by Eleanor Collins
‘Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.’ Anton Ego’s fine words inspire the Disney favourite, Ratatouille, but how do they apply to the literary world?
The road to becoming a published author can be difficult and unrewarding. It is an even greater feat if you are a woman or of an ethnic minority. Yet at the same time as professionals are struggling to hit the press, amateur writers are using online literary sites to reach readers, publishers, and occasionally film producers. Are these sites fast tracks to undeserved fame or do they play a vital role in today’s literary world?
Netflix’s The Kissing Booth (2018) is a popular, easy-watching film, complete with a predictable storyline and a happy ending. It’s no surprise that its story was written by a 15 year old girl, but how did a teen’s chick-flick end up screening on a major media platform? The answer is Wattpad.
After reaching over 19 million hits on the site, Beth Reekle’s love story was published by Random House in 2012 before being adapted for film. Although these democratic sites frequently fail writers, The Kissing Booth is proof that they can – and do – achieve their purpose. Anyone and everyone can upload their own piece of writing, as a finished work or in parts, and a successful few reach fame and publication.
Wattpad’s step-by-step logic of “create, build, amplify” is simple and makes sense: an existing readership is all the proof publishers need to know that your text will be a success. Wattpad and its competitors could even be considered less risky alternatives to self-publication. As Hyder explains, although you’re not earning money, you profit from visibility, while the direct feedback from readers practically functions as a free and (usually) friendly editorial team!
But when the majority of users are teenagers, with only 35% of members aged 18-30, not all literature produced will be of high quality. 50 Shades of Grey is proof that trashy fanfiction has the potential to be a major hit, and no one wants a Waterstone’s stocked full of uninspiring, poorly written books. However, maybe it’s good that there’s a creative space for aspiring authors to develop their writing skills freely and, more importantly, for fun. The sites present internal literary awards to find the best of the batch, so are equally a space to pursue a writing career and a hobby.
Margaret Atwood endorses Wattpad as a gateway to publishers and, more importantly, for providing a writing space for people who would otherwise not have the means to write or to reach an audience. Amid fears that the internet is reducing writing skills and reading interest in young people, online literary platforms like Wattpad showcase how technology can advance the literary marketplace; with the click of a button texts can be (roughly) translated, pen and paper is no longer essential, and stories can be written and read with ease. These sites are an asset to our developing global village and prove that a great artist really can come from anywhere.