Do musicians still need a website in 2021? https://mixdownmag.com.au/features/do-musicians-still-need-a-website-in-2021/
Collins, K. (2018, 8 Jun). How Taylor Swift flipped online fandom on its head for the better. https://www.cnet.com/news/how-taylor-swift-flipped-online-fandom-on-its-head-for-the-better/
I thought this was great – fanfiction as a space for community and identity exploration is so interesting to me. I wrote my paper on fan communities as well, because I think their workings are fascinating.
I wondered what your thoughts were on how the relationship between readers, writers and the platforms themselves could be characterised. Who is responsible for the content on the platform and who should be governing the rules of what is and isn’t acceptable fan behaviour?
To me the most interesting element of Wattpad and this new frontier for storytelling is the capacity for collaborative storytelling. An example that comes to mind is the BTS horror fan fiction that was told on Twitter (https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/k-town/8094300/bts-outcast-horror-fanfic-twitter). The author set the scene but the outcome was chosen by fan polls as the story was told in real time, like a collaborative choose your own adventure book. This is a great example of a kind of storytelling that couldn’t happen without a platform like this.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the perceived ‘validity’ of Wattpad publishing. Your examples cited stories that had been picked up and transformed by traditional publishers, but do you see an outcome where a successful Wattpad only-story is considered as successful or as valid a form of literature as a traditionally published book?
Thank you so much for engaging with my paper.
It’s great to talk to another Fan Community fan! I’ve unintentionally focused my entire degree so far around these concepts and communities so I’m so glad you’ve commented and asked these questions.
I also can’t wait to read your paper (which I will be going to find right now).
To answer your questions (apologies for the long reply):
The relationships between reader, writer and platform is very multifaceted.
You have Fan Fiction readers like me who are ‘traditional readers’ and only consume, you have collaborative readers who range from active commenters to beta-readers, and then you have the reader-writers who not only consume the content within their fandom but also contribute and expand on that culture.
More often than not the platforms act as a third space, Live Journal’s message boards, tumblr blogs, and of course Wattpad, all utilised comments, tags and messages as a way to provide users with a space to communicate and collaborate.
I think the platform that provides the most support and plays a more active role in the production and consumption of fan content is Archive of Our Own (AO3). With their volunteer run legal and IT team they have provided a beta platform that allows creators to create content unrestricted. They don’t impose any overhead rules (like fanfiction.net did when they removed thousands of stories from their site), they assist their creators with copyright suits and their archiving structure allows consumers to find content specific to their needs.
As for who is responsible for the content and the governing of acceptable behaviour, this has usually fallen to the community at large. There are often values and ethics that have engrained themselves within these fan communities depending on the piece of media they have evolved around, which members will enforce if they feel that another member is acting against them or giving their community a bad name. They could enforce this through reporting on the platform and flagging harmful content, which I suppose then means it falls to the platform to enforce.
This is an issue I’m still unsure on where I stand, what are your thoughts?
I hadn’t heard of that BTS collaboration, but I love it! What an amazing example of online content.
Unfortunately I think there is so much prestige associated with traditional publishing, even though self-published authors both online and offline can make just as much income (sometimes more), that it will be hard to put Wattpad content up on the same pedestal. Perhaps if mainstream media began changing the rhetoric when talking about literature we might see a shift in societal perceptions but it’s hard to say.
Wattpad has created a paid stories avenue, where they select the best performing stories on the platform and put them behind a paywall, so this I suppose could act as a form of validation but wether this is for the authors benefit or the platforms is yet to be seen (it also seems detrimental to the community aspect of the platform).
Validity is tricky, I think a lot of our notions of validity come from money. Are you making money from it? Then it’s valid. If you aren’t, then it’s a hobby.
Personally I think all forms of content creation are valid culturally. For example a recent AO3 Fan Fiction titled ‘All the Young Dudes’, which is about The Marauders from Harry Potter and is the same length as 3 of the longest HP books, has had a significant impact culturally. It has provided discourse and ‘fanlore’ in that community to the point that it has created it’s own fan community outside of the original. I would argue that this makes it on par with the original Harry Potter series in terms of validity.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, I know fan culture is very fluid and what my experiences are will most definitely differ from yours.
