Brace yourself, folks—this post is going to be a rant-y and ramble-y one. I might even piss a few of you off. But I’m okay with that.
So, let’s dive right into it. There is a growing divide on Wattpad between the adults and the teens, and a divide between the pop fiction writers and…everyone else.
I don’t like it.
Many folks on Wattpad are outraged by the amount of attention “bad” teen writing gets. They’re disgusted by the millions (literally) of fan fiction stories about One Direction, and the hundreds of thousands of melodramatic romances about werewolves and their mates. Worse, they say, the writing is atrocious. None of these kids know how to tag dialogue properly, and haven’t they heard of spell check?
But the most heinous crime of these teen so-called writers is that their stories are popular. Somehow, these illegible, clichéd stories are topping the What’s Hot lists and have generated millions of reads.
The folks who are complaining don’t always say this out loud, but what they’re thinking is, it’s not fair and my story is more deserving.
Now, I object to this on a whole lot of different levels. To be fair, I’m biased, as Paladin has gotten a lot of visibility on Wattpad, and perhaps if it remained among one of the millions of undiscovered stories, I too would be annoyed.
But here’s the thing. Paladin will never see as many reads as the #1 Romance or #1 Fan Fiction story on Wattpad. And I don’t care. It’s not a competition. It’s not like readers only choose one story. Readers who love to read are excited when they come across lots of good books. The fact that “Project Popularity” has 6.5 million reads and over 100K votes doesn’t mean that readers will choose that book over mine. Maybe they’ll choose Paladin, because they prefer fantasy to contemporary romance, or maybe they’ll decide to read both. Depending on the speed of your reading, a book only lasts a few days or perhaps a week. Once you’re done, you move on to the next one. A reader’s appetite is limitless.
What I’m trying to say is that another book’s popularity doesn’t have any impact on your own. So stop blaming those egregiously popular teen writers if your book isn’t getting the kind of visibility you want.
The other piece of this unfounded anger that bothers me is the accusation that these “bad writers” are undeserving. Let me ask you this—do you think these authors purposely try to write badly? Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I believe 90% of writers on Wattpad take pride in their work and are trying their damned hardest. Besides, how do you ever get better at writing without, well, writing? We all have to start somewhere.
I’m not saying that means we need to coddle younger or inexperienced writers. We don’t need to tell them they’re brilliant or hand them a participation trophy—that doesn’t do them any good in the long run. There’s a very easy solution to dealing with the writing that offends you on Wattpad—don’t read it. I may defend the bad writers (or at least defend their right to write), but that doesn’t mean my empathy extends to reading writing I don’t like. I guess I just don’t get why people find the existence of bad writing so offensive, so long as the author is not a) charging me for it or b) forcing me to read it.
Probably, though, what people find truly objectionable is the fact that some of these “poorly written” stories are popular. I want to qualify this a little—I have never seen a popular story on Wattpad with incomprehensible writing. Ridden with basic mistakes that make my inner Grammar Nazi cringe, yes, but not incomprehensible. The point is, all of the popular books still manage to tell a story.
I think we all could benefit from taking a look at these popular stories with less than stellar prose and analyze what it is that makes people flock to them. Obviously it’s not the writing, so that tells us that readers care more about other aspects of a book.
Your snarky response to me (I’m having an imaginary conversation with you in my head) is that well, duh, they play into clichés. There’s the love triangle, the bitchy cheerleader, the bad-boy vampwolf, etcetera, etcetera. You would never stoop so low as to write something so trite.
Okay, fair point. But obviously there’s a market for cliché stories, or people wouldn’t read them. If people enjoy reading clichés, why is it wrong to write them, especially if you enjoy them yourself? The same goes for fan fiction—people write fan fiction and people read them. Demand for One Direction stories exceeds the supply. Isn’t the fact that there are readers out there clamoring for 1D fan fic enough reason to write them? (Btw, you should all go out and read Fangirl by Rainbow Powell. It’ll change your perspective on fan fiction. Plus, it’s brilliant. I cried.)
But there are a lot of clichéd stories on Wattpad that don’t have reads in the millions. Which to me means that these popular authors are doing something else to get to the top. Something that could be applicable to the rest of us. Maybe, just maybe, these terrible, horrible, no good, very bad authors have something they could teach us (kudos if you catch the reference). Maybe they’re doing something right that you’re doing wrong.
