I really enjoyed Joanna Penn’s recent interview with Ashleigh Gardner of WattPad–enough, actually, that I set up an account and started to check out the service. The tl;dr for people who don’t listen to Joanna’s podcast: WattPad is a social network set up around serializing fiction, which makes it a little like a mashup of Facebook and blogging. If Ashleigh is to be believed, it’s growing like kudzu and has a kind of shockingly favorable reader:writer ratio (about 9:1). You can’t charge anyone for the read, so you have to figure out how you’re going to convert readers to sales on your e-publishing platform(s) of choice, but the line from reading free fiction to buying fiction is a lot clearer than the line from, say, following someone on Twitter. That makes it a viable option for making a series starter permanently free, and so it all seems pretty interesting.
I’d say they do the core things right. The story interface on the mobile app is readable–if you don’t care about the social aspect of it, you can pretty much pretend you’re in your Kindle app. It’s not so great on the PC, which is just to say it’s cluttered in the way you’d expect from a social network. But who reads on their computer anyway? The problem with the mobile app is that some basic things are hard; e.g., there’s no way back to the home screen, so if you’ve just binge-searched a bunch of authors, you have to go back through them (or maybe quit the app?) if you want to do anything except search. I imagine these problems will get sanded down in time.
One thing that’s really surprised me: I’ve generally been underwhelmed by the quality of self-published fiction on the major e-publishing platforms. In my highly subjective judgment and not compendious experience, well-respected authors who are making a living at it seem to be hovering around the 50th percentile of quality relative to traditionally published work. (I haven’t read Joanna’s work. It’s also worth noting that I tend to start with the first book in a series, written almost by definition when the author is least experienced. So some of the people I sniff at might be quite skilled now.) Anyway, I’ve already found a couple of titles on WattPad whose prose really seems to be a cut above–and I’m not talking about Cory Doctorow or Margaret Atwood or people you’ve heard of (Brandon Sanderson is also on the site, offering WARBREAKER for free). I haven’t gotten deeply enough into either one to see if the stories work at higher levels, but solid writing at the sentence level is not something I’m used to in self-publishing, and I’m glad to find it so easily. And free!
So anyway. I’ll probably put something short up, just to see what happens. You know, in my copious free time.