I Have Mixed Feelings About Wattpad Comments

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.

Feedback

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?

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 1

Welcome to the Chapter One development journal. For these journals I’m going to talk about what I worked on in a given chapter of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. These journals will be spoiler-free, as long as you’re caught up with the latest chapter.

If you want to check out my pre-production journals (which are definitely not spoiler-free) or the book itself, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

So Much Prep

Sometimes I envy exploratory writers. They just jump right into writing the story, feeling it out as they go along. But then, I remember my days as an exploratory writer, and the pain of half-done books that just didn’t seem to go anywhere, or the sudden realization that I needed to throw away and rewrite a whole slew of chapters, and once again I accept my fate as an outliner and planner.

I spent a lot of time in pre-production on Razor Mountain. Close to a year. Part of that was figuring out things like how to write a book description or create a book cover, since I’ve never self-published before. Most of it, however, was extensive outlining.

I knew that this was going to be a serial, and I was going to be writing chapters and publishing them without waiting for the whole book to be done first. That means no opportunity for big rewrites or even adjustments that span multiple chapters. I already outline to try to avoid that sort of thing, and the scariness of publishing as I wrote drove me to outline in even more detail than I typically would.

I have also never documented my process in nearly as much detail as I have in these development journals. A side-effect has been that I am much more aware of what I’m doing every step of the way, and just how long I’m spending on it. It’s easy to let things slide when I’m just typing in my little corner of the basement, with nobody watching.

Now I’m aware that I have an audience (however small). I try to be as honest as possible in these journals, but I do sometimes think about whether I’m going to be boring my readers when I’m really slow to make progress. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t affect me a little.

So, of course it’s exciting to be releasing the new thing. Even if it is a little nerve-wracking too.

Starting the New Thing

Anyone who outlines knows that weird feeling of finally starting to write the book after spending ages just outlining. It’s a very different set of skills. I’m always mildly irritated by my own writing in the first draft, and doubly so in this first chapter.

It’s almost a trope at this point, but the best way to deal with a first draft, at least for me, is to just power through. I have my outline and I know what happens. I just need to write it. I can come back later and worry about finding the right words.

While I was writing the first draft of this chapter, I got bogged down in research several times. It made me wonder if I should have spent yet more time in pre-production on research. But again, at some point you have to stop preparing and start doing, if you want to actually get something done.

Researching Planes and Falling to Your Death

Christopher is flying in rural Alaska, where towns and villages range from tens to a few hundred people. Most of them are inaccessible by road, and since traffic is so light, these flights run small aircraft.

I researched a variety of small aircraft that are used commercially. The Beechcraft King Air seemed like a great example. It’s been in production for decades and is often used for this kind of smaller flight. There are a variety of different models, with capacities around 5-16 people. I give myself some room to be vague here by not specifying exactly where Christopher is flying to, and since he doesn’t know anything about aircraft, it’s reasonable that he doesn’t know exactly what kind of plane he’s flying in. I use this leeway to fudge a few details, taking attributes from several different small aircraft.

I searched for images of the interior, the exterior, the cockpit, and diagrams of the layout. I wanted an idea of how much space you’d have, sitting inside one of these. Where would you put your luggage? Where are the interior lights? What do the controls look like? Where are the doors? The bathroom? That sort of thing. One of the best resources I found were actually websites that list small plane sales, because they post galleries of interior and exterior pictures to show off the planes for sale.

Some details that caught me by surprise, having never ridden in a plane like this, is that they often have pairs of seats back-to-back, so one faces forward and one faces backward. They also may have no bathroom, or a “bathroom” that amounts to a toilet with a privacy curtain.

Action and Feeling

One of the challenges in this first chapter was to perform a little bit of build-up and introduce the situation as Christopher realizes how wrong everything is. Once I get to the point where Christopher has realized the trouble he is in, and he’s flying the plane, getting frantic, and preparing to jump, it all gets more exciting to me. I tried to focus on Christopher’s emotion and what he was feeling.

I was worried about researching the plane layout and how it flies, as well as the mechanics of falling a long ways into water without dying. Ultimately, this is all set dressing. What is really going to make or break the chapter is getting across what it feels like to be Christopher in this crazy situation.

