9 useful platforms for writers
Free ways to publish and find readers
Today’s newsletter is all about different writing platforms. This should be useful regardless of what you write, although I do inevitably have a focus towards fiction platforms.
Talking of fact vs fiction, I’ve realised a slight design flaw in how I’m publishing my work on this newsletter. At the moment I send out non-fiction writing tips (like this one) on Mondays, to everyone. On Fridays I send the latest chapter of my fiction novel Tales from the Triverse to early access (ie, paying) subscribers. This means that readers on the free newsletter only get the writing tips, and so never get a chance to sample my fiction. That seems silly, so starting soon I’ll be occasionally sharing short fiction as well. That way everyone gets to have a mix of tips and fiction, regardless of whether you’re an early access subscriber or not.
My fiction writing is reader-supported. To receive early access chapters and support my work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
According to my profile, I joined Wattpad in August 2013. I then proceeded to flail about, posting short stories without any clear strategy. They were all one-offs, often in different genres and experimenting with style. Nobody read them, which was fine for a while - I write because I love writing and find myself becoming increasingly grumpy if I don’t put some words down - but that doesn’t mean that readers are unwelcome.
Readers can only ever enhance the writing experience. Readers are the other side of the coin: without them, writing is a one-way street that never quite reaches its destination. A dance without a partner.
It wasn’t until I attended SXSW in March 2015 that I really tied my sail to the mast of serialisation. SXSW in Austin, Texas is a festival all about creative excitement, nurturing it until it explodes into the wild as a new tech startup, or a film premiere, or an industry-changing TED talk. It was at a party out the back of the Palm Door, perched on the edge of the rubbish-strewn Waller Creek, when I found myself chatting with a guy from a Wattpad alternative startup. He really evangelised the concept of serialisation online and why it was exciting, both for his company and for writers and readers.
On the plane back to the UK, a plan began to form. Not for individual stories, but for something longer form, that would play out more like a TV show.
It was a few weeks later that the idea for my first serial A Day of Faces took shape. I developed the rough plan of a story and tried to figure out how to go about serialising it. Everything about the model felt alien and risky. Should I write the whole book before starting publishing? Should I at least have some kind of 5-10 chapter buffer? How often should I publish a new chapter? How long should a chapter be? What day was the best for publishing? Was I about to crash and burn in a very public way? None of my friends had ever read any of my material, and here I was about to stick it up for all to see.
I knew nothing. But that was OK, because at the very least I was going to enjoy writing my story. That’s what it always has to come back to, regardless of how you’re getting your work out there.
In the 6+ years since those first tentative steps I’ve learned a lot about how serialisation works. I’ve know a lot more about writing, now, too. Turns out that writing and publishing every week (ish) for six years is the best possible education for being a writer. Who knew?
Wattpad isn’t the only option these days. There are many platforms designed for serialisation, all with their own quirks and benefits. I’m most familiar with Wattpad but have tried many others as well. The main thing to check is the terms and conditions, which define your relationship with the company running the platform. Most platforms require you to grant them some rights to your work, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed to display your material, even if you’re the one uploading it. Make sure these rights are non-exclusive and can be revoked by you at any time, so that you remain in charge and are not surrendering any control over your work. Also check that they are only able to use your material in relation to the specific services being offered - this makes sure they can’t go off and start doing other things with it.
Some newer platforms will offer an exclusivity contract which locks you in, supposedly in exchange for financial benefit. Be very wary of these sites, as the deal is likely to be in their favour rather than yours and will drastically reduce your options for success. If it sounds like a too-good-to-be true shortcut to massive success…steer clear.
To take a whistlestop tour through some of the platform options I’ve tried:
This is where I started, it is the platform I’m most familiar with and it’s also where I’ve found most success. It has an enormous userbase - in the tens of millions - and works especially well for romance and YA. My stuff is fantasy and sci-fi, which has done just fine. It’s a little sparse on some basic features, which means you can’t schedule publication of new chapters (annoying if you’re travelling, for example) and the stats are a little simplistic. There’s no monetisation options at all unless you get accepted onto the exclusive Wattpad Paid programme. Wattpad does have a number of pro-active schemes to engage with and help writers, though, such as its Stars programme, Wattpad Books and the annual Watty Awards. I won a Watty for A Day of Faces and it really helped to raise the profile of the book and myself.
When it comes to finding readers, though, you can’t beat Wattpad. There’s a lot of them and they’re very enthusiastic and supportive.
This one is a blend of prose and comics and is packed with features, including decent stats and built-in monetisation. You do have to invest time into growing your presence before you unlock some of those features, though, including ad revenue. It’s a slick and pleasant interface generally, though in publishing The Mechanical Crown in an intense daily format it never really gained much in the way of traction. YMMV, of course!
I have heard that Tapas readers are more open to converting to paid customers via Patreon or similar, so with the right offering it might be a good avenue.
This is a newer one for me, but it’s pleasingly feature reach with lots of scheduling and publishing options, some interesting stats and the ability to include pre- and post-chapter notes. I’ve heard it does especially well for sci-fi and fantasy writers, and my test with The Mechanical Crown has brought in a decent number of readers.
