Remember when Wattpad made us all writers?

Here’s how the story goes: A 17-year-old girl with bad hair plays trick on the campus heartthrob, who just so happens to be a bad boy, self-proclaimed “gangster.” When he finds out that the girl he’s been talking to actually isn’t the ex-girlfriend he was pining for (the two girls should have the same name), he puts up the condition that they should pretend as lovers until the gangster’s ex comes back to his life out of jealousy. And guess what? The two find themselves falling for each other instead.

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Does that sound familiar? Well, in fact, it’s too familiar. This plot has been read three million times online, became a National Book Store bestseller in 2013, and eventually landed on theaters as a Star Cinema box-office hit starring Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla, also known as Kathniel. This is Bianca Bernardino’s She’s Dating the Gangster, which was first published on an online forum before migrating to Wattpad.

And it’s not the only best-selling romantic story birthed out of this online publishing platform. After all, romantic comedies are an irrefutable element in Filipino pop culture. Top-grossing films in our country are rife with romance and its conventions. It is as ubiquitous as it can get; Inquirer even hailed rom-coms as the “genre ng bayan.”

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For the past decade, a bulk of these stories are created and serialized in one particular, huge corner of the Internet: Wattpad. As it says on the site, Wattpad takes everything we love about storytelling, and transforms it into a social, on-the-go experience. It serves as a space where everyone can create, talk, and be heard.

Photo from Inquirer Technology

Ever since its launch in 2006, Wattpad became that vast space tucked in the interwebs where we can pen our own books: characters and conflicts in worlds we can create in just a click.
Louisse Carreon, published author of tearjerkers A and D and Realize puts it this way: “a social media network of its own—but with stories.” This has been the same for Ariesa Domingo, author of nine Wattpad stories that have been published as a book, including Seducing Drake Palma and For Hire: A Damn Good Kisser. For Ariesa and many others, writing wasn’t a viable career, but a hobby: “It wasn’t until I was practically forced by my friend to write a story that I discovered that I actually liked building a world where I can control everything.”

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Wattpad, as the platform that appealed to most Filipino writers under a certain niche, contributed a huge part in keeping the genre alive and well in the country. For the then-young generation of writers that grew up in the community, it was a specific kind of blessing.

Wattpad, as the platform that appealed to most Filipino writers under a certain niche, contributed a huge part in keeping the genre alive and well in the country. For the then-young generation of writers that grew up in the community, it was a specific kind of blessing. Reaching an audience beyond our group of close friends felt far-fetched before, but Wattpad handed us a ticket to accessing an audience that is as big as the rest of the world, along with the wild possibilities that offering our words to them could bring. The platform gave us its own brand of bravery.

According to Ella Larena, author of Ang Boyfriend Kong Artista and the Kathniel-inspired His Personal Wife, “I made the account to write my experiences growing up. I incorporated real life situations into fiction, so that no one would know it happened to me.”

What used to be a reader’s pipe dream—to have an active conversation with the authors of their favorite stories—was solved when Wattpad gave them the chance to leave comments on every chapter of an author’s work. They can even vote for ones they felt for the most. These votes play a part in how a specific story appears on the site: A high-rated story would most likely attract more readers as its presence in a user’s homepage would say, “because you voted for this story, here are ones similar to that.”

As Ariesa describes it, “Wattpad is very interactive. You can leave comments, messages, and private messages. It creates a sense of community that allows the writers and readers to bond more. And it’s also very easy to navigate.”

Readers are not just allowed but even encouraged to share their thoughts about their work, which may also influence the development of the story. Louisse in particular enjoys when readers tell her about their favorite moments. “I’m one of those writers who really like reading comments. They are proof that I‘m making someone feel something.”

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Reading isn’t just one-way anymore: It is a conversation, a form of participation. The writer gets from the reader as much as the latter gets from the former.

Reading isn’t just one-way anymore: It is a conversation, a form of participation. The writer gets from the reader as much as the latter gets from the former. The continuous positive critique from their followers has encouraged writers to improve their newfound skill as well. “I was able to find my own style, my own preference, and my own voice. I was able to experiment, see what works and what doesn’t,” Louisse says.

For her work to be discussed, let alone be read, gives Ella validation as a writer. “I was a reader/writer at a teen magazine’s creative corner circa 2009 to 2011. But honestly, I didn’t consider myself a writer because I was never able to finish a novel. I guess Wattpad became the training ground for my writing.”

Not only does Wattpad offer freedom by letting people share their stories to the world, it also opens the doors of publishing to budding writers, who in other circumstances would have a difficult time getting recognition.

Not only does Wattpad offer freedom by letting people share their stories to the world, it also opens the doors of publishing to budding writers, who in other circumstances would have a difficult time getting recognition. In Wattpad, a multiverse exists where writers aren’t given only one pair of shoes to fit. “I am a romance writer, but with Wattpad it’s not scary at all to try another genre because there are audiences for different genres. Whatever I decide to write, I know that there will be at least one person who will read my story,” Ariesa says.

