“Why can't people just sit and read books and be nice to each other?”
― David Baldacci, The Camel Club
I don't venture into this territory often, but as I've been neglecting the blog-o-sphere lately, I figured this is as good a time to tackle a tough topic as any (say that sentence five times fast).
If you follow my Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts, you may know I've been posting chapters of Wildwood Spring and The Wrong Brother's Bride on Wattpad to promote them. The Convict & the Cattleman and the Legends & Lovers series are up there as well. I'll be the first to admit, I'm not really sure what Wattpad is/does. People read stories and there are forums. That's pretty much all I've got. My postings are sloppy and inconsistent. Someday I hope to have time to clean them up and make them uniform. Clearly I'm old and the technology easily confuses me.
The reason for my sudden jump over there is a couple of weeks ago the publicist for Kensington sent an email that stated she'd been talking to the publisher relations person on Wattpad and they were happy to promote our work. So I started posting Bride, one chapter for the last four Fridays, and I'll have the third chapter of Wildwood up this Wednesday. I'll also do the same with Convict once I get six chapters done on Bride. I'm glad they felt good enough to let us authors work with them. They've also hosted a contest for Harlequin during So You Think You Can Write, and I think some of the finalists posted chapters on Wattpad as well. Clearly Wattpad is happy to work with publishers. They seem to want to bring the writing world together. I'm happy to participate, because without the talented writers I've met in life and online, I wouldn't be the writer I am today.
Here's what baffles me:
Apparently on Sunday, I got a message on my board there. It's a rant, not a random plea for me (or basically anybody) to read their work. FYI, I usually don't read those pleas. Sorry. This is different. This is a full-on rant, although it did come complete with an un-heartfelt apology. Terms of Services state I'm not allowed to distribute any medium from the site, so I'll have to paraphrase it for you.
It starts with an apology, which is just a fancy way of saying that my presence on the site irritates the ever-loving snot out of her. She proceeds to imply there are too many "famous writers" on Wattpad and that it's a place where "literary artists" can go to get a start in publishing. Because of the famous writers, there's a decline in reading and voting on the "normal peoples'" stories. Then another sarcastic apology.
First, I'm really pleased that your rant includes mostly proper grammatical structure. There's just one little typo, and that's hard to accomplish when you're angry. Way to go!
Second, I'm not famous. My 9 to 5 pays way more bills than my books ever have, although they occasionally buy me a steak dinner. It's not Fergie's Glamorous, that's for sure. I have been mistaken for someone famous when I told a Walmart clerk I was going to a writer's conference. He shook my hand and said I would be famous someday. I don't think I'm quite there yet, though, 'cause if this is fame, it looks strangely like blue collar life.
Third, I really, truly don't know what Wattpad does. The more I try to find out, the more confused I feel.
Fourth, I posted some chapters from my self-published Legends & Lover series right after I joined Wattpad, but I never tried hard to promote them and they had very few reads. I was invited by the staff to post the chapters from my contracted books. I live in fear of violating my contract terms by posting too much of the books. They asked for this, I didn't do it to take away from other writers, published or unpublished.
Fifth, I don't have to explain myself. I didn't have to reply (in fact, maybe I shouldn't have, but I don't like conflict) or write this post, but I wanted to bring it up because I have an important point to make. I'll get to that after I post my reply which was this:
"The offer to post on Wattpad was extended from the publisher relations person for the company. The point of published authors posting along with unpublished authors isn't to root you guys out (believe me, it wasn't long ago I was in your shoes), but to give readers on the internet the gift of words. It's not a competition, [I used her name here]. God willing, there's enough time in each person's life that they can read all the words their brains will hold and then some."
First (part B), I could start off by assuming she's had a bad day and I'm the lucky person who broke the camel's back. It happens. We're human and we have bad days.
Second (part B), I'm trying desperately hard not to take her attitude personally. She doesn't know me and doesn't know that some words are sticky burrs that get under my saddle and chaff my soul (dramatic, yes, but sadly true). I didn't intend to horn in one anyone's glory or take time away from readers who might pick me over her. In all honesty, I don't have very many votes either, and I'm not sure why it matters. I'm not going to post the whole book there, so if there's some sort of award you get for the most votes, don't worry, I'm not going to get it.
Third (part B), after I read that message and calmed the 15-year-old girl who lives inside my head's fears about why people hate me when all I wanted to do was make readers happy, I read the story she had posted. I didn't vote for it or comment, but I can honestly say it was good. It needed some tightening to take out the filler, but (I'm going out on a limb here based on her profile) for a young person's writing, it was better than a lot of stuff I was doing as a teenager. So if I offended you, Wattpad user, just by being on the site and posting words that I struggled to write, I apologize.
Fourth (part B--and the most important part), in 2012, I wrote a post called Five Reasons My Back Is Up Over One Interview. It was about Sue Grafton complaining that indie and self-published authors take away her readers. She had zero nice things to say about indies and SP. It made me a little bit ashamed to tell people I was self-publishing because she's the author with the agent and Big 5 publisher, and I'm a nobody. That's why I wrote that post. Maybe my books aren't selling like the proverbial hot cakes, but I never once said I was glad I was taking away from "real" authors. A lot of indies and self-publishers will tell you they wish the contracted authors didn't view them or their writing as garbage. There's more than one road to take on the publishing path. Some of us SP, some of us pitch to agents/editors, some of us choose social media sites to try and gain an agent/editor's eye. I spent two years on Authonomy trying to peddle The Convict and the Cattleman, and from what I gather, that's sort of the point of Wattpad too.
What I'm getting at is that we're all writers or artists or musicians or dreamers. We're all trying to make sense of this world and fighting for a place in it, but we don't have to fight each other. The Wattpad user who posted that message on my board doesn't even write the same genre I do. So how am I taking votes or readers or whatever away from her?
Chances are, she didn't read The Wrong Brother's Bride, but felt angry simply because it was featured. I only know what the publicist at Kensington tells me, and that was that the publisher relations lady was going to put my story up as featured when I worked out a posting schedule. I wasn't even really sure what it meant. The sad thing is, I did fan fiction for Star Trek Into Darkness on fanfiction.net, and everyone there was super nice. They didn't mind when I talked about my published writing, because the fan fiction was for fun and no one was accusing anyone of taking anything away from anyone. For me, writing in general was always fun and the only thing I wanted was to make readers happy. If it was one or a million and one, if they like it, I'm happy.
If you write, you are an author. You love the characters, you love the places, you love the situations. Criticism is necessary, whether or not it hurts. Being "famous" does not magically entitle authors not to struggle over their work. We all put in the effort, we laugh and cry with other authors over our "babies". We should be cheerleaders for one another, not naysayers. I've been one and it didn't earn me any points or help me gain any fame. I'm done with it.
So I say this to fledgling writers and veterans alike--let's be champions together. Let's celebrate victories and commiserate loses. Let's learn from one another, because we all have something to teach, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Let's be a community of writing enablers. Let's hold each other's hands--although that might get awkward while we try to type. You know what I mean.