Now, I am an old, and no longer so hip to what the cool kids are doing these days. But in some of the rants I’ve seen on Wattpad coming from adults and teens alike, I’ve identified a few problems.
Stop alienating potential readers.
Do you know what’s not helping you get reads? Complaining about how much all the teen writers on Wattpad suck. Part of the appeal of Wattpad—beyond the fact that books are free—is the ability for writers and readers to connect. You are not just your story—you are you, a person, and readers can interact with you. They see your comments in forums and on walls. You’re not helping your cause by insulting the vast majority of the Wattpad population.
And let’s be realistic about the Wattpad audience. I don’t have any data points to prove this, but intuition tells me that the ratio of adults (ages 18+) to teens is something like 25:75. That probably isn’t going to change significantly because teens are more social media savvy, and adults have access to credit cards and aren’t as reliant on free e-books. You may say you’re only writing for adults, but that severely limits your potential readership. I’m not saying you have to pander to a younger audience—you should write the book you want to write—but dismissing the entire teen population as beneath you seems pretty foolish.
I don’t know about you, but I started reading “adult” novels when I was 9 years old. I still recall my first adult book—it was Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. There was a scene in which the Big Bad Guy killed a little boy, cut off his testicles and ate them. There were also BDSM scenes. So yes, it was truly adult. I still loved it (although I totally did not get that Denna was a dominatrix until YEARS later).
I bring this up because, just like adults often read Young Adult books (who hasn’t read The Hunger Games?), teens often read adult books. You may not be writing a story for them specifically, but you shouldn’t pooh-pooh them as readers.
You don’t know how to promote your story.
The popular teen writers on this site might not write better than you, but they sure as hell promote better. They promote better than me, too, if it’s any consolation.
Why do I say that? Well, I’m not a teen. I’m not completely out of touch, but I can’t relate to a teen on the same level as another 16 year old. And the way social media works, things go viral based on peer-to-peer recommendations and peer-to-peer influencers. That includes stories on Wattpad. By virtue of being an old, I’m out of that peer-to-peer circle.
Well, eff, you might be thinking, how is that commentary remotely useful? To me the takeaway is that I need to try to get on their level. I mean, I’m not about to start gabbing about One Direction in the forums, but I do talk to potential teen readers all the time about interests we have in common. It helps me understand how they think, what kinds of promotional tactics appeal to them, what they want to read, etc. Besides, some of them are pretty cool.
The popular authors on Wattpad also put the time in to promote. And yes, one valuable method of promotion is just being active in the forums and getting to know people on a personal level. The writers who you see everywhere (all over the forums, posting on walls, on stories, etc.) tend to have massive followings.
Your story isn’t as good as you think it is.
Okay, this one obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, and maybe it’s not that helpful to bring up since it’s so hard to self-evaluate. Your story may very well have not been discovered yet because you haven’t put in enough time promoting it, you’re new to Wattpad, etc.
But no matter how much time you spend marketing yourself and your book, if you didn’t write a story people will like, you won’t get readers.
I think a LOT of writers mistakenly believe that because their stories are technically well-written (the grammar is flawless; the prose is beautiful; the descriptions of setting are sweeping) they’ve written a great book. Unfortunately, good writing isn’t that simple. The characterization, the plot development, the voice are what determines whether your story is good or not. Those aren’t measurable things, and while they’re learn-able, they’re not necessarily teachable. How do you create a loveable character? I don’t really know how to explain it (nor have I perfected the art myself)…all I know is they should feel alive on the page. You should be able to feel their personality in the narration. They should be able to move your readers to tears or laughter.
I like to point to the story I wrote my sophomore year of college. The writing is close to technically perfect. The story is awful. Why? It’s boring.
So that brings me back to a much earlier point I made, about why a poorly written story is popular and yours might not be. Frankly, readers will choose a book with terrible writing and a fast-paced plot and great characters over a well-written story with no heart every time.
Alright, folks. I think that’s enough incoherent ranting from me for now. Feel free to tell me I’m a heartless beyotch who is so beyond biased my rambles are irrelevant. I don’t mind!