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Relinquishing control to a publisher
Or: What happens when someone else designs your book cover
Two of my older books have been taken into Wattpad’s ‘paid stories’ programme. This marks the first time that a publisher has taken on the publishing and promotion of my work and it’s been an intriguing experience thus far.
One of the interesting aspects of this is that these books are not hot off the presses. Far from it - A Day of Faces I wrote back in 2015-16, while The Mechanical Crown was a huge three-year fantasy project that was completed in 2019. Back when I was writing them I always had a hope in the back of my mind that they might end up in Wattpad’s paid system, but didn’t realise it might happen so many years after their completion.
A bit of context on how Wattpad works: it’s a free publishing platform on which anyone can publish writing. They have a built-in global audience of 90 million readers, and I’ve found decent success in reader numbers there over the years (A Day of Faces had 187k reads, for example). I always think of Wattpad as being a bit like YouTube for words. Being a free-to-use platform it isn’t all top-quality content, of course, just like on YouTube, but if you know where to dig there’s good stuff to find and lovely people. What they don’t have is any sort of default ad revenue share system like on YouTube. There’s no way to make money from your writing unless Wattpad specifically selects your books.
I find it amusing and ironic that part of my reason for coming to Substack was to find a way to have a financial element to my writing, having written for free online for seven years, and it’s only after I made that switch that Wattpad approached me for the paid programme. It goes to show how these things can indeed take a very long time to come to fruition.
The shift to Substack as my primary platform was partly so that I could add an element of financial value to the immense amount of time it takes to write book. I’m very pleased that this is working already - thanks, paying subscribers! As such, though, when Wattpad approached me it was unexpectedly a trickier decision to make than it would otherwise have been. Did I want to sign over my books to a third party, when I was trying to forge my own path here on Substack?
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This is where I had a major advantage in having done this for a long time. I have three completed books (the other one being No Adults Allowed), and I’m currently working on my fourth (Tales from the Triverse, right here on this Substack). This gives me some wiggle room in deciding what to do with each project. As such, I could let Wattpad have ADoF and TMC without giving up all of my creative IP. I still have No Adults Allowed to do with as I please (I have plans), and Triverse is 100% a Substack-first project.
Being in that useful position has taken years of work, but I’d never have got there without adopting the serialised fiction approach. I have a guide on writing fiction in this way if you want to give it a go yourself:
As you might expect, I’m not able to discuss the specifics of the arrangement with Wattpad. What I will say is that it’s fairly writer-friendly, specific and limited in scope. It doesn’t feel like I’m giving away my children. I have no idea what to expect in terms of success and revenue, and it’ll be interesting to find out what happens.
The first change has been in the form of the front covers used on Wattpad for the books. As part of entering the paid programme, Wattpad create newly designed covers for the books. This is so that they fit into the overall design style of their catalogue, and I would assume that Wattpad have a huge amount of data to draw upon in terms of what works and doesn’t work for attracting readers.
Here are the OLD covers. I designed the ADoF one and I commissioned the TMC one:
They certainly have an element of DIY to them, but they’ve served me well over the years. Mechanical Crown in particular has a nice thematic thing going on which suits the book, though it is tonally a bit overly sepia. A Day of Faces is intriguing but actually is not representative of the story at all (for starters, it’s a female narrator), so I was never entirely happy with it.
Right. So here are the brand new Wattpad covers, created by their in-house team, without any input from me:
There are certainly things I would do differently, but I’ll give Wattpad the benefit of the doubt when it comes to knowing their audiences. Having people front-and-centre helps, I think, and makes the stories look less dry. Having the green-skinned girl on ADoF’s cover works and is something I’ve wanted to do for a while (though the snake is an interesting detail). I like the design details in the ‘O’ of the TMC cover.
Really, though, if the covers do the job of attracting Wattpad’s paying reader audience to the books then I’m perfectly happy with them. It’s interesting to cede control in this way, and most authors even in the traditional world don’t tend to get the chance to feedback on cover designs. It’s the first time I’ve been in a situation like this, having always had total control over my projects (for better or worse…).
The main takeaway from this is that perseverance is required in this business. I took me three and a half novels and seven years to get to a point where Wattpad became interested in taking the books on. That’s a lot of time and a lot of effort. Fortunately, getting into the Wattpad paid programme was never a specific goal, nor was making money from my writing. I’m a writer, so I’ll writer regardless, and the main challenge for me in the early days was simply to actually do some writing. I seem to have cracked that one, and this opportunity has come along as a consequence.
Let me know what you think of the covers, and whether you’ve had a similar experience with a publisher!