Today marks the one week anniversary of a little experiment of mine: posting my fantasy short story Sword of Kings for free with two different mobile reading services, Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/3237579-sword-of-kings-part-i) and Scribd (http://www.scribd.com/doc/79242254/Sword-of-Kings).
If you haven’t heard of either service, don’t feel bad. I’d vaguely heard of Scribd before but only came across the possible sales and promotional potential of both it and Wattpad after reading David Gaughran’s attempts with both his own short stories and serially posting his novel A Storm Hits Valparaiso.
In essence, both services offer a variation on the same theme: they facilitate the process of writers finding readers. Writers post their work (though Wattpad is almost exclusively fiction and poetry) without charge; readers can download those works for free. The reasons why writers might want to offer their work for free are many: to find beta readers, to “field test” an odd-ball idea, to stimulate interest in your writing so that it leads to sales of other works, to simply spread your ideas.
While Wattpad and Scribd may seem like just another internet fad, consider that Wattpad claims 1 million users, 3 million comments/votes per month, and the average user spends 30 minutes twice a day on the site. The top stories in each genre of the “What’s Hot” category routinely register over 1-2 million reads. That’s exposure.
Wattpad in Detail
Wattpad, as I mentioned, is exclusively fiction and poetry. Length and format don’t seem to be an issue, but the overwhelming use for the site seems to be young people on-the-go reading story “parts” on their phones. This is “micro reading” (my own term) that I think many of us have been expecting for some time: Kindles and e-readers are nice, but not as portable or ubiquitous as smart phones. At some point, the medium for reading was going to shift to phones not just for convenience, but out of preference, and Wattpad was ready to meet that desire.
For authors, the mechanics are simple: create a profile, upload a document, add a cover, and add information about yourself and/or the book. Some tips: crawl the site first. You’ll notice that even short stories of 3,000 to 4,000 words are broken up into sections and uploaded as separate documents. No surprise, really; consider how much text you’d want to read on a phone (or how much time you normally have doing so) and it makes sense to divide your stories into manageable chunks. There are whole novels on the site–actually, are much more popular and numerous than shorts–and often have dozens or even a hundred parts. Wattpad weds those parts seamlessly for readers, so your story is always in order without any work from you (as long as you upload them in the correct order).
No formatting is required or permitted, so you’ll spend very little time getting your story up there. I noticed, however, that pasting from Word allowed me to retain italics and it didn’t destroy my spacing or paragraph formatting. The only confusion seems to be in adding a cover and extra information. To do this, upload your work, go to your account and pick My Works and click “manage” to add information and “cover” to upload a cover. You may with to do this all by Saving a draft: readers have access almost instantly (I uploaded my short in two parts and had 6 “reads” of Part I before I could even upload Part II). A nice side-benefit to the cover upload is that your cover is a nice thumbnail size (100px x 167px) in summary views, but it’s quite large (300px x 425px) on the actual reading page. If you have a nice cover, this is a great way to show it off.
(Tip: I was so excited to get Sword of Kings up there that I uploaded both parts within minutes of each other. This is probably a gaff: the two major exposure categories are “What’s Hot” and “What’s New”. Obviously you won’t be in the “What’s Hot” category right off the bat, so you have to count on being in “What’s New”. I assume when you add subsequent chapters/sections to your title, you get a “What’s New” bump.)
Readers can comment and vote on your stories, which leads to greater exposure in a “What’s Hot” category. It should be said that Wattpad has admitted their readership is mostly young (teen) women, so YA, fantasy, and chick lit are obviously in higher demand than historical fiction, thrillers, and hard science fiction. But that will change as more and more readers learn to tune in to Wattpad for their fiction fix, whatever genre that might be.
There is no mechanism for charging for stories, though there seems to be some kind of cross linking to Amazon if the upload is available there. Authors can track the number of “reads” of their works (bear in mind a “read” is per person per part, so is slightly misleading; reads do not equal readers), which is nice to watch if you’re feeling down about your exposure. Each part is its own page with a Comment section that any reader can use.
The Mysteries of Scribd
Scribd seems to be a more “traditional” reading service, if there is such a thing, in the sense that content is all over the board (fiction, non-fiction, including whitepapers, manuals, etc.) and it is not necessarily optimized for phones (content is normally uploaded in whole [even novels], and the default formats are Word .doc, .txt., and/or .PDF).
The mechanics of uploading appear to be similar to Wattpad: create an account, fill out the profile as completely as possible if you want to connect to your readers, and upload your document.
Pay special attention to the settings: you have control over your publication rights, whether readers can copy or print the text of your document, and whether it will be delivered as a Word .doc or .PDF. While piracy isn’t a terrible concern, there’s no reason to tempt fate; disabling copying and delivering the item as a .PDF seems reasonable and still gets your work in readers’ hands.
Note that a cover isn’t a separate upload; your “thumbnail” view is the first page of your document, so you may need to tweak the file (i.e., add a full scale cover image on the first page) if you don’t want your thumbnail to be just a snapshot of tiny print.
Also, I didn’t see a way to publish a draft version; as a result, I published the instant I hit Publish (duh) and had to scramble to put some corrections in: “front matter” like my name, website, and copyright info then the cover image when I realized how they handled that. Be ready and get it right before hitting the Publish button.
Scribd shows authors and readers alike how many “reads” the document has had, as well as allowing a “readcast” option which shows how many people are on the document in real time (if I understand it correctly). Authors can also track their titles’ downloads by date and global location
Time will tell whether exposure on these sites is an exercise in ego or is a true promotional tool that leads to sales. If nothing else, however, getting “eyes on” your work could become a valuable tool for beta reading and a morale boost on those days when no one seems to be listening.
Addendum 3/12/2012: While I enjoyed my experiments with both Wattpad and Scribd, I removed Sword of Kings from both venues in order to experiment with KDP Select. I’ll reassess at the end of the 90 days and see if I’ll return to a wider distribution.
If there was one lesson I learned, it’s that Wattpad, at least, requires dedication to the site. Due to a million other commitments, I was unable to participate in groups, read others’ work, and generally make myself part of the Wattpad community, so my numbers suffered for it. I’d recommend, especially for YA and science fiction authors, that if you’re serious about Wattpad that you commit to becoming part of the culture. I’m sure you would see dividends for doing so.