Wattpad: The YouTube of Books … Sort of?

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I interned with a literary review for a time, which in practice meant spending my days poring over unsolicited submissions in search of hidden gems. The gems were few, the submissions many. Though employing Wattpad to search for new authors somewhat recalls my experience commanding this literary magazine’s online submission system, the website provides two key improvements: a vastly superior interface and a hive mind that draws serviceable writing to the forefront.

Founded in 2006 by a Torontonian entrepreneur intent on creating a YouTube for writing, Wattpad languished in obscurity for three years following its inception. Spurred by a number of enhancements—the addition of books culled from Project Gutenberg, a serial story coauthored by Margaret Atwood exclusively for the site, bucket-loads of money —Wattpad evolved into its current incarnation as a boisterous venue for professional and amateur authors to share their work.

About that “professional and amateur” distinction: with the exception of Atwood and a few other standouts, Wattpad’s contributors tend to fall into the “amateur” vein. The presence of professional authors on the site has in the past signaled an impending copyright dispute, rather than a participatory attitude toward one’s fanbase.

The site’s community is particularly conducive to the development of genre fiction. Wattpad’s “What’s Hot” page (part bestseller list and part leaderboard) features, as I write this, a book in which Justin Bieber enjoys a central role, a book in which the protagonist wakes up inside the world of Minecraft and a poetry collection titled Save Me From Myself (featuring a bloodied drain on the cover).

Wattpad’s cover designs and jacket blurbs rival anything released by Harlequin (which sponsored a fiction contest in conjunction with Wattpad) or Bantam. In a bizarre addition to the saga of human ingenuity, it appears that were Harlequin Romance to cease as an economic enterprise, its spiritual mission would continue of its own volition.

In the interest of full disclosure: Wattpad offers little of the type of writing I go out of my way to consume. However, to fault the site’s authors for having achieved their stated goals would serve no end beyond base cruelty. Consider, for a moment, that a string of supportive, enthusiastic comments follows the text of Save Me From Myself. For most writers (I will hereby conjecture), the knowledge that someone is listening serves as a reward equal in measure to the discipline’s meager financial gains. Even if it has rendered murky contributions to the “financial” side of the equation, Wattpad has done the admirable service of discovering audiences where traditional publishing hadn’t the resources or interest to explore.