How Elizabeth Spann Craig used Wattpad to gain new readers

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Wattpad's users are young, so if you write fiction aimed at older readers, you might as well not try. Or so goes the logic. But Elizabeth Spann Craig, who writes cosy mysteries and whose protagonist is an octogenarian, begs to differ.

I wrote about Elizabeth in my Wattpad feature for The Star,  but couldn't include the many other wonderful things she said. Here's a full transcript of interview:

What attracted you to Wattpad? 
There was an interesting study done by Nielsen in 2014 that found that 28% of mystery readers were over the age of 65. Another 19% were ages 55-64.  My self-published series features an octogenarian sleuth, and the readership skews far over age 65. I was interested in ensuring more longevity for my series and hoped to introduce it to a younger demographic. Wattpad has 40 million users and is 85% mobile. 45% of its readers are between the ages of 18-30. It was the perfect place for me to try to connect with young readers.

How do you use Wattpad? 
At first I wasn’t exactly sure how to get traction for my first story. After reading up on Wattpad best practices, I realised that for visibility with the sites algorithm, it's best to post weekly, uploading a chapter each time. For each uploaded chapter, I include a call to action reminding readers that my completed novels are available for sale on Amazon and other retailers. And I'm careful to respond to any reader comments that seem directed at me (sometimes readers will have conversations with each other, inline, during the course of a chapter).  And, of course, I asked to be considered as a ëfeatured book' on Wattpad.

Before you were a featured author on Wattpad, did you get many reads at all, or did it all only start rolling after your book was featured? 
I had a few reads here and thereópeople who stumbled upon my book.  But when I was a featured book for Wattpad, the reads and comments really started escalating.

Do you read any books on Wattpad?  
I do read on Wattpad. Sometimes I'll read because a new writer asks my opinion on a chapter. There are also some interesting mysteries on the siteóAgatha Christie included. But it's not the primary way I discover books, no. I'm a middle aged woman and not their targeted demographic. Plus, I tend to read a lot of detective fiction. There's room for a lot more mystery on Wattpad and I'd love for more mystery writers to discover the site.

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I noticed that you don't just upload the free books that you offer on other retailers, but upload books that are on sale on Wattpad. That's a unique strategy - would you mind elaborating why you chose to do this?  
That's true. I think there are a couple of reasons behind that. One is that, although my books are part of a series, each story works as a standalone — there's no series-long character arc, for instance, so I don't have to worry about readers being confused. Also, it's something of a sales strategy for me. I'm hoping that readers will pop over after an exciting chapter and buy the completed book on Amazon. 

How has Wattpad impacted you as a writer? 
Honestly, it's been something of an ego-booster for me. The support and encouragement from such a different group of readers has been surprising and gratifying.  I think my experiences with Wattpad have also trickled into my writing. I'm less likely to make references to things that only seniors will understand, or if I include the references, I'll make sure they're explained in context. And my senior sleuth is now very active on social media, which I thought would make my younger readers smile.

After more than a year on Wattpad, have your sales been influenced in any way by your presence on Wattpad? 
I've had quite a few readers tell me that they've bought other books in the series. I've also noticed a nice uptick in my newsletter signups, which I mention in my call to action at the end of each chapter. I use that newsletter as a direct marketing tool when I launch new books. As far as a direct impact, my sales on Amazon India have dramatically increased and I know that to be completely due to Wattpad because 11% of my readers are from India.

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What do you think is the biggest benefit of uploading your work on Wattpad? 
The biggest benefit is that I'm now reaching readers that I previously had not been able to reach before. I love seeing Wattpad's map showing the different countries where my readers live. Another benefit has been my ability to reach more male readers than I ordinarily do. And, of course, I'm being read by the millennial readers who were the whole reason I explored Wattpad to begin with.

What do you love most about being a Wattpad user?  
I love Wattpad's storytelling innovation. They dabble in transmedia, which is where I believe the future of reading may be heading ó sort of a multimedia experience. Authors have the opportunity to link to video content on each chapter and can talk about their character or the events in the chapter, or a little about their writing process. Writers may also upload a cast of characters to help their characters come to life for readers. 

Wattpad is also experimenting with native advertising and writers have been paid for writing in product placements or writing short stories to tie into a movie release. It's just a very forward-thinking site and I'm enjoying seeing where they may head next.

Many authors, however, seem wary still about uploading their work - especially their works in progress - onto Wattpad. One of the things they worry about is that they will forever be remembered for a terrible first novel. What do you think about this?  
I can understand their concern, but this is, in all, a very supportive community. What's more, writers can delete their story with the click of a button. Wattpad can also be a valuable tool for gauging reader reaction to chapters in real time. There is a demographics tab that writers can access that graphs reader responses to each uploaded chapter. There writers can see where readers stopped reading their story and what chapters especially resonated with readers (reflected in interaction/comments/votes).

Would you share your work in progress on Wattpad?  
No, I can't see myself writing serially. Publishing serially, yes. That's mainly because I don't edit as I write (it hinders my creative process), so I'd be worried about typos and other issues. Or, conversely, I'd worry that I wouldn't write as well if my left-brain were thrown into the process.

Would you still continue using Wattpad? 
I definitely will. I'd miss the reader interaction that I get and would miss the fact that I'm introducing young readers to my favourite genre. I love the idea that there's a new generation of mystery readers developing.

Elizabeth Spann Craig can be found on Wattpad and her website is one of my favourite author websites.