“This is a whole bunch of information the industry never had before,” Levitz tells Vulture. “We can go to the audience in a story and see not only if they like or dislike the lead male character. We can read the comments that actually say, ‘Yeah, this is where half the audience decides they like him and half the audience decides they hate him.’ We can look at whole chapters that don’t have any comments and drop the right pieces out. We can draw up two casting videos of two potential female leads. And through our social feeds, go, ‘What do you think?’ And we’re gonna get tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of comments that are gonna point us in one direction or another.”
First off, full disclosure: I'm flirting with the idea of using Wattpad for a future story or two, just to see what the experience is like.
That said: What strikes me most about getting feedback like this is how it's more useful for the marketers than it is for the authors or the audience.
My friend Steve and I recently solicited feedback on our respective works from a few people. In both our cases, it helped that we received that feedback from a small core of people we trusted, and whose advice we could weigh against our own instincts.
I don't feel that good advice scales well. That is, when it comes from a large number of relatively anonymous people, it's no longer effective as advice; it's just a demand. People need to be able to trust their own instincts and push the envelope, instead of defaulting to whatever their prospective audience thinks is going to be the best idea. (Most people don't actually know what they want; if they did, they'd probably be writers, too.)
Many reasons come to mind why defying the wisdom of the crowd matters. For one, if you write something that a lot of people now find a turnoff, but you know in time it'll age well, you'll be vindicated a lot more thoroughly than if you write something that's palatable but ultimately forgettable.
Marketing does matter, though. A story that reaches a total of five people — even if it's the "right" five people — is still far less impactful than a story that reaches five million. Yes, even if most of those five million are indifferent or just along for the ride.
But as someone in the comments put it, you can't crowdsource taste. Taste and the decision-making that goes with the creative impulse are necessarily personal. You think David Lynch ever listens to anyone but himself?