Okay fellow writers, time to go out and build a fanbase from the ground up in order to catch people’s attention and get published! Except, you don’t have anything published yet, so how exactly are you supposed to build a fanbase?
I know what you’re thinking, writing is hard enough without the pressure to build a platform. Unfortunately, the hard truth is that these days, not only are we required to improve our craft as much as possible, we are meant to be out there building up a platform…somehow.
Thankfully, there are websites out there that let you do both.
Years ago, a writing friend told me all about the site she’d just discovered, something called Wattpad. She told me how she updated chapters weekly and how she had hundreds of people reading along and commenting each time she updated. At the time, I had to admit to myself that the idea of someone reading what I wrote was actually really scary. But she said everyone on the platform was supportive, and that she’d been having a blast writing new updates to her stories, and I thought it sounded fun.
So in 2011—nearly a decade ago!—I signed up and started posting a new chapter every Wednesday. Slowly, ever so slowly, the number of readers began to go up, and up. Today, in 2020, I have over 100k followers on the platform. Wattpad has been with me through every up and down of the publishing industry. I have used it to get feedback, make friends with other writers, and discover readers who love my work.
There are quite a few websites out there where you can post your work and gain a platform before publication, and if this is something that appeals to you, here are a few things to consider.
Don’t expect instant results
It takes time for people to find you. Use this time to perfect your craft, and to connect with other writers on the platform. Read as much as you can. If you’re on a website like Wattpad, you may find other published writers, like Beth Revis, have uploaded helpful novellas of writing advice. Explore the site and read as much as you can.
In the meantime, make sure you are utilizing the site properly, post regularly, and at the best times for maximum engagement. Make your cover and blurb as eye-catching as possible. Learn how to write a hook and a compelling copy to describe your story. Pay attention to what you’re doing and how the numbers respond (you have analytics at your fingertips, use them!). In short, learn how to draw people in, and this will serve you well for the rest of your career.
Use the platform to improve your craft
Pay attention to replies. What are people saying about your writing, plot, characters? Sometimes the comments won’t be helpful, and sometimes you’ll find a thoughtful critique that hits home and improves your writing. Don’t be afraid to reach out to these people and make a connection. Help one another out. Make friends with fellow writers in order to swap critiques.
You can find beta readers this way, and mentors who will help you with your craft.
Give more than you take
Make sure to reply to every comment when you’re first starting out. Not only does that up the interaction on your story, but it engages your readers and makes them more likely to hit the “follow” button. Also, get out there and find other stories you love. Find ways to involve yourself in the community there, comment and share, give advice where you can, participate in contests and prompts, or trying running your own.
Learn to take the bad with the good
One of the most valuable things Wattpad gave me was learning what comments to pay attention to and which to ignore. When to recognize good advice, versus trolling. There are times when someone will comment because you have offended their ego in some way, or saying something nasty makes them feel good about themselves. And then there are times when you’ll realize that your own ego is getting in the way of learning something new about writing, and that you’ll have to chill out and take the advice in and find some way to apply it. Both things happen, learning to differentiate between them is very valuable.
Writing, often in real time, on a platform of millions, tends to expose you to every kind of critique imaginable. You learn fast, and then once you do publish, Goodreads doesn’t seem quite as daunting.
Make friends, not connections
Join an online writing platform in order to find fellow writers and make friends. Never set out with the intention of ‘making connections’. People aren’t stupid, they can tell when you’re hovering around like a shark scenting blood because you’ve marked them as some kind of “opportunity” instead of a human being. Don’t go into relationships demanding something. Yes, you do need people, you need your fellow writers now, to help you develop your craft, and you will need them later, when you’re struggling to get published, or when you do get published and get an absolutely blistering review from an online publication of one sort or something. You will lean on one another. You will cry to one another, and you will talk one another out of quitting multiple times over.
And yes, you will absolutely help one another. You will send their manuscript to your agent, or they will subtly mention you to their editor during a lunch. But that will happen because you are friends, and you have been through some serious crap together, not because you made a “connection”.
Find good writer friends and you can’t go wrong. Find good writer friends, and they may just save your sanity over the length of this whole “writing career” thing.
And lastly, don’t sweat the numbers
I know it’s easier said than done, but try not to watch the “reads” numbers, or the number of people who follow or “fan” you. A handful of hardcore fans are hugely valuable. Even if you only get ten dedicated fans, those fans are for life. They will buy every book you put out, they will hype you to their friends, they will message you and tell you how much they love your work and make a bad day into a good one.
When you first join a site like Wattpad it can be hard not to obsessively track reads, followers and votes, but try to remember you’re in this for other reasons. To improve your craft, to give back, to make friends. And if you do all that, it’s very likely you’ll collect a following of dedicated readers on the way.
E. Latimer is the author of the Young Adult fantasy novel WITCHES OF ASH AND RUIN (March 3, 2020; Hachette/Little, Brown) and a Middle Grade novel, THE STRANGE AND DEADLY PORTRAITS OF BRYONY GRAY (Tundra Books), which was nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award. She lives with her partner in Victoria, British Columbia, and in her spare time, she makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively. You can find her online at elatimer.com.