A lot has happened since Wattpad announced in January 2019 that it was starting a publishing division to produce print books based on the stories on its online platform. In that first year, Wattpad Books was able to release six young adult titles with a small staff led by Ashleigh Gardner, who was then deputy general manager of Wattpad Studios and Publishing, and Deanna McFadden, then publishing director for Wattpad Studios. Before it could celebrate its first anniversary, however, the pandemic upended plans for the Wattpad Books rollout. Then in spring 2021, Wattpad was acquired for $600 million by Naver, South Korea’s leading internet platform, whose holdings include the online comics platform Webtoon.
Despite the pandemic, Wattpad released 15 young adult titles in 2020, including its most successful book to that point, The QB Bad Boy and Me by Tay Marley, which is now set to become a movie starring Noah Beck. When Covid hit, Wattpad’s authors, all drawn from its online world, easily adapted to promoting titles via virtual events, said McFadden, who is now executive director of the Wattpad Webtoon Book Group. (Gardner is now senior v-p of global publishing, overseeing all of Wattpad Webtoon’s publishing programs.)
After the dust from the Naver acquisition began to settle in the second half of 2021, the newly formed Wattpad Webtoon Book Group started to pick up speed. In early November, Anna Todd—one of Wattpad’s first breakout stars, whose After series was eventually published by Simon & Schuster and who then formed the multimedia company Frayed Pages—agreed to team with Wattpad Books to launch Frayed Pages x Wattpad Books. The co-branded imprint’s first title, After: The Graphic Novel, a graphic adaptation of the prose series, was released in spring 2022. Todd continues to publish her own works under Frayed Pages, as well as that of new romance writers that she selects.
In late November, the Webtoon Unscrolled imprint was announced, with a mandate to publish print editions of hit Webtoon mobile webcomics for both YA and adult readers. The first list was published in fall 2022, and according to Maeve O’Regan, senior manager, marketing and publicity, Wattpad Webtoon titles had the group’s biggest sell-in to date—nearly 200,000 copies across the first three titles, led by True Beauty, Vol. 1 and Tower of God, Vol. 1. Last year also saw the formation of W by Wattpad Books, an adult imprint with an emphasis on romance whose first list contained the debut adult book by Beth Reekles, author of the YA bestseller The Kissing Booth.
Wattpad Webtoon Book Group published 30 new titles in 2022, added three new imprints, and grew the size of its staff to 21. All that activity resulted in sales soaring 468% last year over 2021. The new hires included six in marketing and publicity whose efforts are directed by Tina McIntyre, who was named v-p of marketing in December 2021. Though based in Toronto, Wattpad Webtoon Book Group has a number of remote workers, including some who, like McIntyre, live in the U.S.
“We learned a lot” from last year’s explosive growth, McFadden noted. This year, Wattpad Webtoon plans to release 41 titles, including 15 under the Webtoon Unscrolled imprint, and McFadden said the publisher will “double down” on its marketing and promotional efforts. The company’s lists feature a lot of debut authors, since the basis of the publishing program involves Gardner and McFadden's editorial team working with Wattpad Webtoon’s content team to mine the Wattpad and Webtoon platforms for popular stories that they believe would do well as books. While the book group’s authors benefit from having had exposure to the 179 million users of the Wattpad and Webtoon platforms, most are not well-known among the wider reading public or to booksellers and librarians, McIntyre acknowledged.
To remedy that, McIntyre and McFadden created an ambitious program to get authors to as many in-person events as possible. Among the stops authors made last year were to New York Comic Con and almost all of the regional bookseller association trade shows. Wattpad Webtoon authors also made regular appearances at independent bookstores and libraries, and did signings at Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million outlets. Todd is set to tour this summer to support her novel The Burning, which is due out August 1. Other authors are set to appear this spring at PW’s U.S. Book Show in New York City, Word on the Street in Toronto, and Book Lovers Con in Houston.
One reason McFadden and McIntyre are bullish on the future is that current reading trends correspond very well to Wattpad Webtoon’s strengths in commercial fiction and in stories centering DEI characters. “We think we are in a good place,” McFadden said.