I look forward to discussing it!
Thanks again for commenting.
Ah, I get excited to be able to talk about these things! I’ve definitely written you a very long response. It’s often very hard to find the right audience to talk about fan communities with! I’ve also untintentionally based a lot of my degree around this – I’m actually gearing up to write my Masters dissertation on fan fiction and identity exploration.
AO3 is a really interesting example to raise for a couple of reasons. One of the fandoms I follow has a work with a very prolific writer and particularly pesky set of tags (literally thousands of them) that clogs up any search and makes the site unusable. Despite multiple campaigns AO3 maintains that they don’t have the responsibility, or interest, in removing this work. I do find AO3’s community fascinating though – the commitment to developing and trawling tags to ensuring everything is archived properly is an amazing example of the kind of collaboration these platforms can enable.
I think that fan work I mentioned is a reason why issues of governance are so complex. Works can be annoying, or perhaps written about taboo topics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that fellow fans should be able to remove those works. There is a lot of space for telling stories that traditional publishing wouldn’t tell and it would be a shame to enable those works to be removed. I think, like you mentioned, individual fandoms tend to develop their own sets of values and rules around how to tag works and engage with one another. As far as I’m concerned, I believe platforms should set up the appropriate frameworks for tagging, in the way that AO3 do, but shouldn’t necessarily be managing the content itself, and assume that the communities themselves will bring rein egregious works back into community standards.
The prestige element is really interesting. These days it seems there are more and more published, respected authors who admit to either having cut their teeth writing fanfiction, or still continue to publish fanfiction. Martha Wells is one example that immediately comes to mind (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/wells_interview/). The literary community has always been particularly exclusionary, but I think fanfiction has been a space that has allowed a broader range of stories and encouraged different storytelling methods that are both valid and incredibly important.
I tend to agree with you about all forms of expression being valid, even if it’s something I have to remind myself frequently. Last year, I kept lamenting that I seemed to have stopped reading, even though I was still reading fanfiction. I had developed the perception that reading fanfiction somehow wasn’t reading. I think it ties a lot into the concept that things have to be serious to have cultural merit.
You mentioning All The Young Dudes made me think of a fanfiction series from what feels like a million years ago, the James Potter series by G. Norman Lippert, which is a series of five, novel-length, very sleekly produced fan works. They have had a huge readership, enough to draw the attention of Warner Brothers. I think it would be very hard to argue that they are anything but valid works of fiction.
I really enjoy discussing these topics – when I think of being a teenager engaging in Harry Potter fanfiction, right through to see how fandom and fan works have changed over the years, it is very clear how fluid and complex fan culture can be!
Oh, I’m really glad someone brought up AO3! I’d love to see more discussion about how Wattpad fits into (differs from? adds to?) the long line of previous spaces for sharing fanfiction and other independently-published work.
I think that’s a really interesting line of discussion! Particularly in places where fanfiction was shared there seems to be a push and pull relationship between the hosts of fan content and the fan communities.
At one point fanfiction was shared in niche communities organized by fandom or by pairing – I’m thinking of older geocities style websites. These were homes of community message boards and fanfiction. Then fanfiction.net was a central place for all content, but not communities, and the communities required another place to gather. Following content purges, fanfiction splintered off again into places like LiveJournal and Tumblr, where community building sat alongside fanfiction. Now we have AO3, which has made very clear that they don’t consider themselves home to a community (https://web.archive.org/web/20181108201018if_/https://www.theverge.com/2018/11/8/18072622/fanfic-ao3-free-speech-censorship-fandom) and instead are merely an archive for fan works. That has left community management and values up to the individual fandoms.
Wattpad, on the other hand, is a really interesting example – I’d love to get your thoughts on this Tegan, because you’re far more knowledgeable about Wattpad than I am. But I find it useful to compare Wattpad, which I think is considered with a fair amount of derision, to the more established traditions of webnovels in places like China and Korea. Many Chinese webnovels are adapted into dramas or animated shows, and there seems to be fewer concerns about literary prestige when it comes to these forms of entertainment. Many authors still write under pseudonyms and their goal is simply to write, rather than adapt their work for formal publication.
