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So What Do You Do, Nina Lassam, eBook Marketing Evangelist?

'Any medium that enables more democratic access should be celebrated.'

By Jeff Rivera - December 1, 2010
Publishing couldn't be changing faster. Whereas even a few short years ago, the stigma attached to self-publishing might have caused literary agents and publishing houses to turn their noses up at certain aspiring authors, today, agents are steadily perusing literary communities and platforms for the next big eBook author. Some notables, like Joe Konrath, have even used the technology to re-launch their careers.

One such company that is on the forefront of this new incarnation of publishing is Wattpad. Nina Lassam, their marketing evangelist and a speaker at mediabistro.com's upcoming eBookSummit, speaks to us about the rapidly changing marketplace, the success of authors using Wattpad to land book deals and why no form of technology will ever replace the literary agent.


Name: Nina Lassam
Position: Marketing evangelist for Wattpad
Resume: Dabbled in journalism before pursuing grad school at the Marshall McLuhan Institute at the University of Toronto. Later worked in the marketing department at Ceryx before joining Wattpad.
Birthday: January 31, 1984
Hometown: Toronto
Education: BA, University of King's College; MA University of Toronto
Marital status: Not Married
First section of the Sunday Times: "Sunday Style and Magazine but online, so I usually read them the Friday before"
Favorite TV show: The Wire
Guilty pleasure: "Baking in my tiny kitchen"
Last book read: "Print: Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann. Digital: Tattoo by Abigail Kirk."
Twitter handle: @wattpad

There are many sites that are trying to mimic your success. What is it about Wattpad that is so unique compared to the others?
Wattpad is a unique platform because of how social it is. Readers love that they can interact with authors who've shared work on the site. Until recently, readers used the Wattpad message boards and forums to comment on stories, provide feedback and recommend work to one another. In November, we introduced Wattpad Chat which has been incredibly popular and allowed even more interaction. We see a reader comment on a story once every 6 seconds on Wattpad, which makes it appealing for writers as well who are looking for feedback.

Some literary agents and publishers are frightened that if more writers use services such as yours and publish their eBooks directly, that this could cut them out completely. What do you have to say to them?
What I see on Wattpad is quite the opposite. Authors looking to get published do not know how to approach publishing houses, and the consolidation in the industry has made it even more intimidating. The uncertainty in the industry has also made it challenging for authors to establish what constitutes for normal. I think agents will continue to have a role in publishing books and helping authors profit from their work. The status quo keeps changing and, as long as agents continue to work for an author's best interest, their role will remain valuable. We know of many agents who have created Wattpad accounts to look [for] talent on Wattpad and if they aren't subtle about it, they are inundated with questions and requests.

What success stories are you most proud of from writers who've started their professional careers using your site?
The most exciting moments in the office come when we see the authors accomplish their publicly stated goals. It's great to hear from younger, aspiring authors how supportive their families are and how much confidence their success on Wattpad has given them in their writing. Of course, we are delighted to hear that the site has garnered more sales for authors or helped them secure a publishing deal, as well.

"I think any medium that enables more democratic access should be celebrated."

What was it about Wattpad that made you want to be a part of it? Certainly someone with your background could have chosen any platform.
Actually, I had been trying to work for Wattpad for a while. I think any medium that enables more democratic access should be celebrated. Wattpad has no barrier to entry; as long as you have an internet connection, it is completely platform agnostic. I think that is so important and when I see the demographics of Wattpad users I think it has a valuable real-world application.

Some people say that sites such as Wattpad allow the lowest common denominator of writers to get published. What have you done to separate the wheat from the chaff so that readers can discover quality over quantity?
Any site that is made up of user generated content is going to have a huge variety of content and quality; just look at YouTube. Some days the most popular video is an incredibly moving dance performed at a busy intersection in the rain, and other days it's a cat who walks around with a box on his head. The same occurs on Wattpad. Because Wattpad deals predominantly with young adults, it's easy to spot what's trendy among the age group. For example, last summer werewolves were so popular we had to give it its own category. That being said, a good story is a good story and will always stand out.

Some of the things we've done to help encourage readers to look beyond the most popular titles is added a "Featured" section where we promote titles for a limited time. Additionally, if a title has been recommended by a third party such as a magazine or blog, we have a section called "As Seen In." This way, readers can find titles recommended by sources external to the community.

You mentioned last summer that werewolves were popular. What trends are hot now and which ones seem to be on the verge of breaking?
Historical fiction, especially set in the Victorian Era, is gaining steam. No pun intended.

Besides writing great material and promoting on Facebook and Twitter, what can writers do to build a fan base on Wattpad?
Knowing your audience is extremely important. If you are writing a self-help book, visit forums and organizations that deal with the topic you are writing on. If you're writing a book for businesses, use business-specific social media, such as LinkedIn.

Additionally, authors should start marketing early. Putting in six months of work before your book comes out may seem like you're over preparing, but it will make a huge difference. It takes time to build up followers on Twitter, Facebook and your blog, beyond your existing network. The longer you give yourself, the more effective your marketing efforts will be.

Lastly, your marketing efforts should focus on awareness of your book and also on making fans - which means letting readers get to know you, not just your writing.

"Putting in six months of work before your book comes out may seem like you're over preparing, but it will make a huge difference."

You have a new self-published writers program. What is that all about and how does that differ from companies such as Author Solutions?
Wattpad is a marketing platform for self-published authors to find readers. We do not publish books or have any commerce on the site. Authors are invited to share their self-published work with readers and create a fan base that they can direct to a point of sale, which might be Amazon or a self-publishing site such as Lulu or Smashwords. With our program, we encourage self-published writers to contact us directly for guidance on how to make the most of marketing on Wattpad. We are also working with PW Select.

I went on your site and found numerous copyrighted materials under different titles. What are you doing to protect author and publishers rights?
I certainly hope you reported them! We have a zero tolerance policy for piracy. In addition to being user-moderated, we have a content filter block that blocks potentially copyright material. We receive ONIX files from publishers to help us identify these infringing uploads. It is not perfect, but we have generated more false alarms than misses -- by design, just to err on the safe side -- and our filters continue to improve. Currently, Wattpad is also working with the Association of American Publishers or AAP to refine their anti-piracy best practices.

Bookstores are closing, and many say we're about to see another tidal wave of lay-offs from New York publishing houses. eBooks are taking off, but still represent less than 10 percent of revenues. Where do you see the future of book publishing going?
I see eBooks continuing to increase their market share as they become the new norm for reading. On Wattpad, the majority of readers and writers are teenagers, and I think most parents are encouraged by how much more interested in reading young people are when they can do so on their mobile phones or personal computers. I think the success and mainstream popularity of YA titles has also contributed to the acceleration of eBook adoption.

What future developments can we expect to see from Wattpad?
More social features are the most requested features from readers and authors and will continue to be an area of focus.

NEXT >> AvantGuildHey, How'd You Use Social Media to Crowdsource A Cookbook, Food52?


Jeff Rivera is the author of Forever My Lady (Grand Central) and a GalleyCat contributor.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2010. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.



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