On March 28, 2019, the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself: speaking to author Len Webster. The Aussie author is famous for her success on Wattpad, where she then moved on to self-publishing and became an international best-selling author. Six years after beginning her unexpected career, Webster agreed to do an interview, something she doesn’t often do.
Back in her second year of University where she was studying marketing, Webster was in a rut; second year wasn’t as thrilling as she’d thought it’d be. Uni life was boring, just as her classes were. She needed a change, and she turned to writing. “I wasn’t always creative in high school, but I needed a change in my life,” she said. She would send her work to only two friends: They encouraged her to do something more with her work, but Webster thought it was nothing more than a hobby. “I’m supposed to be a manager or a marketer; not a writer.”
Beth Reekles, the author of The Kissing Booth, had found success to the point of getting a Netflix hit by starting on Wattpad, a website where it’s free to write and read anything you want. It was one of the first times a Wattpad author had a story of theirs turned into a movie. Webster’s friends encouraged her even more. “You don’t have to have thousands who look at it; you just need to have one person look at it outside of us.” So, on January 22, 2013, at two in the morning, Webster posted the prologue of her soon to be best-selling novel, 38 Days.
A Wattpad admin extended an invitation for her to join a Writers Group on the site not long after. “It’s actually how I met a lot of my friends, especially my best friend, Jaycee Ford. She’s the one who encouraged me to share my story in more places than just Wattpad.” Another friend even suggested to Webster that she should submit her story to be featured on the site. “Why would they feature me? I’m a no one. They feature people like Anna Todd and Beth Reekles.”
It took a while, but Webster did send in an email. It took a year, but one day, clear as day on her screen, Wattpad featured her. Her story quickly went from hundreds of reads to millions! She’s still baffled to this day. “You have to start with a small, loyal group of passionate readers. My biggest, most dedicated readers are the ones from Wattpad, been there through 2013. It’s crazy to think they’ve been there through all of my up’s and down’s, but they’ve been there from the start, they’ve seen me grow, and it’s insane that so many of them were commenting on my stories.”
When her first novel ended, it had a major cliffhanger. “I knew it was going to get some backlash, and people would say, ‘Oh my god, why did you do this?’ All I knew was that it was going to be a two-book series. It depended on if people wanted the sequel.” She tried to remind everyone that as a University student, she didn’t have time to write like she did on Holiday. But she quickly caved and announced a short time later a sequel was in the works, 38 Reasons.
At the same time, she also was considering self-publishing. She’d been on Wattpad for long enough and hadn’t been able to win contests on Wattpad due to her refusal to cut over 50,000 words from her manuscript. She knew besides money, there was nothing else to lose, and she was willing to take that risk. It was just supposed to be an attempt, not her career.
Webster was on the train on her way back home from an exam when her book went live. She was officially a published author. Not too long after, she published 38 Days. Her stories were ranking on charts for Top 100 for iBooks and Amazon, all over the world. What had started as a hobby had grown exponentially.
After the 38 Series was over, Webster wanted to do something new. Over time, a different story was brewing, and she wanted the chance to evolve as an author. She wasn’t sure if this was her future, but she’d put everything on hold in her marketing life to write this novel, and thus Sometimes Moments was born.
With a full-time job in marketing off the table, a year off after graduating University, the confidence she could return to that life if this novel failed, and insanely good internships to return to, Webster began writing her next novel. This was where she had a whole new team behind her as well. A new editor, a new proofreader, a new cover artist she’s had ever since, and a new novel was all very risky because of the amount of money she’d invested into it. “If we’re going to go out with a bang, I figured I might as well get some tears out of people.”
The reception from Sometimes Moments exceeded everyone’s expectations. People were taking on the concept, message and loving her characters, and that’s when Webster realized, “Maybe the first and second times weren’t a fluke. Maybe I could do this. Maybe I could be an author. I didn’t have to hit New York Times, or USA Today. I just have to be memorable to my readers, and I’ll be pretty happy with that.”
Sometimes Moments was her best-selling book for a very long time. All the big blogs shared it, it climbed charts and it began to rank higher than her first two books had. It even ranked in the Top 10 for certain sellers like iBooks, Kobo and Amazon. It’s what Webster’s best known for. If you pick up a copy of Webster’s novels now, they always say “Best Selling Author of Sometimes Moments.” “They know the book that made them cry,” she laughed.
Webster went on to explain the reason she ended up writing the sequel as well: it was all for a friend. She didn’t believe readers wanted a sequel and would be okay with moving on from another character from the first novel, but she was wrong when she ranked once again for the sequel.
