Swoon lets YA readers choose which books get published

Story highlights

  • Swoon Reads lets readers vote on the books they want published
  • The first book published by Swoon was "A Little Something Different" in August
  • Swoon will publish 6 books a year; the new model opens up the industry, says a publisher
Macmillan Publishing has decided to do "A Little Something Different" by crowd-sourcing and letting readers pick some of the books it will publish.
The publisher's aptly titled Swoon Reads imprint targets readers in the market for a good young adult romance.
Fans of young adult fiction are a passionate community and they know what they like. Jean Feiwel, a veteran of children's publishing known for her work with popular series like "The Baby-Sitter's Club" and "Goosebumps," was eager to find a new way to hear what readers want.
After witnessing the success of self-published authors like Colleen Hoover and Abbi Glines, Feiwel realized that much of the talent being surfaced by readers wasn't reaching her or other publishers through agents. She wanted to establish a direct way for readers and writers to connect with Macmillan and fill the gap.
Two years ago, she put out a call for Macmillan employees to attend a lunch meeting about how Macmillan could find these teen romance stories. Soon, the book version of "American Idol" was born, built by volunteers within the company who had a passion for young adult fiction. The Swoon Reads site launched in September 2013.
Unpublished writers submitted their manuscripts and users read and voted on their favorite stories, using comments and a Swoon index measuring the emotions the stories triggered. Out of the reader favorites, Swoon Read's team of editors would award publishing contracts to a few writers each season. Feiwel's goal is six books a year from Swoon, selected from the voting pool for spring/summer, fall and winter.
While Swoon Reads is focused only on romantic young adult fiction, Macmillan Children's Publishing Group President Jon Yaged believes the crowd-sourcing model could work for other genres like sci-fi, mystery and romance -- anything with a "rabid reader base that is engaged and eager to share their opinions."
The first book published was Sandy Hall's "A Little Something Different" in August.
Hall, a librarian who specializes in books for teens, saw Feiwel talking about Swoon and its quest for fresh manuscripts in an interview. As a librarian, Hall had a good idea of what teens were looking for and not finding. One student expressed a desire to read about two characters with parallel lives who can't seem to meet.
Hall wondered what the familiar trope might look like if told from multiple perspectives of people who witness the two characters' missed connections. After a couple of weeks of planning, Hall wrote the story in six days and submitted it to Swoon in November 2013.
"I don't think I'll ever have that kind of magic again," she said.
Hall started seeing feedback soon after posting the story and she became obsessed with checking the comments and ranking.
"There is something to be said about constructive criticism from strangers, because they aren't worried about ending the friendship," Hall said. "And what's great about Swoon is when a story starts to gain traction, the whole community takes notice."
On a snowy day in February, Hall found out she had been awarded a publishing contract. Feiwel said that Hall's story connected with Swoon readers and the editorial staff because of its quirky points of view and refreshing lightness.
Hall and other Swoon writers have formed a debut author support group, sharing advice, asking questions and exchanging laughs over email and social media. The group will continue to grow as Swoon publishes more writers.
It's exactly the kind of community Feiwel envisioned for Swoon.
"Writers who are new to writing can get a nurturing community, so that they learn how to write and they are benefiting from being on the site whether they get published or not," Feiwel said. "People are commenting on their work in a constructive way and helping them."
Feiwel and her team post writing advice on the Swoon blog to mentor and encourage users on the art of crafting stories. They also want to "pull back the curtain" on the publishing industry for writers.
Swoon Reads has hired Lauren Scobell, former consumer marketing director at Nickelodeon, as its director. This enables Feiwel to focus on her imprint, Feiwel and Friends, as well as think more creatively about opportunities for Swoon. In this venture, the publishing industry is learning, too.
"When we go to edit the books that we've chosen, we gather the reader comments and many times they say things that we haven't thought of," Feiwel said.
"They're choosing book covers we wouldn't have chosen. We are really cultivating a community of writers and readers and we're grateful to the readers -- they're doing a lot of the commenting, a lot of the work and expanding the definition of what we know appeals to people."