Gianna Sibal first got on Wattpad to read One Direction fanfiction. She now has millions of views on her Wattpad novels and just published her first book, all while still in school.
When you think of Wattpad, what comes into your mind may be fanfiction, Y/N stories about boy band members, or just other weird works of fiction. But the platform is also home to many good writers and compelling pieces of work. It can be the starting point for young writers to get their name out, build a following, and achieve greater things.
This is where Gianna Sibal comes in. This 22-year-old Communication major started writing stories on the site to near-zero attention. But over time, her stories blew up to millions of readers to the point where she just published her first book. NYLON Manila caught up with the young author to talk about her beginnings, writing on Wattpad, and what it’s like being a published author at 22.
HOW SHE GOT STARTED
Gianna’s passion for writing stories started when she was in her early teens. She said that she would read full-length novels “cover to cover in less than a day (maybe two), nose stuck in a book during lunchtime and on the bus ride home.” After a while, she soon found herself thinking of her own characters and stories that she has never read but would want to read. “So, I wrote them myself. Because who else will?”
For her, she enjoys the medium of writing because of the feeling she gets from reading her work. “After writing a chapter, I usually read it afterward because I can’t believe na wow. Did I write that? I was able to write that? That gives me a sense of pride and fulfillment because I genuinely enjoy what I produce and put out.”
Every great writer and expert in any field, in general, has to start somewhere and the same goes for Gianna. When she started writing her own stories, they were, as she puts it “truly, truly bad.” She expounds “I had a vague idea of what I wanted to happen but I didn’t know how to get there—walang outline, wala talagang planning, and the writing was just really awful.”
BEGINNINGS ON WATTPAD
Gianna found her way to Wattpad in 2014 when she made an anonymous account to read One Direction fanfiction. But she soon found herself reading other original works of fiction on the site and felt inspired to do the same. “I didn’t want my words to dry out, stuck inside a notebook or in the Notes app of my phone. So, I gave it a shot.”
The genre that Gianna writes about is romance and new adult, which is basically a genre of fiction where the protagonist is a young adult between the age of 18-30 years old. She gets the ideas for her books from the things she sees and experiences around her. But the romance novels that Gianna writes aren’t just the typical romance novels you find at a bookstore. “I write what’s unconventional in love—they’re not just to tug the heartstrings out of kilig, but also something that will leave a mark on my readers even after reaching the last page or sentence—to feel as heartbroken as the characters, or to feel as devastated or as happy when the book ends.”
Her book writing process starts with the premise or title. After that, she makes the setting and then the characters. Once the initial world has been established, she makes an outline of what happens in every chapter in bullet points. Gianna tries to keep the word count of her chapters at around 4000-5000, but she has gone up to 7000 words per chapter. A full novel usually takes her around four to five months to finish, but if she is working on a WIP (work in progress, ongoing story), she has chapters pre-written so that she doesn’t get pressured to write quickly.
3 MILLION AND COUNTING
When Gianna started uploading her work on Wattpad, it was more of a hobby and the response was lukewarm. She would only get a few dozen views and just a handful of followers. But that changed in 2015 when she got her first hit book. It was a teen fiction book (it’s no longer on her page) and the first one she gave serious effort into finishing. She then followed it up with another teen fiction book that blew up as well.
But to hear it from her, she has a love-hate relationship with those books. “I believe people liked [the first book] because the chapters were very, very short, it was so shallow, you know, yung pampakilig lang and the writing was quite subpar (at least, to my standards now).”
She continues “I started another teen fiction book (this one is up on my profile), and this also got a lot of attention. It was still very bad then, but I edited it when I was 18 and even though I cringe at it, people still love it and continue to read it. I tried deleting it once and a lot of people bombarded me with messages and pitchforks saying “WHERE IS IT WHERE IS IT PUT IT BACK UP!!!”, so I did.”
Those early books though serve as a reminder for Gianna of where she started, but to this day she finds them “pretty cringy and my worst work to date (in my opinion).” But she later adds “Thank you to all who enjoyed and continue to enjoy it, though.”
Gianna’s success hasn’t stopped since and as of this writing, she has written over 10 books, with one of them being published. She also is a Wattpad Ambassador and a Content Associate for Wattpad Philippines Paid Stories. Her views have balloned as well, going from just a few hundred to over 3.3 million and counting.
PUBLISHED AUTHOR AT 21
But Gianna would soon get her biggest break to date in her professional writing career when she recently signed a publishing contract with Cherry Publishing and published her first book called The Blueberry Boys. Gianna said that she got the offer via email, but this email stood out from the others she gets for a special reason. “The person who emailed me from Cherry detailed what happens in my book, so I know that she read it. Some recruiters kasi email just because of my following or my views, but this one definitely read it, and that earned my trust and I decided to sign with them after several meetings.”
