by Michael Botur
It was a dark and stormy night in February 2017 when I walked away from my computer and said “No más.”
I had just spent hours (12 years in total, actually) submitting fiction to literary journals. Every time I handed over my precious work for a stranger’s consideration, there was only a slim chance that the hours put in would pay off. Sometimes submission led to success; most of the time, the hours sharing my work seemed wasted. As a writer, I had been led to believe that editors and publishers had the right to bestow esteem on a piece of writing by selecting it for publication. That belief was encouraged by suckers like me who gave editors and publishers far too much power. We talked them up; we obeyed their every command; we handed over money and copyright just to be considered.
This is why, just over one year ago, I resolved to stop thinking that being in a literary journal is better for my writing. Have you heard of ‘No más’? It’s a phrase attributable to legendary boxer Roberto Durán, who said ‘No more’ and walked away from what was supposed to be a shot at greatness.
“Tonight I spent three hours sending off just ten short stories to literary journals for publication,” I blogged on February 2, 2017. “Statistically, just 1-2 of those stories will be accepted for publication. I’ll get little in return. The publisher will benefit from my labour far more than me.”
Worst of all, “An increasing number of literary journals prioritise publication for those who hand over their credit card details and buy a subscription.” Examples here.
Most literary journals also take the following away from an author:
- The publication demands exclusive rights to publish your material (copyright control)
- The publication takes months to respond when work is submitted – making it hard to submit that work elsewhere
- The publication may limit how people view your work, limiting it to seldom-seen print pages or a shabby website
As recently as April 2018, a brand new NZ literary journal calling itself The Quagga began asking for submissions resulting in no payment, while demanding that the work submitted be published nowhere else, and giving full publishing rights to The Quagga for 12 months, during which a person is not allowed to publish their work anywhere else.
“I’ll be publishing my work to lots more exposure on a suitable publishing template when I find one,” I pledged on that dark and stormy night. And then I found the world’s largest, most successful young adult self-publishing platform, Wattpad.
I first became of aware of the online orange oracle through a New Zealand startup called Eunoia Publishing. In 2015 they’d given a boost to author J L Pawley, who had overcome an exploitive experience with a publishing piranha to pick up an audience of millions on something called Wattpad.
Since getting a ‘proper’ publisher, Jessica Pawley has been giving us blow-by-blow updates on her emergence as a publishing sensation in her autobiography, ‘Learning To Fly.’ This publication includes pages and pages about getting an audience through Wattpad and the Wattys Awards.
After reading Pawley’s story, I became a true believer – @MichaelBotur. Follow the rules, and Wattpad would work.
So, shortly after pledging No Más, I got a Wattpad account going. Sure, I was starting off with zero followers, but so had J L Pawley, and look how her story had turned out.
Wattpad turned out to be the opposite of what academic literary culture had got me used to (criticism, rejection, loss of confidence, acceptance of a miniscule audience). Wattpad, thank God, showed itself to be a place in which:
- I could start picking up thousands of readers
- I didn’t have to pay a cent to reach readers
- My material was very easy to access for anyone anywhere, from Britain to Botswana (yes, I literally have readers in Botswana)
- My material looked attractive nice on the screens of laptops, phones and tablets (no more grotty printed pages sitting in my mailbox in a soggy envelope)
There were a few steps before I could get involved with Wattpad and reach (at the time of writing this) 5000 readers. Moneyland was a young adult novel manuscript which, at the time of declaring No Más, needed a lot of work. To reach my Wattpad fans, I had to do two more drafts of the manuscript, get input from peer writers, tinker with Wattpad and figure out how to lay out the pages and images, synchronise changes in the manuscript with changes on Wattpad, then let the world know it was ready. So that was the hard stuff, and it took up hundreds of nights across 2017.
When I first broke through 1000 readers, though, I realised that if I treated my audience with love, I would get love back. Love means responding to comments, responding to fan mail, asking readers which parts of the books were successful for them, and sharing their testimonials to attract and entertain more readers.
All this, at no cost.
Since working with Wattpad, I now understand the mantra of The Sager Group, which was set up to support narrative journalists who couldn’t catch a break. The company’s motto, in English: ‘Harnessing the means of production.’
In Latin, it’s Artifex Te Adiuva, which means Artist, help yourself.
Want encouragement? Email Michael Botur any time – email@example.com
Want to read some cool shit? https://nzshortstories.com/
…and here’s your boy on Wattpad with Moneyland the young adult novel.