We’re sitting down with leaders on the business side of the creator economy to get their best advice for creators looking to launch and develop their careers. This week, we spoke with Jeanne Lam, the president of Wattpad.
Wattpad is a social media storytelling and writing platform, known for its bustling ecosystem of young fanfiction, romance, fantasy and pop culture enthusiasts. In recent years, it expanded its creator monetization options with paid stories, branded opportunities, and film, television and publishing deals for invited creators. In June, it announced a beta launch of the Wattpad Creators Program—an invitation-only program granting selected creators perks like monetization, mentorship, and marketing opportunities in exchange for publishing their stories exclusively on the platform.
We spoke with Lam about the company’s recent strategic shift towards monetization offerings for creators, the program’s requirements, her best tips for program hopefuls, and more.
The new Creators Program announced by Wattpad touts an investment of over $2.6 million in stipends—up to $25,000 each—for 500 eligible creators in 2022. Including those selected for stipends, the company is targeting over 3,000 invited creators to receive mentorship, marketing support, writing resources, and special paid opportunities.
Creators accepted into the program must meet a minimum threshold of “engaged readers,” which varies depending on which genre a creator writes in. Wattpad’s engaged readers are a new metric launched by the company which shows users who read a story for longer than five minutes. In addition, creators in the program must demonstrate they have published a new story “part” in the past three months, released a “novel-length story” of 50,000 words or more, and have no outstanding “trust or safety violations” on their stories.
“Our goal is for more writers to make a living from writing on Wattpad than anywhere else. We want to make Wattpad the best place in the world for writers to take control of their entire career,” Wattpad president Jeanne Lam told Passionfruit.
Lam has been with the company for over seven years now, holding various titles. In July 2021, she was promoted to president. She now reports to Ken Kim, CEO of WEBTOON Americas, and oversees the company’s business operations and recent strategic shift toward monetization offerings.
Wattpad was founded in 2006, with an original vision of getting web novels onto mobile devices. Wattpad has since seen massive success, becoming popular among many aspiring fiction writers and fandoms. In its early days especially, Wattpad was known for its lively fanfiction community.
“We encourage creators to write whatever it is that inspires them. Oftentimes, fanfiction is a wonderful place and an easy place to start, and to build massive communities around. Or, to test the waters and then go into original fiction,” Lam said.
Wattpad is also well-known as a place for marginalized communities to share fiction starring characters that are underrepresented in mainstream media. Romance, fantasy, sci-fi, and thriller stories starring LGBTQ+ and BIPOC characters are common. Lam witnessed these stories ignite an impressive fan fervor.
“You can see the power and reach and success that writers on Wattpad have,” Lam said. “That’s something that I think is very empowering to many people around the world, especially to marginalized communities who otherwise would often not have a path to success in any other way.”
Lam has also been at the forefront of the company’s push towards monetization over the past few years. In 2019, the company launched “paid stories,” which strike revenue sharing deals with creators to put content behind paywalls.
It’s unclear exactly how much paywall revenue is shared with creators. When asked, a Wattpad representative provided the following statement: “For Paid Stories, writers receive a standard rate and the majority share of revenue generated by their stories. Since launching in select regions in 2019, Wattpad Paid Stories have generated payable earnings of nearly $3M for writers.”
In 2015, Wattpad also launched a “Stars” program, which put a golden star on Wattpad creators’ profiles who met similar, although less rigorous, engagement criteria to those in the new Creators Program. It also offered them access to a community of other Stars writers and provided them with writing resources; marketing resources; and special consideration for paid stories and brand opportunities.
These perks are very similar to the Creators Program, minus the new stipends now being offered by the company. Some writers have speculated online that the Stars program is being replaced, saying some perks and community benefits have fizzled out with the launch of the new program.