One note of caution that I’ve heard from other is that the platform can be somewhat hostile to LGBTQ themes (and presumably writers). I’ve absolutely not encountered this myself, but figured it was worth mentioning.
I’ve never found much success myself here, though I haven’t used Inkitt since around 2017. The proposal is intriguing, though - you publish your work on the platform in much the same way as the other sites, but if you gain enough reader interest the book is then taken and published ‘officially’ via Inkitt’s publishing arm. I include it here due to it being an intriguing idea, rather than as a formal recommendation.
One of the newer platforms, this has some nice design and features including a built-in monetisation system that is vaguely similar to Medium’s, in that everyone gets paid out of a general pot depending on share of reads. I’ve not seen much traction here, but it’s a nicely presented platform so I’ll stick with it for a bit to see what happens.
Wattpad is likely to remain my primary ‘free’ publishing platform for a long while, but the good news is that there’s nothing exclusive to any of these platforms, so there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from cross-publishing to them all and comparing the results. That’s why those T&Cs are so important: don’t accidentally lock yourself into something you can’t get out of.
Many creators share their work directly via Patreon, including the phenomenally successful Zogarth. They started serialising on Royal Road and Patreon in 2020, as I understand it, and as of August 2021 have 2,909 Patrons that are bringing in £14,671 per month. Per month!
Patreon has all the monetisation options built-in, naturally, and allows for multiple tiers of patron, each with different benefits/access. Patreon takes care of all the financial stuff in exchange for 5-12% of your earnings. It’s a mature, neat system, but it isn’t currently optimised for serial writers from an organisational perspective. For example, differentiation between key story chapters and non-story chapters isn’t as simple as it could be.
Everyone knows Patreon, though, so the trust factor is high among potential readers. I’ve always found it somewhat too feature rich for what I want, which resulted in it being more of a chore than an aid. Which is what led me to…
Most of the platforms above retain a significant amount of control over what you are doing, what you can do, and how you communicate with your readers. Wattpad, for example, operates primarily like a social platform, with Wattpad ultimately being the data controller. If I want to take my writing elsewhere and take my Wattpad readers with me…well, I can’t.
Traditional newsletter systems are designed very differently, with control very much with the client - ie, you. Mailchimp, for example, provides the framework for creating and sending newsletters to a list, but you fully own that list of emails. Mailchimp has no direct access to the list and can’t use it for their own purposes. The problem with most traditional newsletter services is that they are highly complex and focused at the corporate world, where it’s all about over marketing and ROI and CTAs.
That’s where Substack comes in, providing much of the framework of Mailchimp but with a focus on simplicity and writing. It has a built-in subscription model that functions in a similar way to Patreon, while delivering a cleaner interface for readers.
Early days for me still in terms of whether I can turn it into a successful subscription setup, but it feels like all the pieces are positioned perfectly.
I’ve been writing non-fiction on Medium for many years, having gradually shifted over to it in favour of a personally-run blog. Medium is a social magazine of sorts which seems to have managed to foster a community that favours quality over the usual attention-grabbing nothingness of social media. It also has a payment system built-in that delivers a revenue share of sorts, with funds raised from all of Medium’s subscribers (rather than an ad-supported model, like on YouTube). I like their ethos and some of my non-fic has found a decent audience.
They’ve also recently started dipping toes into newsletter territory, giving writers direct access to their own subscription lists. It’s a lovely writing and reading experience and is generally very mature. The main drawback is that you’re still hostage to Medium’s financial setup, relying on their algorithms and payout systems. This is the key difference between it and Substack, where you’re much more in charge of your own destiny.
Medium also as a platform is very non-fiction heavy at the moment, so I’m not convinced yet that it’s going to be a natural place for fiction. That said, they’ve been investing in various fiction-related start-ups of late, so it’s one to keep an eye on. Definitely can’t hurt to have a presence here!
Other newsletter services
There are many, many, many other websites that offer newsletter services. Some of them are very good. I’ve mentioned Mailchimp, which certainly has a lot of features, but they tend to be much more focused towards enterprise and corporate use. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, then go for it. For me, though, the writer-focused feature sets of Substack and Medium appeals more. If you do want a fully indie alternative, though, absolutely check out Buttondown. It’s developed by a single guy who is very friendly and responsive.
Hey, remember personal blogs?
I’ve had a personal website of some sort since the late 1990s. For most of that period I’ve had a blog, right until early 2021. After quite some consideration I nuked my blog, instead directing people towards Medium (for non-fiction), Wattpad (for fiction) and Substack (for my newsletter). In the end, nobody was going to be visiting my random website and regularly checking in on my blog. That’s just not how the internet and blogs work in the 2020s.
Far better to make use of the superior presentation and tools available on the specialist sites - Medium, Wattpad and Substack in my case - and to use my own website simply as a permanent, convenient signpost.
You can dip as many toes as you wish, of course, the main factor being time. If you’re posting a new chapter each week, each additional platform will probably add a good five minutes to your posting schedule. Not a big deal, but it can add up. Don’t spread yourself too thin, as you don’t want any of those potential audiences to feel like they’re being neglected somewhere down the line.
Sign up to whichever ones sound interesting and start poking and dabbling, so that you understand their quirks and intricacies before you need to using them in anger.
Thanks for reading! If I’ve missed off any good platforms please do let me know: