The Hot Sheet is a publishing industry news-sheet for authors, produced every two weeks by Porter Anderson and Jane Friedman, and reviewed here every other Sunday (when possible) as one of the best bi-weekly industry overviews available to authors.
We’re not interested in delivering breaking news, but perspective on stories that are likely to retain meaning for your long-term decision making. We provide distance and nuance on complex issues that affect all authors, whether traditionally published or self-published.
We’ve left the Hot Sheet review late this time around, but as we always say, the Hot Sheet is timeless, not a news journal, and the discussion is what matters.
The (at time of writing) most recent issue has, as always, some great discussion and insights, and as ever I’ve had to restrict my summary to bare bones coverage, but three stories stood out as especially worthy of review and further debate here.
Wattpad Next in the States: Writing for Revenue
Okay, first let’s clarify that headline. Wattpad itself has been available in the US, as it is across the world, since day one. This refers specifically to “Wattpad Next”, an arm of Wattpad where contributing authors stand to get paid for their work published on the Wattpad platform.
Back in October, Wattpad announced a beta for a new initiative called Wattpad Next—a premium content offering in which readers must pay to unlock chapters or full stories in the program. In a fairly limited test, it was initially rolled out in Canada, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and Mexico with about 50 stories and writers. About 21 of those titles are in English. Eighteen are in Spanish, and Wattpad says a worldwide Spanish-language beta (as opposed to Spanish only in Mexico) will be launched soon.
The Hot Sheet spoke with Tamara Lush, a Wattpad romance writer whose books on Wattpad have had millions of reads
N.B. This does not necessarily equate to millions of readers. A book of forty chapters for example might equate to forty reads, as most books are uploaded in segments. But whatever the precise measure, we are talking enormously popular works on Wattpad.
For the Wattpad Next beta programme Lush’s new book Crash is being rolled out in twice weekly segments, a method which has proved a winning formula for any number of Wattpad authors, allowing the excitement to build as each new segment goes live.
But of course under the traditional Wattpad programme every segment or chapter was uploaded to be read for free by anyone with the Wattpad app.
And that’s where it gets interesting. In the Wattpad Next programme only the first four chapters are free. Thereafter a chapter will cost three coins.
Wait, what? Three coins? I’ll let Friedman and Anderson explain.
Wattpad readers buy virtual coins through the Wattpad app on a mobile device, and bigger buys of coins lower the price per coin. Nine coins cost 99 cents, while 66 coins cost $2.99; 120 coins cost $4.99; and 230 coins cost $7.99. So, if the book finishes with 24 chapters including the four free chapters, then it will have cost some 60 coins—somewhere between about $2 and $6.60 to read in its entirety. Lush points out that’s about the cost of an ebook.
However, that’s now how much the author will receive. Wattpad will take its cut and the author will receive an amount as yet not made public, which is said to be a majority cut.
Which makes it a better bet than Amazon’s lowest payout of 35%, but not necessarily on par with Amazon’s top-rate payout of 70%, and it could mean as little as 51%.
Hopefully we’ll see more transparency about payouts in coming months as the programme comes out of beta.
Meantime the bigger question is, is it worth it? Again, let’s let the Hot Sheet tell the story.
Lush says she saw “a big influx” of new readers for Crash with the opening of the Wattpad Next beta to the American market. She’s not allowed to give us actual numbers of readers she sees in the beta, but the site shows 81,000 reads. As of today, she’s logging more than 170 new reads per hour.
Lush says she enjoys the readership she gets on the platform, not least because she finds that Wattpad readers seem to appreciate diversity in their fiction—more so than in the wider market. “I think the readers of romance on Wattpad love first-person narratives,” she says. “I joke to my friends that my books are like YA, but for adults. Wattpad readers are much more open to genre-bending stories than traditional romance readers on Amazon.” She says the predecessor of Crash, Drive, has done far better on Wattpad than it did on Amazon.