A Wattpad representative confirmed the eventual end of the Stars program, providing this statement from the company: “The Wattpad Stars program helped us recognize and nurture our top creators, providing them with exclusive opportunities to succeed on Wattpad. As our community has grown it’s clear that we need to provide writers with more scalable and individualized forms of support that can suit their unique needs, with new programs like the Wattpad Creators Program. We’ll be sunsetting the Stars program later this year.”
Wattpad has long worked with brands—including H&M, Elf, Maybelline, National Geographic, and the Food and Drug Administration—to open up paid branded content opportunities for selected Wattpad creators.
Wattpad has also been providing viral story writers with connections to pursue film, television, and print and eBook publishing deals since 2016 with the launch of Wattpad Studios. In January 2021, Wattpad announced it was acquired by Naver, a South Korean internet conglomerate which owns digital comics platform Webtoon. Wattpad and Webtoon shortly after merged its television, film and publishing arms to create a combined studio division called Wattpad Webtoon Studios.
“Stories that are clearly hitting traction on Wattpad have these much greater opportunities in adaptations in other formats,” Lam said. “There’s all these opportunities that I think are really exciting for any creator who wants to take their career to a global scale or a multi-format, verticalized entertainment scale.”
Tamara Lush, a romance writer with over 52,700 followers on Wattpad, joined the platform in 2014 when she first started writing fiction, after leaving her career as a journalist. During that time, she was offered a book deal with a small publisher and stepped away from the Wattpad platform. However, she later returned and posted a full book on the platform to test it out. She told Passionfruit she was then invited by Wattpad to be a part of their beta launch of the Paid Stories program. She said seeing the money she could make, she decided to post all her romance novels on the platform.
Now, Lush has ten books behind a paywall under the Paid Stories program, received advances and royalties on print and eBook deals, reviewed potential film options, and received a stipend and marketing support as a part of the Creators Program.
“I think all genre fiction authors today lament that they want to ‘just write’ but can’t because they must spend time marketing and promoting their work. With [the Creators Program], the marketing is taken off my plate. Sure, I must promote myself on social media—I think every author does—but I don’t have to hustle and worry about ads and promotions,” Lush said.
Many Wattpad writers have taken to Twitter to excitedly announce they’ve been invited to the program—touting special gift boxes they received in the mail with Wattpad merch. Meanwhile, some creators on Twitter and Reddit have debated the barrier to entry for the Creators Program, saying they want the program to be open to other smaller creators who contribute to the platform. Some users on Twitter have also debated why Wattpad has not decided to share advertising revenue with all users who make content on the platform.
Rebecca Christiansen (@rebeccarightnow), a romance and sci-fi writer in the Creators Program, told Passionfruit she’s been happy to get some “really fun” paid stories and branded writing opportunities with Wattpad. While she enjoys these paid opportunities, she also said she wished advertising revenue was shared with all creators on the platform.
“I think Wattpad’s monetization is a good thing, from the point of view of writers, but it could be more equitable. I wish all writers could get a cut of the ad revenue from their stories,” Christiansen said.
When asked if the company is considering eventually sharing advertising revenue with creators beyond branded content opportunities, a Wattpad representative provided the following statement: “Our goal is to help writers make as much money as possible on Wattpad. We’ve experimented with ad revenue sharing in the past and ultimately found that it didn’t provide the consistency writers were looking for. Today we’re focused on helping writers make money by tapping into their global fandoms and influence with our new Creators Program, Paid Stories, brand partnerships, and Wattpad WEBTOON Studios publishing and adaptations opportunities. We’re also exploring new features that will allow fans to support their favorite authors in new ways.”
When asked about the barrier to entry for the Creators Program, Lam told Passionfruit there are many creators outside of the program who will still have access to paid stories and branded opportunities. She also said that she hopes over time more creators will be brought into the program itself to receive additional help monetizing their work.
“The reason these are the current criteria is because these are the values and important behaviors that we want to make clear to creators are important in being able to access those monetization opportunities. To give you an example, the writers who thrive on Wattpad oftentimes are the ones who are consistently updating their stories. Every single week on a Thursday they’re gonna to drop their chapter, and there’s thousands or hundreds of thousands of people waiting and eager,” Lam said.
