An update on the Romance Buzz, some navel-gazing, and why I’m now addicted to Wattpad.
Updated 11/12 to add: Book Thingo has a Wattpad account here, but it’s not the account I’m using for writing. That’s just between me and a few other people (mostly family) who are not part of any book-related communities I’m involved with, online or offline. I’ll cross the conflict of interest bridge when I get to it. Let’s face it: I’m not even past chapter 1 yet.
If you subscribe to the Booktopia Romance Buzz, you might have noticed that there haven’t been any new issues these past few months. The newsletter was put on hiatus just after Booktopia acquired Bookworld, as the powers that be consolidate their marketing strategies.
That’s just a status update, by the way, as I’ve had a few people ask me privately if they’ve missed any issues. I’m really excited that Booktopia is once again (I’m assuming) Australia’s largest online bookshop. Their team is composed of people who genuinely love bringing books and readers together, and I can’t wait to see what this means for romance readers.
But taking a break from the Romance Buzz made me realise that I’ve lost a lot of my reading mojo this year. If you’re a reader of this blog, you would have noticed how few reviews I’ve been able to write during the year. If you’re on Twitter, you would have noticed I’ve been more enthusiastic about issues rather than books. If you’ve emailed me for a review request, you might have figured out that I’ve accepted very, very few.
I think every book blogger goes through this phase. (I probably go through it at least once every year.) I’ve been finding it particularly challenging because when I accept freelancing gigs — whether it be writing, reviewing, judging contests or being on panels — there’s a point at which the choice of what to read stops being entirely mine. I don’t mean that I have to read books I don’t want to read, but I do feel a sense of obligation around which books to prioritise.
After GenreCon, I suddenly had a lot of time to read for leisure and I rediscovered the pleasure of reading for nothing but sheer enjoyment. Of selecting books by serendipity. Of not having to read past the first page if a story doesn’t grab me. Let me say this: I read a lot of first pages.
And then I discovered Wattpad.
Wattpad has been on my radar since last year, when someone came up to me after a Book Expo Australia workshop and asked me why I hadn’t talked about Wattpad. Previously, I had heard author Ainslie Paton mention the platform but I didn’t have time to sift through what I felt was a huge slush pile, so I created an account but didn’t do much about it. When I heard a recent DBSA podcast interview that talked about how popular Wattpad is in the Philippines (where I was born and lived until I was 11), I knew I had miscalculated and I decided to give it another go.
What I discovered has basically changed my reading life. I’m reading teen romances again for the first time since…I can’t even remember. High school? Sweet Dreams was my entry into the romance genre, and Wattpad finally delivers the stories that the current market does not. I’m also reading raw, unedited, politically incorrect, unabashedly romance-focused fiction…and loving it. Where I would usually DNF a self-published adult romance, I can’t get enough of the teen romance fantasy, no matter how repulsive the hero, or how unrealistic the plot, or how melodramatic the angst.
There’s something incredibly sweet and admirable about teen romance authored by teens and young adults themselves. Even when the writers are a little older, there’s a lack of inhibition that thrills me as a reader. I’m still relatively new to the platform, but after reading a few stories, it’s clear that many of the same tropes I loved as a teen are still popular now, and trying to work out what makes them so attractive to readers has become another pasttime for me.
Wattpad has also brought me Taglish (Tagalog and English) romance and made me realise how much I miss Pinoy humour. Much of it is politically incorrect — often sexist, sometimes ableist, almost always classist — but against the context of culture, and knowing that the writers are too young yet to see past what they know, I find I can allow myself the freedom to enjoy them as they are without feeling like I’m a bad person for laughing. (For this reason, I find it almost impossible to recommend any of the titles I’ve enjoyed. I would need a bajillion caveats.) It’s interesting, too, to see how teen female writers redeem the arsehole hero. The Grovel doesn’t really change too much between teen romance and adult romance, except perhaps in the level of sexuality involved.
I’ve been rethinking what I know of how romance should be written. For the first time in many years, I’m making a serious attempt at writing fiction (by serious I mean the writing attempt, not necessarily the story itself). I’ve been thinking a lot about C. S. Pacat’s words when she describes how she started writing her Captive Prince series — as a way to learn how to write with no expectations of what a story should be (I’m paraphrasing). I couldn’t understand what she meant at the time, but after spending time on Wattpad and observing how many of my favourite stories were written, I think I’m slowly getting it.
It’s amazing to me that young, untutored writers are at the forefront of redefining how popular fiction is written. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not without problems. But for the sheer joy of reading and writing and finding other readers, it’s been the best thing that’s happened to me as a romance reader in a very long time.