Here is a short clip on fanfiction. It was triggered by a conversation I had with a friend upon reading Keshav Guha’s debut novel Accidental Magic ( Harper Collins India ) and Stephen Alter’s Feral Dreams ( Aleph Publications). This is a new space for modern literature especially as access to the Internet and new forms of edevices proliferate. As I say in the video, The Wired noted in 2015 that more than 1 billion minutes per month were being spent either creating or reading material on fanfiction websites such as Wattpad. Of these 90% of the users accessed the websites using their mobiles. Fanfiction is a modern literary phenomenon whose popularity is astonishing and understandable. It permits people who are infatuated with the books that they have read, characters, plots and/or literary landscapes to explore the oft asked question, “What If?”. It is also permitted to flourish by the original creators as long it sticks within the purview of the fair use clause of copyright laws and is not commercially exploited. It is a win-win situation as it allows the readers to exercise their writing skills, get feedback in real time from other users and it allows the writers to see their stories/characters remain in focus. In fact in a Bookseller article discussing Rainbow Rowell writing Harry Potter fan fiction, quoted a spokesman for Rowling’s literary agency, The Neil Blair Partnership, to say: “Our view on Harry Potter fan fiction is broadly that it should be non-commercial and should also not be distributed through commercial websites. Writers should write under their own name and not as J K Rowling. Content should not be inappropriate – also any content not suitable for young readers should be marked as age restricted.”
Fanfiction writing has spawned some bestselling authors in the West such as E L James of Fifty Shades of Grey and Cassandra Clare who wrote the Shadowhunter series. In India, it is still restricted to online spaces but in print there are a few examples. Not exactly in the definition of what constitutes fan fiction, a tribute, an imitative act, an exploration but Keshav Guha writes a form of fiction that is pays obeisance to Pottermania but also investigates what it means to be in this mostly online world. Stephen Alter’s Feral Dreams extends the story beyond the original and makes it his own but in his case the original work is out of the copyright domain, so these literary creations using the original characters are absolutely acceptable.
Sherlock Holmes is another literary character who has given rise to many, many fan fiction stories — offline and online. People have explored this for years and publishers regularly commission stories for young and older readers.
I received a Wattpad press release announcing their Pride list for June 2020. I was curious. Wattpad has been in India for a while. A curated list like this was fascinating. What was truly astounding were the number of followers each writer had on Wattpad. While reading the stories it also became clear that the level of engagement of the readers with the author was very high such as 153k reads! Sometimes based on the feedback received in real time the writers were developing stronger voices. At other times the frequency of their updates also improved. So I posed a few questions to Wattpad. Here is an edited version of the interview with Devashish Sharma, India Country Manager at Wattpad:
Why did Wattpad decide to curate this specific list?
Wattpad is known all over the world as a safe space for LGBTQIAP+ readers and writers to find stories by writers in the community, and Wattpad readers spend millions of minutes each year reading stories from the LGBTQIAP+ community.
Q1. What is the principle of selection for curation — Is it based on the number of interactions with readers or an internal editorial assessment in terms of quality of writing?
Our content experts curated this list to elevate and celebrate some of the incredible LGBTQIAP+ voices from the Indian Wattpad Community. You can find other amazing LGBTQIAP+ stories and writers on the Wattpad LGBTQIAP+ Pride Profile. These stories and others from around the world, were selected by looking at a mix of criteria, including popularity, overall reads or reading time, quality, creativity, or stories and writers our content experts love.
Q2. How do authors find their readers on Wattpad?
The best way for writers to find readers on Wattpad is to join the community, connect with other writers, and share their work!
Q3. These stories begin slowly but seem to develop a life of their own as the readers’ comments begin to pour in. Does the Wattpad team at any point offer editorial assistance as well?
We offer a variety of educational resources for writers on Wattpad. The Wattpad Writers Portal is a popular destination for writers who want to improve their craft. For some writers in our Wattpad Stars Program or Paid Stories authors, we also offer individual editorial guidance for certain stories.
For authors published by Wattpad Books, we work closely with each writer to professionally edited their books before they land on bookshelves all over the world.
Q4. Who curates these lists? The content experts on our Content and Creative Development Team
Q5. Is this the first time that WattPad has created such a list in India? If so, why now?
We have been curating such lists from Indian writers for a while now, however this is the first time we are sharing it outside of the platform.