On Reddit, users also said they were skeptical of exclusivity requirements in joining the Creators Program. Lam clarified to Passionfruit that exclusivity in this program means writers can only publish their content on Wattpad in exchange for the program’s benefits and opportunities. Writers still maintain control of their intellectual property for stories, but Wattpad will assist them in shopping for deals with its entertainment partners to translate their Wattpad works to other mediums.
“Any story that’s created on the Wattpad platform is owned by the writer. We are just a platform,” Lam said. “When we sign a writer, it might be we include their entire library of stories as a part of their contract or we might sign a few stories.”
Another writer in the Creators Program, who goes by the pen name Jane Peden (@JanePeden), has seen massive success on Wattpad, attracting over 2.8 million views on one of her paywalled stories titled Law, Lies, and Love Affairs. She first became interested in Wattpad in 2018 when she went to Wattcon, an annual event for Wattpad writers, and was “blown away by the energy.”
“I was already traditionally published in romance, but I had a very tropey 80,000 word secret baby story that just didn’t fit with traditional publishers. I started posting it to Wattpad, and it was such a rush to get reader comments immediately on every chapter, and see the audience for the book grow,” Peden described.
Peden said she was excited to be invited to join Wattpad’s Creators Program. She was offered a monthly stipend to write on the platform, and further opportunities with paid stories, paid bonus chapters, and opportunities with Wattpad’s studio division.
“My advice is to write. And then write more. Set a schedule for updating and stay with it. There’s nothing more frustrating to readers than getting invested in a story, and then waiting and waiting for the next update. Consistency really helps with reader engagement, and it’s engagement that opens the door to more opportunities,” Peden said.
Wattpad president Lam also emphasized consistency as an important quality in the writers that are invited to the Creators Program. Furthermore, Lam advised creators to take advantage of their unique perspectives to tell the stories that are truly important to themselves and their communities.
“It is very important for us that we’ve created that safe space for anyone to tell their story. And that’s why I always encourage creators to really lean into the story that’s specific to them,” Lam said. “Take advantage of the fact that this community exists to connect with other writers, to connect with other readers, in a way that I think overcomes a lot of the loneliness of writing and the challenge of writing.”
Wattpad creators who spoke to Passionfruit agreed the platform is a great place to find niche audiences. However, they also emphasized the importance of understanding what genres are easiest to break into.
“If you choose to write in a genre that is less popular among Wattpad’s reader base, it’s going to take longer to grow your audience. For example, romance is much easier to break into than science fiction, not only on Wattpad but in the publishing industry in general. But while a traditional publisher is likely to reject a project in a niche area by an unknown author, putting your work on Wattpad for free to readers allows you to grow an audience organically,” Peden said.
Lush shared some similar advice, along with some other tips and tricks for success.
“I would encourage writers to study what is popular on Wattpad, to read outside of their preferred genre, and most of all, to keep writing. Wattpad readers will reward you with reads if you update your stories often. Posting chapters once or twice a week can yield great dividends if written in a popular genre. … Also, make sure your covers are professional-looking, and take a little time to run your work through an online editor such as Pro Writing Aid. The more polished your work is, the more likely you will get attention from readers, and Wattpad itself,” Lush said.
Christiansen also said writers should hone in on frequent posting and fan engagement. She also urged creators passionate about the platform to be patient with their pace of growth.
“Wattpad is a marathon, not a sprint. I decided to start writing there as an experiment while I continue to write for traditional publication, with no expectations of success. That attitude has helped me enjoy the experience and get through the challenges,” Christiansen said.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Wattpad co-founder Allen Lau was the company’s CEO and that Lam reported to him. Lau announced his transition into the role of Executive Advisor for Wattpad and WEBTOON in May, and Lam now reports to Ken Kim.
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