Fansplaining: What's the Deal with Wattpad?

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Podcast
Title: Fansplaining: What's the Deal with Wattpad?
Created by: Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel
Date(s): August 31, 2015
Focus:
Fandom:
External Links:

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What's the Deal with Wattpad? is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

The guests are Samantha Pennington (Community Engagement Specialist for Fanfiction) and Aron Levitz (Head of Business Development), two employees of Wattpad.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining.

Links

Introduction

"FK: It’s the podcast by, for, and about fandom, and today I have a very important question on my mind, which is, ‘What the hell is up with Wattpad?’"

"ELM: Yeah, what is the deal with it? Despite our very flippant introduction, this is a…I don’t want to say serious, I don’t want you to stop listening right now, but this is a deep look at Wattpad, which is a reading and writing platform and social media site."

Topics Discussed

Notes/Links

They are here.

Excerpts: Aron Levitz

Flourish: In any case, my point being that I, like, I realized when we started doing this, when we said we were going to have Aron and Samantha on, that I sort of don’t have positive feelings towards Wattpad in certain ways, because it feels like a different community, and one I’m not a part of, and one that has maybe aesthetics that are different than my fanfic aesthetics usually are? I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting to hear them talk about it, and I think I’m going to commit to exploring it more and actually giving it, like, a chance and trying to figure out, really, what that community is about. [1]
Aron: There are specific fandom archives, there are specific romance archives, there are specific sci-fi writing contests, and there’s NaNoWriMo—but there wasn’t a place for a conversation to continue around writing all the time, where stories can grow and have their own kind of ethos and gravitas to them, and that’s, I think, that’s what attributed a lot to our growth. You know, you talk about mobile and all those other things, but we really filled the need—it’s almost counter-intuitive, right? Like video was probably the hardest thing to start with ont eh interwebs. And text might’ve been easier from a technical standpoint, but we got to capture that part, which has been really quite amazing.

FK: So you guys see yourselves as a site that is about writing holistically, and you happen to have a big fandom component to it, but it’s more of a, like, hey, this is where all writing can live, and all writing can connect with the entertainment industry stuff, if you want to…?

AL: Absolutely. So when our founders set out, they didn’t go, “We’re going to have one of the biggest fanfiction communities on the interwebs.” They said, “We’re going to have—we’re going to create the best place for people to share, read, write, and love stories, and storytelling.” And what we found was that fanfiction…started happening. And has grown.

AL: And you know I think what we’ve come to learn is that if we do something for the general writing population, it’s good for the fanfiction writing population. I mean, we actually don’t dissect the two, right? We say, fanfiction writer—we don’t say fanfiction writer or writer, they’re just writers, like everyone’s a writer. And if they want to—if their subject is fanfiction versus sci-fi, like original sci-fi, great. But they’re all writers.

So if we do updates or something, it’s good for all writers, that’s great, but what we’ve learned is fanfiction writers actually have different features, functionality, that’s important to them, from where they grew up. Whether it was from AO3, whether it was from fanfiction.net, whether it was from Tumblr, LiveJournal, whatever, while all things for writers are good for fanfiction, it’s not always the other way around. There’s some functions that make more sense for fanfiction that don’t necessarily make sense for romance, so—

FK: So one of the things that’s been interesting with Wattpad, coming from the fandom side, is seeing how there have been other companies that have been for-profit companies that have come in and not succeeded at all, in terms of, like, fandom being like, ‘No, we reject you entirely. You’re making money. We don’t like you.’ And, I mean, Wattpad is for profit, and although some people, I think, are suspicious, especially who are sort of older fans who come from a very, like, anti-commercial mindset, I think most people find Wattpad to be totally, like, cool, whatever, they’re doing their thing.

ELM: But don’t you think, and Aron, I’d be curious to know your perception of this: I don’t get the sense that Wattpad is taking fanfiction people away from the places that they would be otherwise. So like, your AO3 reader and writer isn’t decamping to Wattpad, it’s just basically—I get the sense that it’s bringing huge swaths of new people who wouldn’t be on any other place into this sphere. Because it’s such an accessibile community. I don’t…and it’s got a very young audience…I don’t know.