She initially though did not want to sign with Cherry Publishing. As she explains, “I cried after my first meeting with Cherry because I knew I’d have to hand over the rights to my book, and I couldn’t handle it at that time because I spent months slaving over each word, each syllable, each page.” But her mindset changed when she talked to her close family and friends and remembers being told, “Hanggang Wattpad na lang ba talaga ang talent mo?”
“I know I’m still young and I still have a lot to learn and improve in my craft even though I’ve been writing for years, but I think there’s genuinely nothing wrong with wanting to take a step to my dream. In fact, I think it’s a feat na I’ve become this at 21—a published author at 21,” she said. Gianna added. “I still can’t believe it, because when I wake up, I’m still a daughter who has chores, I’m still a working student aiming for high grades, and I’m still—you know, the same old Gianna who writes. I’m just happy to have achieved that and that title this young, and I’m excited to see where it gets me and what more I can achieve as I continue to write.”
THE BLUEBERRY BOYS
If you want to read the book, you can buy a copy here. Gianna teases that the book is “more than just an office romance, more than just the f buddies-turned-lovers trope.” She said that the book deals with a lot of topics aside from romance like marriage, motherhood, and being POC and bisexual. “I wanted to go against what has been taught to us, women—you know, when you’re old enough and you’re established in your career, people—especially here in the Philippines—start to ask, “Okay, so when’s the wedding and the baby coming?” And I wanted Sabina to be the woman who can answer them with, Never.”
Gianna wrote the book from October 2020 to January 2021 and is more than 110,000 words long. Initially, she wanted to publish the book under a pseudonym, but she decided to use her real name because “my real name deserves to be on my book.”
THE STIGMA AND CHALLENGES OF BEING A WATTPAD WRITER
But despite the success Gianna has achieved at a young age, she isn’t immune to feeling like she is less than her achievements, especially since she mainly writes on Wattpad. “When you’re a Wattpad writer, cringe na agad because you think: Harry Styles kidnapped me, or Y/N fics, or possessive bad boys and alpha males” Because of this, Gianna has kept her identity on the platform a secret for years because she was afraid to be part of the stigma. She also describes feeling “crushing imposter syndrome”, how she sometimes compares herself to other writers and just thinks that she got lucky and is not a legit author.
These days though, Gianna doesn’t care anymore if they judge her work for being on Wattpad and does not hide the fact that she is a Wattpad writer, a successful one at that. At the end of the day, all that matters to her is that her readers and she herself are happy. “I still tear up in gratitude, kasi hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala that my works have an impact on people. No matter how small or how big, meron eh, and that’s something for me to be eternally grateful for.”
But if you think that you can just make a Wattpad account, write something in a few hours, and have a hit, think again. As Gianna explains “Forming a cohesive plotline and series of events and plot points is difficult—more difficult than you think, we lose brain cells doing this. There is research poured onto every single detail and the sentences you read have been backspaced and edited six, seven times just to find the right words.” She also says that there is pressure from other Wattpad users for authors to create content constantly, ignoring the fact that they have lives outside the platform.
BALANCING WORK AND SCHOOL
Aside from her work as a professional author, Gianna also finds time to focus on her studies as an incoming senior college student. She admits that finding a work-school balance was tough at first. “My mental health took a toll on me, then, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t disregard my wellbeing after that. It was beyond exhausting and I couldn’t find the time to rest. It was burnout after burnout after burnout.”
But now, she learned to do both things in her life and to do so in a healthy way. And for her, the key to that is prioritizing your responsibilities. “I make sure to write when I want to (which is almost every day), but of course, still prioritize my OJT and school on weekdays during work hours.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR GIANNA AND ADVICE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS
These days, Gianna is in a celebratory mood with the publishing of her first book and she’s currently working on some new content for Wattpad. “I took a step outside of my comfort zone and tried, for the very first time, to write something in Taglish, and I think that’s been very challenging and it’s keeping me busy so far.” She adds that she’s open to another publishing contract.
Gianna has a few words of wisdom for aspiring writers. She first wants them to write not just to chase trends. “Write what you want to write, because you’ll love your work then.” She also wants writers to not always stick to what they know and do things out of their comfort zone. “Continuously challenge yourself so that you can grow. Explore the limits of your writing, don’t box yourself into what you’re comfortable with.”
She implores young writers to remember that writing should be fun at its core and that if you aren’t having fun, something’s wrong. Most importantly, people should always remember to take a break and give themselves some me time. “You don’t need to write every day. Do other things you enjoy. That’s what’s going to make your work sing. Being human is central to being an artist and a creator, too.”
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