Winning the World’s Largest Online Writing Contest – A Reedsy Success Story
Last updated: 07/12/2017
Author Rhón is brand new to the writing world, but his Frontier Fantasy novel Oakwood Grange was recently selected out of 75,000 entries for a Wattys award — an annual international contest of authors held by Wattpad. The story also earned him a “Featured” spot on the website’s homepage for a monthly audience of 45 million, and later ranked in the top 40 of the Fantasy genre (top 40 of over 200 million stories). Here he shares some tidbits about how that success came to be, how other authors might do the same and get noticed on Wattpad.
“Have you heard of Wattpad?”
Three years ago I met a dude named Taran Matharu who asked me this while we were riding in a tour bus up the coast of northeastern Australia. Taran was in his early twenties at the time, traveling for adventure, as I was, and typing something on a laptop that — little did we know — within months would snowball several million online readers and earn him a top-tier agent, a six-figure advance from a major publisher, and a position on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
“It’s this website where you post your stories and people read them and leave comments,” he explained.
I had no idea what he was talking about, for back then it had not occurred to me to “post” my writing anywhere at all. To me, as far as writing was concerned, the well-trodden path was still the best to follow (albeit steeply uphill and exhausting): first, you finish the manuscript, then you query agents and get published. That’s what authors did if they wanted to go pro.
Paths are not always as clear-cut as they first appear.
In the years that followed I wrote my novel Oakwood Grange, my first, basically a stewpot of strange fantasy and Western grit — a Coraline meets Little House on the Prairie kind of tale, and when I finished it I recalled that old tour bus conversation and the website Wattpad.
The latter seemed like a good place to start. I wanted to get some eyeballs on my novel in order to find out what the global public thought of my ability to tell a story. It turns out they thought quite a bit. Within months I’d gone from absolute obscurity to winning a Wattys “Hidden Gems” award and attracting over 40,000 reads.
Here’s how it was done, and how you might do the same…
A Leaf in the Wattpad Forest: How to Get Noticed
For those using Wattpad for the first time, the initial steps are simple: sign up and create a profile, write some text (or, in my case, paste some text already written), click a button that says “Publish”, and presto — an audience of 45 million instantly have access to your story.
The next steps are more daunting. As I write this, there are over 200 million independent story uploads on the site, every genre you can think of, with thousands more uploading every day. It’s a virtual avalanche of fiction, and most who venture there are buried from the start.
So, to get noticed, my early strategy was to look for stories that were already immensely popular. This was easy. Wattpad categorizes all works by their respective genre, and each genre has its own “Hot” list ranking all that genre’s stories by their current level of readership. Leaving an insightful comment on a top-ranking author’s story encourages them to read your own story, and hopefully vote for it as well — reads and votes which automatically re-post as notifications to that author’s followers on a public feed.
Another thing I did was socialize with Wattpad’s community at large. The website has a high-traffic forums section with various discussion “Clubs” (e.g. Romance, Fantasy, Teen Fiction, Horror, Classics, etc.), places where you can post questions or responses to the other users, occasionally mentioning what you’ve written. To me, the forums proved the best place to raise awareness of my story. I created threads that I could easily tie to some aspect of Oakwood Grange, responded considerately to what others posted in reply, and also provided useful feedback to younger authors still cutting their teeth on concepts like “inciting incident” and “theme” and “active voice”.
Within a month my story gained a couple hundred reads, and soon the reads and readers compounded with minimal involvement on my part. By late December Wattpad informed that I’d won one of their Wattys awards, the category “Hidden Gems” referring to the fact that my read-count was still hovering somewhere around 5,000 and therefore hidden when compared to the shooting stars whose work was read by millions. This was welcome news, and before January was over my story was selected to be 'Featured' and therefore displayed in the top echelon of the fantasy genre.
Now, let’s say that you’d like to try Wattpad yourself and maybe duplicate or exceed these results. How to do it? Here are some tips . . .
- Write masterfully. Aim for Tolkien or Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Austen, Rowling, or Dickens — not the soon-to-be-forgotten E. L. what’s-her-face or others of her ilk. People notice quality and pass it on to other people.
- Edit. Nobody likes typos. Revise and then revise again. If you can afford an editor, on Reedsy, for example, all the better.
- Make sure that your book cover is fantastic . . . or at least make sure it doesn’t suck. I did the cover to Oakwood Grange myself. It’s okay, functional by Wattpad standards, but not what I would call amazing, and admittedly not good enough for the larger publishing industry.
- Post your full completed manuscript. Wattpad’s system allows stories to be serialized, but common sense will tell you that most readers don’t want to begin reading something that’s half-finished.
- Add tags. Tags help people find your work by searching for relevant keywords. The more specific to the story, the better.
- Communicate with the community. At its core, Wattpad is a social site. So socialize. If you read someone else’s work, or comment or vote on it, they’re much more likely to reciprocate. Likewise, if you make an effort to engage new readers, or keep in contact with the readers you already have, more readers will be interested.
- Don’t get discouraged. A common complaint among new Wattpad authors is that no one reads their work. The good news is that wattpad readers are voracious. They want something fresh and good to feed their endless cravings, and they’re always prowling for that next delicious meal. If your story is enticing, trust me — they will sniff it out.
- Send Wattpad a request to make your story 'Featured'. Obviously, a website with 200 million stories cannot put all of them on its homepage, so there is an application and review process, and of course many disappointed authors. Nevertheless, the 'Featured' list is free, and highly visible, and it can bring your story thousands of new readers every week.
The Sunlight in the Canopy
At this point you might be wondering what value an author can get from Wattpad, or what makes it worth the cost of time and effort. Indeed, the sad truth is that the website offers no direct means for its authors to make money on their work, no Amazon-esque payment system, and that means that despite the legions who have read my story I still have not yet made a penny on it. Does that bother me? Nah. Awareness is the my intention here — helping people realize that my work exists and it is work worth reading. In due course I expect that all of this awareness will pay off in the form of a publishing contract, as it did for Taran, as it has for many others. And even if that doesn’t happen, my author platform is steadily rising to a good place from which to dive into self-publishing.
Meanwhile, Reedsy has been exceptionally useful in connecting me with an editor, Aja Pollock, who helped refine my story’s prose to prepare it for the greater wilderness beyond Wattpad. I came here for a level of professional expertise, wordsmithing, and attention to detail not easily found in other spheres, and I was not disappointed. After all, contests are admirable, but polishing a story until every facet shines and sparkles perfectly—that’s the real gem.
Have you tried putting your stories up on Wattpad? Have you had any success from it? Let us know your thoughts and experiences, or any question for Rhón, in the comments below!