Beyond the invention of the printing press, literature has had the advantage of being a low technology art form. Have a pen and paper and you could aspire to be a writer; pick a book off a shelf and you’re a reader. In the digital era the landscape has tilted, with literature no longer inextricably linked to paper and the path from writer to reader being considerably changed.

While ebooks provide a direct digital equivalent for analogue consumption, other modes of writing and reading have emerged which impact more overtly on the craft itself. Just as blogging upturned and repositioned journalism, broadening the range of content and softening the checks on quality, so platforms such as Wattpad have created new spaces for writers and readers.

Following a similar trajectory to YouTube, what began as a wholly amateur and youth-oriented community has since matured and diversified into a far more complex entity, home to the entire spectrum of writers from complete beginners to the self-published and traditionally published with a readership of 45 million.

In an attempt to unpick Wattpad and find out where it belongs in the literature world we talked directly with the platform’s designers as well as three writers with divergent experiences of the platform.

As an unpublished, 22 year old writer, Taran Matharu wrote his first book during NaNoWriMo in 2013, publishing every day throughout November. The regular schedule combined with the quirks of Wattpad’s algorithms propelled the story to over three million reads in six months; his books are now published internationally and feature prominently on Young Adult best seller charts.

Vic James already had a professional career as a TV producer and director for the BBC and Channel 4 and had twice judged The Booker Prize when she took to Wattpad to publish Slavedays. A quarter of a million reads and a Watty Award later and the redrafted story is being published through Pan MacMillan and Random House as Gilded Cage, with the ebook already available and the print version coming in early 2017.

Simon K Jones began serialising his story A Day of Faces on Wattpad in 2015, publishing a new chapter each week. The now-completed story has organically gathered over 84,000 ‘reads’, a readership which would have been unthinkable to an unpublished, amateur writer in the pre-digital age.

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