That last comment from Lush is at once telling, but potentially (not deliberately) misleading. First, if the predecessor book was not free on Amazon at the time then we are comparing a free book with a paid book.
More importantly, Wattpad’s reach is global in away Amazon can only dream of.
No, hold that. Wattpad’s reach is global in a way Amazon has deliberately chosen not to be for ebooks. Amazon Video, for example, is available in almost every country in the world, while Amazon chooses to block Kindle visibility to much of the globe .
But the real takeaway from Lush’s comments on Amazon v. Wattpad is that these are very different readerships.
That’s something authors and publishers everywhere should be sitting up and taking notice of. Especially those chasing Amazon exclusivity without a deal with Amazon to make it worthwhile.
Another point is that Lush is not exactly an unknown newbie author finding success with her writing for the first time.
One final quote, from the Hot Sheet bottom line on this, as the context is important.
Lush doesn’t mind if we point out that she’s not one of the younger writers that Wattpad is most well known for. She was one of the authors chosen for the Amtrak Residency in 2017 and is a former traditionally published writer who now is self-publishing.
That of course is so often the case with successful indies, who opt for the hybrid route playing both the self-publishing game and mainstream publishing game simultaneously, or go indie with the benefit of name recognition and a loyal readership built up from many years as a traditionally published author.
So it was interesting to read the Hot Sheet’s coverage of a Wattpad superstar who was picked up by traditional publishing and went to dizzying new heights, only to go indie.
Anna Todd on Marketing Indie Books: “Crazy How Hard It Is”
Novelist Anna Todd is the original Wattpad Star, the first to have her Wattpad writings take off as major bestsellers when published by a Big Five house. After was released by Simon & Schuster in 2014. S&S has published seven more Todd titles since, and her works have been included in multiple story collections. Todd has also become an unexpectedly engaged producer on the film set of After, which features notable actors such as Selma Blair, Jennifer Beals, and Peter Gallagher.
Her latest move is to self-publish a series, The Brightest Stars, wanting
maximum control of her work and how it’s presented—the same reason she’s a co-producer on her own film.
Well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we.
Okay, maybe not, but surely with all that name recognition and built-in readership it ought to be a breeze going indie, right?
Well, Todd is finding it’s not quite that simple.
Or rather, it is pretty simple for ebooks, where at the western markets end of the global spectrum the path to success is well-trodden and a brand plus effort plus cash for promotion ought to be plain-sailing.
But of course one of the key reasons indies go the trad route is because that lucrative print market is not such an easy path to follow. As the Hot Sheet wryly notes, even a proven star like Anna Todd is,
finding it daunting to get bookstore placement in the US for a self-published book. Todd is working with IngramSpark and was told that it would “wait for orders” for the first installment of The Brightest Stars. That’s standard operating procedure for IngramSpark (the print-on-demand arm of Ingram that serves authors), but of course Todd has more than 12 million copies of her books sold worldwide so far, and her traditionally published titles are stocked in Barnes & Noble. For the second volume, releasing in February, Todd and her agent may change strategies: do a print run and try to work with Ingram Publisher Services, a distribution arm of Ingram that includes a sales support team.
Todd did manage to get the book into Target, and she notes that “Target shelf space is so hard to get, even with a publisher.” She did it, she says, with sheer persistence. “You have to email them a lot.” She also added an extra chapter and an intro letter to the book for Target to sell as an exclusive edition—and will do a Day with Anna Todd event to promote it. She says the struggle to market “shouldn’t be this hard,” adding, “if I can keep doing this, I want to make it easier for every author, because it’s crazy how hard this is.”
At which point to take a step back and remind ourselves of those 12 million sales via Simon & Schuster. I’m a little bemused when Todd says, “I want to make it easier for every author.” Target has very limited shelf-space and can take its pick from some of the biggest author names on the planet. This is not something “every author” will ever have the option on.
