Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: Marketing Soulwoven Part One: Wattpad

Mailing List

Monday, April 14, 2014

Marketing Soulwoven Part One: Wattpad

I realized after I promised another marketing post on Friday that talking about the commercialization strategy for Soulwoven was going to take up several posts' worth of space. Figuring out how to share this book with the world has taken, literally, years. Not as long as it took to write it, but a long time.

The story starts in 2012.

If you've read any of the promo material for Soulwoven, you've seen me trumpeting the success it's had on Wattpad. For those of you who don't know, Wattpad is a story-sharing site. You sign up for an account, and you can post stories on there and read the stories that other people post. The whole thing is free. I'm not sure how they make money, or if they are making money (it's a tech startup; they often go a long time without making any money).

I heard about Wattpad through Publisher's Weekly, a trade publication I used to read every day and wish I still had time to read every day. They ran an article about an author with a huge Wattpad following in late 2011. Shortly thereafter, she got a huge deal. I took notice, signed up for a Wattpad account, and started lurking and thinking and thinking and lurking.

At the time, I wasn't sure how to use it. I still wanted to publish Soulwoven traditionally, and I was afraid that putting it on Wattpad might trounce its chances. So I started asking around. Six months later, after I asked several literary agents about Wattpad and they asked me back, "What's that?" I decided that this was going to be The Next Big Thing and I ought to get involved before it hit that point (I was partially right; it's bigger now, and I think it's much harder to catch their attention).

So I started revising Soulwoven and posting chapters of it on Wattpad. I had enormously high hopes, as I always tend to. The results didn't live up to them. People read it. People liked it. But it didn't go gangbusters and generate huge word of mouth and suddenly shoot to the top of Wattpad's rankings (it did crack the top 25 at one point, but it dropped off from there pretty quickly).

I blogged about the experience though, and my blog posts caught the eye of a Wattpad community manager, and she contacted me and asked if I was interested in having Soulwoven featured on the site.

One of the principles of book marketing (and writing, for that matter, because it enters into how you construct your first page) I cottoned on to pretty early on in the process was the importance of setting reader expectations. I noticed that I gave authors extra slack if I had seen their work before or it came with laudatory quotes from authors or reviewers I trusted (or best yet, from friends). Neil Gaiman's American Gods took most of the book to hook me, but I stuck with it because it was Neil Gaiman, and I had faith it would get there. I put A Game of Thrones down after the first chapter because I didn't like it, only to pick it up later, read farther, and fall in love with it after it was recommended to me repeatedly by friends.

Marketing a first novel, especially if you're self-publishing, is difficult because you don't have any of that credit with readers. They bring no positive preconceptions to your book, which means you get very little slack from them. I wanted to do as much as I could to set readers up to enjoy the book before they even opened it, and having Soulwoven featured on Wattpad let me do that.

It worked in two ways: first, I could plug the fact that it was featured. A lot of readers haven't heard of Wattpad, but they know the word "featured" and that it's a good thing. Second, before I launched Soulwoven, it generated over 500,000 reads on Wattpad (Wattpad's "reads" are essentially page views; Wattpad is cagey about how it calculates things, but as far as I can tell, it counts a read anytime a user opens a new chapter of the book). Again, you don't have to know Wattpad to see "half a million" and think "good thing." When it came time for the Kickstarter campaign, I could point to my success on Wattpad and say, "You should fund this book because people already love it," and that was immensely helpful.

But on top of giving me some means with which to make myself sound good, having the book up on Wattpad gave me a wealth of useful information about it. I got to see who was reading it and liking it (at least as much as they shared with me), and I got to see what people were saying about it and what they liked about it. I learned that about half of people who were starting the book weren't reading past the first chapter, and I could compare that to the numbers of other successful books on Wattpad and see that it stacked up pretty well. I could also see that Soulwoven wasn't the kind of book that people JUST HAD TO SHARE OMG. I eventually concluded that it was a middling success on Wattpad and was likely to be a middling success commercially. So far, that's exactly what it's been.

I still have the book up on Wattpad. The sanity of that decision has been questioned, but I'll talk more about that when I get to the pricing part of this series (much in the future). But put shortly, all the evidence I've seen shows that Wattpad users aren't big book buyers, and that big book buyers aren't Wattpad users. The ecosystems exist more or less independently, and I benefit immensely from having Soulwoven up. It crossed 750,000 reads this weekend. When it hits a million, I'll update my promo info with the new, flashier number.

Plus, people are reading it who otherwise wouldn't be, and in the end, that's more important than anything else. I don't write fiction solely to make money. I make a hell of a lot more money writing things that aren't fiction. I write fiction to move people and make a positive influence on the world, and the only reason I'm after money for it at all is because if I can make a living at it, I can do more of it and do it better.

And that's worth keeping in mind whenever we talk marketing. There are dueling goals of art and commerce for every author, and I do my best to privilege the artistic over the commercial whenever I can.

No comments:

Post a Comment