Establishing an online presence as a budding author can be a daunting process, especially if you’re still trying to pick a platform.
While indie authors primarily build their readership by promoting through their personal website and social media, linking up with a storytelling community could bring you a whole new audience.
Since launching in 2007, Wattpad has established itself as the preeminent “global multi-platform entertainment company for stories”, with a monthly audience of over 80 million readers.
It’s a great platform for writers of YA fiction, as 90% of users belong to either Gen Y or Z – those born between 1981 and 2012. But YA is not the be-all and end-all of Wattpad.
Nothing in life is perfect, however, and Wattpad isn’t without its cons. With over 350,000 stories published across 50 languages, getting your work discovered can be difficult and unrewarding.
But if you’re keen to tap into this vast wealth of readership, check out our six-step guide for getting started on Wattpad, embracing this rapidly expanding platform, and maximising your chance of exposure.
Step #1: Pick the Right Username
What’s in a name? Juliet has long pondered the meaning of names and the power they hold, and as an up-and-coming author, you should too.
Choosing the right username or pen name is a crucial step in establishing your online writing presence. After all, your name is directly linked to your brand, and choosing one that’s misleading could result in a loss of audience.
On Wattpad, you can’t choose an existing ID as your username, so there’s a smaller chance of having your work confused with someone else’s – something that can happen in the real world.
If you have a common name, you may be familiar with the need to use random numbers to establish a point of difference. However, when selecting your Wattpad ID, this is not recommended.
The addition of descriptors such as ‘author’, ‘writes’ or ‘the’ creates a point of difference without the unprofessional look of random numbers. ‘JohnSmithAuthor’ is preferable to ‘JohnSmith39584’.
Your username has the ability to establish your niche, and if you’re writing across multiple genres, picking something that has broad appeal will yield the most benefit.
For example, even if you dabble in K-pop fan fiction when not working on your urban fantasy, selecting the username BTS-lover-19 might not be the best choice, as it leans too heavily towards your side hustle.
Writers of genre fiction such as sci-fi, fantasy and crime often rely heavily on pseudonyms to help fit into the market.
Psycho-thriller author Allison Potter, for example, adopted the name Ali Knight to fit more appropriately with her genre.
If your real or pen name, Wattpad ID and Twitter/Instagram handles are all the same, you can solidify your online brand and open up clear channels for cross-platform promotion – which you’re still going to need, even with the power of Wattpad’s readership.
But more on that later.
Step #2: Harness The Power Of Tags
Getting discovered online can feel impossible when there are hundreds of thousands of potential competitors. To have the best chance of reaching your target audience, you need to increase your story’s visibility through the clever use of tags.
Unlike libraries and bookstores, where books are sorted into umbrella categories such as ‘Contemporary Fiction’, ‘Science-Fiction/Fantasy’, ‘Crime’, ‘Young Adult’ etc., online story depositories are further sorted by specific, targeted search terms.
Popularised through Instagram and Twitter, hashtags have helped posts go viral and influencers get discovered – all by matching content with appropriate trending terms to really cash in on what’s so hot right now.
But that doesn’t mean you want to slap every trending term on your work and saturate the market – using incorrect, misleading tags can do more harm than good. Being everywhere all at once (and especially where you don’t belong) can turn readers off altogether.
When tagging your work, use terms you would use to search for your story if you were a hungry reader.
Non-fiction Wattpadder, HowToUseWattpad, suggests a number of tagging essentials to help draw potential fans to your work:
What is the genre?
Although your story will be listed in an overarching category, including relevant genre markers such as ‘fantasy’, ‘sci-fi’, ‘romance’ etc. can help boost your visibility.
What themes does your story address?
Narrative themes can be a huge drawcard for readers, so make sure you identify what you’re working with.
Tags like ‘LGBTIAQ+’, ‘diversity’, ‘environment’, ‘poverty’, etc. can appeal to specific audiences.
What types of characters feature in your story?
Some readers are drawn to certain types of protagonists or vocations that gear the plot in a certain direction.
Tagging your work with terms like ‘assassin’, ‘anti-hero’, ‘unreliable narrator’, ‘detective’ etc. will help you get your story into the right hands.
What are readers searching for?
We talk a lot about tropes and how to avoid them, but they can actually be handy markers to attract readers fond of these story elements.
In addition to generic descriptors such as ‘funny’ or ‘action’, tags like ‘enemies to lovers’, ‘love triangle’ or ‘fairytale’ might just be what you need to appeal to your audience.
How many tags do I need?
Adding ten or more tags to your Wattpad story dramatically increases its visibility, but that’s not an invitation to go overboard.
Keep your tags relevant and succinct, and only separate each individual term with a space – #not #every #word.
Step #3: Design a Polished Cover
The saying might be ‘never judge a book by its cover’, but we all know that’s not how it actually goes down.
