Wattpad, the effervescent and cult book-sharing platform, was where writers threaded characters online, escaped their day jobs, and took readers on a journey of fantasy, love, and the occasional typo. One of Godoy’s early novels, ‘Through My Window’ or ‘A Traves De Mi Ventana’, went viral there – and landed him a book and movie deal.
Then 12 years and 950 million reads later, Godoy’s writing went viral again. But this time it was different: It went viral from a post she didn’t make or wasn’t even aware of. It went viral on TikTok.
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Internet book culture has changed dramatically over the past decade. Wattpad could (and still does) get book offers from amateur authors, but TikTok sends established authors to the stratosphere. There is a tradeoff, however: on Wattpad, authors retain much of the control, but on TikTok, it’s unclear when and how a story will go viral, and when authors try to control the narrative, they can be reprimanded. for this. Cue a lot more control – but also a lot more sales.
Wattpad started in 2006 as a platform for users to share and read original stories for free. While the company still prides itself on being a place for novice writers to get their start, they have also launched several modes to help their writers earn money.
“I think Wattpad has, in many ways, pioneered book culture, especially among small authors,” said Jeanne Lam, president of Wattpad. “I think part of what makes [book culture] cool is understanding all the different versions of books and reading. With Wattpad, it was understood that we could be nerdy together and that’s fine.
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In recent years, other modes of book internet culture have emerged – such as BookTok, a popular side of the video-sharing app TikTok, where readers discuss their favorite books in short narrative bursts. When books go viral on BookTok, sales skyrocket. Movie deals are made. It can make a self-published author an overnight sensation.
According to Anna Todd, author of the viral book series and movie franchise “After,” there was a period when interest in reading seemed to wane between Wattpad’s heyday in the early 2010s and the rise of BookTok in recent years. Overall, there was less interest in love stories, Todd said, and “people were getting tired of [them].” During this kind of hiatus, there seemed to be less public obsession with certain types of romance books.
But that lull ended abruptly with the rise of BookTok during the pandemic. Suddenly self-published freelance authors were able to go viral again and see book sales skyrocket. In the first quarter of 2021, book sales were up nearly 30% compared to the same period in 2020, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks sales. Even when the book market started coming out again, sales of adult fiction, such as novels by former Wattpad author and BookTok mainstay Colleen Hoover, managed to continue to rise.
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Todd noticed BookTok’s impact when the first installment of his One Direction fanfiction, “After,” hit the big screen. All of a sudden his fans didn’t just exist on message boards or Tumblr pages. Which meant she had a lot more readers. And a lot more hate.
Authors posting to Wattpad have not been subject to the same scrutiny. Potential readers who came across an author’s writing on Wattpad knew exactly what they were getting. Judging 20-somethings who have never heard of fanfiction don’t.
“It depends on how [a book] going viral because I’ve seen this tendency of people lately destroying authors,” Todd said. “There is always a downside when Internet users can say anything. But I do think sometimes it’s good for the author not to have a lot of control, especially if they’re not really comfortable selling themselves.
To fully understand the power of BookTok to make or break a career, you need to get into BookTok itself. Part-time content creator Tishni Weerasinghe started creating BookToks in December 2020. Since then, she’s had the opportunity to be “one of those people in the book world who influences the best-seller charts.” sellers”.
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But, like Godoy and Todd, his internet book journey began a long time ago with Wattpad. Unlike the authors, Weerasinghe has remained just a reader, leaving the occasional comment or two and messaging her favorite authors in the app. It wasn’t until BookTok that she realized there was an opportunity for readers to also be content creators. And while it’s been a rewarding experience, it echoes Todd’s point: going viral isn’t always a good thing.
“There is the darker side of BookTok,” Weerasinghe said. “I feel like a lot of people are starting to get on their high horse and judge people for what they read – which goes against BookTok’s focus, which was not to judge people for what they read.”
While criticism can make a book fail, positive reviews can make it a bestseller. And the increase in sales is not the only bright spot for BookTok. There is power in bringing book culture to the mainstream, taking it out of a limited space and into the land of algorithms. For young readers, BookTok has also brought romance books out of Wattpad’s shadow and into the mainstream.
“It’s become acceptable for people to just say, ‘Hey, yeah, I’m a reader,'” Weerasinghe said. “Before, when you heard someone say, ‘Oh, I’m a reader,’ you thought of a grandmother. Now, when someone says, “I’m a reader,” I think of a cool 20-year-old girl, someone who has it all with her Starbucks venti.
For writers in particular, it’s hard to rationalize what’s easier. More reading or more community? More love or more hate? But in the end, the clicks pay the bills. Godoy realized this when the Spanish version of his book, “Heist”, went viral on TikTok. She even remembers how she found out.
Godoy was inundated with notifications — both book sales and social media tags. She clicked on one of the many notifications on her phone one morning and was greeted by a brunette. In his left hand was Godoy’s book, and just below it was a small icon that read “16.4K likes”.
“Isn’t that crazy? says Godoy, who laughs, then stops. “It’s not even that long. The video is only 15 seconds or something like that. Readers are just in control now – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
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