Are mermaids the new zombies?

Wattpad's real-time analytics show "smart horror," diverse characters, Canadian writers and murderous mermaids are the hot properties going into summer.

Dead in Bed WATTPAD

Depending whom you ask, books might be more important to film and TV producers than ever before. With the international SVOD pipeline demanding an unprecedented volume of scripted content, tapping into source material that has a proven audience, ready-made storyworlds and in some cases name recognition is becoming an increasingly smart play for content creators looking to exploit inspiring IP.

So Playback magazine went to the source, hitting up four Canadian publishing companies about the trends they’re seeing, hot properties on their roster and what’s falling out of fashion. You read it here first! In part two we chat with Wattpad to find out what’s hot on the Toronto-based story-sharing platform. Check back later this week for insights from Harlequin and House of Anansi. And see what Scholastic had to say here.

Wattpad: Weird and wonderful horror

Considering the runaway success of Get Out (with a coveted 99% on Rotten Tomatoes), is it no wonder that Ashleigh Gardner, head of Wattpad Studios partnerships says that “smart” horror fare (which places more emphasis on suspense than straight-forward gore) is exploding on the digital platform.

She points to titles such as Dead in Bed (see below) from Canadian author Adrian Birch and the human puppetry horror Puppet Boy.

The Toronto company’s young millennial audience is also leaning toward atypical forms of horror that they are unlikely to be able to access elsewhere. For example, horror-based stories involving mermaids are spiking in popularity, with U.S. users alone spending more than 7.5 million minutes reading these tales over the past 60 days. “Whether they’re gay, straight, good, evil, shapeshifting, lifesaving or murderous, our audience really enjoys reading these stories,” says Gardner.

Outside the horror genre, two of Wattpad’s most popular stories in 2016 were from a pair of Canucks. Winnipeg-based Isabelle Ronin’s adult drama Chasing Red (139 million reads) topped the platform’s global best-read list. The novel, about a straight-A female student who moves in with a notorious basketball player who is intensely drawn to her, has since been optioned for publication in six different languages.

Gardner says Wattpad is representing the film rights to Chasing Red and has been in discussion with undisclosed partners about a potential screen adaptation.

In second place (and still unoptioned) is Toronto-based Ava Violet’s teen drama She’s With Me (72.2 million reads), about a girl whose plan to keep a low profile at her new high school comes undone when she meets the school tough guy and his mischievous friend.

Stories featuring characters from diverse backgrounds are also consistently popular, says Gardner. In particular, Muslim and African-American fiction is gaining traction on Wattpad, which Gardner attributes to the fact these genres are underrepresented in the traditional publishing industry. In addition, stories involving LGBTQ characters have strong readerships on Wattpad, added Gardner. The plot doesn’t have to be issue based, said Gardner, but stories with diverse characters in them are generally popular on the platform.

Recommended (unoptioned) pick:

– Dead in Bed, by Adrian Birch – a part “neo-Western” adventure, part horror story about a smart female protagonist whose life changes when a sexually transmitted disease that causes amplified libido breaks out in her small town.
Why it’s worth a read: It’s a fast-paced, addictive zombie story featuring timely themes about society and sexuality, says Gardner. “The author creates such an interesting tone and atmosphere that would translate perfectly to the big screen.”

– Chasing Red, by Isabelle Ronin – a coming-of-age romance about a girl who moves in with a wealthy bad boy.
Why it’s worth a read: It would make for an interesting film adaptation, says Gardner, who adds the story has proven international appeal after being optioned for publication in six different languages (including French, Spanish and German).

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Playback.