[Jane] McGonigal’s talk was meant to inspire publishers to think more imaginatively about how to engage young people in reading—by making the experience match the positive emotions that come from gaming (such as creativity, curiosity, awe and wonder, excitement, surprise, and joy, among others). She emphasized that younger people aren’t interested in passive consumption—they want to engage, respond, create. And this message fits what you’ll hear if you talk to the folks at Wattpad, where 40 million people (predominantly young adults) go to read and write.

I’ve had more than one conversation with adult writers who just don’t understand why anyone would take Wattpad seriously.

But it’s a mistake not to take it seriously. […] It’s where young people are learning to write, in front of a “live” audience if you will, and going on to publish with traditional houses.

–Jane Friedman on kids these days.

This isn’t exactly new, of course, as all of us who grew up reading and writing fanfic (and watching various fanfic authors turn their origfics into publishing deals) will know. But mainstream publishers have only started taking notice of it in the last couple of years, because it’s only been in the last couple of years when the rise of origfic selfpub has threatened traditional ways of doing and seeing the book industry.

As Friedman points out, if anyone can be an author, what value then the profession? Who will read when everyone is writing?

Well, yeah. About that. Because, surprise surprise, this doesn’t seem to be a problem in the fanfic community, does it? Fanficcers are pretty universally both consumers and producers, and extremely prolific ones at that.1 Moreover, authors are also huge consumers of the works of other authors.

People who write, read. If everyone can be an author–if “authorship” is an interactive activity, with people receiving and responding to texts–then everyone has to be a reader, too. The real handwringing here is, I think, not that if-everyone-writes-then-no-one-reads so much as it is “if everyone writes, then no one will read my stuff (because they’re busy reading something else)”. This is then less a problem for the industry and more a problem for the individual.

  1. It’s actually a bit of a shock, going from being a “midlist” fanfic author to being a midlist pro author. Fanfic authors get a lot more notice and engagement. I could write a whole other essay on why I think this is the case… []