Revision

The first draft of the chapter ended up being longer than I expected: just over 5000 words. (Usually my chapters skew on the shorter side.) I felt a lot better about it as I wrapped it up than I did when I was in the first 1-2000 words. I felt like I had a much better idea of what I wanted this chapter to be.

This is the introduction to Christopher. I work in hints of his back-story and bits of personality, although the focus is on action and feeling. By getting inside his head during these dramatic events, I can start to build a bond between the reader and Christopher. Hopefully. It’s always hard to tell if you’re pulling off the magic trick until you see how the audience reacts.

Because this is the start of the book, I spent a lot of time working on the first page and the hook in particular. I think it’s wise to make the first page the most polished part of any book.

It’s a little unfortunate that I’m starting with the trope of the main character waking up, but I do think it makes sense in this context (and as the book goes on). The opening ties into several events that will happen later on, so I wanted to set up everything I needed to make those links.

Using Multiple Services

At this point, I’ve been blogging long enough to be fairly comfortable with WordPress. It has its irritations and inconsistencies, but for the most part, it stays out of your way.

When I started uploading the first chapter to Wattpad and Tapas, I immediately felt ill-prepared. It turns out to be slightly annoying.

Firstly, I had to deal with formatting. I’ve been using something close to standard manuscript format in Scrivener, but for publishing online I needed to convert to no tabs, and space between paragraphs.

Secondly, Wattpad doesn’t let me schedule an episode for release. I can save a draft, but I have to manually push a button to send it out into the world. As a software developer who has spent years automating repetitive processes like this, it’s an affront. Every post I’ve published on this blog for the past year has been written in advance and scheduled. Tapas and WordPress let me schedule posts. Why doesn’t Wattpad?

Tapas has its own oddities, however. It only lets you schedule posts in PST. Why? It’s not complicated to shift the time zone a few hours in my head, but still, I’m confident I’ll screw this up at least once over the course of publishing the whole book.

Onward

While it felt like a lot of work to do the initial setup, I got it all up and running. Now I just need a few chapters to get used to the process of publishing across multiple platforms each week, and do it efficiently.

See you next week, for Chapter Two.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #46

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I continued revising and editing chapters one and two. I created a book cover that I’m satisfied with.

Preparing For Launch

I have to admit that I slacked on the writing front this week. I made small tweaks to my first two chapters, but I’m waiting on reader feedback to do another big editing pass. I really need to get myself in “writing mode” if I’m going to start pumping out weekly episodes. Luckily, if there’s anything having a blog has taught me, it’s that deadlines are a great motivator.

There’s really not that much left to do before I embark. However, there are still a few of those non-writing tasks that need to be done. First, I finished setting up a Razor Mountain project on the two services that I’m planning to use for serial publishing: Wattpad and Tapas. I considered some other services, or even something like Substack, but I think it will end up being a lot of busywork keeping these updated along with the blog. My hope is that publishing on multiple platforms will increase visibility, but I’m also going to be evaluating their strengths and weaknesses for future projects. I may stick to one in the future, or dump them for something like Kindle Vella (which has exclusivity requirements).

I already ran into one annoying issue: while Tapas allows scheduled posts, Wattpad does not. That is a real downer for me, since I always prefer to schedule posts, and it would be nice if I could post new parts everywhere at the same time. Wattpad will just have to be a little out of sync.

Site Improvements

While I’m writing for the sake of writing, I do hope that posting Razor Mountain on other services will bring some new readers to the blog. In anticipation of that, I did some cleanup and improvement that I’ve been meaning to for a while.

I spruced up the Razor Mountain page by adding the book cover and description. I also added pages for microfiction and drabbles under the fiction section, so those little stories aren’t buried in old posts. Finally, I updated my “About” page with my author profile.

I’ve been looking at changing the blog theme, but I haven’t found a theme that I’m entirely happy with, so the search for that will continue. I may also make adjustments to the home page.

Results

I added and updated the fiction sections of the blog, and I set up Razor Mountain on Wattpad and Tapas.