A novel in progress is no longer a secret. The common belief that authors stay in seclusion for days before bringing their works out is turning into a common myth. Now, many are ready to let readers, literary agents and editors be a part of what was once a private process — thanks to the growing number of online writing communities like Wattpad, Writers’ Cafe, Readomania, FictionPress, Cowbird and more. These platforms have kick-started a trend, where writers are comfortable with letting their work float on a sea of comments, reviews, critiques and ‘likes’, even before completing them. By doing so, they understand what part of the story works for the readers, what doesn’t; mould their plots accordingly; and in the end, let the vote count speak for their notes, consequentially attracting publishers.
For instance, Becky (who goes by the moniker beakyboo), a teen fiction writer from Portsmouth, England, updates chapters from her novel First Love, Worst Love every Tuesday on Wattpad. It is the third book in the ‘Love Stories’ series. The draft of the second book, Could You Love An Apple? is available in its entirety on Wattpad, and is currently being readied for release later this year; and the first, Reasons To Love A Nerd Like Me , is now an official e-book on Amazon Kindle! “This wouldn’t have been possible without the readers’ support,” her profile reads.
Another example: Blair (@JessGirl93 on Wattpad, a college student and writer, has over a 100 million views for his book, The Bad Boy’s Girl . Requests from his followers on Wattpad has publisher Sperling & Kupfer now publishing it in Italian.
For any aspiring author who wishes to gain visibility, registering on one of these communities seems to be the first step forward. “I am part of WritersCafe.org, and Facebook groups like For Writers, By Authors, and Wrîtêrs Søùlmätë. I started publishing four-line stories, and five-to-seven-minute stories, on these communities two years ago, as I wanted to establish myself as a writer before I came out with my book,” says Kavipriya Moorthy. Soon, she started receiving comments and reviews from both readers and authors who are part of the network, and developed a follower base, which naturally directed to her blog that has close to 3,000 followers now. Last year, she self-published I Don’t Wear Sunscreen (2015) .
This makes one wonder: Are online writing communities slowly becoming a sweet alternative to knocking on a publisher’s door? Seems like it. HarperCollins publishing company has its own community called Authonomy, where the best talent is fished out, based on the readership. Figment, an online community started by two writers from The New Yorker magazine in 2010, was later acquired by Penguin Random House.
On Jottify, an author gets 70 per cent commission on each sold work; and with Libboo, writers themselves can bring out copyrighted work in an e-book format, for sale. “Readomania, which probably started as a forum to share short stories, has now become a publishing house (both online and print). It’s one of the best options for newbies who are looking to publish their work, as there are no set requirements, or the worry about sales, as it is with conventional publishers,” says Ashay Abbhi, author of The Inevitable .
Going a step forward, besides identifying talent, the communities help nurture it as well. Scribophile offers detailed critiques for one’s work, Writers’ Cafe provides free online writing courses and advice for publishing, while Readomania organises talk fests featuring renowned authors. Others, like the popular NaNoWriMo, and the lesser-known Book-in-a-Week, help writers set goals to type away that long-pending story.
“Today, everyone wants to be an author. Even in a writing community of 10,000-odd members, only one per cent of it would read another’s works — the rest are just vying for a writing space,” says Kirthi Jayakumar, whose book The Dove’s Lament was published by Readomania. What is required is a responsible, restrictive and copyright-friendly medium. “For instance, before joining Readomania, I had my works published on another site, and in no time, I could see them being used on other platforms without it being attributed to me,” she says.
“There are many who still go the old-school way. There is probably a pride attached to getting a hard copy of your book published. But in the end, the whole point is to get your work published and read,” says Ashay.
There is hardly any loss. Either the works become part of the reading list of some, or float with the rest of the cyberspace junk.