There’s this really cool thing happening right now in the world of books: readers are taking back their power of choice. You’re probably wondering, but don’t I already choose the books I read? And yes, to an extent, you control what you pick up and read or buy (unless it’s required reading for a book club or a class in school). But did you know that even before you stand in front of the New Releases table at your local bookstore pondering what story you’ll snuggle up with next, there’s a whole slew of other people who’ve already decided which books are worthy of your time?
The literary world has always had a hierarchy in place which allows agents, publishers and the media to judge whether a manuscript is worth your time, money and energy to read. First an agent has to connect with a project enough to bring it to an editor at a publishing company. Then, the editor has to bring it to their publishers to decide whether it’s worth the risk of adding the title to its roster. After that, the media (magazines, newspapers, TV personalities, blogs, etc) pick out those books that they feel would be of interest to readers at-large. It’s only once books are out in stores and for sale online that you, as a reader, are finally able to exercise your right of choice.
This isn’t to say that the traditional way of publishing isn’t great in many ways. I think the gatekeeper process certainly helps to weed out some of those novels that are truly special or that have optimum promise in today’s marketplace. And there are those readers who appreciate the work that goes into finding great books so they don’t have to do the footwork themselves. But what about all those writers out there who have amazing stories to tell, but have been turned down by agents or publishers because they “just didn’t know how to market the book” or “already have a similar project coming out”? Think of all the talent that slips through the cracks because writers weren’t at the right place at the right time. And who’s to say one of those rejected books wouldn’t be the next Harry Potter or Twilight?
With self-publishing on the rise and social media continually creating more venues for talented people to put themselves out there for all to enjoy, we as readers are finally being able to make our own decisions on what deserves to be read (and what will become the next best seller). And now, there are specific websites devoted to connecting readers with writers—no gatekeepers required.
Wattpad (www.wattpad.com) is an online writing and reading community that allows people to upload their original novels, short stories, fan fiction and poetry for all to read (think of it as a YouTube for writers). And with a unique visitor base of over 10 million people a month, it gives writers incredible access to avid and enthusiastic readers who are just itching to dive into a good book. When I was approached by Wattpad in late 2010, I was wary of the idea of publishing my books there. I’d been cautioned by other published authors that you never give your product away for free. But after some soul-searching and reevaluating the reason I write in the first place—to get my stories out there for others to read—I realized that publishing my books on a site like Wattpad would accomplish my ultimate goal of sharing them with potential readers.
So, after enduring nearly nine years of rejection, getting and losing an agent and close calls at publishing companies, I decided to write something original for Wattpad to see what the response would be. I researched the types of books that the users tended to gravitate toward (which was a lot of paranormal—surprise, surprise), and began to brainstorm a story that I felt readers would be interested in. The result was a fun but dark teen novel, loosely based on The Salem Witch trials but set in modern day. The book centered around a pretty, powerful and popular teen named Hadley, who was a direct descendent of Bridget Bishop (the first person hanged during the trials), and who’s being stalked by the evil coven responsible for her ancestor’s death so many years ago.
Uploading was easy, and after a month or so, I’d built up a small but loyal fanbase who were logging on every Saturday to read the newest chapter in the book I’d titled Life’s a Witch. I made sure to connect with my fans as much as possible, responding to every single comment that was left for me (something I still do today), and answering IM’s when they popped up. I agreed to every request for an author interview and really paid attention to the comments and suggestions my fans were leaving.
Word began to spread and as fans suggested the book to their friends, my numbers started to rise. Fans often called Saturday, “Brittday,” because of my new uploads; others acted out scenes from the book in public; and readers referred to themselves as “twitches,” a phrase my characters use in the story. Before I knew it, my numbers were in the millions and people were beginning to ask me where they could purchase the book in paperback.
It was then—and 13 million reads later—that I asked myself why I wasn’t publishing the book when there was clearly a demand for it. I’d thought about going the traditional route and trying, once again, to find an agent, but since the requests were flooding in and I was averaging about 1 million reads every two weeks, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. It wasn’t that I was against traditional publishing, but I’d already created a fanbase and wanted to make sure I was able to get copies into the hands of people as soon as possible. I also liked the idea that I had total control over my book cover (created by my talented designer friend, Toni Misthos), wouldn’t have to change the storyline for anyone else and could decide when the book would be available for the public. And, of course, by going this route, I would also be getting a much bigger percentage of the profits.
My book was published through CreateSpace on December 8th, and is now available both on Amazon, in paperback and for the Kindle, and through an e-version on the Nook. Since my background is in magazines (I’m the managing editor for American Cheerleader), I’ve had the luxury of doing a lot of our PR and marketing. With Wattpad’s help, I was able to use that knowledge to drum up a little media attention surrounding the book before the launch. I was written up in Publisher’s Weekly, as well as in various blogs and online media outlets. Because of this buzz, I’ve since been approached by numerous people about foreign rights, representation, publishing opportunities and even about writing other projects including graphic novels. I’m now exploring all my options and am excited for what the future holds.
But none of this would’ve been possible for me had I not decided to upload my book onto Wattpad. The readers on the site took matters into their own hands and decided that Life’s a Witch was something worth reading. They exercised their power of choice and helped to give the book the acclaim it has today.
So, how will you use your power?
Brittany Geragotelis is a magazine editor by day, author of teen novels by night. She wrote her first book at 15 years old after getting the idea for the story during a dream. Brittany is also the creator of the blog, www.thebookslayer.com and gives writing advice through her YouTube channel, youtube.com/thebookslayer. She lives in NYC with her boyfriend and her two cats, Murray and Cohen. “Life’s a Witch” is her first published book. Visit her at www.thebookslayer.com.
Purchase Life's a Witch from Amazon