A couple of weeks ago Wattpad added a new feature to its platform — the ability to add sound clips to uploaded stories. Users can now add sound clips and effects from the SoundCloud library or upload their own sound files. You can find some example of stories/books on Wattpad using the new sound feature here.
The new feature is available via Wattpad’s Android app and it will facilitate the creation of audiobooks or dialogue narration. It basically allows users to create a full soundtrack to their book if they wish. Users can also create music playlists to accompany books or even insert a recorded message from the author. It’s a pretty nifty tool and it is easy to use. You simply highlight the text or area of the book where you want to insert your own sound file or one available from the SoundCloud library. It’s a great idea and similar to what I have tried with my performance work over many years using basic home recording equipment to create spoken word projects. My poetic fiction lends itself well to this process and I’d encourage poets and novelists to give it a try. The Wattpad app makes the process a lot easier and cheaper.
However, there are some pertinent points and notes of caution should you undertake such a creative venture. Firstly, and for reasons I don’t quite understand, Wattpad has restricted this new feature to the Android app. It’s not available for iOS devices. Secondly, I’ve read that some users have experienced glitches with it or simply couldn’t find the feature when they downloaded the newest version of the application. The idea is great but I’m a little lost as to why it is only available on Android and perhaps the feature was rushed out a little too soon without being fully tested in beta.
Wattpad is a platform that brings readers and writers together in a community. To date it hosts 75 million stories and 35 million users. It’s a terrific place for budding writers to build fans or a place for an established writer who wishes to test or release extracts of work. Many TIPM subscribers have asked why I have not reviewed the Wattpad platform. There’s one simple reason — it’s what I would call a display site for writers, and not really a publishing platform or retail channel, though I think (like Goodreads) it can work remarkable well when combined with an author’s brand.
Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Wattpad launched in 2006 as a result of a collaboration between Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen. Wattpad quickly propelled itself by making Project Gutenberg and public domain work available to online readers, particularly those using mobile devices and interacting through social media. Its existence and growth has continued with the help of considerable venture funding and its ability to harness great content for TV adaption. I’ve sometimes had mixed feelings about Wattpad. I think it’s a terrific platform to launch a writing career, connect with readers and grow a sizeable fan base, but perhaps not the ideal place to promote and sustain that career in the long term. It’s kind of like graduating from college — you go back to establish old acquaintances, share snippets of what you have become through online meet-ups, but it still remains a part of how you started out rather than being a commercial part of where you are going.
I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the hills and the sound of music via Wattpad’s new feature.
Wattpad particularly appeals to a young breed of reader and writer — 85% of users who access the platform do it through mobile devices. I’m convinced this will be the mass medium of reading (at least the discovery of books) and the process of writing and creative ideas over the coming decade. I think we are going to see readers discover and explore books long before they are published. If you like, the reader will be introduced to a book during it’s conception. And if music can be a part of the process (conception or publication), than all the better!
But for the aspiring self-published author who wishes to use Wattpad’s new sound feature, I would add a note of caution. I’ve experimented with book playlists, soundtracks and book trailers. One musician doesn’t make an orchestra, and used in the wrong way (or more accurately, overused) it could result in limited enhancement and promotional benefits for a book. Any feature you add to your book (just like words) should count and improve the experience and enjoyment of the book. It should not just become like tinsel or fairy lights on a Christmas tree. I think embedded video, charts and links add great value to non-fiction e-books, but when it comes to fiction, enhancements — whether sound or video — can quickly become distractions if they don’t serve a real purpose. For as long as stories have been recounted and readers have read books, we tend to add soundtracks in our heads. I often read and write with music playing in the background. It works because I choose the soundtrack. My choice of music might mean nothing to another reader or writer.
In the simplest of terms, when I read a paragraph from a novel about an old woman sitting by a fireplace and a clock above on the mantelpiece striking the hour of midnight, do I want this reading experience to be intruded on by the crackling of flame from a make-believe fire or the clanging bell of a clock? These added sounds might not be quite the sounds I imagined. Just the writing of a book is a craft, sound adaption and engineering is a skill too.
My worry is that in the wrong hands a wonderful app like the Wattpad sound feature could actually spoil an otherwise great read with the introduction of corny bells, whistles, car engines, creaking floorboards, waves of the sea, cries of despair, and other such Rinky Dinky Doo sound effects bustling through every paragraph. There is a danger that because a feature or effect is there — it must be used. If you tell me ‘don’t push that red button,’ I’m liable to push it when you aren’t looking just to see what happens. I might not be able to sing The Hills Are Alive from The Sound of Music but I might be tempted to give it a go when you aren’t listening!