“Hundreds of people were commenting on my stories every day”: How a Toronto teen became a star author on Wattpad
Jessica Cunsolo started anonymously publishing her stories on Wattpad when she was in high school, and she quickly developed a legion of loyal readers. While in university, she completed her first novel and signed a three-book deal with Wattpad. Now she’s a full-time writer, and her YA series is being adapted for television. Here, she explains how it all happened.
—As told to Isabel Slone
When I was a kid, I would go into bookstores and think about how cool it would be to see my name on a book of my own. Even so, I never aspired to be a professional writer. I didn’t know any writers in real life, so I just didn’t think it was an option. When I got older, I thought I might become a lawyer because it’s one of the most obvious professions for someone who loves to read, write and study.
From the age of 12, I was addicted to reading YA novels like Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead and The Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole. I spent all of my free time at the library, picking out new books to read. The themes in these stories—coming of age, navigating friendships and first loves—deeply resonated with me as a young teenager. They made life seem expansive, full of opportunity and possibility.
In 2013, when I was 16, I was sitting in class when I noticed my friend surreptitiously reading on her phone. I asked her what she was doing, and she told me that she was reading a story on Wattpad. This was my first time hearing about the platform, which had been founded in 2006. My friend explained that it was a site where people could upload their own stories and that it was filled with fascinating YA fiction written by amateur authors. I checked it out and was hooked immediately. From that point on, my friends and I would spend entire classes reading stories on our phones about love triangles, forbidden romances and relationships filled with deceit.
The first novel I read was called The Bad Boy’s Girl, a story about a girl who falls in love with a boy who used to pick on her when they were kids, by an author named Blair Holden. Wattpad displays the number of reads on each story, and I saw that it had hundreds of millions of reads. On the author’s profile, I read that she had started writing the story when she was only 17. Until then, I thought you needed to have a specific educational background or experience to write novels—I didn’t know that just anyone could do it. I was surprised that someone so close to my age was already such a successful writer. I thought, Why not give it a try?
Later that year, I started writing for fun, purely as a hobby. I wasn’t writing with the goal of getting published. I just wanted to get the stories that were in my head onto paper. I was always drawn to stories about enemies who become lovers, like the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout, so I knew I wanted to use that as a plot device in my first story. After school I was involved in extracurricular activities like student council, so the only time I had to write was around 11 p.m., before I went to sleep. I wrote my first chapter in around four hours and then spent a week editing and rewriting it until I thought it was perfect. The words flowed out of me easily. I was creating the story as I went along, so it felt like anything was possible. It centres around a character named Amelia, who moves to a new town to escape her past and runs into trouble when she meets a dangerous boy.
Once the first chapter was finished, I titled it “She’s With Me” and posted it to an anonymous Wattpad account I had created under the username AvaViolet. It’s fairly common to post one chapter at a time on the site—it helps writers grow their audiences. Being anonymous gave me the freedom to write without the fear of judgment. I was putting a piece of myself out there, and the idea of doing that online, where people are a lot less afraid to be mean, was terrifying. But I knew how much I enjoyed reading other people’s stories on the site, and I thought it would be fun to get some feedback.
A couple of days later, I was inspired to write the next chapter, which I finished in a day or two and posted a week later. When I logged into my Wattpad account a few days after that, I saw that my story had 5,000 reads.
I was in shock. I never thought that many people would be interested in what I had to say. It was thrilling to see people from all over the world connecting with a story I had made up. A lot of authors say, “Write something that you would want to read.” I think people were drawn to my story because they could tell I was having fun with it, and their attention motivated me to keep writing. If I hadn’t had an audience to avoid disappointing, I might have lost interest. But I had hundreds of people commenting on my posts daily, speculating about how the plot would unfold and swapping theories. It pushed me to seriously consider what would happen next.
I’m what they call a “pantser,” which is someone who writes by the seat of their pants, as opposed to a “plotter.” I don’t plan anything—I just make it up as I go along. When I started writing this story, I had a general idea of a girl who moves to a new town and has a secret identity. She falls in love with a boy, and it jeopardizes her secret. But I didn’t know where the story would go from there. Once I started posting chapters, I just let the story unfurl itself.
