It began, as these things so often do, with an email. I was in my flat in Bath, getting ready for an early morning business lecture, when I saw it on my phone. Penguin would be giving a talk exclusively for business students at the University of Bath. I usually ignored these emails as I received them all the time, but this time it intrigued me.
Publishing was a career choice I had never really considered. I had dreams of being an author, true, but working in publishing had always seemed like something other people did; a mystical industry that was reserved for the most literary minded. In my mind, publishers were made up of people for whom James Joyce was light, bedtime reading.
In any case, several weeks later, I sat down in a small classroom and the Penguin Digital Sales Director told us about all the changes that were happening to the industry: the rise of Wattpad and the way it was revolutionising how young people read; that the way books were marketed and sold now changed every few months; how we lived in a new world of phenomena: Twilight, The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey.
In that short half an hour, I knew that I wanted to be part of it. An industry where I loved the product I was selling. Where every book was different, with a campaign tailored to each. Where massive changes were happening and they were looking for people with new ideas, new perspectives. Most importantly, they were recruiting business students for a paid internship in the summer of 2013. I knew that paid internships in publishing were virtually unheard of, such was the demand for the experience alone. It was definitely worth applying.
I went up to the speaker after he had finished and introduced myself, casually mentioning that I was an aspiring writer (at that time, I was working on a book that I had started at the age of fourteen, with no end in sight). He immediately told me that I should put it up on Wattpad, naming three different authors who had been discovered that way. At the time, I didn’t think that much of it. After all, there were millions of users on the site. Surely it couldn’t happen to me.
My Internship at Penguin
The next day, I applied for the internship. I didn’t hear from them for months. So it was a great surprise when they called me up and asked me to come in for an interview and give them a five-minute presentation about Penguin Classics ebooks. Armed with a PowerPoint presentation containing several dozen pie charts and graphs, I managed to cram everything I had learned into five minutes.
At the end, we had an informal chat where my writing was brought up again as one of my hobbies. Again, Wattpad was mentioned. This time, I took it seriously.
When they called me to tell me I had got the job, I was informed that over five thousand people had applied for four internships. Somehow, I was one of the four interns chosen.
A few months later, I arrived at Penguin on the first day of their merger with Random House, which made them the biggest publisher in the world. After several speeches and fascinating meetings where the business of predicting book sales was discussed, I began my main project – an overview of the market, namely the rise of the ebook, relations with retailers, where the industry was heading and what strategy publishers needed to take.
After the end of a very rewarding experience, I decided to travel before I settled down. My boss said he would let me know if there was a more permanent opening after all the changes from the merger had been made. Finally, I would have the time to start writing on Wattpad.
November was just around the corner, and I had a whole month to myself before I flew to Australia. Wattpad was at the forefront of my mind (I had thoroughly researched it as part of my assignment) but I hadn’t uploaded anything yet. This was about to change.
I heard about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month from a Facebook group I was part of a few days before it started. It challenges authors to write fifty thousand words in just one month. It seemed perfect for me. I had an idea for a book, one that combined everything I loved about fantasy into one story. It was the book I needed to write. The book I had hunted for in the shelves of dusty book stores, but couldn’t find. A book that popped up in my dreams, that I found myself writing in my head with every spare moment I had.
So I sat down and wrote the first chapter and uploaded it to Wattpad, using a cover I made using Microsoft Paint. The next day, I wrote the second. It had maybe sixty reads at that point. I was amazed. I was willing to pay people to read my work and tell me what they thought, but now people would do it for free! One person, going by the name Achilles, wrote a review on every chapter in the early days. Perhaps if he had not done me that one kindness, I would not be where I am today. Every chapter was for him, just to get his thoughts on it. Then other people started commenting. Twelve days later, I had hit twenty-five thousand reads.
At this point, I knew I had something special. People were really enjoying my work, and although there were other books with millions of reads on Wattpad, their authors had been members for years. So I kept going, staying up into the early hours of the morning to make sure my promise of a chapter each day was kept. On a day I missed a chapter, my birthday, I received dozens of disappointed, even angry, messages from people all over the world. It was crazy!
At some time during all this, I hired an artist called Malgorzata Gruszka who I had worked with before to illustrate my front cover. Little did I know that the character we designed together would eventually grace the cover of my published book, which would eventually be printed and sold all over the world.
When December came along, I had written fifty thousand words and Summoner: The Novice had been read almost one hundred thousand times. But the book wasn’t finished and I knew that I would soon be backpacking around Australia, with limited access to the internet. Amid some protests but also a lot of encouragement, I told my readers I would now upload a chapter once a week.
Thus, the second half of the book was written in the back of juddering buses and dingy hotel rooms. I would hoard my access to the internet jealously, making sure to reply to every comment whenever I found a spare moment and noting down my daily read count, using my phone’s roaming if I couldn’t find it. On Fridays, I would hunt through the streets looking for free wifi, occasionally forced to pay the extortionate fees that the hotel charged for access.
It was a whirlwind trip, where I cage dived with saltwater crocodiles, skydived onto the beach on Surfers Paradise and scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef. I ate kangaroo, crocodile, camel, emu and barramundi. I learned to surf in Byron Bay, hiked in the outback, hung out with aboriginal tribes and wandered through the jungles of northern Australia.
By the time my travels were over, a month and a half later, it was almost a surprise to find I had hit half a million reads. Even more shocking, at one point Summoner was being read thirty thousand times a day. It was with a heavy heart that I left Australia, but with new purpose. I wanted to get Summoner published.