Three years after entering into an innovative partnership with Wattpad that allows writers to circumvent the slush pile by submitting queries to Sourcebooks via hashtag on the social media writing platform, executives at the Chicagoland company report that the collaboration has exceeded their expectations. It’s been so successful, in fact, that Sourcebooks is expanding beyond the YA fiction genre and collaborating with Wattpad to acquire and promote romance authors as well.
Toronto-based Wattpad, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, boasts 45 million members to date who read and/or write 300+ million original stories in 50+ languages. About 90% of Wattpad’s members are between the ages of 13 and 30, and 90% of them access Wattpad via mobile devices, providing feedback to writers throughout the creative process.
Stating that Wattpad does not enter into many partnerships with other organizations – although publishers and agents have long sought entrée – Ashleigh Gardner, head of partnerships at Wattpad Studios, echoed the sentiments expressed by Sourcebooks’ executives concerning the relationship between the two companies. “Sourcebooks has been fantastic to work with,” Gardner said, noting that the arrangement has demonstrated that Wattpad writers can succeed on their merits in the marketplace, beyond a closeknit community of readers. Wattpad members will “follow their favorite writers everywhere,” she said.
To date, Sourcebooks has received more than 1,000 submissions from writers affiliated with Wattpad, and has published via its Sourcebooks Fire YA imprint seven novels by four authors discovered through this collaboration.
Ten more projects by six authors acquired through Wattpad are moving through the publishing pipeline within the next three years, including A.V. Geiger’s debut novel, Follow Me Back, the first volume in a romance thriller trilogy. The book is scheduled for 2017; French and Italian rights have already been sold.
On the romance side, Sourcebooks has to date acquired one series scheduled for release under its Casablanca romance imprint and made an offer on another, also intended for Casablanca.
Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah attributes the company’s appeal to Wattpad’s members to its flexibility as well as to a receptivity to “learning the mores of the platform.” For instance, even after a Wattpad writer’s work has been edited and published by Sourcebooks, often with additional content, the original version posted on Wattpad remains available with free access to it.
“We did it the way Wattpad was recommending,” Raccah recalled of the decision to maintain both the Wattpad version of Sourcebook releases and the subsequent edition. “Wattpad talked to us [and] said you want to give back to the community, not take away from it.” Due to the non-competitive nature of the platform, this arrangement has not had a negative impact on sales, according to Sourcebooks editorial director Todd Stocke. He described sales of the Sourcebook editions of tales originally posted on Wattpad as robust, with a quarter-million copies sold to date of Sourcebooks’ Wattpad-affiliated titles. Natasha Preston’s mystery thriller The Cellar (2014) was the first Wattpad-originated title to land on the New York Times YA paperback bestseller list; Sourcebooks has since published Preston’s Awake and The Cabin, which has just released with a 100,000-copy first printing.
“Sourcebooks has done a great job of fostering community,” Gardner said, praising the company for understanding that Wattpad submissions are “not just a manuscript, but a community,” and that it’s important to Wattpad members to maintain a sense of contributing to each other’s writing processes.
Wattpad writers tapped by Sourcebooks also have had to learn to be flexible and patient, particularly in adapting to the editing and production schedule that is part of Sourcebooks’ traditional publishing program. “They’re not used to waiting for a long time to get feedback,” Raccah noted. “It’s a different kind of writing and it can be challenging for them. [We’re] changing their writing process.”
Sourcebooks is also promoting young authors they’re already published by encouraging them to post new content on Wattpad to build up their audiences in that community. It’s a marketing strategy that has worked well for Miranda Kenneally, C.J. Lyons, and Zoraida Cordova. Stocke noted that Cordova’s signings of ARCs of her fantasy adventure, Labryinth Lost (Sept.), at this year’s BEA and BookCon attracted huge crowds. “The lines for her signings were among the longest we’ve had,” Stocke said. “She’d met a lot of people through Wattpad and she did a lot of stuff with We Need Diverse Books.”
“It’s been interesting: authors are coming, and they’re staying, and they’re growing,” Raccah said. Stocke added, “Sourcebooks is in it for the long haul, because we’re in it with these writers. It’s mind-boggling, these 18-year-old writers with tremendous chops. We’re looking to build their careers.”