AL: I would gather it’s probably not too much different than other fandom sites. I don’t know for sure. Our audience basically, 85% of them are 13-30. We have a vast percentage that are 13-18. You know, to answer your question, Elizabeth, are we, are people decamping from AO3, or fanfiction.net, and only writing on Wattpad. We don’t, to be honest, we don’t track that, I can’t say. Now I do know we have lots of people who have been writing on AO3, and who’ve come over and loved Wattpad. Same with fanfiction.net. I mean, call a spade a spade, right? Fanfiction.net is a for-profit company, too, like—
AL: They’re actually helping [teach about the history of fandom], that group’s actually helping teach them some of the history of, you know, what is the voracity of a ship versus….[laughter] I can’t believe I just used the term “voracity of a ship,” but you know, that kind of thing gets talked about. But I think we are finding traditional fanfic writers who are writing on other platforms really loving what they’re finding on Wattpad, which is either new communities, better functionality, a great community, like that positivity that doesn’t happen in fandom all the time. And, better yet, a community that stands up in a positive way. So what I mean by that is it’s the internet and a troll can exist anywhere on the internet that it wants to exist, but on average, if that happens, the love that the readership has for the writer takes far more control than that troll will have, ever. Like if you compare it to like, YouTube or something, where — where there are many bridges for them to live under.
AL: I think Supernatural is always a really interesting fandom to me, because as it’s spanned 10, 11 years, it’s still going, so it’s not even, like, people have already, I dont know if the term is aged out, but kind of have left the fandom, new people are coming in all the time, so that one is one I like to watch as the ongoing history of fandoms, the colliding of the young versus the old. And like, you can go read anything from “Dean Winchester is my father,” because the girls now look at him as an old dude, who, are coming into the fandom, to, “Oh, Dean Winchester’s my brother!” because back, you know, six years ago—

Excerpts: Samantha Pennington

Samantha Pennington: — read a lot of fanfiction before I started this job. Like a lot of millennials, I think Harry Potter was sort of my formative, really got me hooked into, you know, fanfiction and fan culture and all that kind of stuff. And then I did a little bit of roleplaying on different Harry Potter forums, so there were like these really old pro boards forums, I don’t know if you guys remember those? I role-played on those for probably four years or so, so that was like, maybe, throughout high school? And then it was actually sort of my fannish behaviors that got me an interview at Wattpad, just sort of what I had been doing on social media, and being up to date on pop culture, and celebrities. It’s gone from just a regular fangirl to a professional fangirl, which is super exciting, obviously.

SP: Honestly, it’s been very smooth, and I feel like working at Wattpad has only bolstered my fangirling, so to speak. Honestly seeing the sheer abundance of fanfiction on Wattpad, and seeing these new fandoms that I’ve never heard of, or different trends pop up, I think that actually incited more fannishness in me, because I want to learn about these things. I want to know what they are. I want to be a part of it. It’s been good.

Elizabeth Minkel: It’s so funny, because I feel like as I started being a fan—like, so you had your own fannish experiences and now you’re doing this on a broader level, and it makes you more excited? About fan stuff. But since I’ve started being a journalist and looking at fandom on a broader level, I’ve just gotten way more cynical. And annoyed….

SP: Oh I feel similarly. I feel like I’m on the sort of descent of becoming an acafan, and really just being super cynical about everything.

SP: So my workday, as you can probably guess, involves a lot of reading. I do a lot of content curation, so finding really good fic, sort of undiscovered gems, and finding new and interesting ways to showcase that content. It is kind of hard sometimes to be able to find the sort of niche things that you’re looking for, so really bringing the great stories to the forefront is a big part of what I do...

I hardcore browse. I have a lot of different strategies that I use. I search by tags. I search by titles. I search by mature, not-mature content. I search through other people, so if I find someone who I think has really good taste, I’ll sort of explore their network and see who they’re following. I explore their reading lists and things like that, sort of other peoples’ curation. It does get kind of hard.
SP: And I also think with Wattpad, like, I mean, it’s simultaneously a challenge, but also something that’s really fascinating, but there are a lot of new trends that are created without any knowledge of older fandom lore, and that kind of thing. So you’re seeing sort of new behaviors be carved out, and I’m sort of, I think sort of simliar to you guys, where we’re kind of rooted in the old fannish behaviors from LiveJournal and places like that. It’s sometimes challenging because you want to teach them the old ways, you want to educate them about fandom history and things like that, but they’re also so open that they’re creating, sort of, fanfiction that’s a texting story, so it’s like texting back and forth, which is really interesting, or there’s, again, a ton of real person fiction, which was not super popular when I was at my fannish peak, which is also interesting.
SP: Again, when Wattpad was first founded, it was not expected to be a place for fanfiction. It was something that just took off in a really crazy and substantial way, like there was so much organic growth, that it just became this thing. I think the dynamic between original fiction writers and fanfiction writers is really fascinating, because you can kind of see how the abundance of fanfiction, or like, their exposure to fanfiction, has actually sort of influenced them to maybe try their hand at it. I’ve seen a lot of original writers, you know there’s this screenwriter who was just so fascinated by fanfiction and sort of fanfiction as an entity that he actually wrote a Lady Gaga fanfiction, and it was super cool and very dark and edgy. So I think the lines are beginning to blur, and I think it’s actually a positive thing, because, again, there are a lot of similarities between fanfiction and original fiction, and I think for a long time people have really wanted to keep them separate, but I think having that flow is actually a good thing for both.
SP: Again, I think writers come on to Wattpad for many different reasons, right? Like some definitely have that aspiration to become published, or to make money. And I think others are coming purely for self-expression or for entertainment or for an outlet where they can share stories and have fun with their friends. In terms of the fan-to-pro pipeline, if you’re looking for that, you can have those opportunities. But if not, you can also, just, geek out or write purely for the love of fandom. But I think that it is a nice part of Wattpad, that there are opportunities for writers, and you can write for brands and get paid to do so.

