I have a lot of writer friends and I like to read and give feedback to them because… well, that’s what you do if you’re a writer and have writer friends!
It’s the ‘polite’ thing to do, but I enjoy reading what my friends have been writing as well as thinking it’s an important part of writerly etiquette to contribute to the writing community. Most of my friends have books on GoodReads or Amazon etc. but some of my friends live in the realm of Wattpad.
For people who use Wattpad as a tool you’re probably already going over the many good things that Wattpad has done for you and your friends.
Let me start by saying: I am not opposed to Wattpad, I simply don’t completely understand it. I think I’m starting to get it now, but I have my reasons for feeling like a fish out of water on Wattpad.
Let me go over some of the good points I’ve noticed and heard about Wattpad before I talk about my own take on this increasingly vibrant platform for writers.
The first good thing is that it attracts young authors. Teenagers are encouraged to write and by getting feedback they’re encouraged to keep writing. The same point is true for new writers or writers who for various reasons need extra feedback to build their confidence and/or writing stamina.
It’s not a pointless endeavor to post on Wattpad either. I sort of thought it was. This one has an upside and a downside. The upside is that more and more people including large publishers are farming Wattpad for talent. Margaret Atwood has been involved in an award called the ‘Watty’ since 2012. There are poetry contests and all sorts of things that people can get involved in.
I only found out those things after doing some research into Wattpad. Before I looked into it the last word I’d heard on Wattpad was that publishers considered anything put on Wattpad as ‘previously published’. A stigma that once attached to a story/poem/novel is very difficult to remove. Yes, most publishers only want fresh and virgin stories!
That part is still true and something that I don’t think a lot of people who post on Wattpad know about. That isn’t why I’m still a little anxious about getting into the waters of Wattpad, my reasons are my own uncertainties and my style of writing and reading.
When someone asks me to read their story on Wattpad or chapter by chapter it has the same affect on me: I don’t know how to give feedback.
From my limited exposure to Wattpad I’ve found most of the stories are in progress, this causes me to regard reading them as seeking ‘alpha feedback’. Alpha feedback is pretty basic because of the very obvious reason that the writer isn’t finished writing yet. Concepts and characters may be undeveloped because again… the writer isn’t finished yet.
I’ve noticed that a lot of alpha feedback consists of nit-picky grammar edits that are, in my opinion, undermining and discouraging when you’re just getting going on a story. This also negates the benefits of bolstering and encouraging writers to write more!
So, I’m not the only one who has a hard time giving alpha feedback. What is alpha feedback? Alpha feedback is feedback is, as stated previously, feedback given on works in progress (WIPS) and is usually done a bit at a time as the writer progresses through their story. Beta feedback is given on a finished work that may or may not have been edited.
One of the best tips for beta reading your own work or the work of someone else. Beta reading can be where much needed texture is added to the entire story.
Beta feedback is something that I’m good at and that I value deeply in the excellent beta readers who read for me. Beta feedback focuses on things like: umm, did you just teleport out of the shower into the living room? Or: I can’t understand this sentence at all, did you mean to say that they ‘ate China’? I’m thinking maybe you meant ‘chicken’??
Writing is rarely done all at one sitting and it’s also rare that there are no interruptions or distractions. If your writing environment is like that you are a lucky writer indeed! For the rest of us we have phone calls, knocks on the door, family and friends that talk just at the minute you were writing a key sentence… and you write down what they said instead of what you were intending to write.
When you read your own writing over you’ll likely catch a lot of these errors. If you read your story out loud you’ll catch even more of them. The mind is an amazing machine capable of glossing over the same thing even on multiple reads. This is especially true when we read our own work but I’ve seen as many as five readers miss the same mistake in a story! This is why beta readers are like gold because the sixth beta reader who catches the mistake is the one who saves it.
This isn’t exactly the same as editing although they are closely related. Beta readers aren’t there to catch grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, formatting errors etc. If they see something obvious they might make a note of it to save the writer some time but it isn’t their mission. That’s what final edits are for and that’s a whole different blog!
Anyway, in case you didn’t know, now you’re caught up on the different stages of readings and writing. This brings us back to our original topic: Alpha reading and Wattpad.
