In the Ontario School Library Association’s Magazine - The Teaching Librarian - our President, Joanne Sallay, interviewed Deanna McFadden, Publishing Director at Wattpad, to learn first-hand how data and technology are being used to change the book industry as we know it to energize a new generation of readers and writers.
Book Buzz: Data @ Your Library (Article as seen in May 2020 issue)
By Joanne Sallay
This issue’s theme – Data @ Your Library – could not be more relevant with artificial intelligence revolutionizing so many industries. Naturally, I was intrigued on how to connect this to reading, student learning, and school libraries.
I first learned about the Wattpad app from a magazine article, “Revenge of the nerds: How reading app Wattpad is using AI to create the next Disney”. I downloaded the free app to learn first-hand how data and technology are being used to change the book industry as we know it, energizing a new generation of readers and writers. The majority of the Wattpad community is under 30 years old with 90% of users identified as Millennials or Gen Z!
At the OLA Super Conference, I had the opportunity to meet some of Wattpad’s Canadian authors signing books. Many of these books gained their popularity from being first shared on the app. From the long lines of people waiting to receive a copy, it’s obvious I was not the only one excited!
To learn more about this unique community and how Teacher Librarians can incorporate technology into their libraries, I interviewed Deanna McFadden, Publishing Director at Wattpad.
For those new to Wattpad, please describe the online platform and community, and how data and AI are being used to shake up traditional book publishing?
Wattpad is the world’s leading social storytelling platform for readers and writers, home to a global community of more than 80 million people who have written more than half a billion uploads. One in three North American teenagers has a Wattpad account, and there are 23B minutes spent on the platform in any given month. The community is among the safest and most supportive online, and we have Wattpad users in almost every country around the world. The vision for our company is to entertain and connect the world through stories.
We bring something completely unique to publishing: an engaged global community, the most diverse set of writers on the planet, and the technology to find every type of hit imaginable.
Understanding stories is a combination of art and science. We use a combination of our Story DNA machine learning technology and our human publishing experts to find great stories. Our technology allows us to analyze a range of metrics to understand and identify which stories have the potential to become hits. With half a billion uploads on Wattpad, and a community of readers spending more than 23 written on the platform, we’re able to analyze data from every part of that user journey. We look at the different ways users interact with a story, including the number of reads attached to an individual story, reading time, commenting, shares, and more. Then there is growth and velocity for each of these things (how fast is it growing), compared to everything else or compared to similar content. All of these things help us make data-informed publishing decisions.
But humans remain critical to this process! Our publishing team are industry veterans who know what makes a great story. Once our data helps us identify stories with strong potential, our publishing and editorial teams help guide writers through the editing process to turn their Wattpad story into a published Wattpad Book.
Beth Reekles is a Wattpad success story, publishing ‘The Kissing Booth’ at age 15 on Wattpad. Her teen romance accumulated nearly 20 million reads before it was published by Random House Children’s Books and adapted to film on Netflix. How can educators encourage aspiring student writers to your storytelling platform?
A great way to think about Wattpad is as the world’s largest book club! It’s an incredible place to find new stories and writers in every genre. In a time when the publishing is coming to terms with its own privilege and whose stories have been silenced, Wattpad is a place to find new stories and voices from all over the world.
For writers, Wattpad is a thriving community of people who love to create amazing stories! There are more than 4 million writers on Wattpad every month. We encourage every type of writer to come and share their work. They’ll be able to get feedback from readers directly on Wattpad, they can engage with other readers and writers in the community. We also offer a number of resources to help writers develop their craft. Our Content and Creator Development Team is always on the look-out for exceptional new talent to invite into the Wattpad Stars program. And finally, when writers become popular and show a lot of potential, they may be published as part of Wattpad Books, get a TV or film deal with Wattpad Studios, make money as part of our Paid Stories program, or be eligible to work with brands.
Who are some Canadian Wattpad authors to watch for?
We have some wonderful young Canadian talent on the platform! From the incredible success of Jessica Cunsolo’s With Me Series (She’s With Me, Stay With Me, Still With Me), a really fun thriller/romance that’ll have you on the edge of your seat through the entire ride, to Given by Nandi Taylor, which is Afro-Caribbean inspired fantasy. This summer we’ve got a wonderful novel by London Ontario-based Tayor Hale called The Summer I Drowned about a teenager who goes back to her small town to face her fears after almost losing her life five years previous only to discover everything has changed . . . it’s a terrific book!
How does Wattpad strive to achieve diversity in the stories and genres shared?
Empowering and elevating a diverse group of storytellers is foundational to Wattpad Books and a core value of who we are as a company. It’s part of what makes Wattpad unique, it’s something publishing needs more of, and something people want!
We develop our Wattpad Books lists through an intersectional lens. We will always be conscious of who we are publishing and make sure we are elevating unique and creative voices from marginalized communities. We’ve had industry-leading success in this area so far.
We have just finished a month-long promotion for Black History month showcasing the amazing black storytellers we have on the platform, and this May we’re publishing The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, a coming of age tale set in 1955 Alabama where a young biracial boy encounters both prejudice and outright racism for the first time. It’s a stunning novel that was written, talent managed, edited, and whose cover designer, were all young black women. We’ve also published incredible #OwnVoices stories like V.S. Santoni’s I’m a Gay Wizard and Nandi Taylor’s Given. And we’ve done all of this in just a year into Wattpad Books’ existence!
Wattpad has been credited with tapping into the youth markets of Millennials and Gen Z. What advice do you have for Teacher Librarians in how to incorporate Wattpad into student learning and school libraries?
We’re entertaining and connecting the world through stories! As the group of people who are often the first to get young people excited about reading, librarians will understand this mission better than anyone else.
Knowing and encouraging students to broaden their use of technology to include Wattpad, to help them seek out stories that are comforting and challenging, that reflect what they are experiencing in their everyday lives, is a terrific place to start. Seeing yourself reflected in the stories that you’re reading is such a gift, and there’s truly something for everyone on Wattpad.
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