When I decided to write Razor Mountain as a free serialized novel, I figured that I might as well try to get as much exposure as possible. In addition to posting chapters here on the blog, I picked two other services to try publishing on, Wattpad and Tapas.
I will readily admit that I’ve put very little effort into publishing over there. I haven’t done all the tedious little things that people do to get attention on those sites. I haven’t worked hard on graphics or picking the right tags and metadata. I haven’t been going around and commenting on other people’s work to try to get them to read mine. Every once in a while I forget to upload chapters for a couple days after they go up on the blog. (Why, oh why, does Wattpad not have a “schedule post” feature?)
Razor Mountain hasn’t been very visible, and hasn’t caught a lot of eyeballs on these services. I wasn’t that concerned about it—I wanted to spend my time writing, and I figured I might try to drum up more views when I had a larger chunk of the book written.
Comments, Comments Everywhere
Although I haven’t gotten around to optimizing Razor Mountain on those services, a few readers have found the book anyway. As they came through, I began to take notice of the comment system on Wattpad.
The music service SoundCloud shows a waveform for each song. When a listener leaves a comment while listening, the comment appears at that particular point in the song. This lets people tag the moments in a song that they really liked.
Like most comment systems, it has some issues with spam and the general unpleasant behavior of online anonymous people. But it’s an interesting idea that can give the comments more context.
Wattpad has a similar comment system. Instead of simply commenting on a particular chapter or part, readers can leave comments on each individual paragraph, and the number of comments shows in the margins. The comments themselves slide in on a sidebar. Like SoundCloud, their goal is clearly to put those comments in their context. But I’m not sure it works as well here.
It’s possible to listen to a song and jot a quick comment at the same time, but commenting on a story is necessarily going to pause your reading experience.
Short, Quick and Shallow?
Wattpad is a fiction platform designed for readers on mobile, competing directly with social media, and social media is all about capturing attention. Social media encourages short, bingeable pieces of content and simple interaction. It encourages those quick dopamine hits that pull people in and keep them tapping, clicking, swiping.
I won’t get deep into social media commentary here, but I think it’s clearly evident that a lot of these platforms encourage shallow content and interaction as a side-effect of the overriding need to capture as much attention as possible. Complex, deep, or high-effort content and interactions require more effort from a person arriving for the first time, and they’re more likely to “bounce off” and go back to infini-scrolling TikToks.
Wattpad and other mobile-centric fiction services feel like they live in the same ecosystem. Short parts or chapters are encouraged—each story has a view count and number of votes that just aggregate the views and votes on each part. More parts equate to more views, more votes, and higher rankings.
Limiting readers to a comment at the end of a section (like this old-fashioned blog does) tends to garner fewer comments, and those comments tend to be thoughts about the whole thing. Paragraph-specific comments encourage the reader to comment quickly, in the middle of reading, and they encourage prolific commenting.
From what I’ve seen, comments on Wattpad tend to match these expectations this pretty closely. If a reader does comment, they usually leave several on a given part, and they are rarely more than one or two quick sentences.
Okay, now that I’m in full, old man, “get off my lawn” mode and complaining about social media, let’s push back. Anyone who has participated in a writing group or critique circle might now be thinking, “Super-specific feedback? Sounds awesome!” One of the reasons that dedicated beta readers, editors, and communities like Critters are so great is that they give you really specific feedback on your work, and that kind of feedback is really needed to polish a piece.
However, if you actively seek out this kind of feedback, you know that not all comments are created equal. It’s great to know when you’ve written something that really works for the reader, and it’s even more vital to know when something doesn’t work. For that to happen, you need thoughtful and honest critique from a reader that wants to help you improve, and isn’t afraid to tell you when something is bad.
For a lot of hobbyist writers, this is a hard pill to swallow. It never feels good to hear that you wrote something bad. But it’s hard to fix it if you don’t know it’s broken.
I don’t see this kind of feedback on Wattpad. I’m sure there are some organized groups that do serious critique, but most readers are just looking for something good to read. If they don’t like it, they’ll stop reading. Many others are writers themselves, but they’re trying to solicit views on their own work.
Perhaps most importantly, all comments are public. Negative feedback, even when couched in positive, polite language, feels a bit like calling the author out in this kind of public forum. The only way to give private feedback to an author is through direct messages, which aren’t even tied to a specific story or part, let alone an individual paragraph.
My Own Experience
I’m not a regular Wattpad reader. I find it frustrating to find stories that actually interest me (although if you like teen and paranormal romance, hoo boy, there’s plenty for you). I have recently put in some effort and sampled a bunch of stories. I’ve tried leaving a bunch of comments throughout a chapter. I mostly find that it brings me out of the flow of the story.
Of the comments I’ve received, it’s hard to gauge how much readers are actually enjoying the story, and how many are just trying to be nice. The one or two comments that have made me consider edits to the story were not because of direct feedback, but because they showed that the reader clearly missed something I had intended for them to understand at that point. That could be useful (if incidental) feedback, but it’s also hard to guess if these readers are actually paying attention, or just skimming their way through.
I’m curious what others think. Do you like the idea of this kind of feedback? Do you think it encourages shallow interaction? Am I expecting too much?