The path to publication from fan fiction and Wattpad
OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a Fanfiction and Wattpad writer, so I may have some bias when it comes to the fandom community but, for years, I had this internalized embarrassment over having been a Fanfiction writer. For Wattpad, it isn’t met with nearly as much stigmatization, except when these books later reach mass-market audiences and can be dismissively written off as “a Wattpad story,” supposedly synonymous with being cliche and formulaic.
In a way, the writing community can be cruel sometimes, and it often gives fan fiction writers a bad reputation, but there are many benefits to becoming a fan fiction writer before making the leap into traditional publishing. In recent years, I realized that writing fan fiction gives you a start in writing. It provides you with a world that fans can already recognize and are comfortable with and it challenges you to imagine these characters in new ways. There is so much freedom a writer has, they can choose to follow the original plotline, or canon, and show it from a different perspective. They can place the characters in an alternate universe, or AU, or change their personality drastically to make them stronger, darker, or otherwise different. Fan fiction writers throw a grenade into the works they love but, not necessarily as a way to pick apart the stories, but as a way to make them live on, past the moment the last page is read or the screen fades to black.
For some creators, this work is unusual to view, to have their characters re-imagined, to have the threads of their works picked at until it unravels and can be re-stitched. For others, they got their start on sites like FanFiction.net and ArchiveOfOurOwn.org. At one point in time, it was their bread and butter, sustaining, inspiring, and teaching them until they wrote works of their own. In an interview with The News Tribune in 2012, Marissa Meyer, author of the best-selling series The Lunar Chronicles, said “By writing so many [fan fiction] stories, that’s how I learned the craft of writing. The great thing about fan fiction is that you get instant feedback. I learned to take criticism.” You learn to develop a story and submit yourself to the eyes of your fellow fans. Meyer, in her time on the site, wrote 39 Sailor Moon stories and it is still posted on FanFiction.net under the pen name, Alicia Blade.
It is Wattpad, then, that can become another stepping stone in developing one’s writing by allowing a new writer to develop a full story of their own for the first time.
If you are one of the fan fiction or Wattpad writers that hopes to one day traditionally publish your own series, consider the steps below:
Step 1: Have an idea. Scratch that. Have multiple ideas. Know what makes your characters who they are. What do they like? What are their goals in life? What makes their blood boil? Why do they do what they do and what makes the way they do it so much different (or similar) to the way others do it? Try to map out the plot as best you can and divide up drama into chapters or sections. Some people like to adopt the “pantser” method, meaning they like to fly by the seat of their pants when writing a story or book. They like to be just as surprised as the reader should be while they write the book. While this is a valid option, this method does open up itself to a greater possibility of plot holes and character inconsistencies. However, it also gives a writer a visceral moment with each scene in which they are completely submitted to and involved in each moment because they are seeing it for the first time and living it with their characters. Whichever method you choose, make sure it fits your writing style. As a fan fiction or Wattpad writer, you likely already know which avenue of writing suits you the best.
Step 2: Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and actually write your story. A story comes alive when it exists independent of you. When the characters live and breathe and become just as real or important to others as they are to you. The first three books of Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder, Scarlett, and Cress, were born in the fever dream that is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, a month devoted to getting all those ideas that are cooped up inside a writer’s head and putting them out into the world with the help of a 50,000-word goal.
Step 3: This one can vary depending on the author, but make sure to read and edit your work. Some authors hire copy editors early on to help them spot holes in their plot lines or character development, but it is always best to have the first eyes on your work. You know what you meant when you first wrote it and can easily revise it the second time. And, honestly, if you don’t even want to read your work to edit it, why should anyone else?
Step 4: Deep breath, now let people actually read it. You can do this by joining a writing group. The good news is that, if you write on sites like FanFiction or Wattpad, you likely already have access to hundreds of thousands of writers. In a testimonial he gave on Wattpad, Emmet Sinclair (@MCliffordAuthor), the winner of Wattys 2017, said “Winning a Watty means acceptance. I’m sincerely grateful for the acceptance I’ve found here. To everyone who has befriended me, we’re kindred spirits. Every time I open Wattpad, it feels like coming home.” Just as countless writers have done before you, find a few people that you can trust and let them give you their feedback. You don’t have to listen to every suggestion they give, but try to see your writing the way that they see it, with new eyes and unbiasedly.
Step 5: Edit it again. This may take a while.
Step 6: This step can be split depending on how you wish to publish your writing. On one avenue, you can hire an agent to market your book for you and search for a publishing house to submit your book to, or you can research publishing houses and the criteria that they look for when reading and selecting a manuscript. Crucial criteria include things like knowing if they accept unsolicited manuscripts (otherwise your hard work likely won’t even be read), if the genre you write aligns with previous or current works published by the company, and how to go about submitting a manuscript. Oy vey, this process is likely going to make you want to pull your hair out and long for the days an upload to the world was just a click away, but keep with it.
The great thing about being a fan fiction or Wattpad writer prior to stepping foot into the scary world of publishing is the experience that it gives you with the writing process. These authors learn early to create plotlines, pepper in details that give the story and characters dimension, adopt a writing and upload schedule, and, most importantly, learn to submit themselves to the public eye and listen to criticism. Yes, sometimes the critics should be ignored, but if there are enough people yelling that there’s smoke, likely there’s also a fire raging that must be addressed. Learning from these mistakes and taking the time to progress as an author is what makes posting on these sites prior to diving into one’s first novel so important. You have your base here. You’ve already learned some of the most important things about yourself as a writer and have developed some sort of schedule and process when it comes to crafting a story. Now let yourself use these lessons and try not to overthink yourself too much in the long, arduous path you take to publication.
Step 7: Believe in yourself.
You have to become the biggest advocate for your writing. Sure, insecurities will happen and there will be doubts, just as there is with anything, but you have to believe in your writing, otherwise, what was all of this work for?
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