Excerpts: From the Conversation After the Guests Departed

ELM: ...this is a very complicated, like a long and complicated question, because it’s a question of why do we, especially, like, why do when women grow older oftentimes try to distance themselves from the kind of wish-fulfillment and indulgence, self-indulgence, that we might have been really into when we were…teenagers.

FK: Right! And that’s the thing. I think that I’d been working really hard to distance myself from that, even though I would say, like, oh I think it’s cool, I like it, whatever, but I think that I felt embarrassed by it personally, like I thought it was cool for other people, but not for me. And then I started writing this fic and I was like, ‘This feels so excellent. This is so self-indulgent. I love it.’

ELM: And that’s great. You know, I feel like it’s a sign of, like, a sign of male maturity to desire wish-fulfillment. That’s what porn is, right?...You know? It’s as black and white as that. And that’s seen as a sign of growing into a man. And somehow growing into a woman…I’m just going to get angry, and feminist right now! But like, for some reason, yeah, and that’s totally like, I think we’ve talked about this before, but, like, part of my thing right now is that I’m, in order to make my, like, legitimize fanfiction and make myself seem like a serious person who’s an expert in it or whatever, I have to disavow that part. And now I’m just like, ‘Yeah.’

ELM: Yeah. All right: real talk. Why do people in old-school fandom hate Wattpad so much?

FK: I think it’s from extension….remember how people use to call, still do call, fanfiction.net like the Pit of Voles?...

[much snipped]

FK: But what’s funny about it is that, like, that was something that, when, that was like, current around the time that we were founding Fiction Alley, that there were a lot of people founding other archives, in, like, the 2000s, early 2000s. And those were the complaints, was that there wasn’t, like, a community that was really, like, into improving their writing, basically, wasn’t interested in that.

And I think that what’s funny about it is that that was my assumption of, I mean, my assumption on Wattpad had been that people were, like, giving lip-service to critique and not really doing it. But actually it’s only taken me like 12 hours to discover that that’s not true. [laughter] That was the most ignorant thing that I’ve ever assumed in my life, right?... I think that there’s other people who have a bias against it, too, because they feel like there’s a lot of self-inserts, a lot of indulgent, tropey stories, that aren’t very good, and that people aren’t interested in making better, and what’s ironic is like, there’s such a culture of critique on Wattpad, and there’s no culture of critique on the Archive of Our Own anymore. Like, none at all.

ELM: Not allowed.

FK: Not allowed. And it’s so ironic.

ELM: See, the thing that has been frustrating me for the last few years is, as someone who is also a books journalist in addition to now a fandom journalist, I’ll be in a lot of book spaces, and I think we’ve already talked about this, to some extent, and I’ll mention that I write a lot about fanfiction or fandom, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, Wattpad!’ This is people who work in publishing. You know, and they’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, Wattpad,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Uhhhh, sure! But also!’ You know?

FK: Right.

ELM: And I think it’s easy for, I get a little annoyed with people in fandom when they go like, ‘Well AO3 does this and Wattpad does this,’ because it’s really apples and oranges. AO3 is a very dedicated community, but those are tiny numbers in comparison to the bazillions of people using Wattpad.

FK: It’s true.

ELM: And that’s fine! And also I feel like it can get a little…AO3 was founded by, well, you know, there’s academics involved, and it’s all coming from a place of…it’s a non-commercial enterprise, and it’s kind of for people who have the privilege to make that a non-commercial enterprise, and not that I’m saying that somehow that makes Wattpad

FK: I was going to say, I mean, to be fair—

ELM: —altruistic that they want to cash in or whatever.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: [laughs] But! You know what I mean? It’s just a weird, muddled space and I don’t want to say to people in publishing, ‘Stop going to Wattpad, go on AO3,’ because Wattpad is actively creating that space where people in publishing can go. There’s a reason why that’s all they know.

References

  1. See Aron's response at Wattpad.