“I feel like [the readers are] my friends, and some of them my kids, because Three Words, Eight Letters series was published on Wattpad in, I think 2010,” Jade Pitogo, another published author, says. “

“I feel like [the readers are] my friends, and some of them my kids, because Three Words, Eight Letters series was published on Wattpad in, I think 2010,” Jade Pitogo, another published author, says. “ My readers then were in high school and some in elementary. Now, they are in college and some already have work, and I feel like we’ve grown together. That’s why I am very active on Twitter. I opened my DMs so readers can reach me, and I can personally thank them for reading my stories.” Louisse sees the platform as an expanding entity, “ My favorite thing about Wattpad is the community built through it, both locally and internationally,” and Ariesa thinks it “bridged the gap between the writers and readers.”

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Louisse sees the platform as an expanding entity, “ My favorite thing about Wattpad is the community built through it, both locally and internationally,” and Ariesa thinks it “bridged the gap between the writers and readers.”

When Wattpad CEO and co-founder Allen Lau visited the Philippines last year, he told the digital marketing solutions company AdSpark Philippines that local readers “embraced the future of entertainment, where technology and storytelling come together to empower new voices.” It’s no surprise that Wattpad’s top users are Filipinos—over seven million monthly Wattpad visitors come from the Philippines, according to Globe’s website. Globe has funded Wattpad in the recent past.

In November 2018, Wattpad launched a virtual currency program, Wattpad Next, to help its community of writers get proper compensation for their work. “This program is part of our commitment to help writers earn money from their stories, monetizing stories both on and off of Wattpad,” president Allen Lau said. “Along with opportunities to connect with brands, and work with Wattpad Studios to turn their stories into books, TV shows, films, and digital projects, writers can now make money directly from the fans that have supported them since their first page.” This initiative was first tested in Canada, United Kingdom, Mexico, and the Philippines, before having it was launched in the US.

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This comes as an efficient step not only for the platform, but also for what its users would want to have. “I think like Youtube, Wattpad can probably find a way in order to help their writers be compensated without having to force the readers to pay, since a lot of the readers are students,” Ariesa says. On the other hand, Ella wants underrated Wattpad novels to get more exposure because “sometimes, the best books are the hidden gems.”

Given its influence, Wattpad isn’t immune to scrutiny. In a study entitled “Effects of Wattpad on Modern Philippine Literature,” De La Salle University Manila professor John Vladimir Espiritu expressed his disapproval of the gender stereotypes imposed in Wattpad stories, claiming that they can be uneducated, and are banked “on idiocy.”

If you’re an avid Wattpad reader, you would also notice how plots seem to repeat, like young writers pulling out cliché pop culture tropes. There’s the classic Gangster, the Damsel in Distress, the Lead Dies In The End, or maybe the High School Clan Wars.

If you’re an avid Wattpad reader, you would also notice how plots seem to repeat, like young writers pulling out cliché pop culture tropes. There’s the classic Gangster, the Damsel in Distress, the Lead Dies In The End, or maybe the High School Clan Wars.

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There’s no longer an original plot, but a good story is made of the nuances the writer communicates through setting, language, metaphor, characterization, etc. The study also places a big concern on how the editing goes for these books, as some still appear to have grammatical or typographical errors.

Looking back at the purpose of Wattpad’s birth, we would know it has always aimed to cater to everyone, and give opportunities to writers of all levels, and even those who don’t consider themselves writers at all. Readers are treated the same. Think Precious Hearts Romances, and how it was accessible for us—just like published Wattpad books, we could buy them at arm’s reach, and one wouldn’t need to have a solid literary experience, much more expertise, to appreciate its content.

That’s not necessarily something we can condemn Wattpad for. In this time when education is still treated as a privilege rather than a right, Wattpad is a safe space. The writers are still young and still growing along with their skill sets, and an environment that serves as a breeding ground for people in the process of discovery is worthy of respect. Wattpad, as what their vision states, has always stood for people who want to put their work out there.

In this time when education is still treated as a privilege rather than a right, Wattpad is a safe space.

On top of that, we can say that Wattpad has already proved its legacy. In a larger scale, it did pave the way for a more active reception of Philippine literature, and we cannot deny that even the act of acknowledgement can already start a fire. It made us believe that while not all of us fashion ourselves as writers, we can all definitely write if we want to.

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On top of that, we can say that Wattpad has already proved its legacy. In a larger scale, it did pave the way for a more active reception of Philippine literature, and we cannot deny that even the act of acknowledgement can already start a fire.

In the end, it created something vital: a living, breathing community, whether anyone is anonymous, semi-anonymous, or already known by their real names. And for something that’s been rooted on the online grounds, the publishing phenomenon of Wattpad, bit by bit, adds to the continued survival of publishing in a digital era by opening it to everyone.

Art by Alagadngsining

This story is originally published in our 34th issue and has been edited for web. The digital copy of Scout’s 34th issue is accessible here.

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