Tegan, what do you think about this? What does the general reception of original works look like on Wattpad – do you think most authors publishing there are looking for traditional publishers to pick up their work, or is there an outcome in which a successful Wattpad story amounts to success in and of itself?
Thanks for interacting Sky, sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I’ve been pummelled by life this week in many different forms. AO3 has been a tried and true companion for many years, I couldn’t talk about Fan Fiction and leave it out!
As Maddison said, there’s been such a shift in fan culture over the years. Almost like nomadic groups travelling from platform to platform, once one site dies or purges like fanfiction.net, they move onto greener pastures.
I’ve noticed that quite recently with the fan communities converging on TikTok. There a new generation of users are creating their own communities, fanlore, and even fan content in the form of self insert videos and trailers. There’s a new greener pasture! (But I still like to slide into my old tumblr account just to see what’s going on)
To answer your question Maddison, Wattpad is encouraging original works and so do their audiences. Fan Fiction, while present, only makes up a niche genre within the site. Romance, Supernatural and New Adult reign supreme, similar to the self published books on Kindle Unlimited. The only difference being one is packaged as an e-book and the other sits on a platform with an interactive audience. I would need to do more research but I would think it likely that a lot of authors begin on Wattpad and then move the story onto a more ‘traditional’ ebook platform.
Wattpad itself is trying to keep content creators on the site and stop them from making this move though. They now have paid content, something they never had years ago and is slowly taking over the site. Users can buy credits which they then use to unlock certain stories that Wattpad has chosen, through an algorithm, to be popular with their platform users. So I would say that they are trying to bring their own prestige to the original works by monetising them, much like traditional publishing, but I think this will be detrimental to the community that made them.
Sorry for the delay Maddison!
I understand the excitement don’t worry and I love the long response, like you said it’s hard to find the audience for these conversations.
I would love to read your Masters dissertation once it’s done, that sounds right up my alley.
I’m not surprised at you mentioning someone abusing the tags on AO3, it’s frustrating that they can’t remove it but I feel that if they did it would start a tidal wave of interception that they really don’t want to commit to. Perhaps a way for them to get around this is to add a feature that allows users with an account to hide, or block, certain authors and their works from appearing in their searches. I know users can request that certain tags don’t show up in their search, but if it’s a story that abuses multiple then I think that a blocking option would flow well with the fan culture that already exists.
I’ve never heard of Martha Wells so thank you for bringing her to my attention. I agree that it is becoming less taboo as time progresses. Part of me wonders if part of this is because the people who were writing them and the narratives they were constructing were almost taboo themselves. Queer teens writing Kirk/Spock Star Trek Fanzines back in the 70’s certainly weren’t showing their work to the average joe. Now that these communities are finding slow acceptance in more ‘traditional’ spaces, it feels like the communities and content they created on their own are being pulled along with them.
I relate to your mention of feeling like you weren’t reading just because you were reading Fan Fiction instead of ‘real’ books. For so long I wouldn’t even read an e-book because I didn’t hold it in the same esteem as a paper back – definitely not a hard back. I don’t even count my Fan Fictions in my yearly book tally, but if I did I know that it would triple. I’ve started reading 100k length stories again, that’s the same length as Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, but I know only one would label me a true ‘reader’.
Also thank you for brining the James Potter series to my attention, how that flew under my radar is beyond me but I think I’ll be looking into that more. Like you said, it would be hard to argue that it is valid. But who gets to decide? Personally, I think it’s in the eye of the beholder (at least the one who manages to shirk that complex of reading ‘real books’)
It is such a complex topic, i’ve really enjoyed discussing this with you as well!
If you would like to chat more about it after the conference my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Like I said earlier, I would love to read your final dissertation.
Just jumping in here to share the ‘AO3 Comment of the Day’ tumblr, which has somehow gone from sharing cute/funny/terrible comments on AO3 to becoming a fanfic writing and AO3 advice blog.
