Over the past few weeks, Sony Pictures Television optioned Death Is My BFF by Katarina E. Tonks and Hulu ordered a series based on Light as a Feather by Zoe Aarsen. Both stories originated on Wattpad, a writing community with 65 million readers and writers. Instead of adapting untested material, these studios optioned stories with proven track records. On Wattpad, Tonks’s work had earned more than 92 million views and Aarsen’s story had counted 2.9 million views, and both received thousands of comments from dedicated readers.
Wattpad has become such a treasure trove for Hollywood that the site inked a partnership with United Talent Agency in 2015. The relationship has yielded both deals and marketing partnerships for Wattpad, but it also helps UTA quickly react to Hollywood trends. “We’re always providing [studios] with different stories we see spiking,” said Ashleigh Gardner, the head of partnerships at Wattpad Studios. “But sometimes a certain studio will be looking for a hot new fantasy project, and we put together some of the best stories on Wattpad that are a potential fit.”
The two new Wattpad deals are another indication of the increasing attention Hollywood producers are giving to different crowdfunding sites and online writing communities for material. Besides the recent Wattpad agreements, author Tal M. Klein inked a seven-figure deal for The Punch Escrow, a science fiction novel that originated on the crowdfunded publishing site InkShares.
Kickstarter is another community site that has captured Hollywood’s eye. Late last year, the Russo Brothers Studio (helmed by the directors of Avengers: Infinity War) outbid other players for rights to The Electric State, an illustrated novel from Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag. The book began as a Kickstarter project with more than 5,000 backers pledging over $350,000 total to publish the book. Atria’s Skybound Books imprint will release an edition of the title in September.
Felipe Cagno is a Brazilian comic book writer who has created 12 successful Kickstarter campaigns for his comics and graphic novels. A producer from Brazil’s Muiraquitã Filmes contacted him when he raised nearly $9,000 from about 300 Kickstarter readers to fund his graphic novel Too Good to Be True. That project is now in development. “It’s a great testing stage for a story,” Cagno said, explaining why producers see value in his Kickstarter-proven stories. “Compared to film, comic books are fast and cheap to produce. You can try out ideas at a fraction of the cost of a short film.”
InkShares operates with a model that falls in between Wattpad and Kickstarter. On the site, aspiring authors publish drafts of potential book projects. These writers set goals for preorders and then work to collect enough pledges to meet their preorder ambitions. If a book exceed its preorder threshold, the InkShares team will publish it.
More than 7,000 projects have been drafted by aspiring authors on the site, and 99 books have been published under InkShares’ unique system. In addition to Klein’s movie deal for his The Punch Escrow, the horror studio Crypt TV partnered with InkShares, using the platform to discover up-and-coming horror talent to create short videos for its mobile audience. The studio hosted a writing challenge on the site, choosing three InkShares projects to publish under the Crypt TV banner.
Crypt TV has also built a relationship with the NoSleep horror writing community on Reddit. “At Reddit, there’s no barrier to entry,” said Crypt TV CEO and founder Jack Davis, explaining why these communities have continued to interest his team. Crypt TV has posted work on the site and brought NoSleep writers to develop videos. Crypt producers seek material that can be used across multiple short videos such as the studio’s Look-See series, which is about a mysterious specter. Fans discuss the origins and motivations of the creature on social media.
“There are two key things that set a writer apart,” Davis said, highlighting details that appeal to filmmakers on community sites. “Can we take great visuals from this story? And is this a story that lends itself to a mythology, so that fans want to dive deeper?”
The WritingPrompts community on Reddit counts 12 million subscribers, up from 2.7 million three years ago. More than 30 WritingPrompt responses have already been adapted into short films by independent creators. “Traditional media doesn’t really fully grasp the internet even now,” said Ryan Andrew Kinder, the founder of WritingPrompts. “They view people on Reddit as amateurs, even though there’s a wealth of talent out there that they could tap—a lot of people who know what people want to read!”
A version of this article appeared in the 06/11/2018 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Community Writing Sites Draw Hollywood Attention