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Unpublished writers often wonder how putting some of their work up for free online will affect their writing career. Will it hurt or help? Well, in my case it eventually led to my first book deal. Here’s how everything went down.
In 2017 I started serially posting a novel to Wattpad (the world’s leading online story-sharing site) and as of January 2020 that same book became available in bookstores in Canada, the U.S and the UK. My book GIVEN, is young-adult fantasy romance, which hit the sweet spot for Wattpad’s primary audience, so it didn’t take too long for the book to start gaining attention, though my aggressive marketing in the Wattpad forums helped get it rolling at the start.
A few months in the story received an editor’s spotlight, and in time it rose the ranks to become the second highest-ranked fantasy story on the site. In 2018 GIVEN won a “worldbuilders” Watty award, and I was tapped by Wattpad’s new book publishing imprint, Wattpad Books, for publication. This has since opened up quite a few doors for me such as eligibility for grants, and helped me land my current literary agent.
Though posting online has kickstarted my writing career, there are some risks and pitfalls to consider. While you're writing, there’s not much worse for anxiety than knowing a cabal of enthusiastic fans will be disappointed if you miss a scheduled update to your serial story. You might be tired and stressed from the day job, or just lacking inspiration, but people are finally reading your work! Liking it! Commenting and engaging with it! How can you disappoint them? It’s certainly not the worst problem to have, but in the moment it can feel overwhelming.
Speaking of disappointment, if you do this solely with the intention of landing a traditional book deal, prepare for a long wait. There are millions of stories on Wattpad, and only a tiny fraction of those have found mainstream success (either through Wattpad books or other publishers).
And don't forget, stories have and continue to be plagiarized and uploaded on Amazon or other third party sites for profit, especially if they are popular, and it’s a huge pain to get them taken down.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth posting. You’ll get the most out of the experience if you focus on honing your craft and building a community. I didn’t go into it with the specific intention of being traditionally published. I started posting online because I wanted accountability and yes, validation. I knew if I could find the right audience for my writing it would resonate.
And I love the entrepreneurial spirit of self-publishing, but I knew I’d never be able to market the book the way it deserved on my own. Publishing online was my means of building an audience and community without the pressure of trying to recoup the hefty initial investments associated with self-publishing on platforms like Amazon.
It’s up to you to decide if the risk is worth the reward, but when done right publishing online can be a big boost to a writer’s career.
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