Q6. How do I match the writers mentioned in the press release with their WattPad names on the site? It is impossible to tell who is who.It is also curious that the writers allowed you to use their real names rather than their WattPad handles. How did that come about?
We respect the privacy of every writer on Wattpad. Before sharing a writer’s work we consult with them to determine their comfort participating in our marketing activities, and only proceed if they consent to promoting their stories to a wider audience off of Wattpad. We also determine if they would prefer their real name, a pen name, or their Wattpad handle.
This year’s Pride is different. More than ever before, Pride is an opportunity to showcase the intersecting systems that marginalize and oppress LGBTQ+ communities. The LGBTQ+ community and allies everywhere are coming together to speak to what truly matters – equality.
The community of readers and writers on Wattpad, the world’s leading social storytelling platform, elevating millennial and Gen Z voices every day — not just during the month of June. Whether it’s creating space for Indian perspectives on LGBTQ+ experiences, marginal queer voices in romance, or non-binary perspectives on acceptance and diverse stories in a safe space within the millions of readers on Wattpad.
Ananya Madhusoodanan is a nineteen year-old college student from Mysore who explored her own sexual identity through the LGBTQ+ characters she created in her stories. Through her writing, she wants the readers to know that they are not alone. There will always be someone who understands and listens to them.
Her story, How to Disappear Completely has over 181K reads. It is a coming of age story where Colin Perez wants to disappear but Quentin helps him navigate his way out of the rules he’s made for himself.
Upasa Borah was born and brought up in Assam, and is currently pursuing Economics honours from Miranda House. She is also a spoken word poet who’s performed at many big and small stages. For her, writing more stories featuring queer characters is a big step in normalising queer lives. Very few people are interested in reading articles or news, but stories have a large outreach.
Her story Love-Love, a popular Wattpad story with over 153K reads,is a humorous take on the superhero genre featuring queer characters. Super Storm is your typical superhero with stunning blonde hair and high morale. Gravel is your typical supervillain with a slight obsession over a certain someone’s beautiful blonde hair and a mission he doesn’t want to complete.
Manasha Sahana is an American Tamilian currently in the senior year of high school. Through her story The Wrong Indian Flag, she wanted her story to be more than just being about someone from the community but also talk about culture and friendship and self-love and acceptance that go along with it. She believes that only when people read about communities apart from themselves, do they learn and grow
The Wrong Indian Flagis the story of Shilpa, an aspiring journalist, who is engaged to Raj but develops feelings for her classmate Alisha. She struggles with navigating her own sexual feelings and trying to come out to her conservative family.
While Tanya S doesn’t like being identified as a writer, she chose Wattpad to tell the story of her journey as a lesbian from Uttar Pradesh so the community could have someone to relate to while dealing with the actual struggles of life as an LGBTQ+ person.
Through her first person account My Life, Tanya chronicles the difficulties of growing up lesbian in a conservative environnment and her journey in overcoming the problems of acceptance she faced to reach where she is today.
Rebecca Servadio, Literary Scout and Managing Partner, London Literary Scouting is an incredible person to meet, crackling with energy, eyes sparkling and speaking rapidly with not an urgency but because there is so much to share about the world of books. No time to waste. She is a powerhouse who is involved with organisations like PEN, World Without Borders, literary festivals, juror for various publishing awards etc. In 2017 she was recognised as one of the Whitefox “Unsung Heroes of Publishing“. Rebecca works for twenty plus publishing houses around the world, for example Riverhead/PRH in the US, Gallimard in France, Einaudi in Italy, Anagrama in Spain, Hanser in Germany, de Bezige Bij in Holland as well as working in film/tv and stage where she also works for BBC Film and the National Theatre amongst others. Rebecca and I met when we were a part of the Visiting International Publishers Delegation, Sydney (29 April – 5 May 2019). The following interview was conducted via email.
How and why did you get into publishing?
The truth is that I love to read, I love literature, I love the thrill of losing myself within a book, the immediate travel. Immediately I am somewhere else, outside of my experience, inside the human experience whether it be emotional, intellectual or a page turner. I was and am still interested in people and in storytelling and in community and collaboration of all types and publishing is all these things. Creative with words. Local, particular, challenging, ever evolving, transformative, international – publishing is all those things and each interests me. I was a lawyer before starting to work in publishing and although I learnt both rigour and determination and other life skills that serve me well with my scouting agency, I found myself weighed down by the monotony and intense focus. Publishing is as varied as there are stories and people and I relish the challenge of connecting these two things with good books.