After the Sometimes series, Webster hadn’t planned on going right back to her freshman books. “It’s called the 38 Series; it’s supposed to be just those two books. But for me, being the person that I am, kind of left little hints about if it ever happened. People picked up on what happened to the secondary characters, and that’s how the series evolved into what it is today.” Webster went on to write another five novels for the series, which was what her fans wanted. She didn’t realize she’d fall in love with the other characters the way she had with Noel and Clara.
Webster also explained that she is a “Block Writer” when it comes to completing a novel. She will spend large portions of time not writing, but instead planning, before she’ll start. At the time of the interview, Webster was working on a stand-alone and had started writing a week prior. She’d taken nine months off after she’d completed the Science of Unrequited novels, and only a week later did she finish with over 100,000 words. The title is still unknown. She explained that one of her standard 90,000+ word novels can take up to nine days to write, but novels like Dissolution took a few weeks due to the book being more than double of a normal novel. But like all authors, Webster did struggle with a novel for three years, her only standalone so far, The First Touch of Sunlight.
Having just completed the Science of Unrequited series, Webster finally opened up about the story behind the story. Originally, she wanted a road trip between two best friends but didn’t know what it would be about. Plus, she wanted to set the novels in America, something she’d never done due to being from Australia. She didn’t know how to write about the states. It wasn’t until later down the road she knew what she would write: one of the friends was in love with the other and the other one doesn’t know it. “The issue was Unrequited had been done a million ways. I wanted to tell it my way, keeping it as new and fresh.”
Behind the title of Unrequited though was much more to learn. Webster wanted the series to stretch from four to six years so the characters could figure out who and where they are, if they want to be together, their dream and everything in between before they get to the ending. That’s where the series eventually went to. “It’s about AJ and Evan, best friends figuring out life and their dreams and where they’re supposed to be. If they’re meant to be together, they’ll find each other.” It went from a road trip to life, dreams and goals, and everything in between.
She was initially scared of writing about America. She felt her voice would be too Australian. So with research, a lot of help, a lot of mistakes, and learning, Webster eventually was able to get through with a very accurate American tone. “I wanted the first American book to be special, and Theory of Unrequited is special in my eyes, and the reader’s eyes.”
With those questions answered there was still one more question that needed to be answered: Why did Webster use physics for an unrequited love story? She’d always wanted to write a girl who was in love with science. She kept every female she’d ever written in a position of their own power. “Clara’s a chef, Stevie’s a marketer, Ally’s a socialite with a CEO title, Josie’s a lawyer, Peyton’s a hotel owner, Meredith’s a teacher. I wanted them to be successful at their jobs, so these women had the power to change the world of a life when it came to their careers. But for AJ, I wanted this girl to love something so much and have it be something she believes she deserves.”Webster explained how she’s read a lot of novels with different characters, but she’d never met a strong, confused girl with a love for science. Most wanted fame or fortune, but AJ wanted science so much it was embedded into her. As previously mentioned, the story isn’t just about unrequited love, it’s about AJ discovering her wants and desires and getting to become the physicist she wants to be. It had so many elements that worked, formulas that worked, and it was the ability to be able to incorporate different aspects of science. “When AJ explains the collision of her and Evan in scientific ways, it’s fun, but it also makes sense to her and how she and Evan worked. I wanted AJ to have it all be part of her, and have it be what helps discover who she really is.”
AJ doesn’t let love take her away from her dreams. While her love life is a main point of the story, she also chooses herself over the two men she falls in love within the story. She ends up becoming a TA and goes to Switzerland to work with a world-renowned physicist and follows her dreams. Webster wanted that to be who AJ was, not just somebody in love.
“I also wanted to show how influential teachers can truly be. AJ had her full share of mentors, but [her high school science teachers] Mr. Miller was the one who supposed her through times where she didn’t really know who she was and times when Evan, so clueless, tried to take away what she could be without even realizing it. At the end of the series, AJ had to choose what was best for her as a person and academic. As much as she wanted AJ to go to MIT and live that dream in the novels, it wasn’t going to make her happy as an accomplished physicist. She had to follow what she really wanted and show that sometimes you can have the best dream in the world, but sometimes that dream will change, and you’ll have something better.”
Science is a male-dominated profession, so AJ had to balance it. Webster came out of the series being proud of AJ and her choices. “I don’t make decisions for AJ; she makes them herself.”
After the whole story was over, Webster’s reflection on it is probably the most profound. “The one thing I love about AJ is that she kept getting back up and chased after her dreams.”
She wanted to show her young readers that it may not look like it now, but you don’t have to give up your dreams or a career for a significant other. “You gotta do it for yourself once in a while and that’s what I wanted for AJ to do for herself. To stand up for herself, to choose herself, and Evan allowing her to choose herself. To go after her dreams.”
To follow Webster, go to her website at lennwebster.com. Start reading a Webster novel today!