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Thanks to fellow Wattpader MaryFahey and an article by the New York Times, I heard about Wattpad, who let’s authors publish written stories much in the way YouTube allows people to publish videos, launching a book publishing division. At first I thought, “AWESOME!!” but then I kept reading.
According to the article, Wattpad will use a “Story DNA Learning Machine technology” to scan the Wattpad website/app stories for “themes or elements that might determine a story’s commercial success.” Once the algorithm selects a story, it’ll then be handed over to an editor for further consideration.
I can see why Wattpad would want to use this technology. They already have millions upon millions of stories. Could you image the chaos if they said, “Submit here for publication consideration”? I’d feel sorry for whomever got stuck with that job. It’s why so many stories get rejected in the first place; there are so many submissions that a person just can’t deal with all of them. So, I think the idea of having a machine help out is a good idea, but my problem is the article makes it sound like that is all Wattpad is doing.
I checked out the site for Wattpad Books, the name of the publishing division. It tells authors how to be considered for Wattpad Books: just keep writing. There is no submission form.
I am hoping that as the program grows they’ll open up other ways for authors to feel like they have a chance, other than just getting noticed by a machine. I hope they do something like a pitch day or have the Wattpad Ambassadors keep an eye out for potential stories. It would be nice if there was a recommendation day; once a month (or every three months, etc) people can recommend stories they think should be considered. There needs to be someway that the authors feel like they have some control over the process, that it isn’t all left to the whims of an algorithm.
You talk to anyone who does YouTube, and they’ll tell you the mess with the YouTube algorithm and how much stress it causes. One example is how animators had to switch over to animated vlogs in order to meet the requirements of the algorithm.
If Wattpad Books only goes by the data, how is this going to change the stories? Someone is going to figure out “the secret” and tell everyone. What if it is discovered that stories with the word “windows” has a better chance of being published? Will suddenly all the Wattpad stories be filled with the word “window” in awkward places in order to “fool” the machine? People already…”tweak” their stories in order to catch the eye of traditional publishers, so you know they’ll do it to get noticed by the machine.
What is the step after people start altering their work in order to be noticed? Will we have a controversy like with MatPat (it happened on his GTLive YouTube channel)? He got grief because his video tags were “Undertale” and “Toby Fox” instead of ones for the Heartbound game he was showcasing. He knew that Undertale tags would be picked by the algorithm better than Heartbound. (He also got grief for saying the developer’s name wrong and not linking to the game, but that’s another matter).
What I’m trying to say is that there needs to be a balance between the machine and mankind. Yes, have the machine do most of the legwork, but also have a place for authors (on occasion) be able to submit their pitch and like a thousand words. Also, have pitch days and times when the community can voice their opinion directly. Finally, have the Ambassadors kind of be “the man on the ground,” keeping an eye out for stories that they can report back as possibilities. People need to feel like they have a voice in the matter (even if it is completely ignored); they need to feel like they can do more than pray and keep writing, hoping that one day the machine will like them. Finally, if Wattpad Books is planning to do this anyway, let people know–just a simple, “some time in the future we will…” works wonders.
I’m hoping that Wattpad Books will learn from the mistakes of others, like YouTube and even traditional publishing. I think if they can figure out a way to include the community and the authors into the publishing, they’ll have more success.
Joe Rover eBooks are available at many online retailers, such as Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Walmart eBooks, and more.
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