Ebooks: What does Wattpad offer established authors like Margaret Atwood?
Those doomsayers predicting the death of the book need look no further than Wattpad for confirmation of the power of fiction in the digital age
Margaret Atwood: brave commitment to exploring contemporary issues. Photograph: Damon Winter/New York Times
On a recent visit to Dublin, as part of Dún Laoghaire’s Mountains to Sea Book Festival, Margaret Atwood spoke fervently about the opportunities that digital books offer the publishing industry for developing new relationships with readers. Atwood has always been interested in the future and in the impact that science and technology may have on the evolution of society.
From her 1985 book The Handmaid’s Tale (Kindle edition £5.98) to her most recent climate-change trilogy, which culminated earlier this year with the publication of the final instalment, MaddAdam (Kindle edition £8.75), the Canadian writer has displayed a brave commitment to exploring the most contemporary of issues, from the genetic modification of food to genetic selection.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the 73- year-old has adapted so readily to new publishing formats, launching herself as one of the leading entrepreneurs of digital publishing. She conceived the LongPen, an innovative device that uses a tablet PC to record the pen strokes of an author’s inscriptions and reproduces these movements on paper in ink via a robotic arm. She also recently launched Fanado!, an app that allows ebook owners to connect with favourite authors, transforming the generic digital form into something personal by facilitating author signatures and personalised illustrations.
Atwood’s zealous adoption of new narrative formats in her work is equally impressive. For the past few years she has acted as the public figurehead of Wattpad, a free self-publishing, social-networking site that allows writers to get immediate feedback from readers, who can submit stories to the site from their computers or phones. Founded by fellow Canadians, Wattpad has a monthly international readership of more than 10 million, with contributors writing in more than 25 languages.
Atwood has used the site to release poetry and short stories to this virtual community of readers, as well as a serial novel, The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home, which she wrote with the novelist Naomi Alderman and which has been read by almost 800,000 people since the first instalment was published, in October last year.
Although this readership figure seems extraordinary by traditional publishing standards, it is conservative alongside some of Wattpad’s most popular books. The Cell Phone Swap, filed under Teen Fiction by the pseudonymous Hilarity N Suze, has had more than 17 million readers since it was uploaded, in March of this year.
Atwood’s publisher, Bloomsbury, is fully on board with her use of the site for digital self-promotion. In the run-up to the publication of MaddAdam it licensed excerpts from the earlier instalments, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, to be published without charge on Wattpad. Whether Bloomsbury will capitalise on the digital success of The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home by releasing a print edition is another matter.