2. Why did
you choose to be a literary scout and not a literary agent? What are the
differences between a literary scout and a literary agent? Does it help to be
multi-lingual as you are?
I think the real answer to that question is that I am interested in where the dots connect up and how you build bridges and connect people and books in different countries. I love building bridges and networks that surprise and so help books to travel and help the publishers that I work with discover and publish the best writing and author. I also like to communicate and talk in different languages and across different languages and different domestic, national and international realities. I read in English and Italian and French. I work closely with Spanish and have readers that read in the Scandinavian languages, German, and Portuguese. I think of scouting as curation, as gate opening, as intelligence, as the signal within the noise and the world is very noisy.
There are many differences between scouting and agenting
but the primary one is that an agent represents his or her clients – writers
generally speaking and is paid through a commission on the sale deal for the
book of the author. An agent is always incentivised and interested to recommend
an author (and a particular book) because that is the very nature of their job
– their bread and butter consists in selling that authors works and so talking
about them in a way that strengthen the hand and the value of the book. A scout
on the other hand works for a publisher and helps the publisher navigate the
publishing world and marketplace. The scout should be opinionated and recommend
the best books for a particular publisher and again enable the publisher and
their best interests and so advising against a book is as much part of the job
as advising to buy a book more economically or again read/buy something
different all together. A scout should never have a commercial incentive or
interest to recommend a book to their publisher and their loyalty should always
lie with the publisher and not the writer or the agent. A scout should not have
a client – publisher house – in their home country and again work exclusively
in each country unlike agents. Again agents generally work in one territory and
not across territories although this is not true of co-agents or foreign rights
agents in house or in agencies.
As Literary Scouts we are interested in and engaged
with storytelling in all its forms. We look for the best fiction and nonfiction
to be published, or published in English, as well as in other major languages,
on behalf of our international Publishing Clients as well as for Film, TV and
Theatre. Rather than thinking in ‘global’ terms, as London-based scouts we can
and do individuate those ‘worldwide voices’ which speak across languages.
London is the most international of cities and we read widely and omnivorously.
Yes, they might be set in other countries, worlds and cultures, but the
challenge is to recognise those singular and particular voices that can cross
latitudes and longitudes. Without being defined or pre-occupied by ‘the new’ we
help find the authors that will build the bridges to readers today, tomorrow
and in the future.
London Literary Scouting was born from a partnership
between Koukla MacLehose, Rebecca Servadio and Yolanda Pupo Thompson. Koukla
MacLehose founded her eponymous scouting agency in 1987, as the agency grew and
flourished in 2012 Koukla founded Koukla MacLehose Associates which then became
MacLehose, Servadio and Pupo-Thompson in 2014. We are now known as London
Literary Scouting and the agency is led by Rebecca Servadio
We read voraciously and widely. We don’t read academic
books nor do we read picture books. We read and have readers who read with us
in most of the major languages. We try and find readers on a case by case basis
in the other languages.
4. What are
the notable successes or even failures of your firm? (There is a learning to be
gleaned from every experience!)
I think our successes are all in the breadth of our
client list – wonderful publishing houses, the BBC, the National Theatre and
production companies and well as the calibre and intelligence and hard work of
our team. In terms of books there are many by SAPIENS is one of which I am
important are book fairs, rights tables, and international literature festivals
to a literary scout?
Essential. Meeting publishers, agents – new friends
and old friends, writers and book lovers – new friends and old friends, is
right at the heart of the business. Publishing remains a people business so the
opportunities to meet and exchange are these ones. Reading, listening to and
meeting writers is equally important and interesting. Part of scouting well is
understanding what you have in your hand and who needs to know about it when.
Part of scouting well is understanding your clients – the publishing houses and
their domestic realities and needs and so travelling regularly to their home
offices and country and meeting them at fairs is essential.
6. You are
an active participant with organisations that believe firmly in the power of
literature/words like PEN and Words without Borders. Around the world there is
a clamp down on writers. Literary scouts work internationally with their
clients. With state censorship and self-censorship by writers/publishers
increasing, how does a literary scout navigate these choppy waters?
Carefully. I think network and intelligence and
understanding writing and the value of fact and information has never been more
7. As a
signatory and an advisor to the PEN International Women’s Manifesto you are
very aware of the importance of free speech. What are the ways in which you
think the vast publishing networks can support women writers to write freely?