A book’s cover is the first thing a reader sees, and an unpolished design can be indicative of unpolished writing – which can turn an audience away without them ever giving it a chance.
Wattpad author Harrison Kitteridge (who went from 350 readers to over 10,000 in just one month) counts a decent cover as essential to his success.
But at the end of the day, we’re writers and not graphic designers; creating the perfect book cover might not come naturally to us. That’s where the Internet can help – and not just by connecting us with freelance designers who can create covers for us.
The surge in indie and self-publication, not to mention the increasing reliance on eye-catching social media posts to attract business, has seen a corresponding increase in the availability of DIY graphic design apps and programs.
Adobe, well-known in the industry for producing premier graphic design software, has its own online editor, Adobe Spark. While a free-use tier is available upon sign-up, the available templates are limited, and all designs come attached to a watermark unless you upgrade to a paid subscription.
Adobe Spark does have a guide for creating Wattpad covers, however, which you can check out here.
Often touted as a free browser-based alternative to expensive Photoshop software, Pixlr X also provides writers with the means to create professional-looking covers.
Unlike other services, which come equipped with a range of templates to easily be manipulated, Pixlr does require the user to compile their work from scratch, so familiarity with design principles is recommended.
If you’re feeling up for the challenge, Pixlr also has a comprehensive Wattpad cover tutorial on their blog.
Arguably the more user-friendly options are Desygner and Canva, which both have an extensive range of free templates available. A paid upgrade unlocks a generous serve of additional features, including hundreds of fonts and stock images.
Both platforms are very easy to use and edit (with Canva arguably being the most accessible), and come equipped with How-To guides to help you create an original cover for your Wattpad story, which you can find here and here respectively.
The biggest drawback to using these graphic design template services is that, unless you extensively edit to make the work your own, you do run the risk of encountering similar covers made by other users.
Still, if you lack confidence and design knowledge, this is one of the best ways to learn and create covers that attract readers on Wattpad just as they would in bookstores.
Step #4: Get Writing
It goes without saying that before you choose to publish your story in a public forum, it should be complete.
At the very least, you should have a comprehensive outline and schedule so you can regularly post your chapters, like a serialised drama series. But do be aware that not everyone likes to read this way.
Wattpad employee Nick, writing for HowToUseWattpad’s ‘Secrets to Getting More Reads‘, states that the number one way to get more reads on your story is to mark it as complete.
“The most searched for term when users are joining? Completed … It’s Completed and then everything else far, far behind. So we know people are specifically looking for these complete stories … [They] are read four times more than ongoing stories.”
If you do choose to serialise, Wattpad recommends 1–3 updates per week – which sounds pretty hectic if you’re writing around a full-time job, juggling writing and parenting, or working with beta readers to improve your work with feedback before putting it out there.
Whichever approach you take, you need to make sure you’ve got a punchy description and intriguing title to harness that initial spike of interest.
The title and synopsis are just important as a professional-looking cover. After all, in indie and traditional publishing, these both feature on the jacket and are (presumably) read before the first page is turned.
Wattpad stories with descriptions receive 100 times more readers than those without. Because descriptions are limited to 2,000 characters, which correlates to approximately 350–400 words, you need to keep things tight, punchy and super-engaging.
Not sure where to start? Take a look at some of your favourite books and note any shared features.
A great blurb will introduce the protagonist, hook readers with a central conflict, and identify the genre and overarching themes. (Tip: Blurbs are almost always written in third person – even if the narrative itself is told otherwise.)
When it comes time to start uploading chapters, Wattpad recommends keeping installments shorter than 2,000 words. As most users access the site on mobile devices, lengthy chapters and bulky paragraphs can impede readability.
If you’re choosing to serialise, make sure your end your chapters with a mini-cliffhanger to keep your readers engaged and wanting more.
Keeping intrigue and drama at the forefront of readers’ minds between installments can take some pressure off when it comes time to promote.
Step #5: Promote, Promote, Promote
Even though you’re automatically sharing your work with a massive reading community just by posting to Wattpad, you still need to actively campaign in order for it to be seen.
Having such a huge market of competition means it’s easy to get lost in the flood, and you need to rely on more than a sharp title and snazzy cover to be found.
Promotion is an integral part of getting your book into the right hands – just ask any indie author.
But where indie authors focus on word-of-mouth, social media reach and all-important Amazon/Goodreads reviews, Wattpadders have a few extra tricks at their disposal.
Your first stop on the road to discovery should be the Wattpad Community Forums, an old-school message board setup where Wattpadders can share writing tips, ask questions and, most importantly, network.
Each story category has its own Share Your Story thread where writers can do exactly that – share.
Further divided into subgenres (Fantasy, for example, breaks down into Urban Fantasy, High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy etc.), writers can post once per week to any thread that describes their work.
