Alexandra DeWalt ’13: E-Book Sensation

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Ali Dewalt got a taste of what it’s like to be a hit author before she even arrived on campus. Her first book was a huge Internet success with teen readers. Photo: Andy Manis.

By the time Ali (Alexandra) DeWalt ’13 arrived for her first creative-writing class at UW-Madison, she was already a successful author with an e-book boasting four million reads — but nobody knew.

“To be honest, it wasn’t something I often divulged with other students,” says DeWalt, who spent weeknights doing homework and weekends writing teen fiction. “I definitely told a couple of people, ‘Hey, you guys should check out this website,’ but I never told anyone, ‘Here, read this story of mine online.’ They were just two different writing worlds, and one helped me grow and be better in the other.”

That website was WattPad, where more than 2 million writers publish 100,000 chapters a day for 20 million readers, according to a New York Times article highlighting DeWalt’s work. She found WattPad when she was only sixteen and had just finished writing a book, My Life with the Walter Boys. Clearly a product of the Internet generation, DeWalt’s first thought wasn’t about finding an agent or querying a publishing house.

“I was a kid — I hadn’t really thought about being an author,” says DeWalt. “I was just excited about sharing it.”

So that’s exactly what she Googled: “How to share your story.” When WattPad popped up, she created an account under the pen name Ali Novak. From that day forward, she uploaded about a chapter a week, with some as long as 6,000 words. My Life with the Walter Boys became a dynamic story, with reader comments influencing the plot. The final version, completed about a year later, was entirely different from the one she’d originally written. She’s now uploaded four WattPad books in total. My Life with the Walter Boys has been downloaded nearly 36 million times, and DeWalt’s profile shows 100,000 followers.

Meanwhile, DeWalt thrived at UW-Madison, basking in the warm, red glow of Badger football Saturdays and entrenching herself in the literary classics.

“My writing wouldn’t be where it’s at today without the Creative Writing Program,” she says. “There are definitely some interesting characters within the program, but they’re all great; they’re all helpful; it really helped me evolve as a writer; and it was invaluable to me.”

Like many recent college graduates, DeWalt fretted about finding a job in her field — or at least one that would allow her to continue writing in her spare time — but she needn’t have worried. In summer 2013, WattPad partnered with Sourcebooks Fire to transform a handful of its most successful online stories into traditionally published books, and DeWalt was one of only two authors who were chosen to make the leap. My Life with the Walter Boys hit bookstore shelves in March 2014, and, since then, she’s inked a fresh Sourcebooks deal for two more hard-copy books, secured an agent, and landed a sizable advance.

“This is actually going to be the first time I’m able to focus on writing full time,” says DeWalt.

Published in the Fall 2014 issue

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