Do you think the emergence of digital platforms has facilitated the rise of
This is a hard question to answer properly. I think
the primary way that vast networks can support women writers to write freely is
to ensure that they are as widely read as possible in as many parts of the
world as possible both so that their writing – their freedom of expression is
more protected in what is a public and international space and again that it
reaches the widest number of people so that change and progress is enacted and
again shepherded and enabled forward. Change and collaboration are radical and
transformative, community in numbers affords some protection for free speech
and again value and visibility. I would agree that the emergence of digital
platforms has played an important and facilitatory role.
porousness of geographical boundaries is obvious on the Internet where
conversations about translations/ world literature, visibility of international
literature across book markets, evidence of voracious appetites of readers,
increase in demand for conversion of books to films to be made available on TV
& videos streaming services, increase in fan fiction, proliferation of
storytelling platforms like Wattpad, growth in audiobooks etc. Since you are also associated with trade
book fairs like the Salone Internazionale del Libro, Turin, do you think these shifts in consumption
patterns of books have affected what publishers seek while acquiring or
commissioning a book?
I think that most publishers acquire and publish the
books that they have fallen in love with and are interested by and that to some
extent reflect or help us answer or perhaps simply understand questions about
how to live and to be that are essential to the human condition and that the
changes in the world are necessarily reflected in these choices as the
readership too evolves. I think the flip-side of this is true to so for example
the fragmentation of society and the proliferation of niche interests and
communities on the internet has also translated into a strengthened special
interest publishing houses be they neo Nazi publishing houses or Christian
evangelical publishing houses.
9. A mantra
that is oft quoted is “Content is oil of the 21st Century”. Has the
explosion of digital platforms from where “content” can be accessed
in multiple ways changed some of the rules of engagement in the world of
literary scouts? Is there a shift in queries from publishers for more books
that can be adapted to screen rather than straightforward translations into
other book markets?
I think that the explosion of digital platforms and
perhaps even more importantly the speed and ease with which the digital world
is able to share information and again upload/disseminate and/or publish has
transformed the mores and publishing reality entirely. Navigating the mass of
content, its breadth, depth and scope is very challenging but equally the fact
that it is now possible to submit a manuscript quite literally to publishing
house around the globe at the same time has transformed the rules of engagement
as has the corporatisation of publishing and the establishment of huge global
publishing houses such as Penguin Random House or HarperCollins. That said I
think the wealth and breadth of content means too that real considered opinion
and curation is more important than ever and so intelligent scouting is ever
more important and interesting. Of course no one can run faster than email nor
should they want too. . . .Re the book to screen market book to screen (and
particularly TV) is booming which is surely a good thing for authors who are
struggling evermore to make a living from writing and a less good thing for
publishing as many interesting and talented writers prefer to write within this
more lucrative medium that write simple books. As someone who remains of the
opinion that what is sort after is excellence in all ways put particularly
storytelling – so in other words the opposite of indistinguishable content – I
continue to feel optimistic about wonderful books and writers finding
interesting and transformative ways to also tell their stories in other medium
and that books will continue to be read and treasured and shared.
10. In your
experience what are the “literary trends” that have been consistent
and those that have been promising but fizzled out? What do you think are the
trends to look out for in the coming years?
I think intelligent narrative nonfiction and popular nonfiction is going and has gone from strength to strength and will continue to do so. People after ever more in need of ways to understand and answer the questions that trouble or times and contemporary societies. A trends that has (fortunately fizzled out) is soft erotica a la 50 Shades of Grey. With regards trends for the future, I look to the environment and the ecological/climate crisis in both fiction – eco thrillers & whistle blowers as well as serious nonfiction.
11. How many hours a day do you devote to reading? And how do the manuscripts/books find their way to you?
How many hours a day…. that is really impossible to answer. I love to read and equally I am interested in people and curious so I meet people which is also how manuscripts make their way to me. How books come to me is that that is the heart of the game. Books can come from anywhere so I work with, talk too and interact with a wide variety of people from agents, foreign rights agents, editors and publishers but also writers and journalists. I read voraciously, online too, longform, short stories, old and new. I love recommendations. Friends. I work closely with both like minded and non like minded people because I don’t see the point of only having a network of people who share your taste. Many agents and foreign rights people send me books because working for a larger family of publishers means it is a way for them to reach a wider audience.