In the early days, I would sit down at my computer for a few hours and suddenly have 5,000 words. The characters’ personalities would take over and drive the story forward, almost as if my fingers were possessed. Other times, nothing would come to me. I’d end up staring at a blank screen for hours. On those days, I would switch to a notebook and end up writing pages of handwritten notes that I would then have to type up.
By September of 2015, six months after my first chapter went up, I had 1.3 million reads. By July 2016, I had 35.5 million. It was flattering to have so many people enjoying my work. Even some of my friends and co-workers at the restaurant where I worked part time were reading the story, not knowing I was the author. A couple of times, someone would mention my story in front of me and I would excuse myself from the conversation. I’m a private person and I enjoyed the freedom of writing under a pen name. Not even my parents knew that I had started writing. When they’d walk in and see me on my computer, I’d tell them I was doing homework.
I finished my first book in August of 2016, after completing my second year at York University. When I exceeded 100,000 words (most YA novels are between 50,000 and 90,000 words) and had hit the plot points I wanted to include, I knew it was time to wrap it up. I love cliffhanger endings (I’m terrible, I know), and I got to a point in the story where I thought, This is a really good spot for a cliffhanger. So I broke it off there and started the next book in the series.
In February of 2017, I signed a shopping agreement with Wattpad, giving the company the rights to shop my book around to publishers and movie networks. My first deal was selling the rights to She’s With Me in French and Spanish. At that point, I decided to go public with my identity. That was when my parents found out: they were excited that I was finding success doing something I loved. Even my Italian grandparents, who speak broken English, proudly told all of their friends.
Around this time, I also started making money on Wattpad. The platform had noticed how many views my story was getting and reached out to ask if they could put ads on my stories. I started getting a cut of the ad money based on the number of views. It was more money than I made working part time as a restaurant server. It wasn’t quite enough to move out of my parents’ house and live on my own, but it was pretty good money for a university student.
When I was in my third year, I signed a three-book deal with Wattpad for the She’s With Me series. It was a big milestone, and it forced me to sit down and think seriously about what I wanted to do with my life. I decided I was no longer interested in becoming a lawyer, even though I had nearly completed my major in law. I wanted to pursue writing as a career instead, and now, I was financially able to focus on writing full time. I would much rather spend my days using my imagination, I reasoned, than studying to pass the bar exam.
I finished my undergraduate degree, but with a lightened course load so I could spend more time writing. I also kept my part-time job at the restaurant. At the end of the day, money is money. It doesn’t matter where it’s coming from.
In 2019, I learned that Sony Television was interested in optioning She’s With Me for TV. I was so excited I wanted to scream. I was dying to tell all of my readers who had been wishing to see their favourite series on screen. Growing up, I would watch shows like Vampire Diaries and notice the caption at the beginning that says, “Based on the books by L. J. Smith.” It was mind blowing to think that my name would appear there.
The deal was finalized and made public in February of 2020. I was at a Leafs game when I got the news from my talent manager. It was the best thing I’d heard in my entire life. I couldn’t get to sleep for a week after that. My parents bought me a Dairy Queen ice cream cake to celebrate, which was all I needed. The show is still in production—it’s moving slowly because of Covid—but it has a great team of writers and I’m really happy with what they’ve done so far.
In December of 2021, I signed a new four-book deal with Wattpad Books, for two more spinoff series. Even though writing is now my full-time job and I have more than enough money to support myself, I still live at home with my parents. I work in the same home office that I wrote in when I was still in high school. I could move out if I needed to, but the Toronto housing market is crazy right now, and I’m comfortable where I am.
The most meaningful part of my journey so far was when I learned that my books would be translated into Italian, as well as Romanian, Polish and Russian. My nonna has always proudly displayed my books on her shelf even though she doesn’t know English well enough to read them. It means a lot to me that she’ll finally be able to read my stories.