The Whip and the Carrot
By Angie Littlefield
Many of us, when we reach “a certain age,” want to write about our family. We do it for several related reasons: we want to set things down before memories are lost, we want to hand down our family history to the next generation, or we want to celebrate the lessons of a life well-lived.
The story of my grandmother Anna Skrainka’s life was daunting to write. I had to deal with two concentration camps (Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia and Fuhlsbüttel in Hamburg, Germany), the Lodz Ghetto in Poland, a gas van at Chelmno, an internment camp in Canada, a Jewish refugee ship to South America, Kristallnacht in Vienna, the firebombing of Hamburg, Bomb Alley in England, and a poignant love story.
To keep myself motivated, I turned to a free online program to harness my vast research and to get on with it. Yes, I needed Wattpad to get me to the gate and to whip me to keep going. I reasoned that even a small following would motivate me as I would not want to disappoint my “fans,” if any arose. I wrote and then posted chapter by chapter on Wattpad and on a new Facebook page specifically for the book. I hoped to drive friends towards the unrolling story. It worked. Bushels of carrots came in!
Here’s one: “Wow, Angie! I just spent the afternoon with Anna, Suse, and Frank. I haven’t read anything since chapter 16 because I wanted to enjoy it all in one go. I’m so glad I waited. Your book is wonderful, filled with so much ugliness but also with so much strength. I am in awe of you . . . so much research, so much history, so much heartache. Thank you so much for sharing this story! I HAD TO SHARE THIS HERE TOO!!”
In one year I posted 33 chapters, which amounted to 339 pages and a total of 93,536 words. The whip and the carrots? Huge motivators. One reader wrote, “I finished. So amazing and moving.” I had ranked 195 in Wattpad non-fiction by August which was amazing considering the competition. I had 245 followers on Facebook and eventually made it to 2.4 K “reads” on Wattpad.
Reality check. On Wattpad, 2.4 K “reads” are insignificant. Teenage angst triggers volcanic eruptions of “reads” in the millions. The top ten titles for Wattpad up to February 2020, for example, each had over 100 million “reads.” These titles included: The Four Bad Boys and Me; Every Beast Needs a Beauty, Hell University, Teen Clash (Boys vs. Girls), and the ever-popular He’s Into Her, seasons 1, 2, and 3. Wattpad data-mining engineers were obviously not about to offer me a contract for Wattpad Books or Wattpad Movie Studio or feature me on a Wattpad Podcast. My metadata? Definitely not hot.
And yet here I am, singing the praises of Wattpad because I’m not in it just for the “reads.” Thanks to Wattpad I have a first draft of a family story that was hard to tell. I will “mine” my small following for marketing when the time comes to launch Anna Skrainka: Start with Me as a finished book. Search engines have already found Anna eminently “discoverable.” I also have the project’s visual research at hand on that Facebook page and on Pinterest where I stored 628 pins and have over 100 followers. I am feeling very good.
Wattpad followers obviously liked the rough draft. Here are additional comments:
- “So many aspects in the book are either new to me or topics I’d wanted to know more about.”
- “Just finished reading chapter 9 to 13. Engaging read. Josef’s final journey is so poignant.”
- Very difficult to handle a gas chamber scene, but you have managed to tell it afresh in a deeply moving and memorable way. This novel is progressing on its inevitable tragic course and I’m riding along there with it. A story sincerely and effectively told.”
What a boost!
If you, dear Silver Sager, have started a family history, sign up with Wattpad for the motivation that comes with telling your family story, episode by episode, chapter by chapter. The carrots will inspire you.
And, while it is true that Wattpad reading material leans toward the young, there are hundreds of free gems in the biography and memoir sections. Here are two “Watty” non-fiction award winners for example: All You Need is Morbid: A Travel Memoir and Earning My Wings: A Mormon Woman’s Journey to Marine Corps Aviator. The “reads” for these books? Well, let’s just say they’re over 2.4 K!
There are currently over 80 million Wattpad users.
Photo credit by Angie Littlefield.
Angie Littlefield is an author, curator, educator, and editor. She has written three books about Canadian artist Tom Thomson, the most recent of which is Tom Thomson’s Fine Kettle of Friends. Her eclectic interests include curating art exhibits in Canada and Germany and working with children from Nunavut and Tristan da Cunha to produce their books. Her other books include Ilse Salberg: Weimar Photographer, Angelika Hoerle: Comet of Cologne Dadaists, and The Art of Dissent: Willy Fick. She co-created www.readingandremembrance.ca, a website with lesson packages for Ontario educators. Angie lives in Toronto, Canada.