Of course, the US may be the single biggest market out there, but 71% of the global book market happens outside the US. As the Hot Sheet reports,
Meanwhile, Todd’s international rights sales are soaring. With Flavia Viotti at Bookcase Literary, the agent who specializes in foreign rights sales for indies, Todd now has sales for The Brightest Stars in Spanish, Catalan, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Polish, Slovenian, Portuguese (in both Brazil and Portugal), Romanian, and Hebrew, with Turkish rights being negotiated this week.
Here we can truly see Todd as a leading light for indies, although again, those 12 million sales via Simon & Schuster will certainly have helped Flavia Viotta’s negotiations, and not every indie should expect as easy a ride here.
And we should remember too that Anna Todd’s decision to go indie was not taken in a vacuum, as the Hot Sheet’s bottom line reminds us:
When the movie trailer for After was launched a week ago, the book jumped to number one in Amazon’s paid romance category and number five overall in the Top 100. Todd says her marketing goal now is to convince booksellers that hit material doesn’t have to come from publishers.
Given Todd is launching her indie career on the back of the not-independently-produced film which comes on the back of the not-independently-published 12 million book sales that’s a goal that doesn’t sit easily with the facts, but we wish her all the best.
Elsewhere in the Hot Sheet there’s some must-read coverage under the heading,
Digital Content in Libraries: Shifting Terms and Increasing Demand
Briefly on this, as it’s a topic covered here at TNPS many times, amid all the fuss about falling fiction sales in the retails sector, an element often ignored is the role of digital libraries.
(The Hot Sheet’s) last issue included double-header articles on the possible reasons for a decline in fiction sales. One point was that Amazon’s digital subscription services might be shifting consumption in a way that’s unaccounted for in the usual industry statistics.
Another area often overlooked when assessing digital consumption—especially whether it’s increasing—is library usage. Last year, OverDrive (the largest digital content catalog supplying libraries and schools around the world) recorded 225 million ebook and audiobook checkouts. In 2018, the figures are trending about 11 percent higher than 2017. To put that in context, consider that in 2017, US traditional publishers reported 162 million ebooks sold.
Nothing new here for TNPS readers. As I’ve noted many times, especially in reference to Data Guy’s Author Earnings and BookStat deliberate ignoring OverDrive and other digital library downloads, we have not been seeing the true picture.
And by the way, that trending 11% means OverDrive should soon be reporting downloads of around 250,000 for 2018.A stunning number for anyone to be ignoring.
Adding the caveat here that that is not just the USA, but the USA will account for the bulk of that number.
The Hot Sheet goes on to examine in some detail lending terms and changes in terms some publishers are offering digital libraries (of which OverDrive is by far the biggest but by no means the only show in town).
As ever, as a review piece of a paid subscription journal I’m constrained by what I can reasonably repeat here, but this stuff deserves a much wider audience.
One example is the Hot Sheet’s report in this post on a debate at Digital Book World in October, where Amazon made the case that digital libraries where hurting sales.
That in itself raises questions about the independence and value of Author Earnings and indeed BookStat, both of which have a predilection for showing Amazon in an advantageous light and casting a shadow over its rival operators.
Here’s the thing: neither BookStat nor its predecessor Author Earnings attributed any value to digital library downloads
Yet here we have Amazon, the only body that really knows the Amazon sales numbers, stating clearly that digital library downloads are having an impact.
That doesn’t mean digital libraries are harmful to publishers, just that they are impacting Amazon’s bottom line. At which point we might suggest that perhaps some publishers are being harmed. A-Pub, for example, and indie authors who choose to go exclusive with Amazon.
I’m not going to venture into this debate for all the fair use issues already raised, but will leave you with this sobering statement from the Hot Sheet. Sobering that is for authors and publishers not taking digital libraries seriously.
Libraries face extraordinary demand for ebooks and digital audio, and budget increases can’t keep up.