They have shared a few different workarounds for blocking certain works and tags from search results. You might be able to block the author blocking up the fandom that way. I think you need to be logged in to do some of them, but it’s something at least:
Congratulations, you have done an exceptional job delivering your paper, and as Sonia mentioned, l too had never heard of Wattpad until now so thankyou. As an aspiring author myself Tegan, l have just about finished my first novel… l have always wondered where l could go to find a safe and secure place to present my work and have the reader collaborate their opinions to optimise my potential as a writer. I have for years been trying to come up with a concept like Wattpad to get writing communities collaborating. So… I will definitely be taking a closer look at Wattpad. I do have a couple of questions for you about your paper though.
***Firstly, in paragraph (three) you mention “the biases of the current publishing industry”. Is this related to equality issues? What are they?
***Secondly, paragraph (five), you mention that Wattpad has “communities which are built on an egalitarianist foundation”. However, in paragraph (seven) you mention how Wattpad “has predominantly a female community of authors”?
There are many academic papers that focus on equality, when it comes to publishing online or through publishing houses. And l personally think that equality within the industry – both on and offline should be straight down the middle. I guess my main question for is… Is equality an area in this paper, you would argue makes this site – Whatpad – different to other publishing forums or houses?
Cheers, and again congratulations – Great Work
Thank you for taking the time to read my paper, it’s especially great to get an author’s perspective.
Wattpad sounds like the platform you’ve been looking for, but please don’t be turned away by the plethora of content (in 2018 there were over 400 million stories)- Margaret Atwood herself has used to platform frequently in the past, so there are definitely some diamonds in the rough.
Now to answer your questions, and thank you for engaging so thoughtfully.
“the biases of the current publishing industry”, I should have expanded upon this better upon further reflection, but the biases that I am referring to here are multiple.
First, there are the people within Publishing houses who are choosing the manuscripts to be published, or the ‘Gate Keepers’ as they are so often named. The Diversity Baseline Survey conducted in 2020 found that 76% of publishing staff were white, 81% were straight and 74% were women (this blog has a great break down of the survey https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/01/28/2019diversitybaselinesurvey/#:~:text=Race%3A%20According%20to%20the%20survey,and%20literary%20agents%20are%20White.&text=Native%20Americans%20and%20Middle%20Easterners,publishing%20self%2Dreport%20as%20White.).
With an industry so extremely skewed towards one demographic there can be almost no doubt that bias, wether conscious or not, plays a role in the selection of books and most importantly the authors that are lucky enough to be published in the ‘main stream’.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress, the #ownvoices movement online has really put pressure on publishers to diversify their selections and also ensure that marginalised stories are told by the people who live them and on their own terms. (this is a great article about published gay male stories predominantly being told by straight women https://electricliterature.com/why-are-so-many-gay-romance-novels-written-by-straight-women/)
The other level of bias that also plays its hand here, is the bias of the market. Publishing is a gamble, houses often steer clear of books that they believe won’t sell and find themselves producing books similar to ones already on the market (see the plethora of vampire books after twilight, and currently the boom in the new adult fantasy genre).
Equality in the industry is far from being achieved, but what platforms like Wattpad do is provide a space for content creation and community free from Gate Keepers and mainstream market biases. It is a user content driven site where the creators are also the consumers, they get to decide what is good instead of being told by marketing machines.
Queer writers are able to write their stories and find an audience. Authors of ‘taboo’ genres like Fan Fiction, erotica and shifter series can receive feedback and respect from their community in a safe space. And sometimes, if a story reaches enough people and receives enough attention, it has built an online capitol strong enough to bypass the traditional gatekeepers and get into the main stream market (Perfect example is Anna Todd and her After series).
I hope this has answered your question, and I also hope you have a wander around Wattpad to see what it’s like from an author’s perspective.
Thanks again for commenting.
Dear Tegan, I had never heard of Wattpad, thanks so much for introducing me! What a great idea to create an online community bringing writers and readers together….
Thank you for taking the time to read my paper, I’m glad I could introduce you to a new corner of the internet.
I’m sure that as I go through the many papers in the conference I’ll find a few new corners myself.
I look forward to reading your paper.
LOL please do cos I posted early and have few views!!!!
If you search for “cancer” it will spring up.