(This article was first written for the SCBWI-MI spring newsletter and is partially reprinted here with Katie's permission.)
Headed by Jean Feiwel, who admits she took the idea from her own Voice obsessions, Swoon Reads is a new crowd-sourced path to publishing that you may have read about in previous issues of the Bulletin. The premise is simple: put manuscripts online and let readers rate and comment on them to bring them to the publisher's attention. What is emerging, though, is so much more. Swoon Reads is becoming an online writing community that provides not only feedback through comments but writing advice and book clubs through its blog.
In addition to leaving heart ratings of one to five stars, readers on the site can also rate manuscripts as having heat, laughs, tears, or thrills. So here's a little bit about my experience on Swoon and how it fulfilled each of those categories.
Heat: I had a lot of doubts in the beginning. My initial relationship with Swoon was more of the “he loves me, he loves me not” variety. At first, it felt like any other submission. I'd done my homework. I knew what they were looking for and I had a polished manuscript. Easy, right? But then I could see my MS laying in the slush pile and not getting any attention – ouch! Several of my SCBWI critique friends who'd helped me with the manuscript left comments and ratings. Some other Swoon members liked my description and took a look. I got more daring and asked a couple book-loving relatives to read it as well as a couple skating friends. They liked it enough to pass on the recommendation to their friends, and my novel took off. Note to self: Breathe and remember it takes time for people to actually read.
Laughs: The road to publication can be frustrating and lonely, but traveling with the Swoon Reads community has been wonderful. I've enjoyed meeting other writers. Commenting on each other's manuscripts led to back and forth e-mail discussions and tweets, shared laughs over common writing issues, and the discovery of new blogs and new friends. As a bonus, the Swoon experience forced me to confront my avoidance issues with social media. I've since overcome my #fear of @Twitter and I ended up developing a basic author web page with a blog about my experiences in the writing for children and young adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. In March, my blog was even selected to be featured on SCBWI's home page blog roll.
Tears: Robert McKee in Story suggests considering how a character's dream could turn into his or her worst nightmare. My greatest fear about using Swoon Reads by far was unscrupulous behavior of others online. This fear was realized. Another user on the site created false accounts to boost her own ratings – and trash mine. When my ratings suddenly began to drop while hers skyrocketed, I reported the suspicious behavior. Swoon investigated and found the fraud was legitimate and she was banned from the site. Swoon also promised to remove the fraudulent ratings. The Swoon team is committed to making this a positive experience for authors and malicious behavior is not tolerated.
Thrills: My manuscript was chosen as one of three first round winners, so I was privileged to receive one of the biggest thrills of all – a phone call from Jean Feiwel, who is my editor for The Boy Next Door. Hello, happily ever after! In the end, a swoon-worthy experience? Definitely.
Katie Van Ark's YA novel, The Boy Next Door (formerly titled Pairing Up), will be a February 2015 release from Macmillan's Swoon Reads imprint. She is eternally grateful to all the SCBWI-MI members who helped make her story swoon-worthy! Visit her online at www.katievanark.com and follow her on Twitter @kvanark.
Think you're ready to Swoon? Stop by tomorrow to read Katie's tips for submitting your manuscript: http://yafusion.blogspot.com/2014/05/swoon-reads-part-2-submission-tips.html
Also up tomorrow: Katie and other Swoon Reads first listers will be doing a #SwoonReads twitter chat at 9 pm EST, Monday, May 5th.
In the meantime, check it out for yourself at http://www.swoonreads.com/.
Here's to taking risks!