About a week ago, I decided to follow the advice of a publishing friend of mine and join Wattpad. (You can read my thoughts on signing up here.) As a publisher and a writer, and as someone committed both to maintaining standards and quality in publishing and writing yet who also believes that the walls of the literary establishment require some storming every now and again, I’m fully aware that Wattpad presents me with challenges and opportunities.
Even the most cursory look at the site reveals that by far the most numerous and popular work is genre fiction: particularly that associated with vampires, the undead, and fantasy—and that much of that work is geared toward teenagers, particularly women. In that regard, Wattpad reflects the culture at large. These genres lend themselves to serializations, fan fiction, and the kind of immersive experience that is also reflected in the culture: witness, conventions dedicated to comics and fantasy worlds, and online gaming and role-playing, etc. As such, Wattpad offers a perfect platform for open-ended stories that can be engaged with, elaborated on, and entered into by fans. The writer, as such, is “reduced” to being a curator of a world in which the barriers between author and reader, and the originating text and fan fiction, are blurred or broken down.
For me, who can appreciate the possibilities of, and passion aroused by, genre fiction, and yet who has little interest in reading it, Wattpad offers a stark reminder that most writing (and the selling of that writing) takes place far away from literary magazines, independent bookstores, and the Sauronesques eye of Strunk-&-White overseers. The writing is fast and sloppy, demotic and expressive.
Yet it is undoubtedly popular. Consider Sydney Ellis’s “Stolen Jerseys,” in both the “Romance” and the “Short Story” section. I’m not sure when this story was posted, but it’s now been read 98,272 times, and received 1,979 votes, and garnered 89 comments. The tagline “she stole his jersey everyday before practice” failed to fill me with confidence that I was going to receive a top-notch literary experience (“everyday” should be two words), but I decided to chill out and not worry about little things like spelling, grammar, and the sequence of tenses. I made it to page 2.
My one short story (which only has two pages), has now been “up” for a week. It’s been read 17 times, with no votes and no comments. Frankly, I’m astonished it’s been read as much as it has. I’m also fully aware that this experiment will be a long, hard slog, and that the only way to ensure a greater readership will be to engage with the Wattpad community and read more literature in it. In other words, there is no room for ivory-tower snobbery or literary shyness in the flattened, democratic space of online writing.
I’ll let you know what happens. In the meantime, here is short story number 2. It’s a little number that plays with the tropes and ideas I see in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.