I don’t know what sort of feedback any one author is looking for when they ask for alpha reading of a story. It’s hard to go into detail because we don’t know if the writer is keeping the suspense tight or if they’ve missed an important aspect of the story. When you’re asked to read a story some sort of response is required or the writer will likely assume that you hated the whole thing and don’t want to tell them how much they suck. So, you’ve got to say SOMETHING or you run the risk of your efforts to be helpful hurting the writer.
How can you do that when you don’t know anything about where the writer is going? The writer may be highly organized and know where they are going for their plot, or they might be like me, someone who is a ‘pantser’ (flies by the seat of my pants rather than outlining). If they are a pantser, then they probably don’t know where they are going anymore than the alpha reader does.
Feedback is like fuel for writers. They NEED it to know if they’re doing their job and their job is effective communication. If no one replies to what they have to say it is the writer’s natural inclination to determine that they are doing something wrong. If they know they’re reaching their audience it gives them more fuel to keep on.
Which brings us to the conundrum of Wattpad. Giving someone grammar tips is one of those gray zones if you aren’t their editor. It’s especially bad if it’s all someone has to say about your writing. First of all, it’s a negative observation and second of all it isn’t about what you said, it’s about how you said it in a strictly modern context of what is stylistically ‘correct’. Notice that nothing in grammar/spelling/formatting is going to help someone to understand how well they are communicating their story. Not encouraging.
Understanding that alpha and beta reading are the writer seeking feedback on how well they’re communicating gave me some insights into how to be a better alpha reader. First of all, I’m going on the assumption that anything that seems like a hole in the plot or that I don’t understand is likely going to be cleaned up in the beta reading. Unless it’s a continuity error (Bob is wearing blue pants and five minutes later spills coffee on his red pants), it’s better to ignore those things.
Someone in who is alpha reading for you is really only their for the most part as a positive influence. Unlike a beta reader who looks around for structural integrity, holes in the plot etc, the alpha reader is there to feed into the story.
How can an alpha reader do this?
First of all, I’ve learned to underline and comment on particularly striking turns of phrase or patterns of style that the writer uses. For example, I recently did some alpha reading on a story where the writer used vivid colors to effectively key in important aspects of their story.
Alpha reading is also disrupted reading. It’s hard to come back into a story and try to recall everything that happened in detail especially if you’re reading multiple alpha stories. Here’s where my personal, stylistic issue with Wattpad comes into play.
I am not a fan of chapter plays. I like to read deeply and intensely. I want to sink into the world. I don’t want to be just driving through yet another landscape. I want to know characters and places and experience them. I can’t do that if the sections are doled out a little at a time.
Another very personal issue I have with Wattpad is obvious: It’s all digital.
I don’t enjoy reading books electronically nearly as much as I enjoy reading a bound book. I enjoy the tactile sense of the fibers that make the paper, the sensation of physically turning pages… I like to read in the bathtub and my laptop doesn’t share my love of the water!
So, to all my friends on Wattpad who I haven’t had a chance to give feedback to… I’m sorry. I have started a Wattpad account (although I’m not sure if I finalized it, there may be some hanging step I neglected) and I have intentions to read your work. Intentions aren’t the feedback you’re looking for but I can assure you that it isn’t your writing that has driven me away.
The final thing I will say about Wattpad, again it is both positive and negative, is that it is a community. That means that it should be reciprocal. If I’m going to comment there, I should also be posting my own writing and getting to know people. The intricacies of the communal aspects of Wattpad are still mysteries to me.
I don’t usually get anyone to alpha read for me unless I know and trust them very much. I don’t want to get the feedback of, ‘yeah, it was interesting… you had a run on sentence in the second paragraph… but otherwise, yeah, it was interesting.’
I will continue to contemplate the world of Wattpad and try to take the plunge. I hear that there is a vibrant poetry community as well as other writing and that may be a good place to start.
I think Wattpad fills a valiant function in the writing world. Alpha reading is important and I know that people do move on to beta reading and final editing. People have even started to have television shows made of their Wattpad stories!
That’s pretty much it: Watt I’ve Learned About Wattpad 🙂