A writer of romantic dark fantasy with dragons may choose to advertise in the Dark Fantasy thread one week; Dragon Fantasy the next; and then finally in General Fantasy.
Each thread is active for one week only and is refreshed from 12am EST each Friday morning. This means your ‘ad’ has a limited run time and you need to renew it each week to keep it out there in front of readers.
While this might seem tedious, the main benefit is that the listings are always fresh and the number of pages kept low so your story is not lost in an endlessly scrolling thread.
If your story is greater than 10,000 words, complete, or extremely well-planned, you can apply to be featured in Wattpad’s internal advertising, including Editor’s Picks, general promotion, and consideration for brand campaigning.
Step #6: Become A Star And Get Paid
The sky’s the limit, right?
Given the community-driven force that propelled Wattpad to the #1 spot on the storytelling market, it stands to reason that the platform has come up with ways to give back to the users who put it there.
Over the years, Wattpad has introduced various programs to help writers ‘get support for doing what you love’.
The first is the Paid Stories program, which allows readers to ‘purchase’ chapters or entire stories they enjoy through the transfer of Wattpad Coins – the website’s online currency.
Coins are bought in bundles, ranging from US$1.49 for 9 coins to US$23.99 for 400 – just like a microtransaction in any smartphone app.
Paid Stories range from 3–7 coins per part (depending on chapter length), with some full stories costing as low as 24, and some well over 100.
While there are no official figures on what payment percentages are being passed onto authors, Wattpad assures participants and readers alike that ‘the majority of revenue from the program is being paid to writers’.
Lack of specific figures suggests that money earned through Paid Stories would in no way qualify for a livable income, but in the fight against impostor syndrome, writers need all the ammunition they can get to keep the self-doubt at bay.
Even if the revenue generated from Paid Stories is little more than pocket money, it can help validate young, up-and-coming writers and motivate them to keep moving forward.
At present, Paid Stories are invitation-only. Participants are required to meet an array of factors to qualify for consideration in the program, the most important of which being that the author must already be listed as a Wattpad Star.
A Wattpad Star is an exclusive network of Wattpadders who have been recognised for their talent, hard work, and meaningful interaction with the Wattpad writing community.
To qualify, potential Stars need to fill out the application form, and prove they have:
- Two completed stories of at least 50,000 words each
- Started a story within the last 12 months
- Revised/modified/added a new part to an existing story within the last three months
- Logged on to Wattpad in the past 60 days
Essentially, you need to show sustained and ongoing involvement with the platform and your work.
While this might seem like a lot of effort for some bragging rights, being recognised as a Wattpad Star also affords members the chance to pitch to Wattpad Books, Studios and associated business partners.
However limited the likelihood of success may seem, the opportunities are there – and they are potentially huge.
Bonus Step: Enter The Wattys
If you’ve previously signed up with Wattpad (and posted a completed 50,000+ word story between 01 January 2017 and now), you may be eligible to enter the Watty Awards.
Launched in 2009, the Wattys are a ‘celebration of the diverse, creative, empowering stories we can’t stop reading’, with awards offered over 11 genres and languages.
Submissions are judged with no regard for the author’s popularity or Wattpad ‘fame’; works are evaluated on merit alone with a focus on the characters, the voice, the world, the hook, and the story’s stakes.
Entering the Wattys is a great way to promote your story and generate views. While not a requirement of entry, many writers choose to tag their submission with #wattys2020 as a means of discovery.
Unfortunately, ‘fan love’ doesn’t come into consideration during the judging process, but that doesn’t stop hungry readers trawling the Wattys tag in eager attempts to unearth the winner ahead of time.
But gaining new readers is only part of the payoff. While money isn’t on the table for Wattys winners, book deals and shopping agreements are.
Wattpad offers the winner an opportunity to publish with Wattpad Books, which are available in hard copy from leading retailers in the United States.
In addition, winners are offered a shopping agreement, whereby Wattpad Studios can ‘shop’ the work to various publishing and entertainment business partners for a select period of time.
Those selected also have the opportunity to join the Paid Stories program.
These offers are purely optional, and should winners feel the opportunities are not the right fit for their work, they can simply decline.
Having your work displayed for all to see can be pretty daunting, especially out on the web. The great vastness of the internet is both a blessing and a curse; there are as many millions of readers as there are millions of stories.
Wattpad is a fantastic tool for getting eyes on your writing – but you have to be prepared to work.
Success doesn’t come easily and it certainly doesn’t come overnight. However, practice makes perfect, and in this case, persistence does too.
Post regularly, engage with the community, and polish your work to the same standard as you’d expect from a publishing house, and you could be on to a real winner.
Have you had success as a writer on Wattpad? What experience have you had with the reading community? We’d love to hear your thoughts, tips and experiences in the comments below.