Toronto-based online story hub Wattpad to bring viral reads to bookstores

TORONTO — Canadian online storytelling platform Wattpad is bringing clickable reads to a bookstore near you.

The Toronto-based company announced Thursday that it’s setting its sights on the offline book market with the launch of a new publishing division.

Wattpad Books plans to publish six digital hits from its online community of writers, to be rolled out across Canada this fall in partnership with Vancouver-based distributor Raincoast Books.

Ashleigh Gardner, who is leading the division, said the lack of diversity in publishing has created a disconnect between the people who decide what books reach the shelves and those who buy them.

Wattpad Books is looking to disrupt this “monoculture” with a data-backed “crowdsourced” approach that lets readers determine what stories are fit to print, she said.

“Instead of one editor deciding which story to publish, we’re able to look directly to what readers want,” Gardner said in a phone interview. “I’m really interested to see what other people are reading that we don’t traditionally see on bookstores.”

The imprint will cull titles from Wattpad’s 565 million uploads based on the combined input of human editors and a team of data scientists who use technology to track what stories or even words are resonating among readers, according to Gardner.

While some members of the literati may look askance at the notion of making publishing decisions by page views, Gardner said Wattpad has a record of being ahead of the curve in predicting the next book craze.

Many of the stories on Wattpad’s platform have already been turned into best-selling books or adapted for TV, film, and digital projects. Among the company’s biggest success stories is Anna Todd, who transitioned from a Wattpad reader into a publishing powerhouse.

“I think we’re often seeing things on Wattpad really trend on our site before we tend to see them in the traditional marketplace,” she said. “Our data and our readers are able to do that trendspotting and find those huge stories before they pop, and set new trends.”

Wattpad Books’ first slate of titles includes six young-adult reads spanning genre and subject matter, but Gardner said they are united by their approach to tackling topics that matter to teenagers, including mental health, #MeToo and LGBTQ issues.

“I think that so often in the traditional publishing industry, what we’re seeing is editors and librarians and all of these other people are choosing what’s acceptable for teens to read,” she said. “On Wattpad, we’re seeing teens choose their own reading, and write stories for each other.”

Readers who have followed each instalment of Wattpad stories online will find their analog counterparts contain additional content and slight tweaks to make the book more cohesive, she said. While the stories will remain free on Wattpad’s platform, Gardner said she’s confident that many of their loyal followers will be waiting in line come publication day.

“(These readers) feel like they’ve been involved in this process and may have a lot of ownership over these titles as well, and that’s what makes them the biggest advocates for these titles in bookstores.”

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